Home Speak@ SOAS – Happy International Mother Tongue Day!

It was with great pleasure, I collaborated with the brilliant minded Mandana Seydfinnipur to create “Home Speak” as part of the School of Oriental and African Studies ‘Language Festival 2017.’ Seydfinnipur, director of the Department of Ancient and Dying Languages wanted to shake up the SOAS Institution for a moment for International Mother Tongue Day.
In an age of miscommunication and #alternativefacts, it is becoming increasingly important that we have words available us to effectively communicate our experiences and ideas for better human connectivity. Language enables us to communicate our most complex intellectual thoughts and our fundamental human emotions.
So, in partnership with SOAS Spoken Word Society, I ran a workshop which used the arts works of Mary Kuper & Eveling Villa entitled ‘Metaphors We Live By.’

“These images are inspired by the way in which the body, that universal human form,
gives rise to countlessly varied metaphors and metonyms in diverse languages. Using the
Endangered Languages Archive resources and linguistic studies, these pictures explore how language channels what it is to be human, through blood and guts, hearts and eyes.”Link to Full Festival Brochure

The next day in the large atrium space of SOAS’s Senate House, we Spoken Word flash mobbed unwitting students who joined the audience in the ‘impromptu’ performance. Invited artists who performed were master Kora player, Griot and composer, Jally Kebba Sousso; poets, Indigo Williams, Shareefa Grassroots and Voices That Shake Poets Annie Rockson, Nicole Nienhaus, Tanya Denhere.

The Home Speak workshop and the poetry event explored the languages we speak, can’t speak and don’t speak and  connected ideas of diversity, ethnicity and belonging.
As a collaboration, we celebrated the richness of language and communication that makes us feel at home, that expresses our inner world and how languages enable us to understand and live in the world,  understand each other and our own inner lives.
Read the  SOAS Language Festival Blog

Legacy – Step One in Being a Freelance Artist

“Legacy” – Writing to make footprints that won’t blow away on the wind

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This goes without saying when it comes to the arts.
I have been involved in youth arts (via writing and performance mainly) since 2000 and its youthful voices that re-imagine our worlds, the physical and emotional world, the fighting and resting world, the dying and living world. A world forever in creation.
When we have creativity in our lives we can anticipate wizened voice resonating with plenty stories behind simple words we might hear. When we must practice our creativity (and if you intended to make it a career) why not look to the purpose of why you would want to use the word, spoken or written as a medium to represent you, your life and sense of purpose. Continue reading

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

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

Writing Two Poets – Mongiwekhaya & Afruakan

Recently, I was commissioned by the British Council to interview two poets from South Africa. What was interesting was learning two very different approaches the service of spoken word or poetry in performance can offer the artist and the people who encounter this rich literary form. Mongiwekhaya is a subdued, potent spirit. His quietly considered answers focus on his thoughts about arts and community engagement producing work that is esoteric in its political and social commentary. Thabiso aka Afruakan’s enegry is spark driven to build networks for repurposing and trading the craft for an arts infrastructure to support artists to continue their chosen vocation. Both were very spirited and inspiring skype conversations that ran well over the 30 minutes time we’d put into each of our diaries.

   Mongiwekhaya

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 “I was raised by my Grandmother from birth. I spoke with her words and her tongue and walked the streets of Witbank Township. But one day my parents returned from their travels overseas, collected me and took me up into a silver bird, and we, my sisters and I, were laid on a new earth. No one spoke my grandmother’s tongue. The child that spoke with any and everyone, found himself a ghost in a new place. He told himself little stories to remember himself. But eventually he told himself new stories. In English. And was reborn as someone new.”Mongiwekhaya

Playwright, filmmaker and Royal Court writer Mongi Mthobeni (pen name, Mongiwekhaya) is a hardwired storyteller and the above quote wasthe story he told at the opening question of his interview with Poet and Writer Zena Edwards, when did he know he had chosen his life and career in the performing arts. His natural gift manifests itself today through directing and visual storytelling and his short film project, “Speed of Dark”, reveals a mentoring quality to his creative process when he engages with young artists too.

“Speed of Dark’ is adapted from a dance piece called “Open Happiness”, embracing the wonder South Africans felt about the construction of South Africa’s Underground train – The ‘Gautrain’. I started by introducing the young movement artists to the prolific works of Tom Waits, rich with storytelling. Then introduced them to the theatrical form of the French Buffoon and clowning, the ritualistic shamanic performance of repetition to compound the feeling of awe South African’s felt in a time of economic transition.” Continue reading

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

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

Power Plant: WPD Relationship @ MAC Birmingham

When Apples and Snakes Poetry Organisation invited me to run a masterclass session of the writer/performer relationship, I was excited about flexing this muscle again after some time. What was meant to be a two hour sesssion turned in to four hour of exchange. Directors gained a deeper insight on how to listen to the needs and vision of the writer. Writer-performers learned how to engage more deeply with the creative process of the director, while both worked together empowered the performer inside the writer. At the focus was honouring the potency of the story. It was most enjoyable. And the fact that the session ran two hours over the designated time, the group reaffirmed the value of this a dialogue around this layered and fruitful relationship. Performing poets, writer-actors and directors keep an eye out for this course over the next few months. Coming to a venue near you.

Click for more info on WPD

“Power Plant” is a series of free poetry masterclasses delivered by established pracitioners, Continue reading

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

Travelling Light Goes to Canada

At present  I am sitting in a hotel room in downtown Winnipeg unable to sleep because of jet lag. Its 2.16am Canada time, 8.16am London time.
I am here because of FEMFEST – a festival of women playwrights and performers who battle hard to get their work produced because it is a very  masculine dominated industry. Dare I say it, but a bit shameful?

Later, I intend to interview Hope McIntyre who set about making this possibility, for this festival to have life of 9 years when others have folded. I am privileged to be here because Hope took a risk. She saw some of my work on YouTube, Like the Travelling Light blog had a short conversation with me on the phone and spent her hard won funding money to get me on a plane to be artist in residence for the festival. I’m honoured. More to come…