Conversations about the realities of climate change can often be debilitating and unnerving. In ‘Can I Live?’ actor and activist Fehinti Balogun manages to make this conversation both emphatic, vibrant and energising, whilst still maintaining the potency and seriousness that issues surrounding the ticking time bomb of climate change ensue. Fehinti Balogun’s ‘Can I Live?’ is an informative piece about climate change from an intersectional point of view as well as an exploration of climate activism and the disproportionate number of black voices within the movement. It is told through afrobeat and hip-hop songs bustling with passion, emotive rhythmic spoken words and immersive performances.
‘Can I Live?’ is a very personal yet political story, the personal side combined with the political allows us to feel Balogun’s burning passion and power for the causes he is fighting for. Beginning in the comfort of his mother’s home Balogun reflects on his activism in relation to his family life; the path of an actor and environmental activist is not one which was carved for him growing up in a Nigerian household where his father pushed the motto “stay out of trouble, do your work and keep your head down” – he notes that staying out of trouble and keeping your head down are qualities that certainly do not mix well with activism. Additionally, he stresses the helplessness he felt whilst trapped inside the confinements of his mother’s home during the pandemic, unable to partake in the direct action that is fundamental to activism.
Balogun’s mother’s home is revealed to be the set of the Barbican theatre. We are plunged into a theatrical, surrealist performance where the extremities of global warming, climate genocide, the links between class and climate as well as the synonymy of climate change and colonialism are all exposed to us through Balogun’s zealous presentation. It is easy to feel detached from climate issues but Balogun does an extremely good job at both putting perspective (thus humanising them) and making this discourse around these issues compelling whilst stressing their gravity -“The more the emissions, the hotter it gets.” Balogun vigorously sings about the impact of greenhouse gasses on global warming, one of the facts that made it easier to internally imagine the impacts of global warming was the comparison between a 1.5 degree temperature rise of the planet is synonymous with the body reaching insanely feverish temperatures. Furthermore, Balogun centres much of his focus on Africa, particularly West Africa as a Nigerian man, this is where a large portion of his emotional attachment resides.
The visualisation of 1.5 degrees temperature increase causing a 6-month extension in drought season for West Africa and 3 degrees causing the drought season to last 2 years puts into viewpoint how alarming these issues really are – the extension of these seasons means crops cannot be grown for longer periods of time, starvation ensues and people die. This is just a glimpse of the sinister reality of climate genocide Balogun brings to light – it will give you chills.
“Why does nobody look like me?” is one of the core questions asked by Balogun in the play. The population of climate change activism circles is disproportionally white and Balogun has found himself uncomfortably aware of this throughout partaking in climate activism. This is something I’ve asked myself too – whilst we hear the necessary and powerful voices of those like Greta Thunberg, it is also important for voices like those of Vanessa Nakate and other black or POC voices to be at the forefront of the climate discourse. The perspective of a young black man is an important voice needed within the climate movement. An important conclusion he draws about the lack of POC within the climate movement is about necessity – survival is at the core of the lives of many POC, trying to put food on the table, looking after family at home and abroad, and in the words of Balogun’s mother in the play ‘waiting for home office papers.’ When these things are at the centre of your world it understandably becomes difficult to insert yourself into something like the climate movement.
Balogun’s rallying cries about the state of our planet come at an important time in climate change conversation as nations gather to discuss climate at COP26. Within the desperation and pleading sense of urgency of his words, he does stress that there is hope. Only 3.5% of the population is all that is needed for a successful political movement – climate change is not individual responsibility like we are often told, it is collective responsibility. Balogun stresses that we need to be angry and frustrated, we need to have our collective voice heard to enact change.
‘Can I Live?’ was directed by Daniel Bailey and in collaboration with the theatre company Complicite. It was filmed on the Barbican’s stage during the lockdown and is currently completing an online tour. Watch it here: https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2021/event/complicite-fehinti-balogun-can-i-live
Reviewed by Lian Lakhope. Lian is a MA Global Media and Communications student at SOAS and a volunteer writer for Abundant Art. Lian has written for a number of different publications, mostly about music, culture and film and she is enthusiastic about expressing her passion for creating art and media.