By George

George the Poet has much to say about politics, education and business. And he does so eloquently through poetry, rap and in this interview with Antonia Charlesworth.

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Two years after he left Cambridge University with a degree in politics 24-year-old George Mpanga, who grew up on a north London housing estate one MP described as lawless, is ready to deal with the pressing concerns affecting his community. But instead of the podium, he’s taking to the stage.

“I have considered going into politics but it’s a bit restrictive,” says the spoken word and rap artist, known as George the Poet. “I wouldn’t have had the same freedom that I’ve had in the music industry.”

Mpanga was initiated into the rap and grime scene young but transferred his lyrical dexterity to poetry when he reached Cambridge, for fear his message might get lost in translation. Today, despite a record deal with Island, he considers himself a poet first, with the music, he says, providing him with a fun way of reaching a wider audience. The release of his debut EP last year, The Chicken and The Egg, coincided with his first collection of poetry, Search Party.

Simultaneously, the two tackle the social injustices he’s witnessed, explore his personal experiences and frustrations, and seek to inspire others into action.

“Politicians pander to the public because they’re not given the freedom to speak realistically.”

Speaking in a political debate on Radio One’s Newsbeat Mpanga described his career in the music industry. “I have to play the game to get on the airwaves,” he said. “Now I’m in the room, able to affect the outcome.”

But is he critical of politicians who feel they need to similarly play the game?

“It’s not so much about the individuals as it is about the structure,” he says. “Politicians have to pander to the general public because they’re not given the freedom to speak realistically. It’s very difficult for anyone to be real so I can’t really fault them. If I’d have gone straight into politics I would’ve been in the same position as those guys.”

Fortunately for him, he says he hasn’t had to alter his message for the music industry to accept it but he feels many rap artists are exploited and do.

“There are very, very rich men that cut cheques for people that do what they want them to. They think if I sell the most shocking, degrading stuff I’ll make more sales than if I talk about something positive and uplifting.”

In the past year Mpanga has been nominated in the critics’ choice category in the Brit Awards, was one of the BBC Sound of 2015 acts and was shortlisted for the MTV UK Brand New for 2015 awards. He’s supported Nas on tour and performed on tracks by Emeli Sande.

His debut single 1 2 1 2 articulated what he says is his key message – that people are more powerful than they realise. “They have control over their futures. If I can do it, you can too.”

After his older brother got into trouble at a local comprehensive Mpanga’s mother, who moved from Uganda in the eighties, pushed him to apply for the school at the top of the league tables at the time – the all boys’ Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Barnet. But he knows his story is an exception to the rule and social mobility for his peers, he says, can feel impossible.

“We’re locked out of the tricks and tips that can help us. There is a certain code you can learn in this country that will get you into the right circles, help you develop the right habits and acquire the right knowledge. We all have circles, habits and knowledge but whether or not they are valuable, whether or not they are recognised by the establishment as something that can translate to benefit you economically, culturally or otherwise, is the question. In my community we’re set up to not know anything about that.”

The solution, he says, is informative education that provides practical knowledge, enabling a child to transform its situation.

“My main concern is empowerment of individuals and that comes down to education and enterprise,” he says. “Young people aren’t educated adequately so we don’t have any financial control over our futures and we’re going to remain in this cycle in which every time an election comes around we’re asking them for promises that they may or may not deliver. I don’t believe that’s the way we should be – it’s about self-determination and resistance on your own terms. I feel that strongly.”

Indeed, the poet isn’t just talking about these things. He regularly works in schools and with young parents – another issue close to his heart and explored on his EP.

Before he had any platform in the public eye, during his studies, he won a social enterprise competition called the Stake, using his £16,000 prize to fund the Jubilee Line, a series of secondary school poetry workshops for underprivileged children in London. Earlier this month he hosted an event called Nothing is Isolated at the Electric Cinema. It joined politics with performance and was structured around four issues – child literacy, autism (which he regularly speaks out about since his 15-year-old brother Kenny was diagnosed), prison reform and representation in politics.

“No one is an island. No one can do it on their own.”

“A lot of people come to me and say: ‘I’m not going to vote because the politicians don’t represent me.’ I say: ‘Okay, but the politicians don’t represent me – how am I going to win if I bow out of the game?’ I’m not sure about any of these politicians but I don’t have a choice but to vote for one of them.”

During Nothing is Isolated, in which Mpanga performed a piece on each topic and then opened the stage to a special guest concerned with the issues, he talked politics with Premier League footballer-turned-Tory party member Sol Campbell.

But despite his newly found platform Mpanga says there’s only so much he can do as an individual. “My new strategy is to implement structural change, if I can have bigger conversations with the local authorities, private organisations and the voluntary sector,” he says ambitiously. “What we need in society is a multilateral approach so all of these different pockets can get together and strategise the best solution. No one is an island. No one can do it on their own.”

Many of his plans and ideas are small-c conservative but he considers himself a representative of his community and his main objective is helping others to help themselves.

“What I’ve experienced is that when you empower yourself through enterprise, education and business you matter more,” he says. “You’re speaking to me because I matter in society, but really everyone matters, just not everyone gets an outlet. Business is a good outlet. Everyone can do that in their own interest. Poetry’s my thing – what’s yours?”

Ahead of the general election George offers his views on key political debates


“The idea of us all being in this together is a complete myth. I don’t mind us aiming for growth of business – in the past three years enterprise in the UK has seen a phenomenal upsurge. Over 15 per cent of the workforce right now are self employed, which is good. However, if there aren’t provisional structures that ensure that the people who are locked out of that are also catered for, then it is leaving people behind. Statistically, you can see a widening gap between the rich and the poor, a widening gap between the north and the south, a widening gap in the polarisation of income distribution – that is a consequence of irresponsible austerity. You can’t say that you’re going to cut back on public services and do all that you want for the private sector without taking responsibility for the rest of the country that grinds and slogs. There’s been a lot of rhetoric around benefits cheats and what the working class has done to mess up the country. It’s a myth and it’s counter productive. I do think business is a good solution but we need a more responsible strategy.”


“My work is driven by a burning passion for the future of this country.”

“Immigration is a symbiotic arrangement. The country provides opportunities for immigrants who provide contributions – to our economy and to our culture. The political conversation around immigration has been overwhelmed by populist apprehensions about Europe and xenophobic myths. A responsible discussion seeks realistic and sustainable ways of accommodating immigrants while recognising the value of their contribution. I say this as a second-generation immigrant whose work is driven by a burning passion for the future of this country.”

George the Poet performs at Live at Leeds, 2 May

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