Dance the Guns to Silence II – 20th anniversary of the murders of Ken Saro-Wiwa & the Ogoni 8


DAY of ACTION on the 20th Anniversary of the outrageous executions of writer and campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 Ogoni men.

8:00 – 10:30am, VIGIL at SHELL, Shell Centre, Waterloo, London, SE1 7NA

Gather at Shell to demand environmental justice in Ogoniland using Ken’s own words, and mark the lives of each of the Ogoni 9. Called by MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People) and Action Saro-Wiwa

19:00 (doors open 18:00) , DANCE THE GUNS TO SILENCE II – music, spoken word, performance, DJ. At Rich Mix. £10.00/£5.00 (adv & concs)

Major celebration with performance poets, writers, musicians, and filmmakers, with an introduction by Lazarus Tamana, Coordinator of MOSOP.

Read more about Ken Saro-Wiwa and the struggle against Shell in the Niger Delta here

Music from Virtual Migrants, headliners Bumi and Dele, DJ Tillah Willah, spoken word from Dorothea Smartt, Young Poet Laureate for London Selina Nwulu, Zena Edwards, Sai Murray and the Numbi family.

Plus updates on live events in the Niger Delta. Dance the Guns is a co-production between Numbi, Action Saro-Wiwa and Sable LitMag. Hosted by Kadija Sesay (Sable) and Kinsi Abdulleh (Numbi). Come and make some noise for Ken, whose people are still fighting for justice.

See you there. Book Now.

Moko Jumbie performance this Saturday at British Museum


This Saturday August 15 at 12 noon, please join us for a special performance in the Great Court at the British Museum, Great Russell Street London WC1B 3DG. As part of the Museum’s Celebrate Africa season and lead up to Notting Hill Carnival two Moko Jumbie sculptures by Trinidadian artist Zak Ové have been installed in the Great Court. This Saturday we celebrate this first commissioned work by a Caribbean artist with performances from Touch D Sky, featuring Stephanie Kanhai, reigning Trinidad and Tobago Carnival Queen. At 1pm and 2 pm join us in Room 25 for Tales of the Orisha; Myth, Legend and Lore with Storyteller Jan Blake and Master Drummer Crispin Robinson.

The Moko Jumbie is a key figure in the carnival and festival celebrations of the Caribbean. The moko jumbie is a dancer, healer and symbol of ancestral protection.

Spread the word and see you on Saturday!

Numbi: Film & Arts International Festival


“We come together to mend the crack in the sky” – Somali proverb
This Summer Numbi goes Global following on from our frolic with ‘Youth’ in 2014, this year we are exploring ‘Faith’. With Numbi Seed Events connecting metropolitan communities in London, Atlanta and Hargeisa.
As always and in true Numbi Spirit we have a line up of local, national and international artists and educators; the conversation is Global and the platforms made Local.
With events taking place throughout June, July and August 2015 we invite you to immerse yourself in film screenings, live music, exhibitions, workshops, readings and guided tours. #Findyourselfgetfree

The event will kick-off with films selected specially for this evening in collaboration with Legacy Film UK, followed by a showcase of a formidable line up of NUMBI resident and guests including Elmi Ali, Dorothea Smartt Poetic Pilgrimage, Judy Solomon, Ubah Cristina Ali Farah , Rosamond S King, Hassoum Ceesay, DJ Tillah Willah, Jonathan Andre, Anna Lau, Yenenesh Nigusse, Kinsi Abdulleh and Charity Njoki Mwaniki and many more.

Friday 26th June
20:00 – 01:00
£10, £5 concs from Rich Mix box office

Other events to come…
Join us at New Unity in Newington Green for a day of connection, mapping, realignment and relaxation. A whole day event with live-food from 3MW Health; the Art of Centering and Grounding with Naila Natural Yoga; Soul expression & Integration circle, sound healing session with Judy Yodit Solomon & Hatha yoga with Dunya Ntinizi.
Saturday 27th June, 10:00 – 22:00
£10, £5 concs. per workshop
New Unity, 39A Newington Green, London N16 9PR
The Soul Expression & Integration Circle: helps people to discover and intuitively express the untapped potential that lies in our voice. It is recommended for anyone who wishes to enjoy deeper peace, greater freedom, and mastery of life.
Come and explore your voice and its healing power.
Advance booking essential
The Numbi Kohl Class is a gaze deconstruction workshop where we like to take more than one look. Author and SCARF guest editor Ubax Christina Ali Farah leads an exploration of the connections between the body, self-representation, beauty and faith. Using texts and images as discussion triggers she encourages participants to share and reflect back on experiences and anecdotes connected with the theme. Participants use notebooks to collect and share their voices with sketches, notes, stories and ideas: the notebook becomes an accumulator of ideas and emotions that releases its charge over time.
Sunday 28th June, 11:00
i’klectik Art-lab, ‘Old Paradise Yard’, 20 Carlisle Lane SE1 7LG

Festival pass £30 and full program available at the Numbi Festival Launch @ Rich Mix. Book now!

Put the Mask back in the Mas

Notting Hill Carnival in 2013 Brianna McCarthy Maker + Mender mask.

Notting Hill Carnival in 2013 Brianna McCarthy Maker + Mender mask.

One jouvay morning in Port of Spain a couple years ago, an Egun priest told me that the ancestors were upset because we were playing mas with our faces uncovered. This year for Jouvay I covered my face and at Notting Hill Carnival yesterday I made the transition back to a mask.

I had the pleasure of wearing a piece of art made by Brianna McCarthy, one of Trinidad’s most exciting young mixed media artists.

The politics of beauty in Trinidad is problematic at best. Look at any band launching event and notice that black women, dark skinned Indian or African women are virtually non-existent.

I am really excited about the ways that Brianna’s work confronts this.

Her website says:
‘Her work takes on the intricacies and dynamics of representing Afro-Caribbean women who are portrayed as being strong, long-suffering, exoticised and picturesque beings against a backdrop of poverty, hardship, abuse and/or scorn. McCarthy’s constructions and representations revolt against and subvert the stereotypical trends of representing the black body.’  

Once upon a time Carnival was a space for women to claim power. These days I can’t tell if Carnival is a space of power or – given the size of the costumes, the expense of the make up and increase in gym membership from October to February – a space where women are forced to seek approval under the gaze of a society that is male and judgemental. 

So the mask is part of that confrontation that needs to take place.  I loved the fear, awe, intrigue, attraction that the mask caused. Men begged me to take it off, children cried, old people smiled and bowed.

Culture should never be fossilized fragments. It should always evolve to serve the needs of the people who practice it. 

But we always need rituals. And performance as ritual – we’ve lost that from our Carnival with the loss of the mask.

And that is what I loved most about about wearing Brianna’s mask – it was a very contemporary take on a very ancient practice of masking – for the purpose of healing, for the purpose of transformation, for the purpose of liberation.

It’s a key part of the obeah that is Carnival and it occurred to me yesterday that half of the reason why the Carnival has lost its power is because of the removal of the mask.

‘Nutting’ Hill Carnival – a lament for Claudia Jones


Notting Hill Carnival is on this weekend. Whatever the festival reflects and represents now (party and bullshit and party and bullshit) I’d just like to take a moment to remember and celebrate Claudia Jones, who gave England its first taste of Caribbean Carnival in 1959 in response to the Notting Hill race riots of the previous year.

She was born in Belmont, Trinidad in 1915 and moved to the US at age 9 but was deported in 1955 for her involvement in workers rights and the Communist Party.

She was given asylum in England and it was here that she organized the first London Caribbean Carnival and an Afro-Asian Caribbean Conference which then led to the formation of Committee of Afro-Asian and Caribbean Organisations.

She also founded the West Indian Gazette which later became West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News.

She was a journalist, activist, trouble maker, public speaker and allround badass.

She was also the original Jouvayist because she understood the transformative power of culture and the role that Carnival, the carnival of the masses played in defying the boundaries set by a system designed to make migrants invisible and sub-human.

That first Carnival event she organized in January 1959 in Pancras Town Hall featured the Boscoe Holder Dance troupe, the legendary Fitzroy Coleman and Cleo Laine. It was broadcast on the BBC and funds raised from the event went towards court fees and fines of convicted young black men.

I wonder if a penny from any fete, boat cruise, mas band this weekend is going towards addressing any of the many issues in the Black British community….

It’s unfashionable these days to be critical of Carnival. We have earned the right to wine up ourselves in the streets. To pay ridiculous amounts of money to wear the same costume every year. To dress up and go to fete and adopt postures of freedom and wild abandon.

I love to wine as much as anybody else, but I’m looking at least for a bit of irony, for an undertone of menace for even the shadow of a threat. We don’t even understand the significance of all these English in the street essentially giving thanks for the protests and sacrifice of the generations of Africans and Indians who worked to make this country wealthy and then came here after the World Wars as part of the rebuilding effort. 

The ConDem government is telling people to go home  even as we find out just how much David Cameron’s family got in reparations after Emancipation.

I guess it’s the lack of irony that upsets me the most. The total and complete lack of consciousness at how powerful Carnival could be if we weren’t so busy trying to forget the very things that ensured that we have it in the first place.


Breasts of Iron

Peter yuh doh know
The pressure I undergo
From these mad man and woman
Ah feel the full weight of dey hand
They make they oppress law
They never care about the poor
Peter these people had they day
Well now is time for Stalin to play.

—Bun Dem, Black Stalin


I am a little girl again standing at a bus stop in England waiting to go to school. Studying the display of Sindy dolls in the Woolworth’s window. And then dry so, without warning, like cobo falling dead out of the sky, an old woman walks up and punches me in the face. No warning. No shouted threats. Just an old mad white woman coming up to me at a bus stop and punching me in the face.  

I have no frame of reference for such violence. My tears are not from pain but from shock and confusion at what I could possibly have done for an old woman to come up and punch me in the face. My sisters are beside themselves and when I get to school with a bloody nose my classmates form a protective shield around me and share their fish fingers at lunch time. Even the hateful Claire Sommers doesn’t call me chocolate factory worker that day. 

By the time I get home my mother is pacing like a caged lioness. Somebody is going to die. My nose isn’t bleeding and there is only a little split on my lip, but she inspects me like I’ve been at war. A police officer is at the door soon. She talks for a while, trying to calm my mother who is in angry hysterics. 

She explains that this is what happens when you cut back on welfare. Old mad women are turned out of homes. Old mad women who have probably seen two black people in their lives, get nervous and disoriented and violent. This is what happens when you have iron breasts that don’t know what is nurturing. She said there is no such thing as society and society died. But people didn’t die and some of them roamed the streets like zombies lashing out at anybody who happened to be too close. 

 My nose healed up—she didn’t hit me hard enough to cause permanent damage—and after a while I wasn’t terrified to death of standing at the bus stop. But it hadn’t occurred to me how much that moment still affected me until I was walking in a stush part of London one night last summer and clutched my bag cowering as an old white woman walked swiftly up behind me. 

 She looked at me with such absolute confusion, as if she couldn’t imagine what I, an almost six foot, wild-haired black woman could possibly have to fear. Thatcher’s England still echoes now. In the policies of this new Con Dem government, in the naked neo-liberalism and war-mongering of Tony the Phony. In the bulldozed housing estates and the bedroom tax. In the bounding and unbridled and unregulated behaviour of banks and the expectation that taxpayers will bail them out. 

There’s no love lost between me and Mistress Margaret. She of iron will and unwavering principles. Breasts of iron do not belong to women who are interested in building a future for their children. She is no role model to me and I’d rather not have female leaders if that is what they do.

Still, I can’t bring myself to go to a party to celebrate her death. I am relieved that I know better and I am not from a place that makes old people invisible and because of her terrible example of what it is to be human, I appreciate the people around me who are more in touch with their humanity. 

Thatcherisms ripple across the globe. Thatcherisms multiply like mosquitoes in a foetid pond of global capitalism. And the London Stock Exchange and the business district are what my activist friend from India calls a Paradise for Parasites built on a solid foundation of slavery money. I think of her dying in the comfort of the Ritz hotel. I wonder what happened to that lonely, frightened old woman who punched me in the face. If she died alone and cold. 

I can’t vex with the cobo for falling out of the sky on the day that Margaret Thatcher died. As if the cobo themselves could not bear the possibility of picking the flesh from those iron bones. I don’t believe in Hell but if I did Mistress Margaret would be in it, spending a million lifetimes to account for all her sins. And maybe then she might weep real tears and rust a hole through her iron breasts and maybe then her heart might hurt for all the pain she caused.

First published in the Trinidad Guardian April 13, 2013

London is the Place


I still smile every time I come out of the Brixton Tube station and turn left, and it’s like being in Africa and Asia and the Caribbean all at once. The incense man outside the supermarket is really from Barbados, though he pronounces “incense” like a Jamaican. A car passes, blasting the latest funky house summer scorcher, the unholiest of combinations of high life’s easy groove, dancehall’s driving bass, and soca’s call to wine.


Piece I wrote for Caribbean Beat Magazineon my ongoing love affair with Babylondon.