In Between Two

In Between Two 2017 Melbourne Festival supplied image Sydney Festival production still 01 feat Joel Ma and James Mangohig photographer credit William Yang
Photograph: William Yang Joelistics (Joel Ma) and James Mangohig

Oz hip hop stars Joelistics (TZU) and Sietta weave wordplay family archives and music to explore their personal Asian-Australian experience

Performance 4A have carved a niche within the local theatre scene by means of a fairly specific format: autobiographical shows telling Asian-Australian stories, crafted from spoken narrative, archival audio and projected photos and footage (including The Serpent’s TableYasukichi Murakami – Through a Distant Lens and Stories East & West).

This recent production, which premiered at Sydney Festival in January 2016, uses spoken word and music to trace the family and personal histories of hip-hop emcee Joelistics (aka Joel Ma) and musician/producer Sietta (James Mangohig) – both particularly well placed to present their stories to a live audience.

In our 4-star review of the Sydney Festival premiere, we wrote: 

In 70 minutes we get an overview of their personal stories three generations of their family history and their friendship. An added bonus is a little window into a time when Australian hip hop was in its very early awkward days. Joelistics raps and the two pick up various instruments and play back-up for each other's stories which unfold in alternative stretches.

As is often the case in this genre, equal parts pleasure come from getting to know the protagonists getting a slice of social and cultural history and in running one's own life experiences in a kind of parallel dialogue with the events unfolding on stage. Both men have fascinating family stories: Ma traces his family history from a his grandmother Edie's Hong Kong childhood conquest of the Sydney nightclub scene and unconventional romantic arrangement to his father Danny's unhappy years as one of only two Asian students at Shore and eventual marriage to Northern Beaches arts graduate Patricia.

Mangohig's parents, meanwhile, had an unusual courtship-by-cassette that spanned from the Philippines to South Australia.

The through line for the show is the idea of being ‘in between two' cultures, and in some cases, countries. It's interesting (sometimes shocking) to see how racism in Australia has changed from the White Australia era to now. This feat of cultural interface is also what makes the show so feel-good: nothing is more satisfying than stories about people who defied cultural and social conventions to follow their hearts.

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