Women Make Music – Yes. I do.

I was recently asked to be guest of the month for The PRS Foundation because my last commission was funded by the Women Make Music Award. Why is it important for these kinds of initiatives with pots of money to exist highlights the fact, that the imbalance in the representation of women in the music industry is very real. Its funds like this that give opportunities to artist musicians, like myself, spread our wings, to make journeys into the obscured treasure of their voices and then to put those stories and voices out into the world to inspire and galvanize others. These awards shift the imbalance so that audiences can  have more choices about what they want to hear and have enrich their lives.
Gotta give a big shout out too Women Make Music!

Below is my interview for the PRS Guest of the monthe interview or click for the original PRS website page.

On 15th November at the Southbank Centre, London, Zena Edwards will be performing a new work written for the 21st birthday of Serious – the producers of the EFG London Jazz Festival (LJF). This work was supported through Women Make Music so we asked Zena some questions about her music and the new piece. Continue reading “Women Make Music – Yes. I do.”

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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 “What an absolute privilege…”

Dear Anger and the Three Furies

In March, of this year I faced a challenged I never expected. My own anger. I was asked to describe it, to critique it to make a creative pieces of spoken word theatre about it in collaboration with Dutch female MC Clara Opoku and South African Poet Mbali Vilakazi. The Three Furies project is commissioned in partnership byAfrovibes and MC Theatre, Netherlands.

We used the myth of the Three Furies as inspiration for our writing but the dialogue that arose between us and then with the audiences we shared our work with brought to light that women’s anger is almost a taboo subject – words like hysterical, time-of-the-month and b*tch come to mind as starters. How do women process thier anger when its not considered “nice” or “lady-like” to let rip? Where does it go? What do we do with the ensuing frustration if we do not channel it healthily? I explore these questions more on the Travelling Light blog and Clara, Mbali and I share our work on the THREE FURIES BLOG.
Sharon Jane D. is a dutch visual artist who took our poems and interpreted them for film. Here warehouse studio space was enormous and full of nooks crannies and open spaces ripe for filming moody pieces and as locations for photography.

Here is a poem from the show. Hosted by the Albany in Deptford, South East London

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”

Snakes and Ladders

Over 2 weeks and I mentored 4 women actor/poets for  around the theme of black womens hair stories. Snakes and Ladders is part of a broader  project call PHD – Positive Hair Day by Plenty Productions in collaboration with

In collaboration with Rolemop Arts the show had a clever promotion technique ‘Kimberleys Big Night Out’ – a fake hen night made into an installation and performance held at the Brighton venue ‘The Basement.’

I had a little extract, mostly improvised with jokes in mind but I explore the idea that trying to find confidence in the manipulation of hair is a complication, a distraction to finding true confidence and self esteem from within.

FEMFEST – a Festival for Women Playwrights – an interview with Hope McIntyre of Sarasvati Productions

“FemFest was developed in response to my hearing from women playwrights that they were having trouble getting their work produced. It was clear that by not getting productions it was then harder to get more productions. We established FemFest to break this cycle and in hopes that by showcasing the work of women playwrights, more of their work would be picked up by other companies. We also set up FemFest to allow for a networking opportunity for these women. Having a place to come and share work, learn from other artists and just talk about being a playwright seemed invaluable at the time and
continues to be important. In the long-term we’d love to get to the point where women are being produced so much that we don’t need a festival to showcase them. We are working towards a day when FemFest is unnecessary, but we know that is a very long-term goal. For our immediate future our hope is to continue to find ways to offer women artists what they need most. We don’t plan to grow any larger but do plan to continue to explore new
initiatives to work with the community.”

What Hope had to say – A review of my Artist-in-Residency for the FemFest, Canada, 2011

Here are a few words from Hope McIntyre, the Artistic Director of Femfest, who took a risk and invited me to come to Winnipeg, Canada, and be artist in residence for FemFest.
It was an honour.

“It was an absolute pleasure having Zena Edwards in Winnipeg for FemFest 2011. Our theme was ‘Staging Inspiration’ and she certainly inspiredaudiences and emerging artists who had the pleasure of coming into contact with her.

Over 100 students at the University of Winnipeg Department of Theatre and Film attended a lecture she presented on her work. The students were engaged throughout the lecture and found it valuable in relation to their future career paths. Hearing about Zena’s journey, they realized that there are other forms of artistic practice besides traditional theatre and
they also learned the importance of experiencing the world they live in. Zena also facilitated Continue reading “What Hope had to say – A review of my Artist-in-Residency for the FemFest, Canada, 2011”

Writing for England – a Young Black British perspective

Last month I was privileged to work wth Talawa theatre company on a new Young Peoples Theatre production called “I am England” directed by  Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh.

My role was to engage the `Young People (or YPs) with writing, with the narrative of a new young and black british government being elected when the country finds itself in  complete in govenmental, economic and social crisis. Interestingly enough, the UK riots kicked off in the week leading up to my second session with them. It was a timely piece.

The process was incredible. On day one, many expressed an apprehension around their knowledge of politics, of even feeling like politics wasn’t something that was ‘for’ them, yet they were about to write a piece for performance solely about it. We needed to work fast and intensively. So with a series of strategically placed questions about what they knew to be happening in current affairs that very day, a few newspaper articles and writing exercises, the group were empowered, very vocal and ready to make this production fighting fit to tackle the themes of identity, belonging, power and change with a unique young, Black British experience. I was inspired myself at the energy with which they invested, how committed to finding themselves in the process.

Talawa’s YP theatre is making leaps and bounds in theatre for young voices. Adults, we need to listen up.

Leaders Of the Old Skool

When Comfort Cydelle of ONIt Promotions invited me to be a part of an event called Leaders of the Old Skool, the first thing I thought was “about time”. Don’t get me wrong. Its not like I’ve been sitting around waiting to be acknowledged. But I was getting a little concerned at the trajectory the spoken word live scene was taking without recognising the graft of those who have gone before to make the scene have the possibilties that is has now.

The spoken word scene has exploded in London over the last 5 years and some of those poets who have gone before us are lost to those who are considered up and coming now. its a dangerous path to tread when you don’t know where you are coming from even when you are pioneering and forging new paths. I myself have to pay homage to Jean Binta Breeze, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lemn Sissay and Dorothea Smartt for paving the way for likes of me as Afri-Cari-british poet, who performs her work and female at that.

Here is an snippet of my performance.

A BROTHERS KEEPER – WE MUST STEP BACK IN (in tribute to 13 Young Lives Lost in the New Cross Fire 1981)

Well, it was 14. The last friend who could not bear the loss of so many friends and took his own life.

On Sunday January 18 1981,  a devastating house fire killed 13 young Afri-Caribbeans, during a birthday party in New Cross, southeast London. “Some were shocked by what they perceived as the indifference of the white population, and accused the London Metropolitan Police of covering up the cause, which they suspected was an arson attack motivated by racism; the protests arising out of the fire led to a mobilisation of black political activity. Nobody has ever been charged in relation to the fire.” – Wiki-pedia.

When asked by Rex Obano to perform for this event( Commemorations of the New Cross Fire, The Albany, Jan 14th 2011), the request alone sent chills from the soles of my feet to the top of my head. There is something  about a tragedy of this  sort that stirs the psyche, even without having to know about the colour of the skins of those  who died.  But there comes a strange anger that rises when the colour of skin becomes an issue for blocking the deserved expression of sympathy for the loss of such young life and the grief of the parent who lost their babies in a treacherous fire. Continue reading “A BROTHERS KEEPER – WE MUST STEP BACK IN (in tribute to 13 Young Lives Lost in the New Cross Fire 1981)”

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.

BREAKIN’ CONVENTION

m_7b928e1b48b00a3777efceab358ee452Yesterday it was all about the power moves and the sweat pants and hairspray. I have never seen so many mad hair do’s stuck to foreheads, flying off every which-a-way. Then there was the ants-in-yer-pants massive, jiggling bodies in tank tops or heavy cotton sweats. So many budding young dancers itching in their seats to up rock, body wave, head spin, you name it they’ve contorted their bodies to do it. Bass bin speakers in Sadlers wells were working hard, Makes me feel old. Not that told but old enough. Ken Swift’s 7 Gems made me relax. Old skool moves by b-boys and b-girls who just had hip hop in their bones and it flowed out of them effortless. Loved them. The highlight was a rendition of Korean military dictatorship history, told with humour, sensitivity, and some badass body popping and break dance. They made the big finale with the girls screaming and the boy woofing. If you haven’t been to Jonzi D’s Breakin’ Convention then you need to get there. Website address FYI – http://www.breakinconvention.com/

Peace and Jollof

*~Z~*

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