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6.9.17

“I do not need your permission” – Part 2

nitroBEAT Pit Party-Suckerpunch Boom Suite collaborators on how Jean-Michel Basquiat has inspired them…

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Maya Williams

Basquiat, to me, is an identity crisis with a paintbrush. Someone who was as sketchy, complex, layered and distressed as their artwork. It's not a typical way to look to someone as inspiration, but there's a lot that I take from seeing an artist relish and thrive in their own complexities and anxieties.

Basquiat resonates with artists who feel marginalised, but not by being some kind of 'voice of the people' character. He resonates because he embodies and he addressed the conflict and struggle that comes with striving for success in amongst the elitist nature of the arts. And it really is a conflict; we look at Basquiat as one of the most influential artists of recent history who at the time was listed as 'wild', like the big-bad-dangerous-urban-jungle-man of the arts. An idea like that diminishes the artist’s legacy and completely overlooks the genius of his work and the intelligence that he was very aware of in himself.

Basquiat's art, to me, comes from a place of creative genius. The way the figures and text are exploded on to the canvas, it's a whole other language of brilliant communication. Even years after his death when we look at his work we're still in conversation, still in conflict. I can't say this inspires me to 'become a better artist', but it inspires me because I am convinced that art is communication and to hold on to the conviction that I could tell you everything and then some with my body, with a paintbrush, with a spray can.

Diane Morgan

As a ‘small island’ black girl growing up in a West Midlands suburb I felt somewhat disconnected from the dominant black music and culture of Jamaica, so I turned instead to the US. The hip-hop scene that Jean-Michel Basquiat rose from had me hooked as New York shaped and influenced the youth cultures of London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol.

I studied Basquiat feverishly (independently - he wasn’t mentioned during my art A level or masters) while soaking up Public Enemy’s ‘Fear of a Black Planet’. In his work entitled Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), he depicted how 25-year- Michael Stewart was beaten by police officers because of his graffiti art and later died from his injuries. Over 30 years later this work is now more relevant than ever in our so-called post-racial society.

Basquiat made me feel normal in wanting to delve into the black experience, my reality AND across invisible lines to draw from multiple sources of inspiration (old, new, black, white, high art, popular art & technology). I didn’t know back then that graffiti artists questioned the authenticity of his work, that black people accused him of selling out, and that the white art elite questioned his right to be there. It isn’t a stretch for me now however, to imagine how he might have struggled with the dichotomy of different worlds and the challenges of fitting in nowhere and everywhere simultaneously.

As I celebrate Basquiat’s success and undeniably incredible talent, it also reminds me why he and I felt/feel so connected to black music – because its innovation and evolution is less easy to constrain. There would be many more Basquiat’s if opportunities were fairly distributed. He was a chosen one, but not the only one.

Throwing Shade

He was a trailblazer and he was the first artist to upset the racial status quo in the Western art world. His ideas feel real.

Matthew Xia

As an artist, a musician and a theatre maker I connect strongly to Basquiat’s anger, his frustration with the historical lines drawn across current society, his sense of rage and rebellion. I started my own art - initially as a performer, an actor, a rapper a DJ – and was informed by my environment, the streets of East London. I fell in love with hip-hop and its associated cultural forms including graffiti. Through hip-hop I fell in love with New York, Jazz, Harlem, Brooklyn, Long Island, the Bronx and the streets Jean-Michel grew up around. I became acquainted with the heroes of the civil rights movement and became politicised around issues of identity, big city living and what it means to be marginalised as a black artist in a white world. I connect strongly to the fury in Basquiat’s work – the depiction of the terrifying, the shattered and the disconnected and the fierceness of his attack.

nitroBEAT Pit Party - Suckerpunch Boom Suite, 29 & 30 Sept, Barbican Centre

31.8.17

“I do not need your permission” – Part 1

nitroBEAT Pit Party-Suckerpunch Boom Suite collaborators on how Jean-Michel Basquiat has inspired them…

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Michael Barnes-Wynters

As an artist who grew up alongside the likes of Robert '3D' Del Naja (Massive Attack) during the 80's at the epicentre of Bristol's creative melting pot, I feel blessed to have been introduced to Basquiat's existence courtesy of The Face Magazine (R.I.P), which prompted me to go to his UK debut exhibition at The ICA. Whilst Bob and Marcia's 'Young Gifted and Black' alongside Bob Marley and Muhammed Ali installed pride of my black skin and Jamaican heritage in me, Basquiat confirmed my existence as an artist.

Seeing someone who looked like me being intuitively creative whilst provocative in his wordplay and shedding light on black histories was a revelation. To this day it gives me the strength to continue broadcasting by any medium necessary whilst asking blunt, relevant and meaningful questions that tackle human suffrage, racism, gender exploitation, injustice, control and the hyper normalisation of humanity.

I do not need your permission. Do not pigeonhole me. Thank you Jean – Michel.

Titi Dawudu

Like Basquiat, I too was heavily influenced by a book. For him it was the famous Gray's Anatomy given to him by his mother when he was in hospital after being in an accident. This book would become a profound influence on Basquiat throughout much of his work. The book that influenced me was Mildred D Taylor's Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. Seemingly voiceless, strong women like Cassie Logan feature heavily in my writing.

What I take from Basquiat’s work is to bring to the forefront the richness and complexities of the black voice. Voices that can in some communities and parts of the world, be stifled, but knowing underneath that there is strength. This is what has drawn me to Basquiat and his influence continues to highlight the power and strength of black culture.

Dead Human

Heading off to art school I was full of ideas and heavily into street art and graffiti - a world that allowed me to experiment with colour, typography and illustration without constraint. Sadly, my first day didn’t go as planned due to my first lecturer snarling ‘that’s not art!’ It was clear from day one I didn’t fit into contemporary art school, something that was continually used as a form of attack and humiliation.

It wasn’t until I started doing photography that everything clicked (no pun intended!). There were less ‘rules’ with photography and I could experiment the way I did with graffiti. I began to explore art history, searching out artists that didn’t fit in with or play by established rules. It was around this time I discovered Basquiat, he faced the same vitriol from the established white-washed art world. His eventual demise was unfortunately not an isolated occurrence. Still to this day, dealers, art critics, large galleries and predominantly middle aged white people decide, as did my ‘teachers’, what art is and what it isn’t.

Basquiat taught me that his chaotic (to some) way of working, taking influence from music, literature and history is my foundation. Yes, he was a flawed individual in some areas, but so are all focused creative people. He did it his way and left a legacy of not only incredible art but a cautionary handbook of the dangers of success.

Jack Miguel

On the surface it looks like Jean-Michel Basquiat exploded out of nowhere, at an outrageously young age, to bless the universe with his raw talent, giving us some of the most iconic and visceral artworks of the 20th century. But he’s not an exception and to call him an artistic genius and to revere him as such does him and his work a disservice, not least because it others him, casting him in gold and hanging him up high where in death like in life he is stripped of context and treated as exotic and not of this world.

Basquiat strikes me as someone who was deeply committed to their art and who protected it with a fierceness I find inspiring. He knew there was nothing else he could do and he went for it despite having no money, no house, against the wishes of his Caribbean father (that’s massive) and as a young black man in America (also very massive).

As an artist that works across disciplines I’ve really struggled with my sense of identity. This feeling of not quite being part of any one world is also something reflected in my personal identity as a mixed race man living in England. He embodied this difficult sense of inbetweenness and used it as a means to transcend convention, freely creating beautiful artwork.

There’s a deep isolation that comes with not quite being part of any one thing, of being alien everywhere you go and ultimately this may have been one of things that contributed to his tragic death. I think one aspect of the power of Basquiats work lies in its ability to make you feel less alone somehow. I hope other people feel the same way and I just wish Basquiat had more Basquiats around him to get it.

nitroBEAT Pit Party - Suckerpunch Boom Suite, 29 & 30 Sept, Barbican Centre

16.4.17

Basquiat: Boom for Real at the Barbican

The first large-scale exhibition in the UK of the work of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960—1988). nitroBEAT has been commissioned to produce Suckerpunch Boom Suite, which will respond to some of the themes of Basquiat's wide-ranging work.

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Discover the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the pioneering prodigy of the 1980s downtown New York art scene. This unprecedented exhibition brings together an outstanding selection of more than 100 works from international museums and private collections. Featuring rare film, photography and archive material, the show captures the spirit of this self-taught artist, poet, DJ and musician whose influence, since his death at 27 in 1988, has been enormous. More info

nitroBEAT Pit Party: Suckerpunch Boom Suite

"We are thrilled to bring back nitroBEAT", Toni Racklin, Head of Theatre at the Barbican

Pioneering New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of the most significant painters of the 20th century and whose first large-scale exhibition is in Barbican Art Gallery, is the source of inspiration for two performances in The Pit.

Suckerpunch Boom suite is a fluid theatrical gig that unites collaborators at the forefront of experimental art, sound, lyricism and physical poetry and responds to some of the themes and deeper truths present in Basquiat's work. In this spirit, nitroBEAT’s Artistic Director Diane Morgan curates an evening that celebrates freedom of expression through contemporary black culture, cross-fertilisation, liberation and inclusivity.

nitroBEAT Pit Party – Suckerpunch Boom Suite,  Friday 29–Saturday 30 September 2017, 8pm.

3.2.17

Black Theatre Co-op Exhibition

nitroBEAT is the current phase of Nitro Music Theatre, which itself evolved from The Black Theatre Co-op established in 1979. This new photographic exhibition at the National Theatre, South Bank covers the 1979-1982 period when the UK’s black theatre scene found its distinct voice.

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BRIGHT YOUNG TINGS

Black Theatre in London 1979 – 1982

An exhibition of photographs by Michael Mayhew and a new artwork by Cherelle Sappleton in the Lyttelton Lounge at the National Theatre

23 February – 10 June.

The photographs from the National Theatre Archive’s Michael Mayhew Collection is a rare snapshot of the work developed by Black theatre Co-op between 1979 and 1982. Michael Mayhew was the NT’s Art Director (from 1976 – 2009) when he was first asked by Charlie Hanson to take publicity photographs of the newly established theatre company. In the 1970s and 80s there was an explosion of new black-led theatre companies in the UK, primarily focused on London. Mayhew went on to shoot more images of theatre productions and rehearsals with Foco Novo and Temba Theatre, leaving a legacy of over 1000 newly digitized photographs at the NT archive.

To respond to this archive collection, Cherelle Sappleton, a young British/Caribbean visual artist whose work focuses on photography, moving image and collage was commissioned to create new work. For Cherelle, Mayhew’s images provide the opportunity to pause and consider the politics of ‘making’ and the spaces in which creative work can be made.

A series of events are accompanying the exhibition to explore and challenge the content and context of the work.

In Context - GLC Story, Black Feminist Theatre 1981-1986
Saturday 1 April, 2-5pm, Cottesloe Room, £25/£20/£7.50

On Screen – Tunde’s Film (dir. Tunde Ikoli and Maggie Pinhorn, 1973, 49 mins)
Saturday 25 March, 6-7.30pm, Cottesloe Room, £5/£3

In Context; Black Woman Time
Saturday 11 March, 2-5pm, Cottesloe Room, £25/£20/£7.50

Stage Photographers
Saturday 4 March, 6-7pm, Cottesloe Room, £6/£5

The Black Plays Archive is an online catalogue for the first professional production of every African, Caribbean and black British play produced in Britain. Visit in person by appointment - NT Archive 020 7452 3135.

3.10.16

Beautiful, carefree & unapologetic

L.GOLD.BT Open Mic was a relaxed event with choreographed dance, visual art, poetry, song and music by young, queer, black artists. "To look around and see a room full of beautiful, carefree, unapologetic and artistic qpoc and allies was all I ever wanted from this project." Maya Williams - Performer, choreographer, teacher, nitroBEAT Intern and L.GOLD.BT creator.

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Maya Williams

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.

"A brilliant evening of live performances and incredible talent. I only wish it was a regular event! When is the next one?" Kamara Gray

"Great night spent at L.GOLD.B.T event. Ovalhouse, nitroBEAT so much great talent! An eve of Unity and expression! Please repeat this event!" Antoinette Lester

"Drenched in love, celebration and style" Angela Hurst

"Eye opening and inspiring with a lot of love and fun! " Cher Ho

 

8.8.16

"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...

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Review for The British blacklist

by Be Manzini / @BeCreates

“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.

Original Feature

8.7.16

nitroBEAT Pit Party - An Afrofuturistic Trip - SOLD OUT

An exploration into Afrofuturism by some of the finest UK innovators, featuring live music, lyricism & art. Aina More, Juice Aleem, Mission//Misplaced Memory, K3 Media, Roney Fraser Munroe, XANA, Jazz re:freshed, Ezra Collective.

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IF YOU MISS IT... 

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.

A few words from Benji Reid

(Performance Architect)

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.

4.7.16

Unleashing the black imagination and alternative visions of the future

The intersection between black culture, technology, liberation and the imagination, Afrofuturism has been expressed through film, art, literature and music. It not only critiques present-day dilemmas of people of colour, but also aims to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past. It's a way of bridging the future and the past and essentially helping to re-imagine the experience of Black people.

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Why Afrofuturism?

Diane Morgan

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.

1.7.16

It starts with a conversation

This Spring and Summer nitroBEAT and Soho Theatre have been fortunate to have a team of four talented emerging producers and arts managers working with us via placement schemes, MA internships and as volunteers to gain valuable experience of the sector. Introducing Titi Dawudu...

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It starts with a conversation

Titilola Dawudu

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.

28.6.16

From Chicago to London and beyond

This Spring and Summer nitroBEAT and Soho Theatre have been fortunate to have a team of four talented emerging producers and arts managers working with us via placement schemes, MA internships and as volunteers to gain valuable experience of the sector. Introducing Nakimera Moore...

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From Chicago to London and beyond

Nakimera Moore

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.

"My goal is to eventually have a solid understanding of entertainment law, artist management and the foundation of running a successful startup..."

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.

27.6.16

Kiss, lick & bite

Soho Theatre’s downstairs cabaret space was the perfect environment for nitroBEATbites, a Future-Theatre Lounge: Six writers testing out their work in the hands of legendary director, Benji Reid, and a talented cast.

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Full house for nitroBEAT bites

Titi Dawudu

“Excellent night filled with so much talent & great new writing! @nitrobeatuk Truly hope #nBbites becomes a regular event”

 

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

25.4.16

NEW LADY VENDREDI VIDEO: PAPA LEGBA

‘Papa Legba’ is performed live in the ‘Passion of Lady Vendredi’ currently at Soho Theatre until April 30. Developed alongside the stage show, the EP of the same name captures the pulsating rhythms and dutty bass of the live experience.

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Papa Legba Video Preview

“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

19.4.16

5-STAR REVIEWS FOR THE PASSION

The Passion of Lady Vendredi kicked off its 3-week run at Soho Theatre last week with enthusiastic responses from audiences and critics alike and received a 5 star review from Time Out.

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The Reviews are in for The Passion of Lady Vendredi

“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

Check out what the audience thinks...

Book tickets here

19.4.16

nitroBEAT DIRECTOR TALKS BLACK THEATRE IN THE UK

In an excerpt from an interview for ‘Timeline’ - a film exploring the history of Black physical theatre in the UK, directed by visual and physical theatre artist Benji Reid, Diane Morgan responds to a question about honouring black artists contribution to theatre and introduces her ‘manifesto for the future’.

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Timeline premiered at STUN, Manchester on 11 December 2015.

For an introduction to Afrofuturism check out these links:

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.

12.4.16

THE PASSION PROGRAMME

Have you been to see The Passion of Lady Vendredi and want to know more about the show, cast and creative team?

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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.

22.3.16

Watch The Trailer For The Passion of Lady Vendredi

Mas Productions, nitroBEAT & Soho Theatre invite you to experience this viciously beautiful and exuberant immersive music theatre show, where live pulsating synthetic rhythms and dirty bass drive the tensions between freedom and control.

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The Passion of Lady Vendredi - Soho Theatre, Tue 12 – Sat 30 April

Buy your tickets here and follow us on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram for exclusive behind the scenes footage.

Additional footage shot by Matthew Charles Robinson.

3.3.16

Blues and Soul Magazine Interview with Lady Vendredi

A self proclaimed ‘agent provocateur’ I compare her to a small particle of magnesium placed on water, fizzing, with creative energies that us mere mortals could only dream of. Co-signed by one Gilles Peterson (after she won the Steve Reed award for innovation) the trained actress, pianist and violinist resides not only in a different lane but also in a different country when it comes to her creative output.

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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

1.3.16

Communications Placement/ Volunteering Opportunity

We have a unique opportunity for two curious and creative individuals who are passionate about digital and social media to gain invaluable communications experience on an exciting project for six weeks. Deadline: 10 March 2016.

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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.

The role

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.

You will...

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.

To apply

Please email your CV or a biography about yourself (2 sides of A4 maximum) by 5pm, Thursday 10 March to communications@nitrobeat.co.uk with your contact details and a one page cover letter telling us:

  • Why you’re interested in this role and how your interests & skills are relevant.
  • Links to any relevant social media, blogs or websites, indicating if they’re yours, examples of content you like or people/organisations you are connected to.

 nitrobeat.co.uk / sohotheatre.com / mas-productions.org / @nitrobeatuk / @ladyvendredi / @SohoTheatre

29.2.16

nitroBEAT and Soho Theatre host Tamasha Emerging Producer

nitroBEAT and Soho Theatre are working with Tamasha to jointly host an emerging producer placement. The bursary and placement is funded by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and is one aspect of Tamasha Developing Artists, an artist-led professional development programme for emerging and established theatre practitioners.

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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.

22.2.16

She’s back ... and she slays!

The exceptional music and performance artist Lady Vendredi describes herself as a ‘mythopoetic blaxploitation super heroine and vodou priestess popstar from another dimension’. She time travels and is on a quest for revenge...

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‘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

15.2.16

Is representation our only battle?

British theatre is both art and part of a wider industry connected to film, television and music, where we're seeing an unprecedented amount of attention this award season for across the board lack of cultural diversity. Black talent is either being ignored or used stereotypically.

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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

22.1.16

nitroBEAT welcomes two new Board Members

Sharnita K Athwal – CEO of Shaanti and Yemisi Mokuolu – Arts Producer and Consultant, join the nitroBEAT board with David Emerson CBE, Chair – CE of the Association of Charitable Foundations, Natalie Wade, Vice Chair – Director of Small Green Shoots and Tony Graves – who leads in Arts & Festival Management at DeMontfort University.

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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.”

25.6.15

There is more that unites us than divides us

What are the ‘choke points’ preventing culturally diverse artists from succeeding and should we stop talking about ‘diversity’? These issues and more were discussed at nitroBEAT’s ‘D’ Word event. Diane Morgan summarises for Arts Professional.

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11

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.

Read the full article

More press:

Kerry Michael: ‘We need a MOBO Awards for BAME theatre’

Paulette Randall: ‘Diversity is a dirty word’

3.6.15

Privileging Our D-Words: Diversity, Dissent and Decolonised imagination in the public art space

"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." Jan Asante, designer, writer and curator of film and culture.

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'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').

19.5.15

Social Media at #TheDWord – collectively asking better questions

"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." Steve Lawson talks about his role leading on social media at The 'D' Word.

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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.

Links:

Click here for videos of all the ‘D’ Word talks, speaker biogs and photographs. Listen to interviews with some of the speakers and attendees, and read tweets from the event.

@solobasssteve / http://www.stevelawson.net