After losing his friend to gun violence in London, Michael Kwatia - a twenty-five year old London poet and spoken-word artist - was left scarred. That harrowing experience taught him how close-to-home violence could be, and opened his eyes on “how the loss of one life can affect so many people.”
Since then, he has decided to use the spoken word to voice the frustrations of his generation.
Born in Belvedere, Greater London, Kwatia (a.k.a MOAK) has dedicated the song ‘Look Brother’ from his upcoming EP to the tension he feels within the black community - particularly among men. Kwatia, who was mentored by Grammy nominated duo Floetry, told Backbench: “Putting life into perspective from the lens of a black male is what the poem ‘Look Brother’ does.”
You can listen to the track here.
“It asks black males whether it worth living in fear and tension amongst your counterparts for simply giving the wrong look - when we have to navigate in a world where we are continually stereotyped, racially profiled and even killed because of how we look.”
Kwatia told Backbench that in 'Look Brother' he voices his frustration as a black male at the lack of brotherhood, solidarity, and peace in the black community. “From experience,” he said, “it is often the case that when black males see each other or are around each other there is an air of tension which stems from hyper-masculinity, ego, pride, paranoia from possibly being involved and exposed to gang culture and - as some would argue - self-hatred.”
Kwatia thinks that, as a community, black men believe in a stereotype of themselves as more masculine, more aggressive, and more criminal people. “Some young black men growing up feel more compelled to have these traits in order to avoid being viewed as vulnerable.”
He wrote ‘Look Brother’ in 2013 after a moment of tension with a fellow ‘brother’ in Cheltenham that left him feeling bitter. He was working out in the gym when an older black male in his 30s walked in. “Instantly he locked eyes with me,” Kwatia said, “and stared me down as if to intimidate me or like he had an issue.”
Pictured: The artwork for MOAK's upcoming EP 'This is Us'.
Kwatia tried to forget the encounter but decided to cut his session short. He returned home to pen his thoughts on the experience, and soon realised that instances like it had happened dozens of times to him and his friends. “I’ve been writing spoken word for 6 years now but these are thoughts and views I had held for a while but never knew how to articulate them until I started getting into it.”
Richard Kattah, director of the film AMANI, has praised ‘Look Brother’ – which has received acclaim from across London’s BME communities - and artist Jordan YV has labelled it ‘phenomenal’ and ‘pertinent’ piece of work.