‘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

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

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

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

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…

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… 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

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
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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

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