‘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”

The Soul Manufacturing Company at Whitechapel Gallery

Last year I was commissioned to make a series of visits to read to some potters at the Whitechapel Gallery. My readings were a part of the Visual Artist/Performer, Urban Planner and Activist, Theaster Gates,  Soul Manufacturing Company for  The Spirit of Utopia  exhibition.

This interactive installation was an extension of the Gates’ previous works at the White Cube Gallery earlier in 2012 – “My Labour is my Protest.”
The Soul Manufacturing Company exhibition interrogated the notion of the value of art and was an oblique but very classy tongue in cheek critique of the art world – “who or what gives value to a piece of art,  how does the institutionalized canon of opinion in valuing the making of art maintain itself and what questions can be asked about the labour of the hands that make the art?

Six ceramicists were commissioned to make the simplest Japanese style bowls and cups and hand-made bricks from a basic clay as if in a factory production line every day for 8 hours a day. Hundreds over 10 weeks were made. The destiny for these objects seemed to be a bit of a mystery and in vein with how Gates works. They will be shipped back to the US and what they will be used for is being held close to Gates’ chest. Right now, let’s make pots.

“He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
Francis of Assisi

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Click to enlarge

My job was to manifest the value of each potter’s labour by offering them the gifts of poetry readings and song. Continue reading “The Soul Manufacturing Company at Whitechapel Gallery”

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”

Tribute to Jayne Cortez & a Poem

Rest in Power
Rest in Power

So so moved and honoured to be a part of this line-up. Voices like Jayne’s returned my voice to me through their works – the one that permits me to be the Artist and Woman and Human of African descent I am wholly meant to be.
The voice that permits me to raise it from the swampy depths of marginalisation to a valid place in world history. I cannot thank enough Jayne, Sonia Sanchez, bell hooks, Maya Continue reading “Tribute to Jayne Cortez & a Poem”

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

Performing @ The Bussey Building – Thursday 26th July ’12


The Royal Court have teamed up withrenowned UK Spoken Word organisation Apples and Snakes to bring you artists Zena Edwards, MC Shay D, UK Slam Champion 2012 Adam Kammerling and Stockwell street-poet Errol McGlashan who will kick off the night at 9.15pm.

Arrive early, grab a drink and a front row seat and be swept away by their lyrical genius. If you fancy coming down earlier, why not make a night of it and buy a pay-what-you-like ticket for Vera Vera Vera (more info below) which will gain you free entry to the Spoken Word night.

Tickets
pay-what-you-like on the door
For more information visit the Royal Court website.
The Bussey Building / CLF Art Cafe, 133 Rye Lane, SE15 4ST

What an absolute privilege…

Image

… an honour, blessing, and  a straight up bligh of the greatest degree. To perform on the Queen Elizabeth Hall stage with Baab Maal, to have him compose music to your poetry, to sing on the same stage and have him say in his alert, bright voice, “Yes you. Very good, you are very good. You have much sincerity”… I am still reeling.  Speechless. In the light of that performance, I shall be recording with Baaba, Lemn Sissay, Inua Ellams and TJ Dema this Sunday 29th July recreating the whole  QEH event at a private studio session with friends. It couldn’t get any better(…or maybe it could!)

OK groupie attack over (just about), the reality is that I have been listening to Baaba’s music and following his story of Blood Line Royalty to Musical Royalty since the early 90’s and I would never have thought that Poetry could bring me to this place.

Lemn Sissay invited myself and many other prestigious international poets as part of the Olympic Poetry Parnasuss to write to the theme of the  journey of the African  diaspora. Word Sound Power was the title of the event and I  opted to write a poem based on Continue reading “What an absolute privilege…”

JAMINAROUND

Playing with smoke and fire in the Dorset vales
I learned how to become a fire breather, as we jammed and reasoned around the embers.
Humbling to nature should never be a difficult task.

JAMINAROUND is the brain child of the Keen Brothers. The four of them make SOUND SPECIES. The venue was incredible – a Viking round house built into the side of a hill with a long kitchen where we ate over open fires. All designed and built by their very cool Dad. Check out The Ancient Technology Centre

The line up was a brilliant selection of poets and musicians (see links below) topped off by a acoustic vibes all night around a fire. Won’t be forgetting this gig in a hurry. Love my job.


S a t u r d a y 9 t h J U N E 2 0 1 2
A  s p e c i a l  e v e n i n g  o f  m u s i c  a n d  s t o r y t e l l i n g
a t  t h e  u n i q u e  a n d  a w e – i n s p i r i n g  C r a n b o r n e E a r t h o u s e.

f e a t u r i n g;

U N I T E D  V I B R A T I O N S

S O U N D S P E C I E S  A N D  S I M O  L A G N A W I (Moroco)

C H R I S  R E D M O N D

Z E N A  E D W A R D S

T H E  B E G U I L E R S

A d v a n c e t i c k e t s £ 1 5 . 0 0
w w w . j a m i n a r o u n d . c o m

F o o d a n d D r i n k s w i l l b e a v a i l a b l e

CLICK FOR MORE ON SOUND SPECIES

Zena E Headlining @ Supa Fine Spoken Word and Music on 26th Jan ’12

On 26th Jan, I’ll be headling at SUPA FINE – a night of Spoken Word and Music accompanied by Jon Speedy from JSB, the soulful, dynamic, conscious poet Oness Sankara and the beautiful vocals of Bianca Rose. If you don’t know these ladies, it time to get to know, they’re some of London’s best female artists in their field. Click names for vibrant more info…

The venue The Hideaway (in North London) has high quality Italian food too, so you can book a table and enjoy the soul food of Poetry and great Italian grub

It’s £5 on the door but there’s a £3 concessions guest list, so drop me an email and I’ll put you down if you fancy it. This Continue reading “Zena E Headlining @ Supa Fine Spoken Word and Music on 26th Jan ’12”

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!

LOVING MY JOB

Bart Scheeman & the NBE

Podium Mozaik is a really cool building. Situated close to the heart of Amsterdam , Maarten Gulickx and the Podium crew champion multi-cultural performance.  The amazing Imani Uzuri is programmed there in March.  Facebook them.
I was invited in September ’10 to celebrate the buildings 5th birthday, and to collaborate and perform with the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went out there but was excited about writing poetry in collaboration with a wind orchestra. What blew me away (‘scuse the pun) was the global diversity in the the music and the inclusiveness of the musical collaboration.

Bart Scheeman is the musical director of NBE and an incredible composer in his own right. As an extremely laid back guy I wondered when the rehearsals were going to launch. I must have underestimated the chilledness of the Holland vibe. Rehearsals were in full flight and it was going over my head on day one. So I chilled and got into some photography, taking pics of the rehearsals. No one seemed to mind. Click images to enlarge them.

Dhroeh Nankoe

There was an interesting moment with a clash of cultures when the timing of Dhroeh Nankoe‘s Indian Sufi composition clashed with a restrictive count of European rhythm. But this is where the beauty occurred. As the rehearsals progressed layers of musical cultural restriction dropped away embracing a new way of being and the magic began to sparkle and spangle about the room.

Rosie Ntjam

The beautifully smooth vocals of Antillian born Izaline Calister sent goose bumps up my spine and the glamourous afro-jazz Congolese funkiness of Rosie Ntjam brought a African feminine vibe to the event that I was proud of.

Vasile Nedea

The  life and soul of rehearsals had to be Vasile Nedea. During performances, his  high energy character amped up filling all corners of the room   as he took us on a vibrant multi-layered musical  journey through the Balkans  playing percussion, accordian and an instrument of his heritage – the Cymbalom. Beautiful…

Haytham

The enchanting compositions for the Middle Eastern instrument called the U’d played with a haunting spirituality by Haytham Safia almost brought tears to my eyes on both shows. We were programmed to play together straight after his solo. Had to swallow those tears back… but this only added to my performance as the emotion behind the piece came from an even more genuine place in my gut.

“The Artist is a Piece I wrote dedicated to all artists on the planet and to the dormant artist within us all. I guess it is an homage to Creativity. Myself, Haytham and Peter Prommel on percussion immersed ourselves in the piece in a way that moved me profoundly, reminding me how much I love my job.

Here is the promo video of the whole event. It was 3 days of  trans-global bliss. (Grin.)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ju-uUJGkh0

MOHAMMED ALI’s – WRITING ON THE WALL

Com – passion,
latin, com – together, passion – suffering
together we suffer, we suffer together
endeavour to weather
the breadth and the depth of the storm
For long are the nights for the lost, forlorn,
the broken, the tired,  the quietly enraged
lashed by the warring that keeps us engaged
with  anger and misplaced hate, bated by false truths,
Baked to break truce with all that is love, all that is compassion

Unity could drown in oil slick politic rhetoric
quick to commit Unity to the ghetto of gimmick
cuff link it to anarchy for kicks to profit from the sale of
battleship, bombshells, bullets more heavy artillery

An ocean of hands can move a mountain
and rock the cradle of the future for a child unborn, spiritually sworn
we spray prayer on resplendent edifices sprung from the earth
birthed by the song of a billion tongues speaking, singing as one.” – Written by Zena Edwards copyright

I can remember the day that Jonzi D got in touch with me and asked if I was interested in a project that involved a graffiti artist in the warehouse space of the Birmingham Rep. It was going to be  a gritty, guerilla style, performance installation piece hailing the craft of  graffiti with a Muslim perspective. My diary said I was available and I was up for it. I had to see how this idea of live graffiti art, light display with spoken word was going to work. Plus I wanted know  how a Muslim graffiti artist reconciled his faith and his unorthodox craft. Mohamed Ali blew my mind with the sheer scale of this undertaking,  how was he  going to turn a cold, grubby theatre production workshop space into a work of art.

To be working with the power houses of poetry Dreadlock Alien(B’ham) and Amir Suliman (US), along with the strong, distinct direction of  Hip Hop pioneer Jonzi D (London),  was an opportunity for myself, as a female poet toplace the resonance  of feminine energy into the  realm of war, religion and terrorism – political debates of  too usually dominated by men. What also struck me was the plain overt positivity of this event was a going to be.

There will soon be a screening of the film showing the writing/rehearsal process and the performance itself but Mohammed sent me the link to the website taster. I’m looking forward to revisiting the many  moments that were monumental  for many reasons, but notably for what is possible for poetry in unique and fresh contemporary cross art form collaborations.

The feedback on the impact of  the final performance on the audience was moving. The show evidently tackled crucial issues  about society and the perceptions about Muslim faith. As we thought, my presence was particularly appreciated. Women AND men commented on my contribution, not just because of what I did as an artist but purely because I was a woman doing what I do as an artist..

A  young girl in  a full  hijab  showing only her  expressive, bespectacled eyes, came over to me with her mother, who kissed me and hugged me and spoke with a gentle defiance. Her daughter translated. “My mother is so happy for you, so proud that you sang tonight.” It meant a lot.

The event itself was empowering because we as artists were  stripped down to the bare essential of our beliefs around  Love, Peace, Unity. To do that, we had to explore war, hate and prejudice. Even to the degree of fully engaging in the battles that go on within ourselves. (There was no room for ego and fortunately there was none of that amongst us.) We had four days to make this work. We knew it was going to be massive. It couldn’t flop. It had to be brilliant. More than brilliant.

From the film  trailer, I sense  that inner story is told too. We had agreed  to be a part of Mohamed Ali’s gargantuan,  heartfelt vision with a message – chosen because of what and how we do what we do. He had dug deep into his emotions, his memory, using  the stamina of his mental and spiritual willpower to make this project happen – not seeing his family, unable to grieve properly for his father’s recent passing. The physical toll on his body, only he knows – painting 13 – 16  hours in a day to finish in time. His passion and dedication is to be admired and respected.  So our agreement meant complete surrender  for us too. Surrender  to our roles  as modern day storytellers and as artists, and most significantly, to the real meanings of these archaic themes , Love, Peace  and Unity, and what they really mean in this day and age.

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