Ezekiel Ox has barely sat down and he’s throwing his latest lyrics at me from across the table. “Spit on the symbols of racist hatred … Spit on the walls of the church … Spit on the bars of the cell … Spit on the piles of paperwork … Spit on the TV … the school … the rich.”
He is a physical performer, trained in musical theatre at one of the English-speaking world’s premier colleges, the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. Usually, an unbroken gaze would demand your full attention for one of these spontaneous rap recitals. His shoulders would pop rhythmically; his fingers would flick words as, in fits and starts, he forces the phrases for effect like a martial artist hissing out the steps of a kata. But these are fresh lines and Zeke, as he is known, hasn’t memorised them yet. So he reads from the notebook now splayed out between us in this unpopulated East Brunswick beer garden.
Those who have played audience to Zeke’s stage performances describe him as one of the best rock and roll front acts in the country. Some will tell you he is the best that they have seen. Today, he fronts up to progressive rallies more regularly than front bars. If you’ve been to a protest in Melbourne in the last year or so, you likely would have encountered him, mic in hand and wheeling a small but “persuasive” amplification system, which pierces any extended silence with the energy for which he is renowned.
His latest national tour, titled "On the record", is a solo endeavour, in order that there is “no one to get in the way” when politics is brought to the stage – something which previously caused friction with a few of his collaborators. “This is a tour born of the street”, he says. “It’s not just a musical event, but agitation against the government – and not just the government: whoever you vote for, they still get in.”
It is billed as a propaganda tour: taking radical politics on the musical road. When he was fronting for the bands Full Scale and Mammal, the crowds grew large. The advertising material (or more accurately, agitprop) for the solo show, however, is designed for a smaller audience seeking politics as much as a performance – there are no fewer than 24 demands spread across a no-frills “memo to the people of Australia”.
They range from “no education cuts” and “raise the minimum wage” to “stop Aboriginal deaths in custody” and “free Gaza”. Added to those are a few general insults against the political right. And then there’s the white space for punters to make their own demands. “Add agenda items here”, it invites – a call for the airing of grievances and a discussion of solutions. “The advertising material was paid through crowd funding by people who like both the music and the message”, he says.
Zeke has been labelled “controversial”, as are most who hold opinions that fall outside the narrow range deemed acceptable by the Lib-Lab political duopoly. That’s the suffocating state of play in Australia. Zeke, to his credit, is prepared to get out and, at the very least, try to broaden the discussion. He will also put on one hell of a show.
[The On the record tour will play Brisbane on Thursday night. For tour dates, visit ezekielox.com/ox-events.]