George the Poet performs in front of the Queen at major Commonwealth event

George the Poet performs in front of the Queen at major Commonwealth event

Spoken-word artist, rapper and social commentator George Mpanga performed in front of the Queen and Prime Minister Theresa May at the Service of Celebration for Commonwealth Day in Westminster Abbey.

George (OE 2002–2009), who is known professionally as George the Poet, performed a version of Whitney Houston’s My Love is Your Love during the service, which was broadcast live on BBC1.

Among the congregation were prominent Commonwealth politicians representing 52 nations, senior members of the Royal Family, including the Duke of Edinburgh, and numerous other dignitaries. It was the 45th such annual service.

Interviewed before the service by the BBC World Service, George explained the reason for his choice of song: “It’s got universal themes of unity and it’s all about finding myself in someone I love.”

George was accompanied by a band and backing singers. His lyrics included: “I was given this life – I didn’t make it – but I can make it better,” and “you might not have the same features or complexion as me, but you are by far the best reflection of me.”

Asked about the Commonwealth, George said: “My family is from Uganda in an area previously under British colonial rule. It’s a fraught history; it’s not straightforward; it is difficult in places, but ultimately it is a story of early globalisation, of people coming together and trying to make sense of things. A lot has been gained and there is a lot more to set our sights towards.”

He felt the Commonwealth had declined in terms of its cultural prominence: “It is not involved in pressing political decisions and it does not usually get salience in the media.” It was also not well known or understood by young people. Yet he saw a strong role for it, especially in the current climate of political upheaval: “The Commonwealth provides a common ground in which we can talk about where we want to be, where we see ourselves in the future. It is a big part of the reason for diasporas’ histories,” he said.

In the interview, George explained the process by which he had come back to music after a period in which he focused on poetry. He had started as a rapper, but then found the medium insufficient for the level of detail and type of sentiment he wanted to express, so moved into poetry, he said. “I returned to music because it really is in the fabric of my being and it is a very sophisticated way to communicate.”

George has maintained strong links with QE and was a well-received guest speaker at the annual Year 12 formal Luncheon, as well as leading a poetry workshop for the whole of Year 9.