Encore Michigan

‘Temples of Lung an Air’: one-actor show at Detroit Public Theatre

Review November 18, 2019 Encore Staff

By Angela Colombo

DETROIT, Mich.–“We are all part of this cypher.” Could there be a better time in history to think of the world as an informal circle of artists, along with a crowd watching their freestyle battles, onlookers and participants alike, jamming together? Kane Smego thinks not.

In Temples of Lung and Air, solo performer and international spoken word artist, Kane Smego plunges us deep into thinking about race, identity and language. Smego shares his story of growing up a white boy in the South with a black father figure and a passion for hip-hop. An honest and exposed account that reaches people’s’ hearts and gives even the most resistant an understanding that unconscious bias exists, this lyrical contemplation-turned-storytelling forces us to think harder about our biases, recognize them and acknowledge how they shape us and forge society.

The virtuosic Smego weaves fibers of facts and ideology, history and emotions, and presents it to a rapt audience. His stories span from childhood through adult life. Smego’s tapestry depicts a profound view of whiteness and race and an awareness of a world where skin color determines how a person is allowed to move around, take up space or simply exist. Smego has clearly lived a life of questioning and observing, not shying away from the hard stuff. He reenacts moments in his life where he is confronted by questions and judgments from peers or society, when he must make a decision. And he tells us that he doesn’t always like the decision he’s made. Temples of Lung and Air is a collection of memories strung together. But this is a garland that should not be reserved only for holiday time.

Smego’s rap ranges from humorous to witty and cutting. Sure, he covers some intense topics, but it’s not like a didactic lesson, or a lecture.  Smego entertains us every minute. His poetry has rhythm and flow. His rap has beat and energy. Smego morphs in and out of characters, taking us back to his childhood, before our eyes turning into a vulnerable child that is increasingly disoriented by the world he sees. He shows us shame personified as a little boy, afraid and confused. Remembers the sting of being called a wigger. He raps about his mom’s boyfriend, who was a strong father figure, but said his skin always entered the room before he did. He remembers enduring his father’s regular smearing remark, “your mother sure does love chocolate,” referring to her relationship with a black man.

Smego says society is always drawing a line of shame and commanding black people to stay on one side of it. And although he was shamed he says, “I was not a victim. I was a vessel.” As an adult, he said it felt like he was “picking a scab on a wound I don’t remember getting” when confronting the racism he saw all around. He reflects about kids who taunted him for identifying with rap culture, now as adults themselves rapping. Smego calls them pilgrims selling moccasins.

Smego’s days of rapping began before he could read when he recited a Shel Silverstein poem by heart. He never lost his affinity and inclination for telling stories with a beat. With this, Smego takes us through a short, historical lineage of hip-hop and calls hip-hop a “great house that he’s a guest in.”

Smego says to those who would try to control language and judge how stories are told, “Hip-hop ain’t nothing new. Poetry is ancient magic.” He likens language to being locked up but says “poetry taught me it’s also the prisoner’s key.”

He talks of being part of the “chosen migration” in a world “ready to greet me…At least I have an origin story to tell. One that doesn’t include kidnap.”

 “Hip-hop is the truth, as told by kidnapped Africans, with Japanese technology, on stolen land, sent out to poor and rich youth all over the world, disguised as American products.” Smego projects this quote by Danny Hoch, an American actor, writer, director, and performance artist whose work often explores the power of hip-hop onto the wall of the set.

Smego is also a musician and educator. After touring and teaching MCing as an artist in the Next Level Hip Hop program Smego became the Associate Director of the program in 2018. Over four years, Smego lead residencies in Thailand, Brazil, Cambodia, Guatemala, Morocco and the Dominican Republic collaborating with hip-hop artists from all over the United States and abroad.

Smego raps and entertains us while also poking at us to think harder and perhaps picking a scab for some, one they didn’t know existed. Once you pick a scab you have no choice but to feel the searing twinge. The thing is, when it comes to painful sores, feeling it leads to dealing with it. And that’s often the beginning of healing it.

Temples of Lung and Air debuted at a regional theater in North Carolina, then in 2018 was accepted to United Solo Theater Festival in New York City, the world’s largest celebration of one man acts.  Now here in Detroit, its first and only show so far outside these premier events. Temples of Lung and Air has 12 more performances, Wednesday, Nov. 20 through Dec. 8 at the Detroit Public Theater, 3711 Woodward Avenue.