Sport has a tendency to produce simpler narratives than life does. And when, early in his career, Muhammad Ali christened himself 'The Greatest', one could be forgiven for suspecting he was a sportsman untroubled by the nuances of reality. But beyond his brash, pugilistic showmanship, Ali's life was an incredibly complex blend of sporting pressure and outspoken protest. He opposed the Vietnam War and embraced Islam. He travelled the country on speaking tours, becoming an important voice in the civil rights movement. Then he'd stop for a while and go pulp another opponent in the ring.
To Malaysian-Australian rapper and poet Omar Musa, Ali was an effervescent example of how to toss aside shame and embrace being your true self. Musa's show, Since Ali Died, has already blazed a path through both Griffin's Batch Festival in April and Darwin Festival in August. Now it's on its way back to Sydney — first to the SBW Stables Theatre for Sydney Festival, before heading to Parramatta's Riverside Theatres in late-January.
A lyrical lament directed by Anthea Williams, Since Ali Died confronts the realities of suburban violence, cultural heritage and how the two intersected for Musa while growing up in regional NSW. Through song, rap and spoken poetry, he begins to show us the narratives Australians have oversimplified for years. Intensely poetic and searingly critical, Since Ali Died might best be described as floating like a butterfly and stinging…well, you know.
Since Ali Died will run from Monday, January 7 to Saturday, January 19 as part of Sydney Festival 2019. Tickets cost $35, plus there'll be $20 Monday rush tickets (available from noon for that evening's performance).