Black History Month is a time of recognition, celebration and reflection, highlighting the achievements of Black individuals in the UK whilst also recognising the need for diversity and equity for all.
Image credit: Tuukka Ervasti
The night of outgoing Executive Director Stella Kanu’s leaving do, I ran into Founder, CEO and Artistic Director of Serendipity Institute for Black Arts and Heritage, Pawlet Brookes. I had been thinking about Black History Month and how I wanted to reflect on it for this month’s newsletter. Pawlet started the conversation by proclaiming that she had just attended a conference on Black academia. She’d had to confront the crowd for the lack of diversity. Not the kind of diversity you’re thinking of. She was astonished that every academic in the room was born outside of the UK. In a room with so many Black academics, why was there no British-born Black talent? A good and necessary question.
The conversation soon diverged, and we began speaking about many things from politics to the artistic work that we adore. This included a long ramble from me on a mesmerising show that I once saw with my grandma over six years ago in Oslo. Surprisingly, Pawlet knew exactly which production and artist I was talking about – Thomas Talawa Prestø, Artistic Director of Tabanka Dance Ensemble, an African and Caribbean dance company, in Norway.
Conversations soon moved onto the poem ‘This Dusky Skin’, a prominent feature of this particular dance performance which discusses the role the Black body plays in society. The fact that it must blend into the background and ‘master blandness/ merge into grey’ to survive yet ‘It cannot blend effortlessly/ Into the background/ Even when silenced it speaks / A brutalised history’ ‘It must master how to / Sit when others stand/ Stand when others sit/ Moulds itself into whatever shape,/ Character, vision/ Society demands.’
Every line of the poem speaks so much truth, I recommend you read the full poem to understand the challenges the Black body must face in society.
Coming away from this conversation, my mind was buzzing. This poem that had meant so much to me for so many years on a personal level is much more political, significant and world renowned than I ever would have imagined. From this, I decided to take this month as an opportunity to deepen my understanding of the Black art and cultural scene in London. I want to shout about and celebrate Black artists and Black-led performance organisations who are doing exciting work right now.
This in-depth knowledge and spotlighting is vital for us here at LIFT, to continue creating a space where individuals are given the recognition and celebration that they deserve, internationally and locally. So, in honour of Black History Month, LIFT and I would like to introduce you to 8 key artists/shows that you should know about in London, and maybe an extra one as a bonus at the end!
One Drop is described as ‘a speculative summoning, a decolonial dream, an autopsy of the Western stage and an operetta’, One Drop by award-winning Cameroonian-Finnish choreographer and artistic director Sonya Lindfors explores power, representation and Black body politics.. You might remember Sonya from We Should All Be Dreaming LIFT 2022…
2. Various events at Theatre Peckham through-out October.
Theatre Peckham has lots of fantastic events lined up for BHM featuring a range of artistic disciplines. Here is one for all you music and poetry lovers out there: Black in Music:
Musician Showcase, a feel-good concert celebrating the most exciting Black musicians on the circuit. And another one I’m excited about: Poetry Foyer: The Things That Make Us, their monthly poetry event transformed for BHM into a special Young Gifted & Black edition. A takeover by Spoken Word artist Dialectic Dee will celebrate ‘The Things That Make Us,’ in support of artists with Sickle Cell disease.
3. Elephant at Bush Theatre on until 4 November,
Bush Theatre’s ‘Elephant’ is on until 4 November. Olivier award nominee Anoushka Lucas’ acclaimed debut play is part gig, part musical love story, part journey through Empire. It brings together Anoushka and director Jess Edwards, who both worked on the first staging of Elephant, part of the Bush’s Protest series created in response to the murder of George Floyd.
4. WELCOME TO ENGLAND’: A WINDRUSHERS’ 75TH CELEBRATION SKETCH SHOW– Bernie Grants Arts Centre 29 October
Bernie Grants Arts Centre celebrates Black artists and Black-led work all year round, and their BHM programme is no different. I’d like to shout about WELCOME TO ENGLAND’: A WINDRUSHERS’ 75TH CELEBRATION SKETCH SHOW which will be showing on 29 October. This show brings together new writers and performers to tell their story as to what the Windrush means to us as 1st generation born. This show is supported by poetry from Spoken Word and an exciting book launch, this is one not to miss!
5. Black Cultural Archives: Brilliant Black British History until 28 January
Black Cultural Archives has a new exhibition which transports you into a world of Brilliant Black British History. From science and sport to education and law, celebrate the hard work of brilliant Black people from different backgrounds who helped build Britain. The exhibition is inspired and informed by a book of the same name written by Atinuke and illustrated by artist Kingsley Nebechi. On until the 28 January.
6.The Night Woman at the Barbican 19-21 October
From the 19-21 October, award winning writer and performer Julene Robinson’s The Night Woman will be on at the Barbican. A compelling new play about the power of Black womanhood, darkness and the redemptive power of self-love, told through captivating fusion of dance, singing and music.
7. George the Poet at the Southbank Centre 20 October
On the 20 October, George the Poet will be at the Southbank Centre, curating a night of music and poetry hosted by Leah Davies. Expect a series of excellent artists to grace the stage and deliver extracts from George’s latest anthology, Part of a Story That Started Before Me, which takes readers on a thought-provoking poetical journey through Black British history.
8. Ballet Black at the Linbury Theatre 16-19 November
Love a bit of ballet? This is one for the future. 16-19 November, Cassa Pancho’s thrilling Ballet Black returns to the Linbury Theatre. Tickets are sold out! But, The Royal Opera House says you can check back with them for ticket returns for a chance to see this unforgettable performance.
For fans in Leicester on the 24 October
A bonus one for LIFT fans in Leicester! Serendipity has a full schedule of BHM events which are definitely worth attending! My recommendation would be ‘BOY’S KHAYA’ on the 24 October, which tells the story of choreographer Bawren Tavaziva’s early life in Zimbabwe through a mesmerising combination of contemporary, ballet, and African dance, with a spoken-word soundtrack and music. Probably even worth getting on a train for…