“Why do Africans not swim?” I ask Ayo. “The Middle Passage,” he answers. “For you white people, the water is a playground, for us, it is the point of no return.”
In a fusion of cruising and performing, two men – one black, one white – are preparing to retrace the Atlantic Slave Triangle on their expedition, “Deep Water/High Seas.” Martin Hubbard and Ayodale Scott will anchor in the UK, West Africa and the Caribbean, visiting the same ports their ancestors sailed through two centuries ago. From their 37-foot trimaran, Sameboat, they will perform “Black Men Don’t Float?,” a 45-minute piece meant to transform a tragic historical reality into a cross-cultural understanding – one that addresses their roots while confronting the racial issues of today.
The show, written by Martin and Ayo, tells of a white yachtsman single-handing around Africa for charity who collides with an African migrant in a canoe. They end up on the same boat and are forced to coexist amidst their differences. The audience – many of whose ancestry also relates to the Middle Passage – watches from the side decks and harbor walls.
In a sense, the play mirrors the story of the men aboard. Martin hails from an upper-class anglo-catholic family from Britain. Ayo grew up in a Sierra Leone compound where four extended families shared a living space the size of Martin’s drawing room. Yet, through art and sailing, they found a way to be in the same boat together. “At its most basic, the trip should provide an honest record of a white man and a black man facing up to their cultural and personal differences and heritages,” explains Martin.
Martin and Ayo have already discovered the challenges of funding their trip. “We have no shortage of inventiveness and commitment,” says Martin. “Our obstacles have been mostly financial and organizational.” Because the Atlantic is considered International waters, national arts alliances are unable to fund their journey, so the men are hoping to eventually pay it off through revenue from their website, books and lectures. Meanwhile, they are solidifying their crew and tour dates for a trip they hope will begin in autumn 2009.
“Lie back and float,” I say. “Black men don’t float,” he answers. “Yes they do. It’s a myth. Black and white people, they both float.”
To view videos of Martin and Ayo, check out the following: