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OzAsia review: In Between Two

Festivals

Written and performed by Australian hip-hop artists MC Joel Ma and James Mangohig, In Between Two is an engaging exploration of cultural identity and family history through artful storytelling, evocative visuals and masterful beats.

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Directed by Suzanne Chaundy, the pair’s family histories have been collated by dramaturgs William Yang and Annette Shun Wa into a collage of vintage film footage, spoken word, rhyme and rap.

Ma (aka Joelistics, of Melbourne-based band TZU) and the ARIA-nominated Mangohig (of Darwin duo Sietta) propel the audience into the performance, opening with a punchy rap reminiscent of West Coast hip-hop artists The Pharcyde, asking: “Who am I? Who am I?”

The extraordinary family stories each tells over the show that follows attempt to answer the question.

The two met at a Darwin music festival, bonding over their shared passion for hip-hop and their experiences as Australians of mixed Asian-Caucasian heritage. Despite this, their family backgrounds could not have been more different.

Mangohig’s father migrated to Australia from the Philippines after falling in love with his mother, who is of Dutch descent, and became a preacher and pillar of the community in Darwin. Mangohig started performing music in his father’s church, even preaching on occasion, until he eventually turned his back on religion; he tells of the family fallout following this confession with wry humour, a story made memorable by its setting in a local McDonald’s.

Ma’s father was born in Sydney to a well-to-do family of Chinese descent. His grandparents, together with figures from Chinatown’s underworld, ran the famous Chequers nightclub before descending into bankruptcy. His father met his mother at university, the two falling in love and travelling as hippies around the world with their children before separating with some acrimony.

Divided between two households (his father an alcoholic and his mother dealing marijuana from her kitchen), Ma ran into trouble at school and with the police, but eventually found his way through music, powered by the love of his grandmother Edith.

These are mere glimpses into the many colourful stories the men manage to pack into just over an hour’s performance.

Full of humour and poignancy, the show carries a potent — though brief — message about racism and explores questions about identity in a multi-cultural Australia.

The performers’ charisma, humour and friendship shine throughout the evening, lending the performance genuine warmth.

“We are our ancestors’ unfinished dreams,” Ma and Mangohig end by telling the audience, leaving us with the feeling that they, and the “samples” they have mined from their histories, have created “the wildest remix” of all. If there was the occasional abrupt transition between segments, these were not enough to detract from an altogether enjoyable, generous-spirited and entertaining evening.

The final performance of In Between Two will be tonight at the Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre. See more OzAsia Festival stories and reviews here.

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