Whether you are new to podcasts or have a queue of shows ready to listen to, there are always popular shows that “you must listen to”, but somehow never have. Our Point Of Entry series aims to give you just that – a point of entry into the shows you’ve heard of, but never heard.
In Have You Heard George’s Podcast?, spoken word artist George The Poet joins producer and composer Benbrick to create this narrative-style podcast where the narrator, George, delves into different themes and topics. Starting as an indy production in 2018, its huge success at the 2019 British Podcast Awards brought it to the attention of the BBC, who took it on for the second series, or ‘chapter’. So far George and the team have released three chapters in total, and I will be choosing my favourite episode from each.
Chapter One: Episode 3 – A Grenfell Story
A Grenfell Story was released 2nd September 2019 almost two years after the Grenfell Tower fire, which occurred 14th June 2017. Here, George narrates the story of a teacher in the background of the disaster.
With George’s research, the script is full of knowledge as he tackles the issues that occur in inner city London through this teacher – she faces rejection throughout as her colleagues call her methods a nuisance, even though she is trying to get through students who are used to hustle culture. The relationship between her daughter’s father lacks stability and her relationship with George’s character seems to lack substance as he doesn’t even know which floor she lives on – this is repeated and holds significance.
The feeling of neglect that the teacher experiences mirrors what the residents of Grenfell went through – before the fire the residents expressed concern regarding the safety of the building including lighting issues and even calling the building a firetrap in 2014. As the inevitable happens and the fire occurs, what I appreciate is the humanity that George brought towards this story – it is a reminder that these were real people not just numbers.
Chapter Two: Episode 18 – Concurrent Affairs
In May 2019 George The Poet turned down an MBE, and in this chapter two finale he explains why.
George personifies the countries of Uganda and Great Britain. With the character of Uganda, although a complicated relationship both she and George want peace. When talking to Great Britain, George exclaims how appreciative he is to the BBC. Great Britain asks “tell me more about me as a country” and this is when there is a slight pause – Benbrick has been experimental with sound, pushing and manipulating what we can do with it particularly with episodes where George spirals into his mind – however here it’s quite simple.
MBE stands for “member of the British Empire” and this title does not sit right with George. He shares in detail what damage Great Britain had on Africa and its children, including gaps in information, and that this is the reason why he must fight for his identity. If you have been listening to this podcast George’s decision to reject the MBE makes sense – George has dissected his identity through each episode and tried to understand parts of himself through music and other themes. He has tried to explain his upbringing in Great Britain – though at times full of nostalgia and joy – George is transparent and doesn’t shy away from calling out its institutional and systemic faults. George makes it very clear: “Yeah Brexit is tough. Me and your pain are not the same. I’m not a member of the British Empire. I’m George Mpanga and my name is my name.”
Chapter Three: Episode 25 – Who Hurt R&B?
In Chapter 3, George and his team have developed Common Ground – a website where after you listen to an episode George asks questions relating to it, so the conversation continues. After you answer the questions, you get taken to the ‘commons’ where you get to read and listen to other people’s perspectives through voice recordings, mini essays or images.
In this episode he explores how much R&B has changed and dissects how African Americans have had a history of conveying pain and frustration through music, tracking the narrative back all the way to the 70’s. He talks about several reasons for changes. Towards the end of the 20th Century feminism affected music and divorce was on the rise among African Americans. We hear the power anthem “It’s not right but it’s okay” by Whitney Houston, and George notes it wasn’t just feminism that played a part in the number of divorces but poverty. Throughout the episode there’s examples of how surroundings shaped these men and women and the music that they created as George explains “rap music portrayed women being put down but RnB portrayed women putting their foot down.”
I shared on Common Ground that what this episode and George’s whole podcast has taught me to do is go beyond the surface – it has also caused me to think about what I grew up with and how that has shaped my identity.