Directing “Substance” – A Hip Hop Theatre Dance performance

I was invited by Jonzi D,  creator of Sadlers Wells’ Breakin’ Convention  join a collaboration with Redbridge Drama Centre.  The commission was to devise and develop  a spoken word and dance piece to tour schools and community centres in the Redbridge area to raise awareness around substance abuse and sexual exploitation in youth culture. The two more often than not come hand-in-hand  leaving many young people vulnerable and disoriented. Education is always the key in order to empower young people to make sensible decisions about drug and alcohol consumption and the vibrant youth cultural today.
I initially met with Redbridge Young people Theatre company to discuss what was most important to them when it came to youth culture and tackling social issues such as sex and mind altering substances, and friendship figured as a high priority.
Support networks, loyalty, allegiances and informally adopted “Fam” seemed to be the key element of well-being for young people who knew which risks were rife in their spheres of social engagement. They combat hyper sexualisation, hyper masculinity, cyber bullying and ‘drag culture’ (insistent body and intellect shaming often through social media). In combination with education or employment pressures, family responsibility  clashing with personal freedom and development, young people in their teens through to early twenties often fall prey to addictive substances whose potencies are intensified through dangerous concoctions and mixing in order to ‘fit in’ and/or appear cool and current.
I also met with Fusion NELFT – drugs and alcohol service for young people to get a clearer idea  of the impact of these substances on the mental health and well-being of young bodies, minds and relationships in many other settings outside of the  youth groups. Employment success was low and familiy tensions ran high as the substance drove rifts between users and their family members.
I was also surprised by some of the cultural sub-divisions in the  demographics of substance used among young people.Focused on the Redbridge area, stats revealed problematic alcohol consumption was high amongst mainly white males and Asian females. Amongst white females, MDMA and Ketamine were the drug of preference, where as cocaine was of high usage amongst Asian males. All partook of marijuana but it was a predominant amongst African and African-Caribbean groups.
Criminalisation of youth presents very serious issues for young people who often find themselves misrepresented in the media. The negative stigma of drug possession and/or consumption is compounded by gender and race. The sexualisation of young women intensifies with drug use, and with mainstream narratives on rape culture the increased chances of sexual exploitation in exchange for drugs or risky encounters leave them open to sexual disease or molestation. The story was going to be a hard but an interesting challenging one to tell.

Continue reading

‘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

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

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

Zena E with JSB @ The Ritzy Upstairs

ImageI’ve been working with Jon Speedy for the last 5 years. This year he brings the Funk Jazz Afrobeat collective JON SPEEDY BAND.      JSB start a monthly residency at Brixton Ritzy with special guest vocalists / poets / MC’s each month. For the launch night, on Thursday July 12th, I  featured as guest vocalist and poet. Continue reading

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.

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