Ariel Luckey performs in “Free Land”
Photo by Daniel Gonzalez
Free Land: A Hip Hop Journey From the Streets of Oakland to the Wild Wild West
Written and performed by Ariel Luckey
Berkeley Repertory Theater
Oct. 8, 2010
Reluctant enthusiasm would be a natural response to a charming 27-year-old white male’s invitation to his own one-man hip-hop show. Especially, when America’s history of indigenous genocide and the blatant stealing native lands and culture is its subject. Any baby-boomer performance artists or activists who attempted similar projects in their youth would be quick to feel trepidation and the knee-jerk reaction of “Been there, done that! Good luck! ”
Luckily — extremely luckily — “Free Land: A Hip Hop Journey From the Streets of Oakland to the Wild Wild West,” written and performed by Ariel Luckey, is immediately disarming, confident, and fluid, both in its hip-hop groove and in its straightforward poetic inquiry. This autobiographical journey, a young man’s search for his roots, with a zip zip, hip-hop pulse, takes the audience through the historic battlefields of Wyoming to the sacred indigenous burial sites beneath Oakland’s asphalt and Emeryville’s shopping center.
It artfully balances the helplessness and rage caused from awakening — or even reawakening — to America’s long history of violence and racism with the insightful wisdom of choosing one’s battles wisely. The pentacle of this precocious intelligence and dance-beat grace perfectly presents itself when a fired up Luckey, on the brink of confronting his 92-year-old grandfather over the history of how their family land was acquired chooses not to. “What good would it do?” he ponders. “What good would it do to tell granddad that their land was stolen land, not “free” at all, that this gift by the U.S. government came wrapped with a bloodbath of innocent native men, women and children? He wouldn’t understand, he would be hurt and alienated. What good would it do to try to change his delusion about the U.S. Government’s gift of ‘free land’ under the Homestead Act?”
Luckey has a choice to make, both personally and artistically, and instead of unleashing his anger and twenty-something-self-righteousness, he chooses the love that he and his grandfather share. Pro-actively he takes his insights and channels his self-education into this performance and in educational curriculum as both book and DVD.
“Free Land” weaves spoken word poetry, performance art, theater, and hip-hop music (with a rhythmically engaging score by Ariel’s brother, Ryan Luckey) into a compelling performance that is both challenging and inspirational. It reminds us of the violence and racism that is a significant part of America’s history without focusing on blame but on the facts, which makes it both informative and genuinely entertaining. “Free Land” is as timely of a topic and performance now as ever, as our country undergoes a resurgence of the same violence and racism with attempts to the change the 14th Amendment and as immigration becomes a hotter issue.