Jean-Pierre Makosso of Gibsons will celebrate the launch of his third book, Human Works, in fine style, as befits everything about this African-born performer, dancer and poet. This will be no sedate book launch of chit chat, but a joyful performance at the Heritage Playhouse on Friday, June 22.
The show includes three black voices: Adelene da soul poet; Valerie Mason-John (aka Queenie), a London-based actress and poet; and Makosso himself. It also includes music from balafonist Fana Soro of Ottawa and Elisha Starbright, and will feature African songs from this community’s Song Circle led by Karen Stein, or Mama Karen, as Makosso refers to her. The show is directed by Stephanie Pugsley, a newcomer from London.
This latest book of poetry by Makosso is published by Editions Dedicaces in Montreal, as were his two previous volumes, La voix du conteur and Le cri du triangle. But this one is different — the previous two books were in French, a language that Makosso learned growing up in French-speaking colonial Africa.
This book is in both French and English, published as two separate books with identical covers. While there are some oddities in the translation, the English version brings his message to a wider audience — it is a message of passion, a soulful cry for a continent. The poems offer a compressed history of Africa in poetic form, from its roots in tribal villages through slavery to present day post-colonialism that has seen the rise of petty dictators. In several appendices to the poems, Makosso compiles insightful quotes from various African leaders and adds a note about pan-Africanists.
Makosso will be reading selections from Human Works: “Thus begins a life of orphans / The witness sky looks helplessly upon the river flowing red with blood” (Book One, Orphans), and from other chapters that describe how Africans once lived: “We lived in family and community / among trees that had delicious fruits” (Book Three, The History).
Makosso is the griot (pronounced gree-oh) or traditional story teller of his family — the man to whom the family will turn when they want to remember their past.
“I want to give the feeling of a story being told,” he said of his book launch. “There are also some surprises of music and spirit in the show.”
Makosso has performed at a recent Vancouver story-telling festival and a children’s festival. Always busy, he has also finished a novel in French, a love story set in Paris that combines fiction and true experience, but that one is not yet published. He will also be touring Human Works in Quebec in July, but he is adamant about having this book launch in Gibsons in June.
“This is my home town,” he said, although Makosso was born in the Congo and came to Canada in 2001. Home is where the heart is. “This is special here — I like doing things here.”
Admission to the book launch and performance is by donation at the door. The show starts at 8 p.m. on June 22 at the Heritage Playhouse in Gibsons and books will be available for purchase.