Theatre-maker and spoken word artist Koko Brown is spritely, honest and endearing. A mixed-race woman of Irish and Jamaican descent, she was compelled to tell the story of her life and how she faced the world and how the world faced her.
In early February 2018, her WHITE performance was a solo show about identity, being a mixed-race black woman and always feeling like an outsider. It blended live vocal looping, singing and spoken word and we went along to enjoy the show and give support to the brave and beautiful wordsmith.
The damp and steamy Vaults, just behind Waterloo station, was the ideal venue for Brown’s first ever solo performance. Its immersive setting was intimate and sat less than 40 people, somehow making her words more poignant and her eye contact more intense. Simple music, vocal loops and faint projections were the only accessories to Brown’s tenacious words as she addressed some of the most important issues in her life.
Among the subjects of growing up with a black and a white side, the lack of her Jamaican father’s presence and the struggle to finding her own identity, perhaps the most hard-hitting theme she suggested was the concept of “mixed-race” privilege.
Growing up in contemporary Britain, Brown took us through what it was like to be the only girl of colour in an all-white environment. Without any influence from her Jamaican side, the mantra-like recurring line “I always knew what I was…” seemed somewhat ironic in her discourse.
The 25-year-old, in a sing-song repertoire, asks the audience if there’s such a thing as mixed-race privilege. Being categorised into the “black” community purely because she wasn’t “white” but being a “light-skinned” girl with the “good” kind of 3C hair, she was subjected to exoticism and favour with people throwing remarks at her like “I want my babies to look like you.” This fetishism for caramel skin and corkscrew curls, thick lips and a slim nose can, in some ways, be seen as a privilege, just one step before the ultimate “privilege” of being white. It highlighted the comfort with which many people she had encountered threw casual racial slurs around, demeaning her to nothing but an exotic “lightie,” too white for black people and too black for white people.
A thought-provoking and current discourse
There’s no doubt that Brown’s subject matter is extremely current and relevant to all mixed-race women and women of colour in the UK. Having performed in iconic venues such as the National Theatre, The Roundhouse, Soho Theatre and Glastonbury Festival, Brown’s power of stage presence was unwavering.
The story of WHITE; race in general, mental health, relationships, gender and identity, was cleverly told in the alternative and personal performance through nothing but her vocals. It was unapologetic and determined, leaving the audience plenty to think about as they left the Vaults and walked along the bustling Waterloo Road.