The final of the four opening keynotes at FutureBook was someone not from the publishing industry in a traditional sense, but whose approach to crossing over the creative industries is something publishers can take a lot from. Akala from the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company works with a fusion of everything, a creative exploration to engage with people.
“We’re emphasising the musicality of Shakespeare,” he begins. “It’s about exploding the myth of the mundane.” Intellectually challenging doesn’t by default mean boring. Some say music is about lowering the intellectual, but “that’s not the vibe at all.”
He talks through some of his own projects, being inspired by things like 1984, creating illustrated poetry books, EPs that aren’t song-based. He puts the music before the written word, blends it with traditional publishing and creates an experience that innovates and blues the lines. It can be done through many things, like video games, social media, you just need to try.
Being a touring artist, he’s lucky to be able to sell thousands of his books, but he finds it interesting that people will pay for the book over everything else he stocks despite costing more, “that a book can outsell a CD at a music gig”.
For his own influences, KRS-One rap made education sexy and eloquent. Wu-Tang used a Shakespearean type of English. Hip-hop has a place in pop culture that can push education.
Akala performs a striking piece of poetry over music, taking influence from the history of the world, the horrors of the world – it’s something unexpected, but blends formats and styles to create something really intriguing and powerful.
As for his perception as a self-proclaimed outsider to the publishing conference looking in, he turns to e-books: he felt people were going, “Phew! We’re not going the way of music!” and taking relief from that fact. Instead, they should be thinking, “Are we doing everything we can to collaborate with this new technology? To satisfy the audience? To reach a new audience? Pages are not everyone’s route to reading.”