Blind Spot – Race and Environmental Activism

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When Virtual Migrants were set to devise a new production, “Continent Chop Chop”, directed by Amanda Huxtable, performance poet, editor, activist and fellow Shake! core team member, Simon Murray asked me on board but in video presence.

“What is CONTINENT CHOP CHOP?

‘Continent Chop Chop’ is a touring transmedia production linking narratives of climate change to the broader issues of poverty, race and social justice. Using interwoven narratives portrayed through music, poetry, and projected imagery, it will ask:

Who controls the narrative of climate change?
What are the connections between climate change and poverty?
How does the wider climate of austerity and scapegoating
of migrants connect with climate change?
And why should anyone care when they don’t have enough to eat?”

More details of the tour here.

(SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEO)

I’ve been to enough climate justice and environmental activism events now to notice that pervasive lack of representative diversity. Whatever diversity means. To de-mystify: spotting the person of colour, young people, those dis-abled by society is a sub-conscious action that can only be prevented from becoming normalised if you go in to these events with a mission to make a point about the lack of diversity. It often agitates the room in two ways, a) people embrace it and make all the right noises towards addressing the issue. Or b) people get defensive. (Learned something new just recently – aversion racism)EJ-word-cloud-black-white-red

As I have been engaging a lot recently with issues of race in places of activism and how systemic racism is so readily overlooked as a manifestation in the room, Continue reading “Blind Spot – Race and Environmental Activism”

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Dee Dee’s. Pt 1

London. 2015. Yes, you are seeing right. 11295658_10155689774675037_5699919975633556062_n

“Hello Everyone

Thank you all for the phone calls, notes, emails, tweets and Facebook message of support we have received regarding the racial abuse we were subject to on Monday 25th May, 2015.

On what was supposed to be our break on a Bank Holiday, it was with great shock and much sadness that we were called to work to see a disgusting piece of graffiti scrawled upon our very own walls. It was a disappointment to us to realise that someone could go out of their way to be so disrespectful and to have the gall to express such prejudice in public. There is no place in this community for such prejudice whether race, religion, sexuality…. NONE! London is such a cosmopolitan city, which makes it so special.

What we know and stand by is, that the culprit(s) actions do not represent the general feeling of the Herne Hill community.

We have received so much support from so many that we really and truly feel inspired and hopeful in a situation which frankly left us bewildered, violated and down-heartened. On the very day it happened, we had one very kind neighbour lend us some sheets to cover the obscene language, and since then a stream of well wishers checking that we were OK. We have been inundated with encouraging messages to focus on the good that we are doing, rather than the negativity of the incident. We appreciate your continued support.

To thank you all for your support, we have an open bar on Thursday, 4th June from 1800-2000 – we are putting on some entertainment by inviting the hosts of our comedy and poetry night, to put on an event of fun and laughter.

We look forward to seeing you and THANK YOU again for all your support.

The Dee Dee’s Team”

The above letter is from the owner of a Bar in a well-to-do area of London called Herne Hill. For mainstream media the racist intent of this attack has disappeared down the ‘blackhole’ of invisibility and erasure as most outcries and reports of racism do. Remember, it took almost 20 years for Doreen Lawrence to receive some sort of Justice for the racist murder of her son Stephen Lawrence. And all too often when racism is called out, those on the receiving end ie. the Black and Brown folk, are challenged for calling ‘the race card’ or ‘reverse racism’. This blog post is not the time to go into the depths of this distorted perception and psychology of what racism actually is as, right now, I want to speak about how this bar is symbolic of a complex set of issues that require a level-headedness almost devoid of emotion. Yet to the contrary,  this attack seems to be all about rousing angry emotions. Dee Dee’s team have remained dignified and have moved with integrity every step of the way to reach a conclusion in favour of justice and equality.

I did not know of Dee Dee’s until I saw a  Brixton Buzz article online about the racist graffiti. I went down there because a friend was performing with her band and to show some solidarity at the same time. When I heard what had happened  and a few of the events leading up the graffiti appearing, I was appalled (and hurt for them) and came back the next day to talk to the manager and owner to (maybe)  get a few words, documenting yet another incident of racism in a “post” racist UK. They gave me an extended 2 hour  interview I thought might last just  30 minutes. And I’m grateful for that, as they had been talking to no press because of other complications around the investigation, trapping them under the threat of “incitement of racial hatred”, the police have told them. I shall explain in later blog. It’s incredulous.  So they didn’t have to trust me. I’m a stranger, rocking up with a camera and a recording device.

Since, I have come to appreciate the Love people have for this space and as an artist, I understand the value of space. Gentrification is killing spots like Dee Dee’s. Let that be duly noted. But this is overt and aggressive prejudice. This event adds another sinister edge development programs are not considering. But they should.

There is no obscuring the nastiness of this appalling display of bigotry, not even behind the black paint that now covers it. However, despite this, the media managed to find an angle to deflect attention away from the harm and damage done to a people and their property that did not deserve it, shifting the focus to an initial possible suspect, the police say they are no longer investigating and who I will not give any more air time. Click here to read more. The owner of Dee Dee’s has expressed great concern for his staff – will this happen again? Will it be a physical act upon one of his staff as opposed to property, if there is a next time?. Something does not sit right.

There are conversations on social media you can follow here, also  here, and here, about the investigation and the statement by the initial possible suspect in general – police are not pursuing the culprit, an obvious hot lead has not been investigated, Why did a local school headmistress say that the graffiti was a photoshopped fabrication? There are so many unanswered questions I will go into on a later post.

But right now, with an indomitable spirit, Dee Dee’s are opened for business as usual and on Thursday 4th June made a special event of performance and a 2 hour open bar  to thank all their supporters. I went. It was heartwarming to see locals and some who hadn’t been before relaxing, enjoying the vibe and speaking out against racism.

Nuff Respect Dee Dee’s. More Power to you.

Listen to testimonials from those who came to support on the day. 
Song: ‘She’ written and performed by Sian Roseanna Facebook & Twitter: Sianroseanna

Here we go again
Here we go again having to justify our existence
Here you go again with your colonial irrelevance
White spray on black walls
As if we our skin was still
a canvas upon which to paint your hate
But you underestimate the power we create
with words, with song
And Laughter, a joyful throng
Come together with Love for Unity
that rights a wrong
In the balance of karma

And in the light of knowing
the darkness in which your hate dwells
I wish you well, because as Marley says,
‘Oh, Time alone, Time will tell,
you think you’re in heaven
But you’re living in Hell.”

Peace.
~Z~

‘Othered’ Eco-Activism and a Jacket Potato – a poem

In January, fellow poets Sai Murray, Selina Nwulu and I were commissioned to write poetry in response to an event called Weather Fronts exploring the storytelling of climate activism and sustainable futures. The lab-type event hosted by Free Word in Farringdon, London had attracted a healthy number of scientists and writers to see if the line between science and creativity could be further blurred to create more accessibility into conversations about climate change and environmental polemics. Not only was the goal to broaden the audience and de-academicized scientific study of this politically contentious issue,  but to consciously activate creative visions of the future.

What was clear to us three was the under representation of the black and brown voice in the room. This was not a problem directly with regard the intentions of the event organisers, but it spoke to the invisibility of representative diversity in mainstream conversations about climate consciousness and the environmental activism. The irony of this is that the majority of climate and environmental injustices take place south of the equator, in the homelands of First Nation peoples – black and brown folk. Its in their ancestral lands that exploitation and destruction for economic gain, political leverage and mass consumption by “the west” (or more appropriately, the north) is a historical and prevailing fact.

keep-calm-cuz-green-is-the-new-blackThe Others. There is just not enough coverage of climate or environmental activism by black and brown people, except when large corporates are involved and even then they are often positioned as victims. This is, to an important degree, inaccurate. They are not just victims. Part of decolonializing of historical narratives is noting the omission of black and brown folk in resistance. To address the balance we must highlight the rebuilding, restoring and healing of themselves and their homelands during and after decimating exploitation. It could easily be perceived that we are apathetic to climate issues, that environmental activism is for the privileged and ‘white’ who have time and financial resource to save whales, protest outside parliament and flash mob morally bankrupt corporate oil headquarters.

However, eco-activists such as Majora Carter, Ron Finley and Will Allen, make it very clear that black and brown eco-activism intersects with issues heavily nuanced and evidenced as race bais, such as impoverishment through lack of employment, food education and health provision, and civic engagement with urban communities. But focusing on the solution, more importantly, black folk activism is not latent, it is inherently fuelled differently. And racialised ‘difference’ equates to ‘othered’, ranked a lower priority and given less attention. This issue with this ‘othering’ is how their work is labelled or catergorised. Often this work gets called ‘community service’ or ‘community engagement’. What does this subliminally say about the word ‘community’ when associated to black and brown neighbourhoods? That the work that goes on there is less than the big global campaigns against Shell oil or Monsanto. Why is there a disconnect between these black and brown global struggles for eco-justice and equality and those that struggle in the hearts of the inner cities of London or the US?

Thes urban spaces have their champions, Continue reading “‘Othered’ Eco-Activism and a Jacket Potato – a poem”

Touring with Extraordinary folk – Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis

2013. This highlight has got to be  highlight of the year so far – a 6 date tour with Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis. Zee Hugh Larry 2David Jones of the London Jazz Festival production company Serious, invited me to be support Masekela and Mr Wilis as part of a Women Make Music PRS fund. After I’d accepted, I realised that for the last 3 years I had been working hard as project deviser, coordinator and facilitator, predominantly for youth projects, though I did a little directing and mentoring for Write-Meet-Read Collective,   who were producing their first anthology of  Women writings- “Ink on my Lips” –  in Brighton. I’d only had the odd poetry performance invite throughout the year. I got a little nervous…. But I decided to rise to the challenge, dust off my kora (she hadn’t been played in about 5 years – shame), write some new work, revisit some poems that hadn’t seen the light of day and curate a set based on the theme of “The Melody of the Poetry of Us.”

Zee Speedy Hugh Larry

I had worked with guitarist, Jon Speedy,  for 2 years as a spoken-word  poetry and music duo from 2007 and it was an off-shoot collaboration of “Converations”, my ambitious but brilliantly fun and gratefully successful 2009 & 2010 multi-media projects fusing music, spoken-word poetry and visuals based on a strong theme. This time I chose a theme that spoke to  the things we need and strive to do to stay human in a technocratic, objectifying, globalized epoch that tends to de-humanise and homogenize us. This Continue reading “Touring with Extraordinary folk – Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis”

South Africa – Cultures Worth Fighting For

Today, I want to write about the South Africa I love. Not about Malema and Zuma, the travesty of the ANC legacy post-Apartheid or the shocking images of Platinum Miners in South Africa mown down by security forces (warning: graphic video) last week.
I want to write about the South Africa that has so much to offer in terms of its Spirit and I feel this will be the first of a series of posts about it.

Since I saw this horrifying raw piece of footage, I have pulled out all my music, novels and poetry collections to remind me of why SA is still a life changing place to visit.
My personal connection to South Africa is linked to something ethereal. I think. South Africa was my first visit to the African Continent in October 1994, just after the abolition of Apartheid and inauguration of Mandela. My returns since  have been connected to the most important thing that has influenced me as a human being and that is the country’s passion of Creativity – turning the Struggle, concepts of Freedom and Liberation into breath-taking Art, Music and Theatre and Dance. I will always be grateful to Pops Mohamed, Busi Mhlongo, Moses Molelekwa, Madala Kunene, Bheki Mseleku,  the Xhosa Singers of Lady Frere, Dizu Plaatjies, Kheti, Thandiswa,  Zim Ngqawana, and  Vusi Khumalo for the music they have given me.

Recently, I was asked by the  Kassiani Lythrangomitis from the South African Tourist Board for an interview about my life as an artist and my relationship to SA. Below is the podcast.

Click to visit the Global South Africa  Website

In 1998, I was on tour with Pops Mohamed and the NGQOKO Women’s Cultural Group of Lady Frere – from the Ngqoko Village in the Eastern Cape. This choir is one of the last practitioners of the Umngqokolo (overtone) singing – an ambient trance song that made my hair stand on end, stirring the spirit in my very bones. I remember our tour to Zurich, Germany, Paris…. My mind was so alert as I was taught how to play Umgube (mouthbow) and some of their deep-rooted traditional songs whilst riding the tour bus. These Women knew  how to party. One prominent memory of this tour was shopping in Paris. Parisiens stared as they walked through the chilly moist streets near Monmartre in layers of blankets, beads and headwraps  and I was flipping mental somersaults speaking in broken french to market vendors translating their utterances into  my even more scanty Xhosa to help the ladies get the right sized clothing for their children. But it worked. My brain was so alert. It was a  time and tour I will never forget.


Here is Singing the Praises of Women – a poetic and song collaboration with The Lady Frere Singers, live in Geneva.

One of the other highlights of my SA connections in poetry and music was recording with the late, great Busi Mhlongo – one of the most powerful women I have met. She was a giant on stage. In 2000, still very early in my poetry writing career, I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute a poem to her internationally acclaimed album, Urbanzulu.
The track itself is epic and seemed to call for an epic poem – one that was declamatory and rousing.

To be continued…

Meet – Proms Plus Late

BBC radio invited me to perform for a series of after Prom show events called  ‘Proms Plus Late.’ I performed 4 pieces and the Freddie Gavita Quartet played two tracks of epic proportions. Editing must have been tricky. The producer of the show chose my poem ‘Meet’. There was really great sound in the venue though. Poem begins around 3.40 mins.

Check the link for the Prom Plus Late website and more music and poetry – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01l7qwn

Meet – Proms Plus Late

BBC radio invited me to perform for a series of after Prom show events called  ‘Proms Plus Late.’ I performed 4 pieces and the Freddie Gavita Quartet played two tracks of epic proportions. Editing must have been tricky. The producer of the show chose my poem ‘Meet’. There was really great sound in the venue though. Poem begins around 3.40 mins.

Check the link for the Prom Plus Late website and more music and poetry – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01l7qwn

Meet – Proms Plus Late

BBC radio invited me to perform for a series of after Prom show events called  ‘Proms Plus Late.’ I performed 4 pieces and the Freddie Gavita Quartet played two tracks of epic proportions. Editing must have been tricky. The producer of the show chose my poem ‘Meet’. There was really great sound in the venue though. Poem begins around 3.40 mins.

Check the link for the Prom Plus Late website and more music and poetry – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01l7qwn

Zena and the Zohar Collaborations

In between the years of 2001 – 2004 I was doing a lot more singing with bands and choirs. More than what I am known for as poet. This year I have been asked to perform quite a bit with musicians. It’s been a joy. I shall be posting more footage and audio of these performances later on.

But these Zohar collaborations in 2003 peaked with me going to Los Angeles , performing on a stage embedded in a huge cliff face in the middle of the desert, with a huge manmade lake to the side with the reflection of the an incredible sunset reflected in the gentle ripples. It was a great time.
“Augmenting the spectral disembodied voices, live singer Zena Edwards brought a brooding neosoul intensity, her pleas for peace resonating wonderfully in the center’s cultural-bridge-building environs.”-Viva la Revolucion, Gustavo Arellano http://www.laweekly.com/content/printVersion/37109/

Music: Erran Baron Cohen
Lyrics: Zena Edwards

Sunrise – Mystikal Love

Too Much Too Soon


Desert Child – Live in Los Angeles, 2003

“Raising Game EP Xtra” – My Poetry and Music Compilation

It became too much. I started to hang my head in shame. The last request on how to get hold of some of my work got me saying to myself, ‘the energy behind your fans asking for cd’s or books straight after a gig is perhaps the most significant factor in you continuing to push on through when things get tough, Zena, especially when the industry ‘ain’t showin no love’ and promoters are too broke to pay you too.”
So, with the digital age in full effect, I have put together a body of work in one place, available for download on Bandcamp, naming it “Raising Game EP Xtra”.

This is a selection of my favourite spoken word and music collaborations over time . I’m proud of them all and thought it was time to have them compiled so I  look back on them as a  personal legacy  as I move into 2012. I’m have some brilliant collaborations in the pipeline so I’m  very excited. The title “Raising Game” is to remind myself that I although this is a selection I am proud of, I expect much more from my creativity in the near future. I feel I have more to offer. Enjoy!

To get your copy of “Raising Game EP Xtra”, you can go to Bandcamp have a listen and download 9 quality tracks for £7 or download individual tracks for your selective listening pleasure. Your feedback is most welcome  so please email at conversationsvid@gmail.com  to leave feedback  and to get on the mailing lists for all my performances and creative projects as well as other links to poetry and music  blogs that really float my boat.

THE DEADLINE

In December 2010, I got a call from producer, James Robinson from  BBC Radio 4, to write and perform a piece of poetry for performance for a radio project called Verse Illustrated. Cool opportunity.

The piece is about a frustrated artists who is stuck in a loop of dead end temp jobs and her infuriating current boss who haunts her every waking and sleeping hour…

I really wanted to do a piece based on my incessant insomnia and my geeky obsession with the internet. I surf for random information which I know will, at some point, come to be of use to me. (or it could be down to my innate need to info hoard.) So, in the beginning of July 2011,  when I still had not completed the piece (due end of July for the recording session), still not sleeping and still info hoarding, I began to realise that the piece about being dogged by a looming work project, I had entitled “The Deadline” was becoming a reality for me. (Though James is nothing like the boss in the piece.)

So by week 3 of July, working quite hard on numerous projects, generating lots of mental activity, I got a renewed awareness in my need for a holiday, a flagrant shrugging off of responsibility and  recognising that sometimes it really is best to write what you know, I dug around in the memories of a trip to Goa and called on the rebel within and came up with this piece in matter of days… with rewrites and redrafts of performance. It was also nice to play Kalimba and work with music for a piece of my own work. The Deadline. Broadcast August 2011

Listen to The Deadline

For the Love of Music and Poetry @ Ronnie Scotts

If you don’t know, get to know – Jazz Verse Box. It’s the brain child of Jumoke Fashola and last month I was invited to be part of a Jazz Verse Box Event with a special twist of being part of the Brit Jazz Festival. I was billed long with Charlie Dark, Soweto Kinch, Sh’maya  and Hollie McNish but COLLABORATED with world class musicians – Simon Wallace on Piano, Winston Clifford on Drums and Davide Mantovani on Bass – who made my poems come aurally to life for me, in the moment,  in the true Spirit and Style of Conversation.

Loved it!

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