Read an excerpt from Sound of the Beast
“If you’re not Black, Sound of the Beast isn’t really for you; it’s for us,” Kern Albert writes in his introduction to Donna-Michelle St. Bernard’s newest book. “It’s a prayer. It is a communion. It is a lamentation as well as a rejoicing. A reconciliation. An affirmation. We know we matter. We know what it is like not to matter. That’s not to say the play’s not of value to non-Black people, that it is not worthy of time spent in contemplative pursuit or acquisitional desire. It’s treasure! Once buried so deeply, but now expertly excavated. Unearthed with the precision and reverence of a Master Archae— (that was a test—did you wince when you read “Master”?) of an Accomplished Archaeologist. It is a treasure converted into a currency that can be traded for the commodities of acceptance and understanding.
“What’s more, Sound of the Beast is also a journey—an adventure of discovery.
“And still Sound of the Beast is a map that sparks the journey that leads to the treasure.
“If Blackness is a thing stolen and buried, then Sound of the Beast is a cipher. A clue that a map exists.”
Through spoken word, storytelling and hip hop, Donna-Michelle, A.K.A. Belladonna the Blest, illuminates racial discrimination, the suppression of expression and the trials of activism. Her experience as a Canadian emcee is woven through with allusion to Tunisian emcee Weld El 15’s unjust imprisonment for rhymes against a regime.
Sound of the Beast creates a space to reflect on how we are connected to the systems that oppress us, and how we can empower each other to rise up.
In this excerpt, Donna-Michelle gives advice to her non-existent son.
the performer drops to child level to address young Judas.
Some advice that I am reluctant to give to my son, Judas, who
We don’t want you to get got
So, here’s what you need to do
To protect yourself.
A vapid resting face devoid of emotion.
Having empty hands, and not needing anything in your pocket.*
Knowing two ways out of any place you’re in.
Open a live-streaming app on your phone in less than three
Saying “sir” without sarcasm.#
Buy a coffee, even if you’re not staying long.+
Going wide-eyed to convey harmless, respectful fear.
Staying in shape in case you have to run, fight or drop down.
Speaking without gesture.
Practise till it’s instinct.
Yeah, you can go.
the performer watches Judas leave.
* Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot in 2014 by a Cleveland police officer who saw him playing with a toy gun. Some say the two seconds between getting out of the car and pulling the trigger were not enough for the officer to apply sound judgment, and the Cleveland police department really brought the hammer down with a ten-day suspension.
^ In 2016 Philando Castile was shot by police during a traffic stop. The last moments of his life were live streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds. As Will Smith, a.k.a. the Fresh Prince observed, “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed” (THR Staff, “Will Smith: ‘Racism Is Not Getting Worse, It’s Getting Filmed,’” Hollywood Reporter, 3 Aug. 2016).
# On the last day of her life, Sandra Bland was taken into custody after the officer who had pulled her over demanded she stop smoking, and then took issue with her tone.
+ In 2018, two African American men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks shortly after arriving when staff called police to remove two “non-paying customers.”