I started L.GOLD.B.T out of frustration, I was tired of feeling like my sexuality was a burden. I was tired of simultaneously resisting white-washing alongside racial discrimination. I was tired of seeing people of colour being continually dismissed and neglected until it's time to score diversity points. I wanted to create a night where we can exist as artists, as creatives, as genuine diverse people and by showing up and showing so much love you all made that possible. It still hasn't sunk in - I couldn't have asked for anything more.
The host, Xana, did an amazing job and carried the whole night, the programmed acts were beautiful to watch and to interact with. A huge thanks to Ama Josephine Budge, Cher Ho, Shamel Mashatte, Abigail Rose, Rebekah Ubuntu and the open mic artist’s - you all killed it. I was expecting it to be good but we had actual Gods and Goddesses on the mic. Just know that I did this all for you - I live to uplift queer people of colour and in return you all gave me life.
nitroBEAT, Ovalhouse, Westway Trust and Vinspired trusted and supported me when all I had was a pitch. As a young qwoc I have faced institutions that not only don't want to engage or cater to me, but have denied me entry or asked me to leave their premises on the premise that they've “already filled the black quota" and won't be accepting anymore of us, whilst continuing to play our music, mimic our dancing and wear our identities like fancy dress.
To have a group of organisations that didn't just accept me as a queer, black artist, but genuinely engaged, understood and uplifted my cause, has been a privilege I've never known before. To look around on the night and see a room full of beautiful, carefree, unapologetic and artistic qpoc and allies was all I ever wanted from this project. I never ever say this, but for the first time I'll admit that I am proud of myself and I am proud of us. Thank you so much for making that possible.
Read a Q&A with Maya here.
“Welcome earthlings…” is the greeting from our bald-headed, well-spoken, inter-dimensionally styled host, Roney FM. We had already had our feel-good memories covertly stolen by space travellers and data thieves, Mission//Misplaced Memory, earlier in the Barbican Pit foyer. Now, we were to be transported to a liminal state of being on Earth, but not as we know it. Where reality and fantasy collide…Black cultural capital being uplifted and sprinkled with moon dust. A multidimensional experience where k3 media’s surrealist imagery is projected onto a wall. There are no boundaries. A golden Pharaoh with a skull for a face. Dragons and fire-breathing horned humans. Census-type boxes to be ticked in your mind that scream, ‘Who are you?’ appear and disappear.
In the show, Brexit, Trump, the policing of Black people are referenced, to be included and then excluded. For a few hours, we can acknowledge the racial reality of being a Diasporan African and celebrate Blackness without feeling defined by the weight of the current political climate. We can escape. We can breathe. Afrofuturism, a term coined by cultural critic, Mark Dery in his 1995 essay, ‘Black to the Future’ [Newton, 2014], speaks to inclusivity rather than a rigid notion of Black identity. In line with that, there are no binary wars in Nitro’s Afrofuturistic world; aboriginal art married with technology, historical references merged with science fiction, the desire to be free standing side by side with having achieved it.
Award-winning director Benji Reid’s first vignette does not disappoint. Hands raised, heads bowed, fists clenched, our performers are united from different corners of the stage as their six bodies form two lines of the Black power salute. Juice Aleem, XANA and our other cosmic host, Aina Moore, alongside the Jazz Re:Freshed band featuring Cassie Kinoshi, TJ Koleoso and Israel Shabani. An image of the tube behind them suddenly displaces what you saw. The bodies disperse while the focus shifts to MC and singer, Aina Moore in a sequined head wrap, the styling sitting somewhere between the glittering geles of West Africa (we know and love) and the unique flair of a woman from the Afro Punk movement. Like her attire, Moore is fresh, she sings and spits urban bars infused with Afrobeat rhythms on the theme of having to go work; “I have no memories just USBs…they want me to become a robot”. She has already pulled us in with a universal theme…the audience chants a chorus with her. I lean into my theatre buddy, quietly acknowledging that at some point in our lives, we all have felt the urge not to get out of bed, not to want to move at all, not to even speak. Later, as if mindreading, XANA looks in my direction and declares, “Your silence has no currency here!”
There were many moments and aspects where there was magic that at times, I had to wonder if it was serendipitous or my artistic mind taking me beyond the realm of the creative/s intention? But isn’t that the point of art? That it lives, it is a seed that is grown by the creatives and then offered to an audience who by engaging, watering it with their interpretations, it grows and lives on?
There are so many merits to the work, each performer flowing and each artistic element wonderfully executed. Like Juice Aleem’s, “Rock your hologram!”, reminiscent of the days when Hip-hop educated and inspired, Juice managed to bring a New Age tilt to Old Skool. Every so often, images of colourful Mandalas were the chosen visual. Was it a coincidence he wore his ‘Harry Potter’ scarf over a T-shirt with cursive Arabic (I associated with Mandinka scripts I’ve seen in Gambia) or a salute to courage, healing and ancient mysticism? “You can’t evolve without an open mind” was another, ‘read’ from an archaic phone by our male host with eyes hidden by vector-framed sunglasses.
When ‘Loading Your Illusion’, remember “We are the people that are born from flames, Marcus Garvey, Scott Joplin, Fredrick, Linton Kwesi Johnson and on and on and on…” I’m aware this list and the audio were male centric, but by omission, those words made me think of the wonder women. Of Janelle Monae, Grace Jones, Shingai Shoniwa. I thought of them being African-American, Jamaican and a fellow Black-British/Zimbabwean. How our music and our fashion is global. We are global. We are Alpha. We are Sun[Ra]-beings. We are pyramids. That there was a female sax player on stage, and a few feet from her, a female MC, and another few feet, a female beatboxer. That here was a triangle of women, a dreamy but real constellation of talent and femaleness.
That femaleness has many articulations. XANA’s vocal gender switching; first a funk-filled electronic George Clinton to lighter mellow mezzo-soprano vocals. Code switching from a tantalising London twang (reminiscent of Taiwah) to the patois of Kingston dancehalls. XANA’s androgyny enhances her ability to morph, the ability to be anything and at once everything. Declaring her queerness as she improvises her song on loop pedal, beatboxing, singing, rapping and chatting to us. The mic is home for XANA. As I sat there, my smile matching my friend’s, I realised XANA encapsulated so much of the honesty and comfort yearned for over the last few weeks and months. A profound talent who intermittently repeats, demanding our attention, “Your silence has no currency here!” reinforcing that Afrofuturism, at its heart, is artistic activism.
All the collaborators in this work (from the individual performers to the collectives) have a progressive vision of revitalizing and progressing the genres they work in. For nitroBEAT to bring together Jazz Re:Freshed, k3 media, Mission//Misplaced Memory, established and new found talent under the extraordinary direction of Benji Reid, made for the best show I’ve seen in 2016.
Intuitive, accessible, rebellious and evolutionary; I sincerely hope that our future is filled with high quality experiences such as this. If you were there this July, what a privilege. If you weren’t, next time, I urge you to bring your Avatar, your hologram, your best [dressed] self, your memories, your dreams. Or just an open mind – but overall, do come and join the party.
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates and videos of the show. #nBPitParty.
Artists Profiles & more info
Promo created by K3Media's Michael Anthony Barnes-Wynters.
Music: Rock my Hologram by Juice Aleem.
It’s wonderful to be working with nitroBEAT and the Barbican on a show that explores Afrofuturism. I first got excited by the movement when viewing the work of Rammellzee, a legendary graffiti writer whose work inspired me to think about the Black imagination and space travel.
From Michael Barnes-Wynters eclectic visual art to Aina More, Xana, Roney FM and live musicians, this artistic collaboration offers us hip hop, jazz, performance art, spoken word and sound experiments in an intoxicating mix. The Bastion of hip-hop & futuristic thinking, Juice Aleem, is the embodiment of Afrofuturism, an early exponent of its philosophies. We don’t have to get bogged down in theory, the show is a celebratory and accessible journey, but it’s vital that this work is presented to uplift us because of the times we’re living in, where struggle is still apparent. To voice our experiences in a way that connects our past, present and future helps to uplift us spirituality, mentally and physically.
Black radical theory explores systems of oppression and how we may dismantle them. However, it has its limitations. It’s not an easy space from which to explore broader gender, sexuality and class issues. Although the focus is on exclusion and inequality it doesn’t always allow for the inclusion of multiple sites of oppression (intersectionality), occurring in complex and often contradictory ways.
Afrofuturism challenges what we’ve been told about adhering to divisions that don’t exist. It encourages self-exploration, individuality and to see our lives more fully than the present allows – politically, socially, economically, technologically and artistically.
The representation and treatment of black female bodies is deconstructed by Afrofuturist contemporary artists such as Wangechi Mutu, Ellen Gallagher and many others. An inclusive space for an eclectic array of cultural forms and expression (See: Octavia Butler, Basquiat, Sun Ra, Janelle Monae, Flying Lotus, Sons of Kemet and Lady Vendredi), Afrofuturism navigates an Afrodiasporic cultural aesthetic that draws together literature, jazz, funk, progressive hip-hop, sci-fi, techno-culture, art, film and fantasy into an all-encompassing philosophy. Always evolving, never stuck in one place or time and with a central focus on the cross-fertilisation of ideas.
Underpinning musical, literature and art explorations, incredible costumes and academic recognition, Afrofuturistic ideas and philosophies are focussed on improving the lives of black people. Marcus Garvey proposed a ‘Back-To-Africa’ movement for descendants of slavery, but Afrofuturists felt the future for black people could be imagined in new ways. With even the most outlandish intergalactic visions being rooted in real, everyday struggle.
Many of us are children of imperialism and colonialism and we do not have the luxury of vast archives and documentation about our ancestors. Reclaiming the colonial past is a radical act - in order to transform the present and future. Our work will ultimately place the black body as a site of both reparation (for social injustice) and liberation through the imagination. Rather than disavow the importance of race in identity formation, we aim to reformulate it in new frameworks that exist at the juncture between alternative and activist, producing new spaces for creative ideas to flourish.
nitroBEAT Pit Party – An Afrofuturistic Trip, is commissioned by the Barbican and taking place on Friday 22 July 2016.
Role: Emerging Producer via Tamasha Theatre placement scheme & Assistant Producer
From a chat with Fin Kennedy, artistic director at Tamasha Theatre to a meeting with Diane Morgan, nitroBEAT’s director and David Luff from Soho Theatre – these conversations have landed me with an assistant producer role and a piece of new writing performed on stage to a near sold-out audience at nitroBEAT bites.
By my own admission, I am not a natural networker in the sense of going up to someone at a networking event with a half-filled plastic cup of warm wine in my hand, nodding along as they go on about their careers and then watch their eyes glaze over as they realise I can’t help them in any way.
What I do best is authenticity. When I speak to someone, I’m genuinely interested in who they are, how they are and not about getting something out of it, and this approach has served me well. Taking to Fin one day at university, whilst studying for an MA in Dramatic Writing at Central Saint Martins, led to the youth charity I work for becoming an associate company with Tamasha. I spoke to Fin about the kind of work Tamasha does, his career trajectory, I asked him for advice and I congratulated him on his impending role into fatherhood. I was genuinely interested. In turn, he asked about the course, the work I do, what plays I like and the issues around the lack of diversity in the arts. Before you know it I was in his office, talking to his staff about my objectives for the year and how Tamasha can support me.
Fast-forward a couple of months and I’m now sitting at Soho Theatre across from Diane, who is director of their resident company. We are talking about the rest of the year’s plans for nitroBEAT and about making more work. We are talking about my writing and how to further develop it. What I’ve been able to achieve by having conversations is an amazing six months of winning awards for my writing, getting a distinction at university, assistant producing for the longest running black theatre company in the UK, seeing my work being staged, going to the Edinburgh Fringe on a producer placement this summer and starting a new theatre project with young people in Croydon.
I’m excited to continue the conversations with Diane and others. I’m proud of being a part of changing the conversations around diversity and other issues. I know some may not lead anywhere, but always being genuine and using who you are and what you’ve got will always get you somewhere.
Role: Internship via Goldsmiths University
I grew up in a suburb of Chicago that truly embraces diverse culture and the creative arts, and it instilled in me a passion for creativity and entertainment at a very young age.
After undergrad, I landed my first 'real world' job at a well-established talent agency as an agent's assistant. There, I learned several tricks of the trade and the hurdles and joys of managing artists by helping them to bring their dreams to fruition. Artist management is now my passion and it has been an honour working with nitroBEAT, learning the ins and outs of producing live performances and managing actors! One of the projects I worked on was a completely digital programme for The Passion of Lady Vendredi - audiences recieved a business card with a weblink or QR code.
I was introduced to the company by my tutor, Nicola Turner, on the MA in Cultural and Creative Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths. I love nitroBEAT's impressive attention to detail and it's long-term vision of challenging the stereotypical aspects of "black theatre" by portraying the multidimensional realms of art, which makes me excited to work for this company.
Upon completion of my MA in Cultural and Creative Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths this year, I plan on obtaining a law degree from a university near a city with a major performing arts reputation. My goal is to eventually have a solid understanding of entertainment law, artist management and the foundation of running a successful startup in the creative industries for when I open my own company. This will be a talent agency by day and performance lounge by night.
An audience of new faces, friends, family, lovers of new writing, spoken word performance and industry professionals gathered to watch 10 minute bite-sized pieces of new writing within a music lounge setting, and provide feedback to encourage further development of the pieces.
nitroBEAT bites unearthed new voices for the stage alongside encouraging established writers to test new work. Diane Morgan first conceived a version of the project at Contact in Manchester, entitled ‘Flip the Script’, which evolved into a large-scale BBC- funded programme that developed new writing, not only for the stage but also for radio and TV.
BBC New Comedy Award 2015 finalist, Athena Kugblenu, hosted the night and set the after work, relaxed tone to the event. A definite crowd-pleaser, Athena worked the audience with a no-hold bars approach to everything from Britain leaving the EU to flirty banter with the audience. Athena also had the job of asking the audience for feedback after each of the pieces were performed by holding up ‘Kiss,’ (I liked it) ‘Lick’ (I like it a lot) or ‘Bite’ (I loved it!) cards.
The writing evoked anything from laugh-out-loud moments from Paul Cree’s 'Creatine' to visible tears in response to Femi Martin’s 'I am Not There'. Each of the six writers are having discussions with the teams at nitroBEAT and Soho Theatre to discuss next steps for their writing and some will go into full development and commissions.
There was the right blance of flavours for regular theatre-goers as well as theatre-newbies and a full house despite the weather and public transport shutting down – and for nitroBEAT it was the first of planned regular event at Soho Theatre.
"Best vibe I've ever experienced for a shorts night. #nbBites"
"This night was sick, bad and wicked. Follow @nitrobeatuk I beg"
All six videod pieces and profiles of the writers, team and actors are available here
“Papa Legba is an ode to vodou’s guardian at the gate of the crossroads, he’s the spirit who you go through to get the other spirits. I was thinking about the Middle Passage, where thousands of people were thrown into the sea, and that comes into Haitian vodou because they believe there’s an underground paradise where all these people went to. So it’s all about crossing this boundary into other realities and asking to pass through a cosmic divide.” Nwando Ebizie, aka Lady Vendredi.
Directed by Richie Simkins.
From the Soundtrack to The Passion of Lady Vendredi at Soho Theatre until 30th April.
EP out now on Bandcamp.
Premiered on Huck Magazine
“Gloriously out-there cabaret-meets-gig-meets-theatre-experience…By the end we were completely desensitized to the lunacy, dancing freely and it seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to explore the journey of womanhood.” 5 Stars, Time Out.
Read the full review here
"The production is executed exceptionally well with a strong cast providing a continuous high-energy performance with rhythmic singing and dancing throughout." 5 Stars, British Blacklist
Read the full review here
“…I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything that even approximates to this slightly other-worldly adventure. It’s deliberately unsettling, and if you like challenging yet joyful productions, do consider a trip to Planet Vendredi.” 4 Stars, London Theatre1.
Read the full review here
"...The Passion of Lady Venredi is turbulent, seductive and vicious...once the lights come up you’re left wanting more from Lady V. Nwando Ebizie is ferocious and powerful as she pushes the boundaries in this abstract and contemporary creation." 4 Stars. The Metropolist.
Read the full review here
“… the performances are deeply committed, the music is immersive and Lady Vendredi is surely one of the most compelling stage performers out there, with a rich, worldly repertoire that means whatever she does next will surely be fascinating.” 3 Stars, The Upcoming.
Read the full review here
"Successfully pulling together an audience of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life to interactively explore sexuality, race and gender is no easy feat...This isn’t big budget, this is big balls. Big, crazy, unconventional, brilliant balls." 4 Stars, Afridiziak Theatre News
Read the full review here
Timeline premiered at STUN, Manchester on 11 December 2015.
Afrofuturism Conference: Designing new narratives to empower the African Diaspora.
Panelists discussed how Afrofuturism reclaims ownership over black identity with art, culture and political resistance.
Afrofuturism on film: five of the best.
Seminar report: Afrofuturism’s Others at Tate Modern.
Afrofuturism to everyday futurists: new kinds of artists, power & tech.
For further information about accessing the nitroBEAT archive, dating back to the company’s inception as Black Theatre Co-op in 1979, click here.
Our programmes are digital because it’s environmentally friendly, with the added bonus of allowing us to add more videos, photos and links as they become available… a great resource that lasts forever! Check it out here.
Artists nowadays CAN be slightly formulaic, fitting some ideal template for a successful recording artist. Nigerian born Lady Vendredi however kicks dirt (with bits of sharp stone in it) in the face of this ‘ideal template’.
Her debut single ‘What Time Is It?’ was a heady alchemy of sounds that maybe should not work (the adage ‘too many cooks’ comes to mind) but it does with a triumphant blast of something that is old yet somehow new (particularly in today’s musical landscape); blaxploitation elements, jazz, afrocentric beats, smatterings of hip-hop and West African sounds are readily incorporated into this most individual of debuts with its rousing chorus.
To say that musical output sums up Lady Vendredi however would be reductive. Lady Vendredi is more than an artist, she is a ‘movement’ of force and in the interview it was plain to see that Lady V has more than one string to her rather large bow.
Ok so first off let’s talk about the fact that you are backed by the one and only Gilles Peterson - that’s huge?
You are right, that was / is absolutely amazing. Gilles Peterson and a few other people set up a trust called the Steve Reed Foundation - Steve Reed was this amazing jazz drummer who drummed with everyone, but he unfortunately died in poverty. I won an award set up for innovative musicians and now I have been able to develop the project. Winning the competition has meant that I have been set up with mentors, animators and other people - this year it is all falling into to place.
Lady Vendredi - why the name?
Well, Lady Vendredi is a fictional character created by myself and the director of the show and ‘Lady Vendredi’ just happens to be releasing music as well - she has this whole meta narrative of afro-futurism and blaxploitation. I was inspired by the Haitian culture and the whole Baron Samedi voodoo lord idea. The character is depicted in a lot of sloppy 70’s blaxploitation films. He is the voodoo lord of the dead, we took his persona and what he represents and created Lady Vendredi.
So tell me more about the project.
The project has many different parts; the music, the live band, there are some performers, actors…it’s actually so much. The EP and the album are concept projects, rather like hip-hop artists used to do. The single ‘What Time Is It?’ has influences based on the Ebo rhythm, which is a Haitian voodoo rhythm.
Words by Semper Azeez-Harris.
Read the full article here
'The Passion of Lady Vendredri' 12-30 April @Soho Theatre. Info/Tickets here
Deadline: 5pm, Thursday 10 March.
Informal Interviews: Wednesday 16 March at Soho Theatre, London.
Placement commences: Wk of 21st March.
Duration: 6 weeks.
Hours: Flexible around other commitments.
Expenses: Up to £50 per week for travel/lunch.
Location of placement: Soho Theatre and occasional offsite meetings. Ideally you’ll have your own laptop.
We have a unique opportunity for two curious and creative individuals who are passionate about digital and social media to gain invaluable communications experience with an innovative company.
We will guide you through how to plan and execute a digital marketing campaign, focussing on our upcoming co-production with Mas Productions and Soho Theatre, ‘The Passion of Lady Vendredi’. You’ll be working with nitroBEAT and Soho Theatre marketing and PR staff and hit the ground running researching, coming up with new ideas and creating exciting content to share online and grow our networks. You’ll also attend planning meetings, shows and events and be supported with advice and mentoring around your future ambitions.
nitroBEAT is an evolution of Black Theatre Co-op/Nitro and a vital collective urge to drive the vision forward into a new era – bringing together known and undiscovered talent and creating performances with a rebellious streak. We're in love with music, theatre and visual art and they're at the heart of everything we do. We're finding new ways to explore the urgent stories of modern life waiting to be told.
Love contemporary culture, whether that’s music, theatre or other live performance; underground, experimental or alternative; committed to cultural diversity and social inclusion; resourceful, organised, a good communicator (written and verbal) and passionate about engaging people.
Please email your CV or a biography about yourself (2 sides of A4 maximum) by 5pm, Thursday 10 March to email@example.com with your contact details and a one page cover letter telling us:
Titilola Dawudu will be working with nitroBEAT and Soho Theatre to develop her experience of producing projects and productions.
Titilola, a Nigerian-born, British writer-producer started working for GMTV writing scripts and briefs, before moving onto youth organisation, Headliners, where she was an outreach journalist. Now Head of Operations and Development for Reaching Higher, a youth charity in Croydon and a Tamasha associate company, she project manages large events and is developing a performing arts platform.
Titilola has written many plays for young people, three of which were performed at Fairfield Halls in Croydon. She is currently finishing up an MA in Dramatic Writing at Central Saint Martins, where she has collaborated with Tamasha on ‘Taxi Tales’ with writer Ishy Din and her piece entitled ‘I Can't Breathe’ about the death of New Yorker Eric Garner, was selected for a staged reading with the Bush Theatre. While at Central Saint Martins, she has worked with the likes of Nina Steiger, Jennifer Tuckett, John Yorke, Lucy Kerble and Ola Aminashawun.
‘Great music, a truly innovative fusion’. Total Theatre
‘Fresh, raw and totally unique'. Giles Peterson
'Lady Vendredi is more than an artist; she is a movement of force'. Blues and Soul
The Passion of Lady Vendredi is co-production between nitroBEAT, Mas Productions and Soho Theatre. It features DJ, musician, actor and Afrofuturistic performance artist, Nwando Ebizie, who has previously performed with Princess Superstar as well as supporting Peaches, Charli XCX and A*M*E. Nwando has been a student of African and diasporic dance forms for the last 8 years. What struck her was the symbiotic nature of the drummer and dancer in traditional African/ Afro diaspora forms - and how there is a constant negotiation, semi improvisation between the two. This inspired a way of choreographing and composing through the body.
Her alter ego Lady Vendredi has emerged through working with director and musician Jonathan Grieve and performing on the stages of theatres, clubs and music festivals.
IMAGINE GRACE JONES IN A GRINDHOUSE FILM DIRECTED BY ROBERT RODRIGUEZ
Collaborating with an international ensemble cast of performance artists and live band ‘The Vendettas’, The Passion of Lady Vendredi is a unique performance cocktail, blurring the boundaries between music, theatre and live art and taking over Soho Theatre Downstairs’ speakeasy cabaret space with a highly politicized theatre-gig.
The production includes tracks from her new EP, with input from Floating Points, Emanative Four Tet and Gilles Peterson, to be
launched simultaneously alongside the show.
More details and booking info here
Black artists not only have to fight for representation, we have a bigger battle to stand out and to go against the grain.
Theatre desperately needs writers, artists and producers who are prepared to tell new stories and ask more inconvenient questions.
Nitro, (formerly Black Theatre Co-op) was established in 1979, and became one of the casualties of the Government’s
“austerity” cuts to the arts that saw a disproportionately large decrease in funded black-led companies in 2011.
The company is rising from the ashes and re-launched in Spring 2015 as nitroBEAT, with a new base at Soho Theatre and a radical new vision for contemporary music-theatre. We will premiere our new co-production, the first in seven years, with new company Mas Productions in April. The nitroBEAT and Soho Theatre partnership is built upon shared values that underscore the essential requirement for innovation and new ways to tell unheard stories.
Of the too few supported Black theatre productions there is still a focus on ‘estate gang stories’ ‘tales of subjugation’,
‘soap opera narratives’ and a re-hashing of classic plays with a black cast. Responsibility lies with both mainstream and alternative theatres and artists to take risks.
Audiences and demographics are changing, London has a 40% non-white population who want more than what is on offer and new talent has to be nurtured. Some of the most exciting work is happening outside of theatre, in DIY spaces, in exciting new web series and through fearless writing in blogs and zines. The talent is out there.
Theatre now needs to embrace new ideas and stop telling Black artists what stories to tell. It’s time to excite through the unexpected and underexplored.
Diane Morgan, nitroBEAT.
For further details of our upcoming show click here
Sharnita K Athwal is the CEO of Shaanti, a company that delivers events and music development for British Asian artists. She is also the Artistic Director of the Eastern Electronic Festival, a month-long new music festival in Birmingham now in it’s fourth year.
Sharnita was the first female judge at the UK Asian Music Awards. She is the founder of Shaanti TV, Music Supervisor for the Multi-Award winning independent film ‘Karma Cartel’ and a DJ on digital radio stations in Germany, UK and India. She was included in the inaugural Cultural Leadership Programme ‘Women to Watch’ list, which profiled 50 female leaders, directors, producers and curators from across the UK in 2010, and as one of Birmingham’s New Beat-Generation ‘Inspirational Leaders’ in 2013. Her charity work includes chairing ‘British Asian Women in Music’, a platform for equal rights, change and empowerment.
Yemisi Mokuolu is an independent producer and arts consultant, trading under the name of Hatch Events who works within the Creative and Cultural industries producing independent films, arts seasons and large-scale events. She also provides audience development, arts promotion and business development support for a wide range of leading national organisations. She has delivered a number of development programmes, the most recent being the ‘UK-Nigeria Creative Partnership’, commissioned by British Council to foster collaborations between the Film, Fashion and Music industries in Britain and Nigeria.
Yemisi is best known for the platform ‘Out of Africa’ which promotes and profiles African arts in the UK via live events, newsletters, blogs and social media. Out of Africa events have been held in venues that include, Carnaby Street, Riverside Southbank Centre and Indig02, attracting festival audiences of up to 30,000. Yemisi is currently co-producing ‘Oliva Tweest’, the world's first Afrobeats Musical and ‘Asa Baako - One Dance festival’ in Ghana, which is now in its 6th year.
Diane Morgan, Director of nitroBEAT says of the appointments:
“With a refreshed vision to experiment and push the boundaries of music, theatre and live events, Sharnita was approached to join our board because of her relentless commitment to innovation, talent development and the execution of the highest quality creative projects that defy categorisation and reach wide audiences. Yemisi is an asset to nitroBEAT through her powerful advocacy, arts leadership and organisational development across the creative and cultural industries in the UK and across Africa. Yemisi and Sharnita provide a unique depth and breadth of expertise that will help to lead the company boldly into its next exciting phase.”
In May this year we produced the one-day ‘D’ Word event in association with the Barbican and supported by Arts Council England, Soho Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East. Representatives from In Between Time, Tamasha and Tricycle Theatre and independent consultants also provided time and facilitation skills in support of the aims.
140 artists, artistic directors, executive directors, producers, managers, consultants and policy-makers gathered at the Unicorn Theatre to explore new ideas and possibilities for increasing cultural diversity within London’s theatre and live art scene. Welcomed by Purni Morell, Artistic Director of the Unicorn, the event consisted of a suite of TED-style talks and performance provocations interspersed with facilitated discussions, opportunities to feedback, envisioning the future, informal conversation breaks, showcasing creative work, online interviews and social media commentary. A number of key questions prompted discussions.
Kerry Michael: ‘We need a MOBO Awards for BAME theatre’
Paulette Randall: ‘Diversity is a dirty word’
'As cultural critics proclaim this post-modern era the age of nomadism, the time when fixed identities and boundaries lose their meaning and everything is in flux, when border crossing is the order of the day, the real truth is that most people find it very difficult to journey away from familiar and fixed boundaries…In this age of mixing and hybridity, popular culture...constitutes a new frontier providing a sense of movement, of pulling away from the familiar and journeying into and beyond the world of the other.' - bell hooks, 'Reel to Real'
'Our bodies are occupied territories. Perhaps the ultimate goal of performance, especially if you are a woman, gay or a person “of color,” is to decolonize our bodies; and make these decolonizing mechanisms apparent to our audience in the hope that they will get inspired to do the same with their own.' - Guillermo Gómez-Peña, “In Defense of Performance Art”
How imaginative is the art form that dwells too long in the cul-de-sac; mirroring only the contents of its own internal constructs, like an impermeable cultural membrane that shields against whatever potential transformation may come from venturing beyond the cul-de-sac? Conversely, how re-imagined is the art form that peers beyond the perimeter of familiarity; that ventures beneath the skin of the homogenous space and that dares; without desire to dominate or decimate, to self-objectify and reappraise the value of its own skin through outside eyes?
Envision that vista of the cul-de-sac contrasted with the world outside the cul-de-sac. Symbolically, they occupy one landscape as opposing forces of imaginative expression: the colonial view that would centralise impermeability as cultural preserve, versus the decolonial approach that would integrate the cul-de-sac to save it, and populate its landscape with a panoply of communities. Envision if you will the tumultuous shifts and revolutionary upheavals that remain etched in both history books and human consciousness as memories of great migrations; of hope, loss, strife, struggle, pain, belonging and unbelonging, colonialism and decolonialism. Memories both individual and subconsciously transferred across the expanse of generations. Memories and minds indelibly marked by the psychological toll involved in reconciling that prevailing impasse between colonial impulse and its decolonial counter-narrative.
It was the autumn of 2014. An impasse had ensued in response to London's planned staging of 'Exhibit B' - a performance piece framed around colonial memory, envisioned by an artist descended from colonial settlers; featuring prominently a cast of performers descended from a lineage of colonized bodies. In its very physical conception, Exhibit B would represent that challenging reconciliation between empowered gaze and disempowered gaze and thus, in the impasse that occurred between voices of support and voices of dissent against the staging of this controversial work, there was a vital question. To artist, to audience, to Establishment: To whom, by whom and for whom is entitlement given to stage such reanimations of complex, traumatic cultural memory, and how best to negotiate the interactions and interventions of colonial with decolonial, within the shared performance spaces of contemporary art and culture?
When historically bodies have been 'owned'- held captive, displaced, dismembered, systemically disenfranchised in the service of colonial language; to create colonial wealth; to advance the preservation of the colonizer's culture; - it is a veritable challenge of communication to negotiate between descendents of the colonized and beneficiaries of colonial acquisition; a reconciliatory, reparative dialogue around the creation of representative art, that speaks with levelling autonomy beyond imbalances of history and disparate cultural entitlements. For this communication to occur within the context of any prevailing bias; inside the existing terms of colonial language that dwells in spaces constructed by the inherent architects of colonial systems, is a challenge only further intensified. Yet, it is a challenge for artist and audience and Establishment to dually and critically engage if art as a statement on human condition should aspire to render any truthful revelations about humanity in all its complexity of differing identities.
If both art and imagination are landscapes made broader by the prospect of encountering otherness; and by a curiosity to experience or understand places and people unknown; then it is reasonable to assert that art and imagination at their most potent and fertile must derive from a willingness to engage the diverse. Otherwise said, the art form that denies itself the liberty to speak towards diverse, alternate identities is the art form simultaneously in danger of extinguishing its very capacity to re-birth imagination.
In the immediate aftermath of the impasse, there is that temporal window of opportunity; a moment of interaction among the willing, where mediation may evolve towards an implementation of potentially transcendent resolutions.
To this symposium of diverse voices, The ‘D’ Word posed four resounding questions: ‘How do we collectively develop enhanced infrastructure and opportunity for culturally diverse artists to make and present work in London's spaces? In defining 'diversity' in a globally connected world in which race and identity is complex - do existing labels and categories need re-thinking? How do we encourage shared regular learning and good practice across the sector to include policy makers, commissioners, programmers, and employers as well as artists and arts organisations? How do we generate a paradigm shift in both quality and understanding of what is required to support the work and share it with audiences?
In the presentations offered by The ‘D’ Word’’s keynote speakers and in the ‘Lightning Talks’ delivered by performance artists, there were both definitive responses and candid revelations of personal struggle and triumph in negotiating the politics of diversity as performance practice and programming. There were also honest admissions of dilemma, when met with unanswerable questions about how best to effect, sustain and support the achievement of diversity, inclusivity and commonality as interrelated conversations in art spaces.
From Sharnita K Athwal; CEO of music development company Shaanti 11, there was a talk on 'Digital Engagement: Removing obstacles and adapting to opportunities' - framed around experiences of curating arts events exploring British Asian identities, and authenticity as an alternative to ‘assimilation’.
Joon Lynn Goh; senior producer and festival curator for In Between Time delivered philosophical reflections on 'Producing with a live art embrace' - invoking in her presentation the work of acclaimed Mexican activist Guillermo Gómez-Peña, who conceptualised the body as an ‘occupied territory’ and exalted decolonisation of the body as intrinsically necessary to the process of liberating dialogue between performance artist and audience.
‘Lightning Talks’ and performance pieces by artists Nwando Ebizie and Vijay Patel were captivating punctuations on the day’s thematic intersections and drew upon themes of multiculturalism, tradition, ritual and legacy; invoking cultural memories from the West African and East Indian Diaspora’s respectively.
From Fin Kennedy; co-artistic director of Tamasha, self-described as ‘a white, male playwright who has had an unusually diverse journey through East London schools’ – there was 'Recipe for change: How to diversify new British theatre' – a meditation on his process as both playwright and programmer, that peaked on the call towards ‘the E word’ (equality) as central to the core of all diversity thinking.
Kerry Michael; artistic director at Theatre Royal Stratford East, spoke unequivocally of this being the 'Time for positive action' and called very specifically for ‘people of colour’ to be front and centre in articulating the debate. The question asked: “Wouldn’t the theatre sector be so much more exciting if there were more people of colour serving as our national critics? Imagine how refreshing that would be for all of us.”
Writer, coach and broadcaster, Gaylene Gould of ‘Write.Talk.Listen’ spoke with provocative and poetic candour on the art of self-implicating and 'Learning to love differently'. ‘Cultural neglect’ she warned was a condition linked to ‘non-participatory alienation’; of feeling oneself disconnected when the cultural forms around them bare no resemblance to their cultural existence or memory. She underscored the relevance of love in the resolve of conflict, and in the translation of exclusivity into conscious acts of inclusivity.
'Diversity isn't a dirty word - but could there be a better one?', asked theatre director Paulette Randall; associate producer of the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, yet still the first ever Black and female theatre director to helm a West End theatrical production. Lamenting the fatigue that ‘pigeonholing’ within the British arts establishment frequently imposes upon artists of colour, she spoke personally of having encountered misperceptions- chiefly the assumption that Black artists are capable solely of creating work that speaks to Black audiences.
Heather Rabbatts CBE; a Jamaican-born British lawyer, businesswoman, broadcaster, and a towering presence within the structural echelons of UK arts and corporate sectors, delivered the final presentation of The D-Word. In 'Catalyst for change' she centralised leadership and strategy as conduits for change in the most demanding of environments and made clear that the question of achieving legacy in the diverse workspace would ultimately require collaborative investment in attracting, supporting and retaining diverse talent.
To reflect on the totality of talks, performances and provocations that transpired in the course of The D-Word is a challenge. In respect of condensing the wealth and depth of discourse into any singular phrase, proposal or outcome- no uniform offering would truly suffice here. Amidst the abstract interventions there were moments of dissent and instances in which English as the unifying yet colonial language used to capture the feeling in the room, felt symbolically like that impasse; like the test of navigating between colonial conventions and the decolonial impulse. Yet this moment was a needed moment; from impasse to engagement- making the necessary advance towards creating new and autonomously informed ideas that transplant diversity from the realm of ‘other’ and reposition it as a privilege of multitudes; central and essential to any art that seeks to speak towards a complete picture of humanity.
About the author (@JanaSante/ @CultureKinetica)
Jan Asante is a designer, writer and curator of film and culture. As a designer, she has exhibited at the world renowned Victoria and Albert Museum and has been profiled on the BBC, MTV, CNN, The Guardian and The Independent. As founder of consultancy brand Culture Kinetica, she has curated collaborative installations at Royal Society of Arts, programmed film festivals for the UK's Black Cultural Archives in partnership with Picturehouse Cinemas and has contributed to expert panels at Women Of the World (WOW) Festival and Africa Utopia Festival at The Southbank Centre. As an observer of cinema and television culture, her writings on film have featured on Indiewire.com (for 'Shadow and Act').
Last Monday, I had the privilege of helping to plan and implement a social media strategy for The ‘D’ Word. The event was planned as a series of seven ‘TED-style talks’, of about 15 minutes each, with breakout discussions to explore the ideas further, broken up by coffee times and lunch, so we had a number of distinct areas where social media’s role and impact had to be considered.
My first thought and purpose was for the use of social media to be an agent of diversity in the discussion, for our documentation to facilitate and invite people into a conversation. I wanted to enable a level of communication between the inside and outside of the event. To feed thoughts ideas and questions through the walls of the building, virtually, and it do it in a way that both documented what was being said from the stages accurately, but also left room for the voices of others in the room to feed into that narrative, for there to be multiple voices commenting on and formulating questions from the talks that happened.
So, during the main talks, my team (Terry Tyldesley and George Luke) and I summarised the main points of the talks and some of the broad reactions in the room. We chose to retweet other people’s comments and documentation as much as possible, in order to broaden out the range of commentators that were seen and heard via NitroBEAT’s account (the main gathering point for Twitter, alongside the hashtag). George and I also used our own accounts to join the commentary, to be part of that group journey towards asking better questions.
However, the role of social media around the smaller discussion groups was more tricky…
We wanted the discussions, more than anything, to be a safe space for people to talk freely about their experiences, concerns, agreement and disagreement. To do so in a way where no-one felt like they were being ‘watched’, and therefore felt the need to edit their thoughts. So our approach was to document the ideas from the people who gave the talks as they expanded on it, and then represent the broad themes coming from the audience, in non-identifiable ways. In a couple of instances, the commenters in the sessions had themselves been part of the Twitter commentary, so it felt like an act of agency to allow them to choose which of their ideas ended up as part of the Twitter record. In the breaks, we were able to talk with the delegates about their experience of the day, collect stories and opinions, as audio, and put those out as part of the general conversation.
The joy of a hashtag is that it democratises the volume of everyone’s voice...
Your tweets appear in the stream at the time you post them. Say the same thing over and over again, and people will tune you out. Make a valuable contribution, and people will engage. No-one can censor your voice, and many different perspectives can sit alongside one another. I think that happened here, and I think for the most part, it was done in a way that was really productive, and represented the richness and complexity of people’s perspectives on the issue – what the problem is and what the possible ways forward are – very well.
I’m proud of the number of the tweets that we sent both on the Nitrobeat account and our own that were retweeted by people seeking to get those ideas out further – it’s a validation of our intention to accurately reflect what was happening in the room. We were also able to bring comments from Twitter into the discussions – I summarised a few general themes that had been expressed, and brought them as questions to the discussions, and then we were able to use Storify to gather all the tweets together around each talk, that best showed the quotes from the talks that really hit home.
It was a real privilege to be a part of The ‘D’ Word, and to be able to help amplify both the event and the voices around it – voices of agreement and voices of dissent, voices of encouragement and voices of caution. It’s not the only event that can or will happen around diversity, and the suite of talks were curated with a vision of the model of forward-looking discussion that Diane at NitroBEAT saw as the best route. For what it’s worth, I think she got it pretty much spot on. I learned so much, was challenged by some of the talks, had questions about a LOT of them, and in many cases had those questions answered. The openness of the speakers to have their ideas questioned, challenged, to be requested to clarify points and explore the potential consequences of their recommendations, was so much to their credit and to the atmosphere that the organisers created.
I look forward to hearing the discussion move forward and to hearing more responses as the videos appear online and people get to dive in again to the issues those speakers raised. Each of the videos will be individually embeddable, so you’ll be able to take them, put them at the top of a blog post and write a response of your own. Please do.
@solobasssteve / http://www.stevelawson.net
Last year nitroBEAT came into contact with 25-year-old Ayesha Jones, an award winning photographer and film maker from Birmingham. As a visual artist who challenges expectations, tells stories and collaborates across artforms, we immediately asked her to become an associate artist. Ayesha is working with nitroBEAT to creatively document our activities alongside generating ideas that integrate her talents into creative projects for the stage and with young people. She is also receiving mentoring support from our Director.
“Since the age of six, people have asked me to explain where I come from, despite being born in Birmingham to a black British mother and a white British father. It makes me feel like the colour of my skin is a uniform that doesn't belong in the UK. I wanted to make a film in response to this question that gives perspective and encourages people to be a more accepting and humble. I believe you can learn a lot by observing yourself and your own journey.”
Earlier this year ‘Open Generation’, a project developed by Migrants Rights Network in partnership with Autograph ABP, Counterpoints Arts, and SLAMbassadors UK, launched a competition called ‘Our Voices’ to find young, creative, outspoken individuals to become the voices of our generation. Ayesha won in the Best Film category for ‘Where do you come from?’ It was first screened at Rivington Place, London, on April 11th.
At 13 years old Ayesha was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis, a spinal deformity that causes the spine to curve and rotate. She was told by a doctor that she would “grow up to be a pretty girl with an ugly back.”
During that same year she was also scouted as a model at The Clothes Show Live, which was held at the NEC. She was rejected by the agency when they saw her back. She attempted to pursue a modeling career despite the knock backs and successfully modeled in commercial photo shoots and music videos. However she eventually realised her passion lay behind the camera.
Her project, entitled IMPerfection, explores the notion of beauty, sexuality and body image and the way colonial systems have aided in their distortion. She exposes her hidden ‘disability’ from all angles as she learns to find the beauty in life’s imperfections.
Her incredible work was also discovered by Magnum Photos and she was one of its '30 under 30' photographers showcased at ‘The Photography Show’ in March, produced by the world-leading photography publisher, Future. Ayesha was also awarded the ‘Peoples Choice Award’ for being one of the top three photographers in the group of 30 young photographers from across the globe.
Ayesha's website: imperfectionproject.com
Twitter and Instagram: @ayesha_jones
Click HERE More videos by Ayesha, on the theme of migration.
A range of exciting talks are due to take place at The ‘D’ Word on Monday May 11th at the Unicorn Theatre. Speakers include actor Paterson Joseph, music agency chief and DJ Sharnita K Athwal, and theatre director Paulette Randall, who will be discussing subjects designed to challenge, engage and inspire. Writer and Radio 4 presenter Gaylene Gould, lawyer, businesswoman and broadcaster, Heather Barratts, and Theatre Royal Stratford East artistic director, Kerry Michaels, will also be speaking at the event, delivering talks on an eclectic range of topics such as: Producing with a live art embrace, learning to love differently, and diversity isn’t a dirty word - but could there be a better one?
The ‘D’ Word is more than just a live event, we’re using social media to include as many voices and perspectives as we can on the day. It’s vitally important that a discussion about creativity and cultural diversity is one that invites anyone who wants to be inspired to think differently, to also be able to contribute their own thoughts.
On hand, we will have a team of social media facilitators and commentators, who as well as using Twitter to summarise the points and share the questions that are raised, will be gathering the opinions and perspectives of those in the room and outside the room alongside images and soundbites and feeding back comments from Twitter into the wider conversation. We’re encouraging attendees to tweet their own commentary during the day, to raise questions, to share any emerging ideas that resonate.
We’ll be using Tweetbeam’s real time Twitter visualisation (www.TweetBeam.com) thanks to their kind support, so the conversation can be two-way.
Ideas can be shared from the event, and into the event, so please follow the hashtag and join the conversation. Let’s explore new possibilities together.
Full information here: http://nitrobeat.co.uk/projects/d-word/. A video suite of all the talks will be available on Friday 15th May.
Audiences attending The ‘D’ Word at The Unicorn Theatre on May 11th will be treated to a special Dutty Lingo visual display mixed especially for the event.
Dutty Lingo is a multi-media arts installation, oral history, cultural exploration, and special event project originally created by artist and creative producer Michael Barnes-Wynters in response to a commission from Tate Modern in 2012.
Through a series of residencies Dutty Lingo uses moving image, film, spoken word and music to explore the impact and influence of the tiny island of Jamaican on the people across the UK from the 1950’s through to the present day; its impact on creativity, culture and counter culture, the influence of artistic icons and fashion and how its changed the way we speak and dress.
Since 2012, The Museum of Club Culture (Hull) has commissioned a Dutty Lingo Freedom installation during the city’s Freedom Festival 2014 and special edits created for short film festivals in South Africa and Berlin.
Michael Barnes-Wynters is Bristol born of Jamaican parentage and is that rare ambidextrous breed who blurs provocative visual arts practice with performative interventions. Radio broadcaster, culturally savvy instigator and charismatic creative producer , he has an infectious passion for contributing to cultural innovation.
His extensive experience in successfully designing, producing, touring and delivering many inspired cross-platform artistic programmes and productions in unsanctioned sites, arts venues, virtual and public realm spaces whilst continuing to produce life-changing skills and mentoring programmes, has provided professional development for numerous emerging and established artists, including the likes of music maker, artist and tea shop proprietor, Mr Scruff.
He has performed internationally and has been commissioned by the likes of MoMA (NYC), Tate Modern(London), FACT (Liverpool), Castlefield Gallery (Manchester) and the Museum of Club Culture (Hull).
Email: Michael Barnes-Wynters
Described as one of Britain's most influential women, Heather Rabbatts is a Jamaican-born British lawyer, businesswoman, and broadcaster, who rose to prominence as Chief Executive of the London Borough of Lambeth, the youngest council chief in the U.K.
Starting out as a barrister, Heather became a government advisor and then worked in local government. First as Deputy Chief Executive of Hammersmith and Fulham before becoming CEO of the London Borough of Lambeth, regarded as the worst job in local government. She introduced a more dynamic culture and was widely credited for establishing a fundamental, and positive, change in the organisation.
Heather joined Channel 4 as Head of Education, commissioning programmes and projects and introducing a range of talent development initiatives. She also served as a Governor of the BBC. Her work in private equity drew her to football and the restructuring of Millwall where she was Executive Chairwoman.
Currently Managing Director of international film and TV production company Smuggler Entertainment, Heather also serves on the boards the Arts Alliance, the Royal Opera House, and in 2012 became the first female board member of the Football Association. She has served on the board of Crossrail, and in supervisory roles at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the LSE, and the British Council. She was also a non-Executive Director of the Bank of England.
Heather Baratts will speak on leading change in the most demanding of environments, attracting and retaining talent and increasing workplace diversity. She draws on her extensive experiences to show that through hard work and determination you can achieve your ambitions. Her outstanding leadership skills have been widely reported in the national press, and are testimony to her clear sense of vision and ability to effect real change within large organisations.
The ‘D’ Word is a day-long event taking place on Mon 11 May at Unicorn Theatre, which aims to reignite conversations around cultural diversity in theatre and live art. The ‘D’ Word aims to approach the theme of diversity in the arts in a more radical and inclusive manner by inviting a diverse range of leaders and arts practitioners as speakers and audience members to explore new possibilities for cultural diversity within London's theatre and live art scene.
Heather will join other outstanding luminaries and emerging artistic leaders of the theatre and arts world.
You can find out more about The ‘D’ Word and book here.