Open mic gives stage to political frustrations
Strings of low white lights hung from a piped ceiling, beckoning passers-by out of the dark and into the cozy Brandeisian enclave of Cholmondeley’s Coffee House, better known simply as “Chum’s.” A small but enthusiastic crowd squeezed into rows of leather couches to attend an open mic night organized by Brandeis’ literary magazine Laurel Moon in cooperation with the English Department, this past Friday night. Chalk sketches decorated the walls of Chum’s, among them a cartoon dog in sunglasses and a capitalized call to “MAKE AMERICA NATIVE AGAIN.” This mix of light-hearted artistic expression and poignant political commentary reflects the body of work put on stage by Brandeis friends and classmates as part of ’DEIS Impact Week.
’DEIS Impact, branded as a “Weeklong Festival of Social Justice,” celebrates and examines the ways in which members of the Brandeis community work to improve the world. Friday’s open mic night sought to explore social justice issues through art, specifically music and poetry. Deis Impact representative Zosia Buse ’20 took the stage to introduce the event.
After briefly explaining the festival’s goal to foster social awareness and activism, the night of entertaining and powerful artistry kicked off.
Hangil Ryu ’20, moonlighting under the stage name “HG Komodo,” boldly led the night’s pantheon of artists with his fresh, original rap stylings. Humbly noting that his first song was only finished that day, “Komodo” brought energy and warmth with clever, socially-conscious lyricism. His first rap dealt with themes of religious acceptance, while his second explored the conflicts of privilege and the desire to do more to better the world. Between songs, he danced playfully, loosening up the audience for the night to come.
Organizing member Clayre Benzadon ’17 came next, reciting her poetry with a mellow, quiet soulfulness. One of her standout poems dealt with the politics of isolation in America, consisting of wordplay and alliteration off of the word “ban.” Invoking public figures like Steve Bannon and alluding to refugees in war-torn areas, Benzadon left a powerful impression.
Ab McCarthy, beaming a warm, welcoming smile, bounded on stage next. McCarthy’s poem “Queer” was among the longest performed during the night but held the audience in rapt attention. With humor, vulnerability and triumphant positivity, McCarthy relayed the experience of discovering her sexuality through crushes on Scarlett Johansson and the animated mechanic from “Atlantis,” and overcoming insensitivity from her peers.
A string of talented instrumentalists followed in the lineup. Arjun Rajan ’20 strode onstage with an acoustic guitar and strummed an original song, expressing his frustration at political figures. He lamented those politicians who only use social issues as a means of seeking reelection and furthering their careers. Following Rajan, Bethel Adekogbe ’20 smoothly glided into a seat behind an old-school, wood-framed piano. With an instrumental piece, Adekogbe stirred the audience, starting low and soulful but building to an ultimately more celebratory note.
Bidushi Adhikari ’17 made her performance debut friday night with an original poem. Stunningly raw and vulnerable, Adhikari’s poem discussed the paradox of the United States’ self-given moniker “the greatest country in the world.” She opened up to the audience, speaking of her fears: of political leaders, of objectification, of commercialism.
The open mic night ended lighthearted, as a few brave souls stepped up for some off-the-cuff, improvised slam poetry.
Rajan plucked at his acoustic guitar as a backtrack for the improvisers. First among them, Benzadon reclaimed the microphone in a brief discussion of dominant demographics in America, especially those exemplified by the newly elected President Trump.
The final performer of the night was a non-Brandeisian, the bold and confident Yaniv Goren. Goren swaggered around the stage, comparing actions by the Trump Administration to scientific principles (for example, Trump’s habit of simplifying nuanced issues compared to the subatomic particles that make up the universe).
In a time of political change, unrest, and, for many, fear, Friday’s open mic night served as an affirmation of commitment to social action by the Brandeis community. With a sense of humor and evident political engagement, the artists of Brandeis reflect the common goals and spirit of the university as a whole.