London culture

Brazil in London (Visit London Blog)

The Fontanas. Courtesy of Rich Mix

In case you missed the news (where on earth have you been?) the 2014 FIFA World Cup is being held in Brazil. But you don’t need to jet around the world to get into the spirit, there are plenty of amazing places and ways to enjoy Brazilian culture right here in London.

Here are just a few ideas to get you started – from dancing up a storm to sipping delicious rum cocktails.

Brazilian cocktails in London

Made in Brasil cocktail and snacks

The caipirinha is the most popular of Brazil’s cocktails – a refreshing kick of cachaça (sugar cane rum), sugar and lime. Enjoy a classic caipirinha – or one of the many spin-offs, made with fresh fruit – at the newly opened pop-up Barzinho in Soho, Guanabara in Covent Garden or Floripa in Old Street.

Brazilian restaurants in London

Brazil is famous for its barbeques (or churrascaria) – and Brazilians know a thing or two about grilling meat to perfection. Find out for yourself at London chain Rodizio Rico, which has branches in The O2, Islington and Notting Hill. Other dining options include Raizes in Hackney, Barraco in Kilburn or the Japanese-flavoured Sushisamba in the City. While other favourite dishes to look out for include Brazil’s national dish, feijoada (a hearty bean and pork stew), moqueca (a tasty fish stew made with coconut milk) and the deliciously sweet pudim (a caramel-like flan made with condensed milk).

Brazilian music in London

Made in Brasil

The Brazilian music scene is big in London – and growing all the time. To hear live music, you need to head to places like Vauxhall restaurant/bar Tia Maria, glitzy Covent Garden bar Guanabara and Camden restaurant/bar Made in Brasil. As well as samba you’ll find choro, bossa nova, forro, MPB… the list goes on. Many non-Brazilian venues also hold regular Brazilian music nights too, such as Ronnie’s Bar (above famous Soho jazz club Ronnie Scott’s) and Primo near Westminster. And don’t forget to look out for samba, samba reggae and maracatu bands and dancers parading at the Notting Hill Carnival in August.

Brazilian dance in London

Brasil Brasileiro. Courtesy: Sadler's Wells

Like with music, there are many different forms of Brazilian dance – and you find many of them in London. Learn how to shimmy to samba at the London School of Samba itself, partner up for forro dancing (Forro London lists all the different forro nights in London), discover empowering maracatu and samba reggae dance with Gandaia Arts in Brixton, cross continents with Irineu Nogueira’s fierce Afro-Brazilian dance sessions… you could dance every night of the week! If you prefer to watch rather than participate, why not check out Brasil Brasileiro, coming to top dance venue Sadler’s Wells on 8 July.

Brazilian martial arts in London

If you prefer your dance with bite, seek out Brazil’s famous martial arts/dance form: capoeira. You can learn to ‘ginga’ (and the rest) at the many capoeira schools across London. Another popular Brazilian martial art is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – a self-defence sport focused on grappling and ground fighting. Just make sure you don’t get the two mixed up!

Brazilian events in London

Joga Bola! at Rich Mix

If you want to find out what Brazilian events are happening in your area or right now, pay a visit to Culturart.co.uk, a great online resource of Brazilian happenings and culture – with a handy monthly newsletter. Other top sites to visit include Brazilian/Latin American magazine Jungle Drums and the website of London’s Brazilian Embassy. Just three upcoming events not to miss include: the World Cup kickoff party Brazil Day at Trafalgar Square on 12 June, musical feast Joga Bola! at Rich Mix (from 12 June to 13 July) – with The Fontanas (pictured top) and many more, and Radical Geometry: Modern Art of South America at the Royal Academy of Arts (5 Jul-28 Sep).

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2014/06/brazil-in-london/

London culture

How To Find a Pop-up Restaurant In London (Visit London Blog)

Grub Club Supper Club Confit Comme Ca

With pop-up restaurants springing up everywhere, London’s foodie scene has never been more exciting. Not only do you get to try great food from the capital’s brightest new chefs, but you’ll meet new people and enjoy a totally unexpected evening.

But how do you find a pop-up restaurant or supper club in London? Here are a few leads to get you started:

Grub Club

On Grub Club’s easy-to-use website you just type in a day you want to eat out, a location, the number of people and any keywords… then bing! A tasty selection of options pops up. You can then filter the options by price, cuisine, diet (i.e. vegan, allergy-friendly) and even choose options that are for charity.

One to try: Summer Fish Feast (27 Jun, £35pp): Head chef Adha, otherwise known as The King of Gnocchi, serves up his well-appreciated gnocchi with seabass ragu, cherry tomatoes and burrata cheese, with other special dishes like black fettuccine with Devon crab & dill, or his famous octopus salad.

London Pop-Ups

Comprehensive blog London Pop-Ups not only lists new pop-up restaurants, but pop-up bars, shops, galleries and gigs too. The ‘London Supper Clubs’ tab lists all regular supper clubs and when they’re next happening. If you want to catch the freshest face on the blog, click ‘Open this week’ to find what’s new in town.

One to try: The Argentinian Pizza Supper Club (Saturdays, £25pp): authentic Argentian pizza in a café/gallery space off Old Street – includes dessert, half a bottle of wine and live music.

The Londonist

The Londonist publishes a monthly dedicated guide to eating on the fly: 10 Foodie Pop-Ups To Try This Month.

One to try: Morty & Bob’s (Wed-Sun): indulgent cheese toasties served from pub Off Broadway, along East London’s Broadway Market. Optional top-ups include bacon, pulled pork and avocado salsa.

The Nudge: Pop-up London

London lifestyle website The Nudge dedicates a whole section to ‘Pop-up London’, and each month picks The Best Pop Up Restaurants In London. May’s list included a five-course feast at the National Trust’s Osterley House, Roti Chai’s ‘Chaat Shack & Chai Bar’ on the Southbank, and Pop Up Barbados in, er, Dalston.

One to try: Struie Road, Clerkenwell (13 Jun, 18 Jul, 19 Sep, 17 Oct, 21 Nov, 5 Dec. £49pp) An eight-course seasonal menu with a Scottish flavour – dishes include wild boar sausage rolls with gooseberry ketchup.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2014/06/how-to-find-a-pop-up-restaurant-in-london/

London culture

10 Canalside Cafes in London (Visit London Blog)

The Counter Cafe

As London’s picturesque canals become increasingly popular with walkers and cyclists, more and more canalside cafes are popping up along London’s towpaths. We pick 10 canalside eateries where you can sit and watch boats bobbing, the sun shining on the water and the world go by. Bliss.

The Counter Café

At independent café and coffee roastery The Counter Café (pictured top), you get a view not just of the canal but the Olympic stadium – which is just 100 metres away across the water. Grab a seat on the outdoor terrace to enjoy their popular pies, excellent coffee and amazing brunches. Save time to explore the latest exhibition in the Stour Space, the social enterprise which the café is part of.

Towpath Café

From Islington, the Regent’s Canal stretches further east to Hoxton – and the Towpath Café (near Whitmore Bridge). Opened by food photographer Jason Lowe and his food-writer wife Lori de Mori, the café serves up a small but delicious selection of Italian specialities. They have no phone number, website and only accept cash, so why not take their lead, switch off your mobile and indulge in some people watching!

Ribeira London

Neighbouring Towpath Café is another canalside favourite: Ribeira London. This time food comes with a Latin twist, served in beautifully designed surroundings. The chilled-out sister restaurant to Old Street’s Floripa, Ribeira is the place to go for anything from coffee to cocktails, and dinner to all-day (well, ‘til 4pm) brunch at the weekend.

The Proud Archivist. Photo by Luke Hayes

The Proud Archivist

Close to Kingsland Basin on Regent’s Canal (nearest station: Haggerston Overground), The Proud Archivist – like InSpiral Lounge – wears many hats. Gallery, bar, restaurant, café, events space… Seasonal, locally-inspired dishes are top of the menu and change all the time, while current/upcoming events on the social calendar include Secret Theatre’s Diary of a Sociopathic Freakozoid and the exhibition Miniature Salon.

King's Cross Filling Station

King’s Cross Filling Station

Its name may suggest a petrol forecourt, but King’s Cross Filling Station is anything but. Behind its contemporary, glass architecture and neon signage, you’ll find Shrimpy’s Deluxe Dinette & Terrace – and during the warmer month, the Outside Grill & Bar. On the dinette menu: everything from snackettes like ‘frickles’ (deep fried picked chillies), to crab burgers, to chocolate & pistachio sundae. Fill us up!

Ragged School Museum café

The Ragged School Museum is a little-known, free London attraction that offers a fascinating insight into Victorian England – and specifically what it was like to be a pupil in the charity school that once stood on this site. As well as a reconstructed domestic Victorian kitchen, there’s the real-life café – serving hot and cold drinks and snacks. Not a destination in its own right, but good for a quick refreshment after exploring the museum.

InSpiral Lounge in CamdenInSpiral Lounge

A wonderful haven in the heart of Camden, InSpiral Lounge is part eco-café, part music venue, part shop. Take a pew in the seats overlooking the canal and tuck into a plate of vegan food, some raw cake, a scoop of vegan ice cream or one of the feel-good smoothies. Stop by in the evening for live music, poetry and weekend DJ nights.

Lock 7 CafeLock 7 Café

London’s canal towpaths are popular with cyclists, so Lock 7 was opened to cater for those on two wheels (and two feet). In fact it claims to be London’s first cycle café. So alongside the café serving the usual coffees, teas and snacks, there’s a bike workshop and shop.

The Pumphouse Café

Sitting alongside Regent’s Canal in Islington, The Pumphouse Café is located (as the name suggests) in a converted brick pump house – with great views over the City Road Basin. As well as fresh coffees and homemade cakes there are vegetarian and meat lunches if you need something more substantial.

Cafe Laville

Café Laville

Café Laville is an Italian café bridging the canal at picturesque Little Venice. Pop in for a continental breakfast (there’s everything from yogurt with honey and almonds to omelette with goats cheese and spinach), a freshly made sandwich or salad at lunch or a tasty dinner of pasta, risotto or grilled fish/meat.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2014/05/10-canalside-cafes-in-london/

London culture

10 Of The Best Frozen Yogurts In London (Visit London Blog)

Healthier than an ice cream, more exciting than a smoothie, the frozen yogurt is one of London’s favourite treats. We pick out 10 of the best places to find fabulous ‘froyo’ in the capital. Tuck in!

Pinkberry

Located in two of London’s biggest shopping destinations – Selfridges and Westfield StratfordPinkberry is the ideally placed for a mid-shopping-spree stop-off. Froyo comes not just in the standard tub but also in a cone or even a Waffle Cookie Sandwich. While toppings include everything from the sophisticated (green tea, coffee and lychee) to the decadent (cookie & cream, peanut butter and salted caramel). Your only difficulty will be choosing which to plump for.

Snog frozen yogurt

Snog

Probably London’s best-known frozen yogurt specialist, the cheekily named Snog has branches all over town – from Soho to St John’s Wood. On its own, a pot of fat-free frogurt at Snog is just 142 calories – but how can you not add a topping when you’ve got options like crunchy granola, gluten-free brownie and fresh strawberries to choose from?

Itsu

Alongside healthy portions of sushi and salad, Pan-Asian chain Itsu does a good line in frozen yogurts. Its Fro-go desserts are topped with a choice of fruity mixes or indulgent treats, like honey nut cashews. Please note, not all branches of Itsu stock frozen yogurt so check in advance to avoid dessert fail.

Yog frozen yogurt

Yog

Yog uses handmade yogurt from its dairy farm in Kent for its frozen yogurts. This ‘Hoof to Hands’ method means that it can add in its natural flavours while ageing the yogurt in the churn: things like dark chocolate, coconut and vanilla bean & honey. Try it for yourself at one of Yog’s six London branches, including Charlotte Street (West End) and Berkeley Street (Mayfair).

Frae

Like Yog, Frae’s frozen yogurt begins life on a British dairy farm (this time in Wales) – while its name (meaning “from” in old Scot) is a nod to the heritage of its two Scottish founders. With a branch at Topshop’s flagship London store on Oxford Street, Frae’s fruit-topped favourites are popular with the fashion crowd. Look out for other branches in the equally trendy Islington, Notting Hill and Chelsea.

Samba Swirl

Samba Swirl

At the very colourful Samba Swirl, you make your own menu – adding whichever toppings you want and then paying by weight. The flavours change daily but a suitably Brazilian theme runs throughout, with options such as coconut, dulce de leche and guava alongside the more familiar chocolate, strawberry and cupcake. Branches can be found in Chiswick, Battersea, Islington and Camden Town.

Moosh

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you might start salivating at some of the names of the toppings at Moosh: Banoffee Pie (banana, caramel, amaretti biscuit), Choc-aholic (warm chocolate brownie and chocolate sauce), Snow Storm (passionfruit, meringue, raspberry coulis)… Can’t wait? Head for one of its two branches (in Fulham and Carnaby Street) now!

Moto Yogo's Stan the milk van. Credit: Katie Boardman

Moto Yogo

Stan the Milk Float, as Moto Yogo’s cute electric home is known, can often be found at foodie markets like KERB at Kings Cross/the Southbank Centre and Greenwich Market. On the menu? Organic frozen yogurt crowned with delicious toppings like rhubarb crumble, organic pecans & maple syrup and (you heard it here first!) its soon-to-be-released Mexican-inspired flavour Choco Chido, made with chocolate, cinnamon and a touch of chilli. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for that one.

Yoomoo

Tucked away on the third floor of London’s famous Harrods sits the Yoomoo frozen yogurt bar. Handily it’s located in the heart of Toy Kingdom, so little ones can explore and play – before being tempted away for a tasty froyo. The basic frozen yogurt comes in natural, strawberry, Belgian chocolate or Madagascan vanilla, with everything from chocolate buttons to 23-carat edible gold flakes available to sprinkle on top. Only in Harrods! Other branches of Yoomoo can be found in Westfield Stratford City, O2 on Finchley Road and Canary Wharf.

Yogland

‘Your Cup, Your Creation’ is the motto at Yogland on Queenway, another frozen yogurt London fave which knows what customers like best: doing their own topping combos (however bizarre). There are even no-added sugar and high-protein varieties available, in addition to the mind-boggling selection of flavours – from the weird (cake batter, anyone?) to the wonderful (red velvet cake).

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2014/05/10-of-the-best-frozen-yogurts-in-london/

London culture

Six Things We Learned on the Eating London Food Tour (Visit London Blog)

Bread & butter pudding at The English Restaurant

East London has long attracted people from all over the world: silk-weaving Huguenots, persecuted Jews, Bangladeshi chefs… who have all made their fortunes on its cobbled streets – alongside the native Cockneys born and bred here. So where better to hold a heritage food tour?

The Eating London food tour lasts about 3.5 hours and is packed full of fascinating facts about Brick Lane and Spitalfields, hidden gems and visits to everywhere from a traditional English boozer to a Brick Lane curryhouse. Visit London went along to sample it for ourselves – and left with brain and belly delightfully full. Here are just five things we learned on the way…

1. St John does an amazing bacon sandwich

St John Bread & Wine knows a thing or two about meat – its founder is the pioneer of the ‘nose to tail’ food revolution after all. So it should be no surprise that its bacon sandwich is a real treat, and a great way to kick off the tour. Made using Gloucester Old Spot rashers, for once the delicious smoky bacon is the main event, not something to be smothered in ketchup!

2. How to spot a real bagel

While tucking into hot salt beef bagels at the Brick Lane Bagel Bar – juicy meat falling away, pickles sliding, mouths drooling – we learned how bagels are made the proper way. Unlike supermarket bagels which are steamed, real bagels are boiled before being baked. You can tell it’s not the real deal if it has the telltale grate marks on the underside.

Cheese tasting at Androuet

3. You can get a cheese wedding cake at Androuet

French cheese shop and restaurant Androuet served up some delicious English cheeses for us to try, expertly paired with dried fruits and nuts. Our attention was also caught by the photos of giant cheese wedding cakes they supply for more savoury-toothed couples. Brie-lliant!

4. It pays to look up

Our Eating London guides constantly surprised us by pointing out street art, strange buildings or quirky signs we’d missed – despite having walked around the area countless times in the past. Many times a whole new world opened up just by looking above eye level.

5. You can still buy fish & chips served in newspaper

In the 1980s, the powers that be decided serving fish & chips in newspaper was unsafe as the ink could seep into the food. Poppies in Spitalfields has ingeniously got around this law by printing their newspaper with edible ink! It’s also just been voted Best Independent Fish and Chips Restaurant in the UK at the National Fish and Chip Awards – an award well earned, after tasting their wonderfully light cod, chunky chips and piping hot mushy peas. Well worth a look.

6. There’s always room for dessert

Filled with tasty drinks and snacks from some of East London’s finest restaurants, the tour ended at Pizza East with a slice of salted caramel chocolate tart. Sprinkled with almonds and sea salt, no-one could resist scoffing down the entire slice (despite all that had come before) accompanied by a cuppa and chatter. Well, we had been walking after all – it was well earned.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2014/05/five-things-we-learned-on-the-eating-london-food-tour/

London culture

Spotlight On: Greenwich (Visit London Blog)

Mercedes tall ship. Photo credit: Royal Borough of Greenwich

You’ve probably heard of Greenwich for its rich maritime history, World Heritage status and great time-keeping (this is the home of Greenwich Mean Time, no less). But there’s plenty more to discover across this Royal Borough, from sky-high cable cars to an Art Deco mansion. Here are just five things to do while you’re staying in the area:

1. See Tall Ships and Nelson’s Uniform

Nelson's Trafalgar Uniform. © National Maritime Museum

If you’re visiting London this September, don’t miss the Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Regatta. Over five days (from 5 to 9 September), some 50 majestic tall ships will be arriving from the coast of Cornwall. But don’t worry if you miss out, one ship that’s not going anywhere is Cutty Sark – the last surviving tea clipper and the fastest and greatest of its time – now permanently docked in Greenwich. Don’t forget to pop into the nearby National Maritime Museum too to hear more fantastic sea tales – and see the coat Admiral Nelson wore at the Battle of Trafalgar (complete with bullet hole).
While you’re there… Eat lunch at The Trafalgar Tavern, a historic 19th century pub overlooking the River Thames.

2. See Time and Space at the Royal Observatory and Planetarium

Royal Observatory. Courtesy of Visit Greenwich

Sitting high above Greenwich town centre is the Royal Observatory, home of not only Greenwich Mean Time, but also the Prime Meridian of the world (the zero point of longitude), London’s only planetarium and the UK’s largest refracting telescope. Take in a show at the planetarium, marvel at Harrison’s timekeepers and stand astride the Prime Meridian line – with one foot in the east, the other in the west. Look out for new exhibitions too, such as Longitude Punk’d – featuring modern-day versions of the weird, wonderful and somewhat wacky inventions submitted during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
While you’re there… Go on a ramble around Greenwich Park. This rolling green space is popular with locals and tourists alike for picnics, team games, strolls, boating-lake rides and squirrel spotting.

3. Soak up the view from a cable car or on top of The O2

Emirates Air Line

Get a bird’s eye view of Greenwich and across London from on top of The O2. How do you get up there? You climb of course. It’s all part of the Up At The O2 experience, a 90-minute journey to a 360-degree viewing platform atop the famous domed venue. Alternatively head to the nearby south terminal of the Emirates Air Line and take a cable car across the river to the north stop, Emirates Royal Docks. Or if you prefer to have your head in the clouds but your feet firmly on the ground, don’t miss the new Emirates Aviation Experience, where you can get a feel for life in the skies with the help of flight simulators and interactive aviation displays.
While you’re there… Experience another unusual form of London transport and travel back to Central London by boat with City Cruises or Thames Clippers.

4. Visit A Royal Residence

Queen's House. Courtesy of Visit Greenwich

Picturesquely located along the river, Queen’s House has ironically not housed many queens. Queen Anne (wife of James I) died before the building she commissioned was completed, and Henrietta Maria (wife of Charles I) spent little time there before the Civil War forced her to exile to France. It’s since fared better as an orphanage and then fine-art gallery – which it remains today. For something more off the beaten track, jump on the train to Eltham and visit the childhood home of Henry VIII, Eltham Palace – and the 1930s Art Deco mansion built next to the remains of this medieval royal palace.
While you’re there… Sample one of the homegrown, limited-edition beers at The Old Brewery, a working brewery with a restaurant/cafe and bar on the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College.

5.  Browse Greenwich Market

Greenwich Market stall

You don’t need to leave Greenwich to find great treasures, like maritime explorers of past, there are plenty of gems to uncover at Greenwich Market. Here, artists and craftspeople from the local area and beyond gather to sell their creations – from fashion to gifts, homemade candles and jewellery. There’s also a food section that’s always packed full of stalls selling street snacks from around the world. Head down on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays for antiques and collectibles, and on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and weekends for arts and crafts.

While you’re there… If it’s the weekend (or a bank holiday) don’t forget to pay a visit to Greenwich’s other market, the Greenwich Clocktower Market, where you’ll find quirky antique and vintage pieces.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2014/04/top-5-things-to-do-in-the-london-borough-of-greenwich/

London culture

Where To Take A Toddler in London (Visit London Blog)

In The Night Garden Live

Want to entertain your toddler in London but need something suitable for their age – and your wallet? We’ve got a few suggestions to get you started…

In The Night Garden Live

Just like Peppa Pig and CBeebies, In The Night Garden is making the transition from the small screen to the big stage, with live shows at The O2 and Richmond Park this spring. Taking place inside a special show dome, the performance uses costumes, puppets and all sorts of technical trickery to magically bring Igglepigle, Upsy Daisy and Makka Pakka to life.

Discover

Discover Children’s Story Centre

Take a wander along the story trail at Discover in Stratford, where you and your little one can explore a secret cave, have a tea party, dress up in a crazy costume… and let your imaginations run wild! There’s also a garden, café and studio featuring multi-sensory installations and exhibitions. And best of all, it’s free for under 2s!

National Maritime Museum

The fascinating National Maritime Museum in historic Greenwich has something for all ages. The Children’s Gallery and Ship Simulator may be too old for your toddler, but they’ll definitely enjoy scooting around the Great Map on a plastic boat and the many family events, such as Play Tuesdays – where under 5s can explore the museum through crafts, music, dance and stories. The museum is free but the activities do have a small charge.

Diana Princess of Wales Memorial

Tumbling Bay Playground

Within the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park lies a fantastic kids playground, Tumbling Bay. There’s plenty to explore here: rock pools, sandpits, slides, swings… plus an adjoining community centre and café, the Timber Lodge, for when you need to refuel or change nappies. Other great outdoor spots for toddlers in London include the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens (complete with pirate ship); London’s many city farms; and Coram’s Fields, a seven-acre playground close to the British Museum.

Unicorn Theatre

Alongside its programme for older children, the Unicorn Theatre in London Bridge puts on special productions for younger visitors. Upcoming toddler-friendly shows include Not Now, Bernard (for ages 2+), based on the much-loved children’s book, and Sensacional (for ages 18 months to 3 years), a colourful sound-and-light show in which your toddler dresses in a white suit and becomes part of the experience!

London Transport Museum

Many toddlers have a fascination with public transport; indulge their obsession at the London Transport Museum. Particularly good for this age group is the All Aboard! area, with its pint-sized versions of a bus, train, Tube and taxi. There’s also a play table with a miniature model of London and toy trains. Though chances are they’ll want to ‘have a go’ on the full-size buses and Tube trains too.

Toddler Time at Picturehouse Cinemas

Many cinemas now have kids clubs or parent-and-baby screenings, Picturehouse goes one up with Toddler Time: 30-minute shows to introduce children to the big screen. Admission is £3 per child, free for under 1s.

London Aquarium

Plus: toddlers go free at…

Which toddler-friendly attractions have proved a hit with your little one? Share your top tips in the comments section below.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2014/04/where-to-take-a-toddler-in-london/

London culture

Spring in London: Lambs, Daffodils and the Great Outdoors! (Visit London Blog)

Newborn lamb at Woodlands Farm

Spring has sprung! Celebrate the change in season by enjoying some traditional (and not-so traditional) spring festivities in London.

Newborn lambs at Woodlands Farm

There’s nothing cuter than a lamb at springtime, and at Woodlands Farm in south-east London you can see some very newborn lambs – the eldest were born on 20 March! Make a day of it and explore the rest of the 89-acre working farm while you’re there, including its native bird species, butterflies, amphibians, wild flowers and ancient woodland.

Spring spectacular at Kew Gardens

Every day until 30 April, Kew’s volunteer guides are leading walks around the Botanical Gardens to take in the colourful spring bulbs, blossom and lesser-known species. The hour-long Spring Spectacular tours start at 12pm and are run on a first come, first serve basis – with a maximum of 15 people on each.
Cost: Free with your ticket into Kew Gardens (£14.50 for adults, free for children under 16 accompanied by an adult). Book your ticket now

Wild daffodils at Lesnes Abbey Woods. © Natural England

Native wild daffodils at Lesnes Abbey Wood

Lesnes Abbey Wood in Bexley is the only site in London where you’ll find wild daffodils growing naturally – as opposed to the cultivated variety we’re used to seeing. A real hidden gem of southeast London, the woods sit alongside ruins of a 12th century abbey and a fossil bed – where you can actually dig for fossils. They’ve already found specimens from 54.5 million years ago, seashells and sharks’ teeth, so who knows what you’ll find!
Cost: Free

Green Gym

As well as lambs, daffodils and sunshine, spring brings a sense of rising panic – as people rush to get into shape before summer! Forget faddy diets or expensive bootcamps, with Green Gyms you can get fit for free, enjoy the great outdoors and do good – all at the same time. Visit The Conservation Volunteers website to find your nearest ‘workout’.
Cost: Free

Keats House. Image courtesy of Keats House

Keats House Poets Present…

Seeking inspiration from nature, the changing season and ideas of rebirth and regeneration, poets Deanna Rodger and Kaamil Ahmed lead a creative writing workshop, Keats House Poets Present… – in none other than Keats House, once home to the famous Romantic poet himself.
Cost: Free with entry to Keats House (£5.50 for over 17s, free for under 17s, with tickets valid for a whole year). Book your workshop space in advance through Eventbrite.

The Rite of Spring at Sadler’s Wells

This spring, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre are back at Sadler’s Wells with their dark, shocking interpretation of Stravinsky’s masterpiece The Rite of Spring, told through the imagery of a pagan fertility rite. The other half of the double-bill performance is, by contrast, a bright production of Petrushka, drawing on folk dances. The cast includes 13 international dancers, accompanied by a 65-piece orchestra from the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. Probably not one for the kids, but a healthy reminder of the darker side of spring and nature.
Cost: From £12

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2014/04/spring-in-london-lambs-daffodils-and-the-great-outdoors/

London culture

I’m With the Band: Top 10 London Attractions for Musicians (Visit London Blog)

London has long been a magnet for the world’s most famous singers and bands – and it’s produced a fair few itself, from Queen to Amy Winehouse. So the city is full of great attractions where musicians and lovers of music can learn about their idols, buy classic records and even record a tune. Here are 10 of the best:

Abbey Road
The iconic Beatles album cover picturing the famous four walking over a zebra crossing on London’s Abbey Road has inspired endless copies and parodies. The nearby Abbey Road Studios are not open to the public (unless you’ve booked a recording session), but they do have a live web cam online so why tell your friends back home to look out for you doing the famous walk?

Jersey Boys
Even if you’re not familiar with the name Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, you’ll know their songs: Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye), Big Girls Don’t Cry, Beggin’, December 1963 (better known as Oh What A Night)… the list goes on. So Jersey Boys, the Olivier Award-winning musical about the band, is a must for all music fans – even if you think you’re not into musicals! Other great musicals to check out include Thriller – Live (Michael Jackson) and We Will Rock You (Queen).

British Music Experience
Roll back the years at the British Music Experience (located inside The O2) and explore amazing outfits, instruments, videos, photos and other memorabilia from the past and present of British popular music. Look out for John Lennon’s glasses, Ziggy Stardust’s 1970s number outfit and ‘Ginger Spice’ Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack dress. Plus you can show your best moves in the Dance The Decades booth, record a track in the Gibson Interactive Studio and transport yourself to some of the biggest concerts of the past 60 years in The Finale.

Open Mic Night at The Spice of Life
Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens and Jamie Cullum have all performed at The Spice of Life in Soho. And you can too if you pop along to its Open Mic Night, held every Monday. Make use of the in-house piano and PA, or bring along your own instrument. The music kicks off at 7pm, but performers should sign up at 6.30pm to be sure of getting a spot.

Denmark Street
Denmark Street, near Leicester Square, is known as London’s Tin Pan Alley. Both sides of the small street are lined with music shops, including Wunjo Guitars (selling new, used and vintage guitars), Vintage & Rare Guitars and Sax.co.uk. Stick around into the evening to enjoy live music at the intimate 12 Bar Club or Alleycat Bar Club, located below Regent Sounds Studio – where the Rolling Stones recorded their first album.

Rock and Roll London Walk
If you love to be regaled by tales of rockstar exploits, book a spot on the fascinating, two-hour-long Rock and Roll London Walk. You’ll visit the famous Marquee Club, pop into the pub where Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton once jammed, discover the location of the Sex Pistols’ world debut, and much more. No need to book, just turn up at Tottenham Court Road station (Exit 3) any Friday at 2pm.

Honest Jon’s Records
Arguably the most legendary of London’s independent record stores, Honest Jon’s is the retail arm of the acclaimed record label of the same name. Specialising in reggae, jazz and soul, Honest Jon’s has enjoyed a colourful, rollercoaster existence since its birth in 1974 and is still considered to be one of London’s best record shops by those in the know.

Wembley Arena
Every musician dreams of shouting “Hello Wembley!” to a sea of screaming fans – and many have done it, including Madonna, David Bowie and Prince. Check out Visit London’s music section for listings of gigs taking place every night across London at venues including Wembley Arena.

Music Gallery at Horniman Museum
See, hear and play instruments from around the world at Horniman Museum – from a 3,500-year-old pair of Egyptian bone clappers to a retro synth. Make time to visit ongoing exhibition The Art of Harmony, exploring Western classical music traditions, as well as the Hands-On Base, where you can give the instruments a go. Other London music museums to check out are The Royal Academy of Music Museum and The Royal College of Music’s Museum of Instruments.

Hard Rock Cafe
Today there are Hard Rock Cafes all around the world, but the London branch is where it all began in 1971. The walls of the restaurant – and the vault below – are lined with memorabilia, including the first piece donated to the cafe: Eric Clapton’s Lead II Fender. You may even spot the odd rock star popping in for a burger, according to the cafe – or witness one of the occasional jamming sessions. And if you don’t, you’ll still get a great meal out of it.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2014/03/im-with-the-band-top-10-london-attractions-for-musicians/

London culture

Five of the Best Cosy Pubs in London

Little Nan's

(Visit London Blog, 24 Dec)

Roaring fires, steaming winter warmers, squashy sofas, board games… There’s nothing better than snuggling up in a cosy London pub or bar when it’s cold outside.

London is full of great wintertime pubs so it’s hard to pick just five, but here are a few to get you started. Add your own favourites to the mix in the comments section below.

Leather Bottle Pub

When it’s cold outside, the last place you want to go is a pub garden – unless it’s at the Leather Bottle. This historic West London pub has transformed its garden into a winter wonderland, complete with a mini ice rink and five ski chalets kitted out with heaters and blankets. Après-skate anyone?

The Dove

Beat the winter boredom at The Dove on Broadway Market, where you can while away hours playing board games from the pub’s own selection and enjoying the excellent selection of British and Belgian beers and bites on offer. Ask behind the bar to borrow one of the board games, which range from chess to Monopoly – or join in one of the pub’s regular quiz nights (the next is on 8 January).

Little Nan’s

Tucked away within the Bunker Club in Deptford, Little Nan’s is a delightfully quirky bar decorated with chintzy furniture, teddy bears and cosy lamps. On the Christmas cocktail menu you’ll find special concoctions like Sexy Scottish Santa, Santa Baby and Sir Alan Titchmarsh (with British garden rhubarb, apple and ginger compote, rum and sugar) – all served in wacky mugs and teapots. There are also ‘nan snacks’ including cheese straws, Victoria sponge and shortbread.

The George Inn

London’s only remaining galleried coaching inn, The George Inn near London Bridge was once frequented by none other than Charles Dickens. More than 300 years after it opened, the inn is still drawing the punters in with its rustic beams, beautiful gallery and cosy interior. The courtyard garden area also has heaters and old-fashioned lamps to cater for the (inevitable) overspill.

Davy’s Wine Vaults

After an afternoon exploring Greenwich Market or a crisp winter’s walk around Greenwich Park, thaw out at Davy’s Wine Vaults. Established in 1870, this characterful overground/underground bar boasts more than 100 wines and is currently serving up hot mulled wine.

You can find more suggestions on our Traditional London Pubs page.

London culture

10 of the Best London Lions (Visit London blog)

Lucifer-Asian-Lion-ZSL-Lo

For an urban area, London has quite a few lions. But not all of the fluffy-fur-and-big-teeth variety. From stone lions to stage lions to the real thing, we round up 10 of the best places to see the king of beasts in London.

London Zoo

If you want to see a real, roaring, mane-tossing lion in London, London Zoo is the place to go. This marvellous menagerie is home to members of the Asian lion species – of which there are fewer than 300 left in the wild – including Lucifer (pictured above).

Royal Beasts at the Tower of London

Lions were just one of the many exotic animals kept in the Tower of London’s Royal Menagerie. Founded in the early 1200s, the stately zoo went on to house everything from elephants and tigers to kangaroos and pelicans. Learn more in the fascinating Royal Beasts exhibition at the Tower of London.

Chinatown Lions

In Chinese culture, lions are considered to be good omens – so it’s no surprise to see statues of these incredible mammals at the entrance to London’s Chinatown. Lions – specifically Lion Dances – are also a big part of the Chinese New Year Celebrations, which take place in Chinatown every February.

Trafalgar Square Lions

Designed by Sir Edward Landseer, the four bronze lions that sit on guard at the foot of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square were installed in 1867 – 24 years after the column was completed. It is said that if Big Ben chimes 13 times, the 20-foot long, 11ft-tall lions will come to life!

The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre

If you loved the Disney film, then you’ll adore the musical of The Lion King. With the help of imaginative costumes, powerful songs and colourful stage sets, the cast tell the much-loved story of Simba and his pride. Don’t miss the behind-the-scenes video (below) of this hit West End show for a chance to win a five-night trip to London!

Barbary Lion Skull at the Natural History Museum

Two lions skulls, a remnant of the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London (see above), were discovered by workmen in 1937. Experts at the National History Museum used carbon dating to age the animals and found that one was the oldest lion found in the UK since the extinction of native wild lions. You can see the skull for yourself in the Treasures exhibition at the museum’s Cadogan Gallery.

London Lions

The London Lions is the capital’s only professional basketball team – so choosing which side to support is easy if you’re a Londoner! The team’s next home fixture is on 29 December against the Newcastle Eagles at London 2012 Olympic venue The Copper Box Arena.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 

The Natural History Museum comes up trumps again with the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 exhibition – featuring an amazingly close picture of a lion cub taken in South Africa by photographer Hannes Lochner. The picture was Joint runner-up 2013 (Animal Portraits) and is one of many stunning photos on show – until 23 March 2014.

Saint Jerome and the Lion at the National Gallery

While living in the desert as a hermit, Saint Jerome in reported to have removed a thorn from the paw of a lion. This remarkable feat is the subject of a number of paintings at the National Gallery, including Bono da Ferrara’s Saint Jerome in A Landscape (circa 1440) and part of the Santa Trinità Altarpiece (1455-60).

The Lion of Kings Road

You may have seen the dramatic and moving YouTube video of a lion hugging its former owners, who had released the animal into the wild a year earlier. Amazingly, the duo bought the lion at Harrods (in 1969) and took it to live in the flat above their furniture store on the Kings Road, where it became something of a local celebrity.

blog.visitlondon.com/2013/12/10-of-the-best-london-lions/

London culture

London for Under 18s: Teenagers’ Day Out (Visit London Blog)

Visitors enjoy Trafalgar Square and surrounding area

Going on a day out in London can be tricky when you’re a teenager. You want something interesting and cool but not too expensive – and where you don’t need ID or parental accompaniment (if you’re going with just friends).

So we’ve come up with an itinerary for how your day could look. There’s enough to fill a whole weekend, let alone one day, so pick and choose according to how much time and money you have to spare.

Morning: Shopping at Old Spitalfields Market or Camden Market

Markets are a great place to pick up a bargain or unique gift. Old Spitalfields Market is a cobbled, indoor market with stalls selling everything from vinyl records (on the first and third Friday of the month) to vintage (on Saturdays). If your style is more alternative, head for Camden Market where you’ll find goth fashion, handmade accessories and much more.

Lunch at Boiler House Food Hall or Honest Burgers

If you went for the Spitalfields option, pop into nearby Boiler House Food Hall for lunch. This indoor food market – located inside The Old Truman Brewery (look out for the giant chimney) – is packed with traders selling dishes from around the world: India, Japan, Poland, Morocco… it’s all there. Opted for Camden? Pick up some street food at the market or take a seat at Honest Burgers for a British beef burger (served with chips, from £8).

Get involved at the British Music Experience or the Roundhouse

Hop on the Tube to North Greenwich and explore the British Music Experience (£6 for under 17s when booked in advance). See John Lennon’s specs and other music memorabilia, show off some moves in the ‘Dance the Decades’ booth, record a song in the Interactive Studio and much, much more. Alternatively, see what’s happening at Camden’s Roundhouse. This top music venue has a programme called Creative Projects, with drop-in sessions for 11-25 year olds in music, creative media and performing arts (from £2).

Go Gaming at Namco Funscape or Get Creative at Tate Modern

Take the Tube to Waterloo and then walk to Namco Funscape (next to the London Eye) – an amusement venue full of interactive games, plus a laser maze, bowling alley, bumper cars and karaoke rooms. Watching the pennies? Walk up river for a wander around free contemporary art gallery Tate Modern. Don’t miss the digital drawing bar on Level 3, where you can create a piece of digital art and see it displayed instantly on a giant screen. Then you can say you’ve exhibited at the Tate!

Dinner at Wahaca or the Gourmet Pizza Company

Refuel for the evening at the South Bank branch of Wahaca, where street food tapas starts at £3.70 for a black beans & cheese quesadilla. Or go Italian at the Gourmet Pizza Company (along the river near the OXO Tower), where you’ll find delicious pizzas and pastas starting at £7.75.

Take in a show at the National Theatre or Barbican Centre

Many London theatres offer cheap tickets to under 26s. The National Theatre has a free membership scheme, Entry Pass, offering a limited number of £5 tickets to 16-25 years for each of its performances (UK residents only). The Barbican offers free (yes, free!) tickets for film, music, art, dance and theatre shows to 16-25 year olds through its freeB membership scheme. Younger teens should check out Unicorn Theatre near London Bridge, which groups shows by age (i.e. 17-12, 13+, adult) to make it easier to choose the ideal show for your age group.

Party with Under The Radar or McCluskys

Given UK licensing laws, London’s clubs and bars are strictly reserved for over 18s – as Justin Bieber discovered on his birthday. However, a number of underage, alcohol-free nights do exist in the capital. Upcoming events include Winter Special at the Renaissance Rooms in Vauxhall, organised by youth music scene promoters Under The Radar. Also on the calendar for December is a live showcase by MOBO award Winners Krept & Konan at McClusky’s in Kingston.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2013/12/london-for-under-18s-teenagers-day-out/

London culture

G&T Time: Gin Lovers’ London (Visit London Blog)

Gin Club

Gin has had a rollercoaster history in London. Once the favoured drink of London’s poorest (and nicknamed ‘Mother’s ruin’), it gradually improved in quality and by the mid-19th century was enjoyed by well-heeled punters in ornate gin palaces.

Later, younger generations began to turn their noses up at what was seen as an old-fashioned spirit – until a recent gin revival made it the hottest drink in town. Get on the bandwagon at these top London gin attractions.

The London Gin Club

Every night (except Sunday and Monday), family-run Soho bar The Star At Night plays host to The London Gin Club. Step into this tiny bar and you’ll find more than 70 gins to choose from, including a new, limited stock of vintage gins from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. There’s also an experimental Ginventor menu and Gin Tasting Menus – complete with balloon glasses, hand-cracked ice, paired garnishes and Fever-Tree tonic.

Martini Masterclass at Dukes Bar

James Bond author Ian Fleming was a regular at the Dukes Bar, and it’s said that the inspiration for the classic catchphrase ‘Shaken, not stirred’ came from here. Today you can learn the tricks of the trade directly from Dukes’ expert barman on a Martini Masterclass. You’ll make the bar’s signature martini and other classic cocktails, learn the history behind each and then, of course, taste your handiwork with some tasty canapés.

Gin Joint at the Barbican

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world… you have to walk into this one. Located on the second floor of the Barbican Centre, The Gin Joint is a slick, smart brasserie and bar (from Searcy’s) serving only London dry gin or varieties distilled in the same style. Choose from gin with a mixer, gin on tap (a first in the city, it claims) and six signature gin cocktails. Head along from 5-8pm to enjoy any G&T for £7.50.

The London Distillery Company Tour

As the popularity of gin has grown in recent years, so has the number of people distilling right here in the capital – putting the London back in ‘London Dry Gin’ (the term refers to the distilling process not its geographical origins). The London Distillery Company has gone one step further and opened its Battersea home to (pre-booked) tours. You’ll learn about gin and the distilling process, find out about TLDC’s own gins (Dodd’s Gin and the TESTBED Anglo-American range) and naturally partake in some sampling.

Bourne & Hollingsworth

Cosy prohibition-style bar Bourne & Hollingsworth is known for its retro parlour décor and cocktails served in teacups. Gin favourites on the menu include Gardener’s Tea Break with Hendricks gin and green tea syrup; Hollingsworth fizz with egg white and soda; and the wonderfully named The Wibble, mixing gin and sloe gin.

Graphic

A stylish, design-led alternative to London’s traditional gin palace-style bars (such as The Worship Street Whistling Shop and The Viaduct Tavern), Graphic showcases work by contemporary artists such as Ben Allen, Eine and Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger. But gin is no sideline here, with an incredible 180 gins on the menu – the most extensive gin collection in the UK. Opt for the ‘Gold’ Paint Tin Punch and it will come delivered with a blast of Spandau Ballet’s hit record of the same name.

Gin & Jazz at Inter Continental London Park Lane

Flapper dresses, gin cocktails, vintage jazz… every month the Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel revives the golden 1920s with a night of Gin & Jazz. On the menu you’ll find 40 different gins, sharing plates and a veritable cocktail of music from the likes of The Swing Ninjas and The FB Pocket. It’s the cat’s meow.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2013/12/gt-time-gin-lovers-london/

London culture

London for Chocolate Lovers (Visit London Blog)

Hot chocolate

Chocolate has been a rich, delicious part of London life ever since 1657, when the first chocolate house opened in Bishopsgate.

These days, London is a veritable chocolate kingdom, home to chocolate shops, tastings, workshops, tours and even festivals. Here are some of our favourite chocolate-related activities to get you started.

The London Chocolate Festival at the Southbank Centre

The tempting (and free!) London Chocolate Festival returns to the Southbank Centre Square (behind the Royal Festival Hall) from 13-15 December. Head down to create your perfect chocolate bar, learn from the experts at the Masters of Chocolate Afternoon and, of course, indulge your cocoa cravings.

The Chocolate Ecstasy Tour

The Chocolate Ecstasy Tour is the guilt-free way to sample delicious chocolate in London – all that walking will burn off any calories, right? After enjoying a hot chocolate you’ll take to the streets in pursuit of the finest chocolate in town, while learning about the history of cocoa in the capital. There are four tours to choose from: the traditional Mayfair Chocolate Ecstasy Tour, the cutting-edge Chelsea Chocolate Ecstasy Tour, the Evening Chocolate Ecstasy Tour (including a chocolate cocktail) and the Full Day Chocolate Ecstasy Tour.

Paul A Young at Heal’s

Award-winning chocolatier Paul A Young has four stores in London, including a newly-opened shop/café at Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road. All the chocolates are handmade by Paul and his team using fresh ingredients – and the proof is in the tasting. Stop by to shop, sample specialist varieties (don’t miss Paul’s famous sea salted caramels) or take part in one of the regular workshops, such as the upcoming ganache making class on 28 November at the flagship Soho branch.

The Chocolate Museum

Chocolate has a long, colourful history in London. At The Chocolate Museum in Brixton you can discover more about its bittersweet past in the British History of Chocolate exhibition, featuring chocolate memorabilia dating back as far as the 18th century. There’s also a café and a busy programme of events, tasting sessions and workshops for all ages.

Menier Chocolate Factory

With a cosy restaurant upstairs and a fabulous theatre downstairs, Menier Chocolate Factory is a hidden gem close to London Bridge. Each set menu is inspired by the whatever show is on at the theatre, currently Candide, Leonard Bernstein’s witty adaptation of the 18th century novella by Voltaire – so expect Hungarian beef goulash and vegetable stroganoff. Or go for the a la carte menu, which features the very decadent Menier chocolate platter.

Charlie & The Chocolate Factory at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Willy Wonka, Charlie Bucket and the Oompa-Loompas are back in a new musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s much-loved book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Directed by Sam Mendes, this dazzling production uses imagination and innovation to bring the world of Willy Wonka to life – from the chocolate garden to the army of squirrels. Get your golden ticket now!

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2013/11/chocolate-lovers-london/

London culture

Five Of The Best: Underground Bars

Gordons

(Visit London Blog, 14 Nov 2013) When it’s cold outside, there’s nothing better than snuggling up in a cosy underground bar with a warming glass of whiskey or red wine. And luckily London is full of subterranean drinking nooks. Here are five of the best:

Gordon’s Wine Bar

Located on a side street next to Charing Cross station, Gordon’s Wine Bar is a wonderful cave-like cellar bar, full of candlelit tables and hidden recesses. Established in 1890, it claims to be the oldest wine bar in London – and retains its old world charm with wooden panelling, historic memorabilia and traditional dishes on the menu. Gordon’s is hugely popular, so arrive early (4pm is suggested) to bag a table.

 

Salvador & Amanda

Down a flight of stairs on a street connecting Leicester Square to Covent Garden lies a little piece of Spain. At Salvador & Amanda you can drink excellent Spanish wines and sample delicious tapas. Plus with its fiery red interior you’ll soon forget all about the cold weather above at street level. Head down on a Tuesday for the Flamencana experience – which includes a cava reception, delicious tapas spread and live flamenco – you can even have a go yourself!

Cork & Bottle

You’ve probably walked past Leicester Square’s Cork & Bottle many times without realising it was there, but once you’ve been you won’t forget it. Although this bar’s main passion is wine (there are more than 300 varieties to choose from), food is far from a second thought – with charcuterie and vegetarian plates to share, plus tempting mains like Butternut squash dumplings and pumpkin pesto and the always popular C&B ham and cheese pie.

Evans & Peel Detective Agency

Over the past few years, London hipsters have developed a taste for quirky underground bars with secret entrances, like The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, Shoreditch speakeasy Nightjar and Callooh Callay. Evans & Peel Detective Agency in Earl’s Court ups the intrigue with an unusual entrance experience and delightful décor that’s straight out of a classic detective story. Make sure you book ‘an appointment’ in advance.

Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar

Hawksmoor is famous for its succulent steaks, but in the bar below its Spitalfields branch you’ll find it knows a thing or two about cocktails too. Like a 21st century gentleman’s club, Spitalfields Bar is a glamorous mix of dark wood tables, plush seating and reclaimed Art Deco features – and offers delicious bar snacks as well as a cocktail menu with fantastically named creations like Full Fat Old Fashioned, Nuclear Banana Daiquiri and Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew.

London culture

Five Rooftop Gardens in London

Roof Gardens

(Visit London Blog, 5 Jul 2013)

When the sun is out in London, the city comes alive – and the last place you want to be is indoors. As well as rooftop cinemas, London is home to some amazing rooftop gardens. And with amazing views over the capital, it still counts as sightseeing – even if you are sipping a cocktail at the same time!

The Roof Gardens
The Roof Gardens are located 100 feet above Kensington High Street and are in a word: incredible. There are three lush gardens in total spreading over 1.5 acres: the Spanish Garden, based on the Alhambra in Granada; Tudor Garden, with sweet-smelling roses, lilies and lavender; and English Woodland, home to four flamingos. The gardens are free to enter – but call in advance to check there’s no private event booked in. Alternatively, reserve a table in the award-winning Babylon restaurant, which looks over the English Woodland Garden, for a feast of fresh, seasonal British cuisine.

Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden Cafe/Bar
Many people walk along London’s Southbank in search of a café without realising there’s one above their heads: the Roof Garden Cafe/Bar perched on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Designed by the Eden Project, it boasts amazing views over the river Thames, plus a café/bar, allotment, fruit trees and wild flowers. Pop in for a lunchtime sandwich, afternoon sweet treat or evening cocktail.

Coq d’Argent
Amid the hubbub of London’s historic financial district sits the oasis that is Coq d’Argent. Far from the madding crowds below, you can enjoy classic French cuisine al fresco on the restaurant’s outdoor terraces. There is also additional seating in its landscaped garden, with fantastic views over the old and new architecture of the City of London.

Dalston Roof Park
With a café, bar, public barbecue, volunteer-managed garden and solar panels (which power the building), Dalston Roof Park is an eco-friendly haven in this hip and happening corner of east London. Before you go, check the events calendar and sign up for membership on the Dalston Park website. It’s only £3 and the money goes towards the charity behind the park, Bootstrap Company.

Japanese-style garden at SOAS
SOAS is London’s renowned School of Oriental and African Studies, so it’s not surprising its rooftop garden (atop the Brunei Gallery) nods to Japanese culture. While you’ll find few plants beyond creeping wisteria and lemon thyme, the bespoke design and stone arrangements make it a calm, peaceful spot – perfect for meditation or some thinking time. Look out for the Kanji character, meaning forgiveness, engraved on the garden’s granite water basin.

London culture

Best Burgers in London

Bar Boulud burger
(Visit London Blog, 4 Jul 2013)

London has got a thing for burgers. Soft burger buns filled with thick, freshly minced beef patties, delicious homemade sauces and all matter of weird and wonderful fillings. Here we pick seven of the best burgers in London – from the cool hipster burger that comes wrapped in paper, to the gourmet burger served on fine china.

MEATliquor
It has been known for queues to snake around the block at MEATliquor, near Bond Street. The coolest burger joint in town, the restaurant/bar specialises in finger-licking, no-frills burgers with names like Dead Hippie and Chili Dog. Stick around for a root-beer float, peanut-butter sundae or a glass of their special Home Grog. And look out for its new incarnations MEATmarket in Covent Garden and MEATmission in Hoxton.

Honest Burgers
A popular fixture at the indoor-market-turned-foodie-haven that is Brixton Village, Honest Burgers now boasts a branch in Soho to boot. The secret to its success? Doing a few things really well. Its offers three beef burger options: ‘Beef’, ‘Cheese’ or ‘Honest’ – that’s British beef, red-onion relish, smoked bacon, mature cheddar, pickled cucumber and lettuce. On the menu you’ll also find free-range chicken burgers, vegetable fritters and chips with rosemary salt. Gluten-free buns are available.

Bar Boulud
The London home of Michelin-starred French chef Daniel Boulud, Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park Hotel serves far more than burgers, but its NY Grilled Beef Burgers frequently receive rave reviews. Not surprising really given Boulud is based in the US – the Big Apple to be exact. On the shortlist: The Yankee, The Frenchie (with confit pork belly, Dijon and morbier cheese), The Piggie (with pulled pork) and the seriously posh BB (with foie gras and red wine-braised short ribs truffle).

Byron
A modern take on the classic American diner, Byron restaurants are springing up all over London – from Covent Garden to Chelsea. The Scottish beef in Byron’s burgers is minced fresh on the day of cooking and served in a “proper squishy” bun, with a pickle on the side. As well as the classic variations, you’ll find the Chilli burger, the bun-free Skinny (with side salad) and mini versions for kids. Worried about allergies? Check out Byron’s handy online allergy chart.

Burger & Lobster
As its name suggests, Burger & Lobster’s menu is pretty short. In fact it only consists of three dishes: burger, lobster or lobster roll – all served with chips and salad, all £20. This ingenious concept comes from the people behind London’s Goodman steakhouses, so they know a thing or two about good meat. There are four B&Ls so far (in Soho, Mayfair, Farrington and The City), but probably not for long…

Haché
Steak Sicilian with parma ham and buffalo mozzarella, Steak Louisiana topped with peanut butter and melted cheese, Steak Catalan with grilled chorizo, fresh chilli and tomato jam… Haché in Chelsea is an adventurous burger eater’s heaven. Although, saying that, in an interview with London burger blog Burger Me Haché’s co-founder revealed the most popular burger is actually the classic cheeseburger. The restaurant may be more French brasserie than burger joint, but you can’t beat the old favourites.

Patty & Bun
With seats for just 30 people, Patty & Bun resembles more of a mate’s dining room than a top London restaurant. But its size isn’t the only reason it’s always packed out. Inside P&B’s brioche buns you’ll find fresh beef or lamb patties, accompanied by everything from caramelised onions to buttermilk baby courgettes and cumin aioli. Well worth the wait.

London culture

Fancy a Cuppa? London’s Top 10 Tea Attractions

Fortum and Mason tea

(Visit London Blog, 2 Jul 2013)

Tea is a British institution – and obsession. For Londoners, a cup of ‘Rosie lea’ (as the cockney rhyming slang goes) is a social occasion, an icebreaker and a cure for everything. Explore the history, current trends and endless varieties of tea at these tea-lightful London attractions.

Mad For Tea exhibition at Fortnum & Mason
Until 28 July, fancy London department store Fortum & Mason is hosting Mad For Tea, a free exhibition all about the cuppa. You can admire fine silver, teapots and tea cosies from the past, discover new styles from contemporary designers and learn about the importance of tea in Britain. Want to get more hands on? Book a place on one of Fortnum & Mason’s upcoming tea workshops or talks, including Tea Tasting: An Introduction on 27 June, Afternoon Tea Q&A on 11 July and the Tea Lecture on 25 July. Don’t forget to buy some of the store’s famous own brand tea on your way out.

Twinings Strand Shop & Museum
Twinings Strand Shop & Museum has a long and fascinating history. Bought in 1706 by Thomas Twining, the shop was originally one of London’s many coffee houses – but came to be known for its unique sideline in tea. As tea became more and more fashionable, business boomed – attracting the likes of Jane Austen and Charles II. Today the store boasts a Sampling Counter, Loose Tea Bar and a fascinating miniature museum – featuring old teapots and caddies, vintage advertising and packaging, and old Twining family photos.

The Way of Tea at the British Museum
Still quick-dunking your teabag in a cup of boiling water? Learn how it’s done properly at The Way of Tea, a free demonstration of the Japanese tea ceremony at the British Museum’s Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese Galleries on 12 July and 26 July. As well as the demonstration, given by members of the Urasenke London Branch, there’ll be a short history of “tea drinking and gathering” in Japan.

Stock up at Tea Palace
Through its stores in Covent Garden and Chelsea, tea emporium Tea Palace does a roaring trade – selling a selection of more than 120 fairtrade teas and infusions, including flowering teas, herbal Tea Tonics and organic teas. You’ll also find tea-related gifts and accessories, from quirky teapots to swing infusers.

Tea Masterclasses at The Chesterfield Mayfair
How did tea first come to Britain? Are tea bags or loose leaves better? Why are teas different colours? These and more fundamental tea questions are answered by tea experts Jane Pettigrew and Tim Clifton in their comprehensive Tea Masterclasses at The Chesterfield Mayfair. As well as tasting teas and learning how to properly brew, the day course includes lunch and afternoon tea provided by the 4-star hotel.

A proper cuppa at Yumchaa cafés
You won’t find any tea bags on offer at Yumchaa, which firmly believes in the superiority of loose leaves. The typical teabag, they say, “contains mostly tea dust and broken leaf particles”. Oh dear. Thankfully Yumchaa is on hand to offer quality, blended teas – from Soho Spice to Chelsea Chai – brewed in the traditional way. You’ll find Yumcaa café/shops in Camden Lock, Soho, Camden Parkway and Tottenham Street.

Afternoon tea at The Goring
There are many places to enjoy afternoon tea in London, but The Goring has topped them all by winning The Tea Guild’s Top London Afternoon Tea Award 2013. The five-star hotel has been serving afternoon tea since it opened in 1910 and currently offers three afternoon tea options: The Coronation Afternoon Tea to celebrate the 60th anniversary of The Queen’s Coronation, Traditional Afternoon Tea and Bollinger Afternoon Tea. Enjoy yours on the sunny terrace overlooking The Goring’s private gardens or inside the cosy lounge.

Tea artefacts at the Museum of London
Keep an eye out at the Museum of London and you’re sure to spot fascinating relics from London’s tea trading and drinking past. Just a few items on display include a cup and saucer featuring suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst’s ‘angel of freedom’ logo, a 19th Century doll’s house tea service and a ‘chop book’ used to document tea dealings between London dock officials and Chinese sailors.

Seasonal Tea Library at Brown’s Hotel
Brown’s Hotel offers a delicious afternoon tea in its dedicated English Tea Room, but not many people know it also has a Seasonal Tea Library. Curated by tea traders Lalani & Company, the library consists of a carefully selected collection of teas, sourced from top family-owned tea gardens around the world. Pop in to sample varieties from the Summer 2013 Library collection, such as Himalayan 2nd Flush Grand reserve (Darjeeling 2011) and Jade Mountain Roasted Oolong (Taiwan 2012).

Bubble tea at Bubbleology
The latest trend in tea right now in London is bubble tea. A Taiwanese creation, bubble tea is fruit or milk tea served ice cold or hot with tapioca balls, which can be sucked up through a large straw. Bubbleology’s five stores (in Soho, Knightsbridge, Notting Hill, Westfield Stratford and South Kensington) offer seven milk tea and six fruit tea varieties, including Ginger Red Tea, Mocha Pearl Tea and Mango Green tea.

London culture

London for Train Enthusiasts

Train carriage

(Visit London Blog, 26 June 2013)

London is home to a bustling network of trains and Tubes – including Britain’s busiest train station, Clapham Junction. As Londoners celebrate the 150th anniversary of London Underground, explore the history, present and future world of trains in the capital. And remember, if you arrive into London by National Rail you can enjoy 2FOR 1 entry to top London attractions.

London Transport Museum
London Transport Museum is the obvious first step for any train enthusiast visiting London. Its current exhibition, Poster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs, showcases iconic and fascinating graphic posters commissioned by London Underground. But there’s plenty more to see in the permanent collection, from the oldest surviving electric Tube locomotive in the world to hundreds of old photographs.

London’s Abandoned Stations
While many of London’s abandoned train and Tube stations are inaccessible, remnants exist above ground such as the Aldwych station façade on The Strand and Down Street in Mayfair, which was occasionally used as a war bunker by Winston Churchill and his Cabinet during World War II. For more tips, guides and little-known facts, visit dedicated blogs such as Abandoned Tube Stations, Underground History and Disused Stations. And put a date in your diary to visit London Transport Museum’s Lost & Found: A Secret Underground Journey show at Aldwych Station, which opens this September.

Epping-Ongar Steam Train
As part of the Tube150 celebrations, step back in time and travel by steam train on the Epping Ongar Railway (in service from 28 June to 1 July). You’ll take a seat in a 1892 Jubilee coach (number 353) onboard the newly restored steam locomotive Met No 1 as it travels on a former part of the Central Line – the closest heritage railway to the capital. Two 1920s ‘Dreadnought’ compartment coaches, one 1950s coach from the North Norfolk Railway and and two guest steam locos will also be making an appearance.

London Underground and Tube Tour
Inside London’s London Underground and Tube Tour packs a lot into two hours. As well as learning about the fascinating history behind the Tube’s design and construction, you’ll see the ghost station at the British Museum, the original plans for the Tube and and great architectural gems.

London Transport Museum Depot
The London Transport Museum Depot in Acton, West London, is a treasure trove of transport history and memorabilia – housing more than 370,000 transport-related objects.  Once a month it opens its doors to the public with an organised behind-the-scenes tour, which gives visitors exceptional access to everything from ticket machines to rare vehicles and even bus and rail sheds. Look out for the depot’s occasional themed Open Weekends too.

Orient Express’s British Pullman & Northern Belle
While many people know of the Orient Express from the book by famed British crime writer Agatha Christie, it’s the trains themselves which hold the pull for rail enthusiasts – not whodunit. Trains like the British Pullman, whose carriages date as far back as 1925, or the Northern Belle – a 1930s-style service that actually made its maiden voyage in 2000. On many of the Orient Express’s day-trip or longer-stay packages you can enjoy a five-course dinner, Champagne and amazing views of the British countryside – there’s even a Murder Mystery Lunch option.

Hampton & Kempton Waterworks Railway
While Kew Bridge Steam Museum goes under refurbishment (the museum is still open at weekends), it has kindly lent its Thomas Wicksteed steam train to the Hampton & Kempton Waterworks Railway at Kempton Steam Museum, where it will be “steaming every Sunday” along the Hanworth Loop until the end of August. Built in 1916, the railway once transported coal from the river in Hampton to the water pumping engines at Kempton – and the plan is to restore the full line and eventually transport visitors to the Kempton Nature Reserve. Contact before visiting to arrange entry.

The Deptford Project: The Train Carriage Café
Less than a minute from Deptford Railway Station sits another rail carriage, The Deptford Project, but this one isn’t going anywhere. The 35-tonne reclaimed carriage, transported 45 miles from Shoeburyness in Essex to South London at a snail paced two miles an hour, today houses a small but quirky café. While some purists may not approve of the modernisation, you can’t help but be won over by the Elvis-themed loo, delicious homemade food and buzzing, community-minded events calendar.

St Pancras Renaissance Hotel
In 1873, the Midland Grand Hotel opened – a railway hotel of the finest order, designed in High Victorian Gothic style by architect George Gilbert Scott. After a somewhat disastrous history, which saw it nearly demolished in the 1960s, the hotel underwent a £150million facelift and emerged in 2011 as The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. However, the railway remains at the heart of the hotel – with the stunning former Booking Office now serving as a restaurant and the incredible view from some rooms of Barlow’s famous train shed arch and even the tracks themselves.

London culture

An English Gentleman’s London

Chap_Olympiad

(Visit London Blog, 19 June 2013)

 

The days of top hats and butlers may be long gone, but the English gentleman lives on in London. The male equivalent to London Fashion Week, London Collections: Men, opened on Sunday. And on 13 July, the hilarious Chap Olympiad returns for its ninth year, with more Umbrella Jousting and Tug of Moustache. But where should a gentleman be seen in London? Here are some suggestions that would tempt even the Earl of Grantham away from Downton Abbey.

A barber-shop shave at Geo F Trumper
For the authentic English gentleman, stubble just doesn’t cut the mustard. Luckily Geo F Trumper has been doing a fine line in traditional wet-shaves and moustache trims since it was established in 1875. Step inside its original Mayfair store and you’ll find yourself transported back in time by its amazing displays of grooming products and beautiful mahogany-panelled private cubicles. Remember to book in advance.

Dress the part on Savile Row
Clothes maketh the man, so the saying goes. And when it comes to bespoke British tailoring in London, Savile Row is the place to visit. This famous road, parallel to Regent’s Street, has long been home to top menswear brands such as Richard James and Gieves & Hawkes. Looking for something a little more edgy? Head to Hostem in Shoreditch, a hip menswear/lifestyle store that runs a sideline in bespoke suits, shoes, suitcases and accessories.

Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea at Reform Social & Grill
Forget frilly tablecloths and flowery icing, afternoon tea at the Reform Social & Grill (located inside The Mandeville Hotel) is an undisputedly masculine affair. Think sweet rum & raisin pots, steak & snail sandwiches and meaty beef burgers, washed down with tea and a Bellini cocktail. It’s so good the idea has caught on, with Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea popping up at other London venues such as Sanctum Soho.

Steak dinner at Hawksmoor
With its Art Deco style, plush leather seating and dark wooden décor, Hawksmoor Air Street near Piccadilly Circus looks like a modern gentleman’s private members club – and has the menu to match. Tuck into Britain’s finest “dictionary-thick steaks cooked over real charcoal” or alternatively go for the fresh seafood. Other Hawksmoor branches can be found in Guildhall, Spitalfields and Seven Dials.

A night cap at Albannach
According to 19th century etiquette, the men would remain at the table after dinner to drink and talk while the women retired to the drawing room. Today, it’s all about the post-dinner drinking haunt. Places like The Vaults bar at Albannach restaurant near Trafalgar Square, with its private booths and ‘cigars and whisky’ matching menu, or the vintage Whiskey Bar at No 5 Cavendish Square.

Chauffeur services
At the end of a long night, an English gentleman need only say two words: “Home, James”. Ensure your driver is ready and waiting to whisk you back to your hotel by making a booking with one of London’s top chauffeur firms, such as iChauffeur, Tristar Worldwide Chauffeur Services or Central Chauffeur Services.

Stay at Sanderson London or Hazlitt’s
Hang up your bowler hat for the night at Sanderson or Hazlitt’s. Sanderson is a five-star, design-led hotel with everything a modern gentleman needs, including an in-house spa, Billiard Room and 24-hour gym. While Hazlitt’s, also in London’s West End, goes for the more traditional style. Located in a group of historic Georgian houses, it offers old-fashioned hospitality and style – think heavy frames, antique four-poster beds and period features.

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Breakin’ Convention 2013: Junior

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(ARISELIVE.com, April 2013)

Words Carinya Sharples  Photo credit Paul Hampartsoumian

For one weekend every year London dance venue Sadler’s Wells puts away the ballet shoes, flamenco skirts and leotards and gives free reign to a festival of street dance – with jaw-dropping shows, workshops, parties and more (see teaser video at bottom).

As the tenth edition of Breakin’ Convention prepares to pop, lock and boogie into town, we caught up with one of the international acts set to wow the crowds from 4-6 May.

Junior Bosila Banya aka Junior was born in Kinshasa, DRC, and moved to France age two to receive treatment after contracting polio. Since then he’s become a groundbreaking dancer; performing worldwide as a solo artist and with his crew Wanted Posse, and scooping up awards as easy as ice-cream – including World Champion at Battle Of The Year Germany in 2001 and winner of France Got Talent in 2007.

We spoke to the 32-year-old about his moves, what he’s looking forward to about Breakin’ Convention 2013 and how he came to dance for Madonna. Here are some of his thoughts…

I am looking forward to sharing a part of my passion for dancing through my solo show. I hope that I am going to be good enough to be on the main stage and able to captivate almost 2,000 people by myself. That will be a good challenge. I know how important it is to be in such a big hip hop festival.

The teams I’m hoping to see at Breakin’ Convention are Electric Boogaloos, Zamunda, ILL Abilities and Soul Mavericks.The Electric Boogallos because they are pioneers and the others because I’ve known most of their members for a long time from another competitions so I can’t wait to see them in a theatre-show environment.

I would describe my breaking style as unusual. I build it with my story, my inspirations and the energy that a crowd or any person can give.

Photo credit Mohamed Zerrouk

I’ve been to Breakin’ Convention three times before: twice with my crew Wanted Posse, and one time for another version of my solo BUANATTITUDE. I still perform with the Wanted Posse. My crew is 20 years old with almost 30 dancers.

The nicknames I have chosen are Buana, which I’ve had since I was 13 or 14, and Buanson from the Wanted Posse. The other names [such as Alien with Serial Crew Breakers] people gave to me. Some people even think that Junior is a nickname.

Thanks to my dance I have been able to visit 51 countries and I have been impressed by so many of them: Australia, Japan, Tahiti, Jordan, Cambodia… I had the privilege to dance for an emir of Dubai and big personalities. Another of my highlights was when I won France Got Talent [La France a un incroyable talent] in front of millions of viewers.

I had the opportunity to dance for Madonna two times. One time we did a show for her in a club. She liked it so we were invited to dance for her son’s birthday. She is a very friendly and open-minded person. I was so surprised to see how cool she is in the real world. And in the evening she invited us to eat at her home.

The ultimate place for me to dance would be… on a big stage like for the Super Bowl or in front of big personality. Why not the Queen!

My parents decided to leave Kinshasa because of the hard life over there. I have been back since; to see where I come from and to meet family. It was so nice to re-link with my roots – that gave me the courage to do my first solo. In Congo I felt this positive energy and dynamic that we often miss in our “developed countries”.

There is a street dance and a bboy scene in Kinshasa– they are very talented. I hope to organise a nice jam other there soon.

For the near future I am preparing my bboy team from Wanted Posse to win big battles; I’m working on my clothing brand, Buana; and I’m going to work with a company in Germany for maybe one year.

If I wasn’t a breakdancer…I would have been someone who would like to be a breakdancer!

Breakin’ Convention takes place at Sadler’s Wells in London from 4-6 May. For more information and to book tickets visit breakinconvention.com.

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

The Playwright Q&A: Bola Agbaje

Bola Agbaje colour. Pic by Brian Would

(ARISELIVE.com, March 2013) Words Carinya Sharples  Photo credit Brian Would

In her Olivier-Award winning debut play Gone Too Far, Bola Agbaje brilliantly captured the lives of young black residents on a London council estate. In her new play, The Burial, the playwright draws on her Nigerian heritage in a satire about a daughter, her late father and his two Nigerian wives.

If that sounds like a Nollywood plotline, it’s no wonder. Raised in London (bar a couple of years in Nigeria), Agbaje is fascinated by Nigerian culture and both the country’s firmly established DVD market and its burgeoning cinema scene, and carried out careful research to write the play.

The Burial is set to open at The Albany theatre in Deptford, South East London, on 2 May. But that’s far from the only ink pot Agbaje has her pen in. She has also written a play, Take A Deep Breath And Breathe – inspired by Aristophanes’ famous female-sex-ban play Lysistrata. The production, performed by young actors from Ovalhouse theatre’s Drama Company, runs from 16-20 April.

In a break between rehearsals and castings, ARISE met Agbaje in the café of the Royal Court Theatre, the launchpad for her first play. Perched on a high stool, she told us all about writing the script for the film adaptation of Gone Too Far, exciting future projects, African Buddhists and much more we couldn’t squeeze in here.

Already a fan of ARISE, she was keen to link up. “My aim is to get my work out into Nigeria so for me this is a good thing,” she declared. “It’s such an emerging market and I want to be part of it from the beginning.” Nigeria, are you listening?

ARISE: How are things going with The Burial so far?
Bola Agbaje: It’s cool. We’ve just finished casting and we start rehearsals next week, so at the moment I’m just redrafting it, because I recently had a play on here [at the Royal Court Theatre] called Belong and if you look on it from outside it was about the Black-Nigerian experience and mixed cultures – so with The Burial I wanted people not to make the assumption that it’s the same as Belong. It’s a totally different style, exploring music, dance and dream sequence and fantasy, which I’ve never done before but a lot of traditional African playwrights – like Wole Soyinka – used to do that in their work. Because we didn’t grow up learning African mythology or anything like that it’s a lot harder to incorporate that into your work. So that’s my challenge with this play.

How are you introducing these new forms? Are you bringing in musicians and choreographers?
Well, I’ve sourced the old music myself because I like talking to my parents, asking them about traditional folk songs and stuff like that and incorporating that in it. And then talking to loads of musicians about how to do it, watching loads of different plays and reading old screenplays from African contemporary playwrights. It’s tough. [There’s been] a lot of research for this play. The others you just kind of write from memory but this one… I don’t want to get it wrong!

With more and more African and Nigerian productions coming to London stages – such as The Winter’s Tale in Yoruba, Feast at the Young Vic and the critically acclaimed Mies Julie (still on at Riverside Studios), do you feel there’s more space for Nigerian theatre?
I think so. It’s important to have those voices. Like with any culture, you want an Irish playwright to tell an Irish story, you want a Scottish playwright to tell a Scottish story and I think it’s the same with Nigerians. For too long it feels like we haven’t had a voice in London. There was a time when you had the Wole Soyinkas, the Chinua Achebes, you had all those great authors who came out and had global recognition, but then after a while it just seemed like it kind of died down completely. So it’s nice that now there are more emerging – like [Nigerian playwright] Janice Okoh, she’s got a play on at the moment [Three Birds] at the Bush Theatre. So there are loads more coming out, and there are loads of Nigerian actors – LOADS! So it’s nice to tell those stories and to be given the platform to tell those stories.

Identity has been a theme throughout your work. In The Burial you’re exploring religious identity too. What made you want to approach that?
I’ve always been interested in religious studies and my mum’s a Muslim, but I don’t practise, so it’s kind of weird in my family – where my mum and my sister are practising Muslims but me and my younger sister are not. And I went to a Catholic school when I was younger, so I’ve been exposed to all different types of religions. But I find it quite fascinating how that has an impact on people’s daily lives; how people think, how people react to certain situations – so I wanted to explore that. Tradition more than religion. Like with The Burial, it’s about what traditions do you follow when someone dies? What do you do? How do you bury someone? Because your religion has an impact.

And you brought Buddhism as well into it. That’s more unusual…
Most Africans aren’t Buddhist so I thought it was an interesting twist. I’ve met a few and you know people have raised eyebrows when someone [goes against] what religion you expect. Like [you anticipate] Christian or Muslim or atheist and then they go ‘Buddhist’ – and you’re like, this is a little bit wrong! ‘How did you get involved in that culture?’ So I thought it was interesting to explore that.

And African culture, music and creativity are hot right now in London…
Of course, completely. Whenever I explore my Nigerian culture it is a bit of making up for the lost time when I was younger and wasn’t so proud of it. My sister’s 18 and I find it so fascinating watching her growing up and she can’t believe there was a time when it wasn’t cool to be African. She’s like ‘How is that possible?!’

“We’re at that stage where it’s not about fitting in, it’s about standing out – and [being African] it’s the thing that gives you an edge”

Why do you think things have changed?
I think there are more of us [Africans] in London, in England, and more people are tapping into that. My parents came over in the 80s and, like a lot of parents, their whole idea was to set up a new life and fit in. Whereas now we’re at that stage where it’s not about fitting in, it’s about standing out – and [being African] it’s the thing that gives you an edge.

What would be your ideal project to work on? A TV series? Another film?
At the moment I’m developing a TV series – actually I’m developing a web series that I’m really keen to get off the ground because I’ve seen loads of web series online. Have I heard of Awkward Black Girl? It’s amazing! There’s also a Nigerian one that comes on at the moment called Gidi Up which is only about 8 minutes long but it’s so fascinating so I want to be a part of that movement.

Have you got a concept in mind?
Yeah but I can’t say yet, it’s not out there – someone could steal the idea. But I’m quite excited about that. And I’d love my [theatre] work to be performed in Nigeria and do more TV and more film stuff. I’m working on a collaborative piece for a film idea with Destiny Ekaragha, she’s the director of Gone Too Far. I’ve known her for a while now, we’re worked together closely on this film so I know what I’m in for. We’ve got a similar sense of humour so it won’t be a shock.

Last October [through 2Far Media] I also produced my own play [House Of Corrections at Riverside Studios]; funded it myself and put it on myself. That was quite an experience, a hard experience – I learned to appreciate other aspects of what makes a play come alive. But I want to do more of that – I got a buzz from it.

Nigeria is big on your radar at the moment. Do you want to travel out there sometime?
I do, I do. I might be going out later on this year because one of the lead actors of Gone Too Far, O.C. Ukeje, is one of the rising Nollywood stars so we want to have a premiere out in Nigeria. That will be kind of cool.

Do you know when Gone Too Far will be released?
No. Before its official opening we’re going to do a series of screenings though. So we’ve got one at the end of the month [March], a couple more in May/June and then officially it launches in October – hopefully through London Film Festival. I’m really excited. It’s a good little film.

Would you consider moving to Lagos for a while?
I’d love to. I’ve got loads of family out there so it wouldn’t be a massive leap, and as I writer I can work anywhere. As long as it’s got electricity and internet [laughs]! But I just want to make my mark here, make a bigger stamp on this place first and go over. The aim is to be global, tough task but that’s the aim! And the great thing about writing, making film or having a play is that it can travel around the world. And that’s what’s exciting for me being a writer – your work can reach so many different people, it can live on. Good work lives on for a long time.

Last year I had a version of my play on in Germany, and in Italy they did a translation of my play Gone Too Far, which was really cool. I went to go and see it and it was so weird watching them speak Italian and not understanding a word they were saying but I knew where they were in the story based on where people were laughing. It was amazing to see, and to see that it worked somewhere else.

You’ve named Wole Soyinka as one of your role models. How do you feel about being a role model yourself now?
I grew up in Peckham and I make no shame of growing up on an estate or coming from that environment but if that motivates one person to go off and do something against the norm then I’ll feel like I’ve done my job… Most of the time what you’re inspired by is seeing someone else doing it, it’s those mirrors that people hold up so you go ‘Oh actually if she can do it I can do it too’. It’s like when we were filming Gone Too Far; my nieces and nephews came on set and it was the first time they’ve ever been on a film set and it was fascinating to watch them see the process of filmmaking and then go ‘I want to be a director. I want to be a writer’ – and that’s how it works really. My nephew saw Destiny directing and was like ‘She’s the boss, I want to be the boss!’

The Burial is at The Albany, London, from 2-11 May 2013. For more details and to book tickets visit www.thealbany.org.uk

Homelessness

From passive to active

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(The Pavement, 30 January 2013)  In the last issue, The Pavement introduced exP2A, a new leisure and fitness-focused charity run by former and current homeless service users. We sat down with two of its founders, Alex Ireland and James McPherson, in a cosy nook of the National Portrait Gallery to find out how the charity came about, how it will work and when the service will be up and running.

“What started the whole thing is that we see a really big gap in what’s really offered,” explains Ireland. “Homeless services are geared up to giving you somewhere to live and then providing support for basic needs but – and there’s a question whether it is their job to do any more than that – that’s as far as it goes. So you can either get into a flap about it or you can do something.”

Widely known in the homeless online community by her Twitter identity @aibaihe, exP2A director Ireland has long been a commentator on, and critic of, homeless services. So what’s it like to be on the other side of the fence? “This came up in our first meeting,” she admits. “How would we feel about being on the other side? We realised that it was important that we’re not.

“Although I’m very pro service-user employment, I’ve been quite critical of people who have gone straight from being homeless to being in a position of authority. That is quite dangerous and can make people feel very uncomfortable. But we’re not holding information or files on people; we’re not taking responsibility for them in that way. People can get involved on their own terms and we’re going to operate everything as a peer network.”

exP2A aims to give associates the chance to try new things and gain real skills. “At the moment is a lot of organisations running groups because they attract funding,” says Ireland. “And while a lot of organisations are coming round to the idea of service-user employment, they’re assuming that service users will become drug counsellors or work in hostels, but no more.” She hopes exP2A’s associates will discover activities and employment opportunities outside the homeless ‘bubble’. “You don’t just have to say, ‘Let’s stick them in a flat and that’s it. That’s all they can expect from life’.” The money the team raises through the fitness groups and other activities will go towards helping associates pay for personal training or group activities, be it learning to drive a forklift truck or going scuba diving. The condition is, they must decide together what to do with the money and learn to balance expensive activities with cheaper activities.

“The money will go into a central pool that they will help spend,” explains Ireland. “Obviously if they got the money [directly], it would to interfere with their benefits.”

Will associates be able to request funding for specific personal goals or needs? “Obviously, decisions have to be made as a group,” says Ireland. “But we might come up with a set of guidelines. Probably, down the line, if fundraising is successful, people could collect points based on attendance which they could put towards a personal goal.”

And exP2A’s empowering slogan, “From Passive to Active”, is not just about career prospects say Ireland. “It’s about showing people that you may be on benefits and if you do get a job, you’re not going to have much spare cash, but there are things you can do for free or you can budget to do some of the things you want – and you can build a community of like-minded people around you.” The exP2A team is starting to build a database of free and cheap things to do in London – from knitting clubs to, well, sitting in the National Portrait Gallery. They’d like to use this information to create an app, where you can enter your budget and discover cheap or free things to do within that.

Ireland is keen to be as frank as possible about launching a charity, and sees great potential in this approach. Asked about how long associates will stay with the charity, the plan is to wait and see. “We thought about that,” said Ireland. “Should it be a definite time thing? Should we be very organic about it? And we realised that until we do it, we don’t know. So keep it open, keep it public, admit to mistakes as we go along, and see where it takes us. But keep control of it, be very analytical and allow people to input. It’s a flat organisation. Obviously you’ve got people taking decisions about some things, but it’s more of a circle – that sounds really right on, but it’s true.”

Not everything’s gone to plan so far. Their Dickens-themed fundraising walk in July had to be cut short after half the team fell to injury (“There’s a rule that no one’s allowed to mention the Dickens’ Walk,” laughs Ireland), though they did raise £246. Then, after the charity’s October launch, the fitness groups were postponed to begin in January. And now, with Ireland heavily pregnant, they have been delayed again. “We’ll start the sessions after the [birth] and my two weeks’ mandatory break,” she says, optimistically. “And when the team’s back to full strength at the beginning of April, we’ll go back to running the three sessions a week at the correct time.”

For now, McPherson is keeping things ticking over and has taken to his position as Marketing & Community Manager like a duck to water. With only some basic experience (“I had some insight while I was at Centrepoint. Their communications department is absolutely fabulous and they allowed me to see into that world while I was there”), he has taken charge of exP2A’s Twitter account, website, marketing and publicity. “He’s the wonderkid,” marvels Ireland. “Basically, whatever you see it has been through him. And at the moment he’s also taking on my jobs. He’s the real thing, and anything that he didn’t know about before he’s learned on the job.”

While ex2PA’s on hold, McPherson’s been using the downtime to plan the charity’s marketing strategy. As well as handing out flyers outside Green Park Station and running the @DeskWorkout Twitter account, one plan is to start a controversial poster campaign. “We’re hoping to do that for the universities,” explains McPherson. “It’s essentially about challenging stereotypes about homeless people. One of the ideas was possibly using Alex and Brad, our other member of the team. He is a lot more masculine than I am [“he has quite an outwardly aggressive appearance,” interjects Alex with a laugh] and we thought if we had a few pictures of him motivating Alex as part of the fitness group, they could be cropped to look like something completely different.” A web address will direct people to the exp2A website, where they will see the full picture, in more ways than one. The results of and responses to the campaign, like all their planned marketing steps, will be reviewed online.

The team has also been testing the fitness plans. So what can participants expect to get for their very affordable £2 sessions (£10 per month for unlimited sessions)? “Initially, when people turn up we just do a meet and greet, get to know each other and answer any questions that they have about exP2A or homelessness in general,” says McPherson. “But really we just crack on with it, like a normal fitness session,” adds Ireland. Then after a warm-up, it’s on with the day’s fitness plan – which could include anything from running and walking to games. “The promise is that no fitness classes will be the same,” says Ireland. “And it’s very inclusive and informal as well. We’re a little bit inspired by British Military Fitness, who actually do classes in hostels, but they’re very hardcore and if you’re not up to that level it’s very difficult to get in.”

The sessions will take place in locations including Green Park, and the team is considering Lincoln’s Inn as another possible site – given its many soup runs and local students (one of exP2A’s future target groups). And although Ireland says she would consider an inside venue if it was offered, she prefers to keep the sessions outdoors. “Sometimes people feel better about being in an open space. If they really don’t like it they can melt away into the trees… Plus everyone can smoke – I don’t think we’d get anyone to come otherwise!” She’s also hoping permission won’t be an issue. “We’re not using it for commercial reasons – because our idea is that we’re just a group of people coming together and people are giving a suggested donation… Some parks are very strict about it but they’re not the parks we’re using anyway.”

Will they be looking for funders? “We may,” she says cautiously. “But we don’t want to fall into that trap of going for funding which then becomes necessary. We wanted it to be something that could be set up on a minimal budget and we want other people to take up the idea. We’re thinking of preparing a pack, like Housing Justice has for winter shelters, so that if someone wants to run a scheme, they’ve got all that information rather than having to go back to square one.”

They’ve had lots of feedback and queries from homeless organisations, hostels and would-be associates or volunteers. “It’s just this massive, unwieldy thing at the moment, so the difficulty has been reining it in,” admits Ireland. “We have massive ideas and bringing them to fruition will take a lot of time and effort, but [we have] to have the courage to say, ’OK, it looks quite simple at the moment but we do have big ideas, so bear with us’. The goal is to concentrate on those small things and get them right in the beginning, then start building.”

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1568

Uncategorized

Flashback: 21 July 1969. Pan-African culture festival rocks Algiers

nina

(ARISE magazine, issue 18) “It was absolutely amazing, explosive,” remembers Algerian artist Houria Niati. “People were embracing each other, there was total acceptance of what they were seeing. It was very pure, very untouched: raw Africa.” Algiers had never seen anything like it. Miriam Makeba, in exile from South Africa, sang protest songs, while Nina Simone premiered her take on Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas. In shaded courtyards, Black Panther leaders discussed revolutionary tactics with their African comrades. Wide-eyed children stayed out late under the twinkling streetlights, determined not to miss a second of the action. And the air was filled with the smoke of gun salutes, the sound of drums and a hubbub of tongues from all corners of Africa and beyond: Arabic, Portuguese, French, English, Yoruba, Swahili.

Niati was just 21 at the time and working in the Algerian Ministry of Sport and Culture. “Every day was different. Wherever they said there was a big singer I would go. We had open halls, open theatres… It was just incredible. People wouldn’t sleep because the weather was so fantastic.” Musical and political conversations thrived, inspiring scenes such as acclaimed US jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp freestyling on stage with Algerian and Touareg musicians. “We are still black and we have come back. Nous sommes revenus,” Shepp can be heard chanting on a live recording. “Jazz is an African power. Jazz is an African music.”

Funded by the Organisation Of African Unity (now the African Union), The Pan-African Cultural Festival of 1969 celebrated the achievements of a decade that had brought independence to Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Kenya, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and, in 1962, Algeria – among others. Africa was united by a new sense of shared purpose, a sentiment evident in the excited yet overawed faces captured in Le Festival Panafrican D’Alger, American artist William Klein’s remarkable first-hand documentary of the event, which invaded Algiers from July 21-August 1, 1969.

But this impressive display of Africa’s rich culture had a deeper purpose. “The first Pan-African Festival is not a general diversion that distracts us from the daily fight,” says Algerian president Houari Boumédienne in the film to a UN-style conference of country representatives. “It is part of an immense effort for our emancipation”. Although today Algeria might seem an unlikely location for a pan-African festival, the country’s brutal eight-year struggle for independence in the 1960s had made it something of an African hero. Nelson Mandela trained with the country’s National Liberation Front in 1962. And it was the adopted home of Martinican writer Frantz Fanon, a key voice in Algeria’s independence struggle.

Nathan Hare, founding publisher of The Black Scholar, attended the festival and noticed Algeria’s resistance to “the re-entry of the French and American imperialists”. In the November 1969 edition of The Black Scholar he writes of seeing revolutionary graffiti on “buildings, walls and fences, and the old pre-revolutionary symbol of resistance, the haik (or veil), worn by so many of the women”.

A symposium was held to give a platform to speakers including Guinean revolutionary Amilcar Cabral, US Civil Rights activist Stokely Carmichael and Negritude theorist Leopold Senghor. “People came here specifically to check each other out,” says Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver in the film, “to see what was going on and to get some ideas as to which movement they could relate to.” An Afro-American Cultural Center was also opened and a Pan African Cultural Manifesto drawn up, calling for culture to form the basis of a new, empowered Africa.”I don’t think there will ever be any African festival like that,” says Niati.

Nevertheless in 2009 there was an attempt to recreate the glory of the 1969 festival. The €80million event, organised by the Algerian government and African Union, attracted 8,000 artists from 51 African nations – including Salif Keita, Khaled and Binyavanga Wainaina. However a lot had changed since the first festival. “It’s quite amazing because [in 1969] you can see women wearing the traditional veil next to a topless African dancer,” says Ali Meziane, one of the organisers of London’s Algerian Cultural Festival. “But in 2009 you could hear from the crowds shouts of ‘monkeys’ towards the dancers and some racist comments.” In 40 years Algeria had been through a lot: Algerian Civil War, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. But, says Meziane, “the festival is a good tool to educate people to reopen the Algerian identity towards an African identity. We are Algerians and we are Africans”.

African arts, culture + politics

Changemakers: Botswana

botswana

(ARISE magazine, issue 18) Best known for its diamonds, safaris and peaceable record, Botswana is widely viewed as one of Africa’s most economically and politically stable countries. Once a British protectorate, Botswana (or Bechuanaland as it was then) became independent in 1966 under the leadership of national hero and Botswana’s first president Seretse Khama. Following presidential terms under Quett Masire and Festus Mogae, Khama’s son Seretse Khama Ian Khama took the mantle in 2008 and today presides over a country of 2million people with a GDP of US$17.63billion.

Botswana attracted attention in 2002 when indigenous bushmen, or San people, of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve took the government to court for forcibly evicting them from their ancestral lands. After a four-year legal battle the community won its fight and, with it, the right to live and hunt on the reserve.

The country is also known for its high HIV rate, with one in four adults in Botswana infected with the disease, according to 2009 figures. Though this has lowered from the 2003 rate of 37.3 per cent it’s still the second highest in the world (behind Swaziland). The government has responded by rolling out an extensive programme of free antiretroviral (ARV) treatment and launching the Zero New Infections By 2016 campaign.

Most recently Botswana hit the headlines for granting women the right to inherit (after a dogged campaign by a group of sisters, all aged over 65) and winning its first Olympic medal; 18-year-old Nigel Amos scooped silver in the 800-metre final at London 2012. The country is known as “the place to go if you want to see The Big Five in the wild” (CNN Traveller). And tourism is on the increase, with 2.1million people visiting in 2010 – in part due to Alexander McCall Smith’s bestselling series The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Set in and around the capital, Gaborone, the novels inspired the hit BBC/HBO adaptation starring Jill Scott.

Here we meet five local heroes making a difference in the southern African country.

The lawyer: Uyapo Ndadi
Lawyer Uyapo Ndadi has worked with the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/Aids (BONELA) since 2007 – first as legal officer and now executive director. Alongside implementing BONELA’s aim to advance an “ethical, legal and human rights approach” to how the country responds to its HIV/Aids epidemic, Ndadi blogs for online paper Mmegi and was invited to meet President Obama in 2010, after been named one of JCI’s 10 Outstanding Young Persons Of The World.

“BONELA is something that is close to my heart because I see the organisation bringing dignity to people’s doorsteps. People come saying ‘I’ve been fired from work because of my HIV status’ and you fight for their rights to be restored by taking the matter to court and getting a reinstatement or getting good compensation for the client.

“I think what I’m most proud of is changing the law. There are laws now that say no one should be fired from work because of their sexual orientation or their HIV status. I’m also proud of changing mindsets. It used to be a taboo to talk about issues of sexual orientation, issues of sex workers or gay rights but these days the nation is talking. Recently there was a huge outcry after I brought it to the fore that the government had problems with ARV shortages and didn’t tell the nation. The minister of health refused to talk to me on the radio but it got the nation talking anyway. People called to say ‘No, this is unacceptable. We need to know what happened and we need promises that it will not occur again’. They’re still dealing with the backlog but at least ARVs are available and people can get a full month’s supply.

“We have about 80 organisations signed up to be part of BONELA, to infuse human rights into their work. Human rights in Botswana are like a foreign thing. People don’t believe much in human rights or see the need to talk about them. We’re trying to change that mindset.”

bonela.org

The drugs advisor: Lebo Mothibatsela
Lebo Mothibatsela is acting executive director of Botswana Substance Abuse Support Network (BOSASNet), the only organisation dedicated to providing specialised outpatient rehabilitation, support and relapse prevention services in Botswana. Alcohol is a thorny issue in the country since President Khama imposed a 70 per cent levy, or ‘sin tax’, on alcohol (later reduced to 30 per cent) and a midnight curfew on bars.

“When I joined BOSASNet I saw it as an opportunity to contribute to the mitigation of substance abuse and dependency. I’ve seen and dealt with the challenges and consequences of dependency, [so] being involved with rehabilitation and relapse prevention services has been wonderful.

“There is a lot of stigma, discrimination and lack of understanding of substance abuse and dependency in Botswana. And because of this we, as a nation, will continue to have ineffective interventions and programmes. Many people are not prepared to accept or identify problems or talk about the problems that they or their family members are going through. We need factual more than moral education and we need to ensure that we have the necessary services available.

“Like HIV/Aids, substance abuse affects all ages and backgrounds, religions or races. Our clients range in age from 15 to over 60. And the substances we have dealt with to date are alcohol, mandrax, cocaine, crack cocaine, crystal meth, nicotine, heroine and sleeping pills. We have also provided a counsellor to Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital in Lobatse since May 2011 but due to lack of donors and insufficient funding we will be ceasing clinical services in December.

“Sin tax and restrictions on the sale of alcohol can be effective to mitigate alcohol consumption, when implemented alongside complementary interventions and services. But the effectiveness of these measures
on actual alcohol and substance abuse or dependency still requires conclusive evidence. BOSASNet has been a recipient of a grant from the Alcohol Levy Fund for just under 3million pula [US$379m] from June 2010 to November 2012. Unfortunately the funds from the alcohol levy have not been sufficiently dedicated to rehabilitation and relapse-prevention services since its inception. We hope that the ministry of health will provide such services nationwide in the future.”

bosasnet.com

The poet mentor: TJ Dema

TJ Dema is a champion for poetry in Botswana, representing the country internationally and supporting up-and-coming artists through her arts administration company Sauti Arts And Performance Management. A former Chair of the Botswana Writing Society, she co-founded poetry collective Exoduslivepoetry! in 2003 and has recorded a multilingual CD of 12 Botswana poets entitled Dreaming Is A Gift For Me. In October she helped put on the first Botswana-based edition of Poetry Africa.

“Poets have a special place in our history. Weddings feel incomplete without a poet and they have always been unofficial advisors to leaders. The poet is the person that can chastise the chief. You don’t necessarily make any money from it but kids stop you on the street – they tell you that they want to be like you, they want to write like you. And their parents stop you to tell you you’re a really good role model.

“I had poets come to me saying, ‘Oh, I’ve seen you performing in South Africa, how did you do that?’ So for two to four years I would just give people advice: ‘talk to so and so’ or email them a draft of my contract. My roles ranged from mentor to editor to performance and stage management. Even today, having set up Sauti Arts, it’s more of a partnership with me and each artist than me fully managing them, because I don’t have the resources. I managed myself and struggled for 10 years; negotiating contracts, looking at fees. And I always wished somebody else were doing it.

“There are at least three platforms for spoken word in Botswana. We are used to performing as collectives. You don’t get the ‘Adele: performing for one night only’ type of shows. But it keeps you inexperienced; you only ever do 10 minutes so that’s all you ever rehearse, that’s all you build your muscles for. [At Sauti] we push our artists to do 15-minute to one-hour showcases, and the ones who put in the work see the benefits.

“In the future I’d like to build a team to translate poetry from Setswana to English. I would make it a two-step process: linguists from the University of Botswana with a focus in Setswana would first do a literal translation and then I would be in a position to make it a poetic translation. I could reference the Setswana and say ‘No, no, no, we’ve completely lost track of what we’re saying here’.

“The Botswanan is such a beautiful and developed language. Our similes, idioms and proverbs are built around what is most important to the people. So, for example, telling a woman she resembled a cow would
be the highest form of praise – poets often refer to cows as ‘wet-nose gods’ ”.

tjdema.blogspot.co.uk

The landrights activist: Jumanda Gakelebone

Jumanda Gakelebone is the spokesperson of the First People Of The Kalahari (FPK), a non-governmental organisation fighting for the rights of the San people. Traditionally hunter-gatherers, the San people were evicted from their ancestral lands by the Botswana government from 1997 – before a 2006 high-court ruling re-established their land rights. But the verdict did not put an end to the struggles of the San, and the FPK continues to raise awareness of fresh obstacles, such as the 2010 decision to block reserve residents from using the Kalahari borehole or drilling a new one (a move that was overturned in 2011).

“At the time FPK was founded in 1993 I was still in school and got interested in the issues they raised. My community on the Central Kalahari Reserve was having a problem with land rights and I thought ‘this is a good organisation. I have to go there to do something’. Even at school I could feel the pressure – the way they would humiliate us – so that was on my mind. So when I came across the late John Hardbattle [co-founder
of FPK alongside Roy Sesana] we had a talk and found we shared the same ideas.

“Today the organisation is still running, it’s still living but we have funding problems and depend on outside donors. The people I was going to school with are now the governors of the country – so this [matter] is generation to generation. It’s going to be very difficult for the issue to be solved. But some things have changed since the 1996 ruling. I would say about 10 per cent of the population have understood and said that ‘this is [the San people’s] right and we need to respect them’. And the man who was the head of the struggle – Sesana – is now residing there [in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve] with his family.

“But whenever decisions are made [by the government] we are not there… there are no ministers or MPs from the San communities, so our voice is less there. The government still encourages the San to move into settlements instead of staying on the reserve. I would not say it’s because of wildlife, I would call it racial discrimination – them not really respecting us. They don’t recognise us as part of the population of the country. Gem Diamonds
did help to build wells after the 2011 ruling but I will not call that [real] help – whatever they’re doing is to show the outside world they care. If it wasn’t for the ruling they would not have paid for them.”

savethefpk.org

The eco champion: Keneilwe Moseki  

Keneilwe Moseki is executive director of Somarelang Tikologo (Environment Watch Botswana), a pioneering NGO situated in its own eco-park in Gaborone. Since it was set up in 1991, following Africa’s first sustainability summit, ST has been a local leader in recycling. The organisation has represented Botswana at international platforms such as COP17 in Durban. It’s also lobbied government, resulting in Moseki winning a place on JCI’s 10 Outstanding Young Persons Of The World list for 2012.

“Setting up this park has been one of our major achievements. We used to go to schools to give presentations, to get people to understand conservation, but we said, ‘Some people are getting it and some are missing the point. What do we do?’ So we found this space, cleared away the rubble and built an orchard, an area for kids made of recyclable items, an eco café, a drop-off recyclable park and community hall, which people can hire for a small fee. There’s also our innovative green shop, which sells crafts made out of waste metal, paper and plastic by women from rural areas, students and unemployed young people.

“We do public tours to tell people which trees and plants to buy, how to plant them and how to start an organic garden at home. We also do awareness activities, such as trying to promote solar use and energy, and have worked in the corporate community.

“Working for a development office you need regular sponsors. If they become irregular there’s potential for your programmes to suffer. You find a lot of sponsors that come on board but don’t want to finance operational costs. But without those things there is no project. So we realised we had to have parallel programmes and fundraising projects that could support our activities. And we have had the support of Barclays, FNB, E.ON – and Shell Oil. I know that one is controversial to mention with environmental conservation but in Botswana they are behaving very well. They have been supporting us and are the ones who started the organic garden with us.”

http://www.somatiko.org.bw

African arts, culture + politics

Word games: Talib Kweli

talib

(ARISE magazine, issue 18)

Such is the power of social media that before Talib Kweli had even touched down in South Africa this August, to judge the Sprite Uncontainable Hip Hop Talent Search, the US rapper was already embroiled in lively debate with his SA Twitter followers. On being told that Africans hate the term ‘the motherland’ he tweeted, “[It] could come off as corny, but for us struggling with the effects of the slave trade saying motherland is a point of pride.” When another fan declared African-Americans “not real Africans” he diplomatically replied, “I disagree but, hey, to each his own.” And when accused of referring to Soweto as a country he quickly, and indignantly, responded, “I’ve BEEN to Soweto. Did a show in the street with Black Thought, Dead Prez, Boots & Jeru.”

Kweli was referring to his 2001 visit as part of the Black August Hip Hop Project, which saw several US rappers tour Durban, Joburg, the Cape Flats, Cape Town and Soweto to promote Black August’s work fighting for the rights of political prisoners. The trip had a lasting effect on Kweli. “[It] defined my role,” he told Charise Cheney in her book Brothers Gonna Work It Out: Sexual Politics In The Golden Age Of Rap Nationalism. “I had access to food, shelter and education [growing up], I have to use those resources to help people all over the world. If I can’t see that after trips to all those places then I’m a fool.”

On Push Thru, the first single off his new album, Prisoner Of Conscious, Kweli proves he’s no fool, delivering lines such as “fighting for freedom like the people in Tunisia/ spread to Sudan and Egypt, this is the music for the movement”. “My aim was to make an album of love songs but it ended up being deeper,” he admits. “There are a lot of songs dealing with the opposite sex though.” He describes the album as “lush and romantic”, which is perhaps less surprising given some of his collaborators: Seu Jorge and R&B singers Melanie Fiona and Amber Strother (Nelly and Busta Rhymes also feature).

Prisoner Of Conscious is Kweli’s second release in recent months, coming off the back of his free mixtape Attack The Block. “People in this generation expect free music, period,” he says. “To work against that as an artist is to work against yourself. God willing the mixtape will drive up a buzz for the album, and I also wanted to do a mixtape with a real DJ like Z-Trip, that had actual mixing.”

TEAM PLAYER

Collaborating with established artists and discovering new talent are skills Kweli has nurtured throughout his career – from teaming up with Mos Def, Hi-Tek and Madlib to co-founding record label BlackSmith Music (with Corey Smyth). In SA he drew on this experience to decide the three winners of the talent contest: rapper Hydrochloric, graphic designer Dane (aka Stops) and b-girl ShamRock. “Cape Town was incredible,” he enthuses, “The performers were great and I look forward to seeing the winners in NYC [where he will mentor them]”.

Kweli took to the stage too, putting on killer shows at Cape Town’s Trinity club and Joburg’s OST. But SA is not the only pin on Kweli’s map of Africa. He’s also been to Nigeria (see right) and Tanzania (for the MTV show Tripping). “People of African descent have Africa running through their bones,” he says. “It’s a connection that slavery and colonialism could never erase. So when I touched down, even the distant felt familiar.” Kweli has expressed an interest in genealogical testing – but, he says, “the science I’ve seen behind tracing one’s roots past the slave trade is hokey at best”.

From the moment his professor parents named him Kweli (‘true’ in Swahili), Africa has been ingrained in the rapper’s life. “My parents’ generation came of age in 1960s America when black consciousness and pan-Africanism was on the rise,” he says. “Those values were taught when I was young, then reinforced when I listened to hip hop.” In terms of African music, Kweli namechecks MC Tumi, Seun and Femi Kuti and is keen to hear more. “African music, other than our popular music influenced by African rhythms, is not mainstream in the US at all. We have a long way to go with that.”

As well as an album, Kweli’s also been busy motivating his fellow citizens to vote, taking to Twitter to scorn Nicki Minaj for seemingly showing support for Mitt Romney (“Just heard a dude on Hot97 say he won’t let his daughter listen to Nicki Minaj cuz she endorses Romney. Really? That’s what it took?”). ARISE spoke to Kweli before the election took place, but he had no doubt what the result would be: “Obama will win for sure, no question. The election seems like a distraction, because it’s a popularity contest. And Obama is definitely more popular.” How right he was.

The rapper’s also been working on his autobiography and has already shared one chapter, That One Time When I Was Atheist, And The Influence Of Malcolm X, on his Tumblr. Coming from a man who once bought a bookshop in Brooklyn with Mos Def it’s not a surprising move. “I would like to create industry around myself rather than waiting for an industry to support me,” he says. “The book is part of that. I feel my story can be as inspirational as the music.”

Prisoner Of Conscience [Javotti], out Feb

[BOXOUT] LIGHTS, CAMERA, AFRICA!

Talib Kweli shot his video for Hostile Love in Lagos. But he’s not the only one repping Africa on MTV.

Rick Ross, Lagos (2012)
Rick Ross caused a Twitter storm with his Hold Me Back video, in which the rapper swaggers through the ghettos of Lagos State, dishing out dollar bills.

Solange, Cape Town (2012)
Solange roped in a troupe of snappily dressed sapeurs for her Losing You video, shot against the barbershops and streets of Langa township.

MIA, Morocco (2012)
In MIA’s Bad Girls, gun-toting, headscarved women strut the dusty streets of Ouarzazate. After the redhead genocide of Born Free it’s almost tame.

Westlife, Gauteng (2011)
Bafflingly beloved across Africa, Westlife shot their video for Lighthouse in SA’s Cradle of Humankind heritage site. Cue swaying grasses and safari tents.

African arts, culture + politics

Dangerous mind

mia

(ARISE magazine, issue 18) You’re as likely to find MIA in the news as the charts. but after last year’s storms, she begins 2013 with new projects that’ll make headlines for the right reasons

“There’s nothing that can touch me now. You can’t even break me down”, sings MIA on a preview for her new track Come Walk With Me. It’s trademark MIA: obstinate, single-minded and resilient. At the start of 2012 she summoned a storm at the Super Bowl by flashing her middle finger. The same month she was widely criticised (and also defended) for her Bad Girls video, shot in Morocco and described by Asian-American magazine Hyphen as “just a hipper, high-definition stereotype of Arabs as desert-dwelling, sword-wielding, horse-riding and dangerous”. And in March she got into a Twitter spat with CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, tweeting “@AndersonCooper called me a terrorist for speaking out [about Tamil civilians dying in Sri Lanka]” (although after defending their positions the two called a truce).

Of course, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. And that’s just as well, with a raft of MIA projects landing soon. She has a new, eponymous book on the shelves; newly commissioned art works on show at India’s first biennial Kochi-Muziris Biennale; a new album, Mathangi, poised for release; and a documentary about her in production. She also inadvertently revealed another ongoing venture – a design collaboration with Versace – in November while speaking at New York’s MoMA PS1. Her personal laptop was hooked up to a giant screen so the singer could share some of her works and indulge in some collective Googling, leaving folders labelled Versace Prints, Bootleg Versace and Versace Outlines clearly visible on her desktop.

The 37-year-old rapper describes the new album as “Paul Simon on acid”, but also as “basically all my other albums… like an anthology”. The same could be said of her characteristically colourful self-titled book, which is part art portfolio, part discography, part autobiography. Inside the London-born, Sri Lanka-raised artist (real name Mathangi Arulpragasam) shares her DIY works of art, drawing on Google Search, stencils, video stills, Photoshop, typography and her formative years studying at Central St Martins. There’s also an intro by designer Steve Loveridge, her friend and collaborator, as well as song lyrics and fascinating explanations from MIA herself of the stories and inspirations behind each of her three albums – Arular, Kala and MAYA – plus her free mixtape Vicki Leekx, released in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

It’s a fascinating documentation of a career and life, and a demonstration of MIA’s global outlook – in which India, Sri Lanka, the Caribbean and Africa figure as much as London, LA and New York. Consider the African connections of her recent output alone: the video for Come Walk With Me borrows pre-existing YouTube footage of Congolese coupé decalé dancers, while her muses for Bad Girls include the female bikers of Marrakesh (see right). Bring on the next chapter, MIA.

African arts, culture + politics · Travel

I Love… Gaborone

zeus
Detail from illustration by Jim Spencer

(ARISE magazine, issue 17) Hip hop artist and Channel O awards nominee Zeus tells us where it’s at in Botswana’s chilled-out capital, from the coolest club to the unofficial business hub

Mokolodi Nature Reserve
Most people come to Africa expecting to see wild animals everywhere, which is just silly! There are areas in Botswana with freely roaming wildlife but not usually in cities, towns or villages. There is, however, a small game reserve in Gaborone where you can enjoy a game drive or a braai in the picnic area.

BotswanaCraft
This amazing place connects aspects of Setswana culture and lifestyle. They sell art, sculpture and other ornaments made by Batswana artists. Its courtyard restaurant specialises in local cuisine served in the traditional manner – down to how the waiting staff assist you in washing your hands before a meal. It’s also a popular live music venue and has hosted some first-class acts, including Oliver Mtukudzi, Salif Keita and yours truly!
Plot 20716, Magochanyama

Mafia Soul
For a more urban shopping experience visit one of the five Mafia Soul stores. The branch in Riverwalk Mall is the place to go if you live the hip hop lifestyle. Check out latest hip hop fashion trends, flick through magazines, buy music or debate the latest song, beef or your favourite MC with owner Molf and manager Prince. They man the floor, giving first-class service.
Riverwalk Shopping Mall, Unit 25/27

National Museum
Located next to the old mall in the city centre (formerly known as the Main Mall), the museum gives travellers an appreciation of the history of the relatively young city and the country as a whole. It brings back memories of primary-school field trips for me, and is captivating for all ages.
331 Independence Ave

Thapong Arts Centre
Located in the charmingly lazy, residential area of Village, this centre exhibits works by local visual artists. It’s testament to the resilience of Batswana artists, who haven’t received the support they deserve but still manage to produce breathtaking works.
Plot 21965, The Village

Pop-Inn
There is a local snack served with tea or coffee – or alongside chips, fish and Russians (a type of sausage) – which is known as magwinya or fat cakes. They are an oily, unhealthy but delightful [fried dough] treat one should enjoy every so often. Stop by here for one and some snoek fish – you can work it off later.
1873/4 Kgopo Close Ext 4

Dot Com
Formerly known for hosting business executives and political hotshots, this popular ‘beer after work with the guys’ spot mixes professionals, socialites and entrepreneurs in a melting pot of boyish mischief. Talk ranges from football, cars and ladies to business. If you want to bypass a lot of gatekeepers and meet key influencers and decision-makers, this place might serve you better than the business district.
Matima Crescent, off Maputo Drive

Khwest Cafe
For sundowners, Khwest is where it’s at. A very sociable joint smack in the middle of the oldest mall in the city with a lovely balcony, it’s a setting for soulful house music sessions, poetry recitals and stand-up comedy.
Queens Road, Ext 2

Sanitas Tea Garden
A nursery that houses more than plants and ornaments, Sanitas Tea Garden has a chilled restaurant with a great homestyle menu – complete with homemade lemonade and ice-cream. Perfect for a lazy afternoon or mid-morning when you want to escape from the routine of a dull day.
Gaborone Dam

Fusion Entertainment
Fusion Entertainent caters to a house and hip hop market. I’ve hosted some great parties there, including the debut of my Champagne Music video and my birthday. It attracts an ‘I wanna party, no BS’ crowd and on the right night it’s electric inside – with the balcony serving as a half-time rest stop for the city’s party rockers.
Mowana Park, Phakalane

African arts, culture + politics

Icon: Freddie Mercury

freddie

(ARISE magazine, issue 16) Many people have tried to claim Freddie Mercury as their own. In 2009, Brian May unveiled a star-shaped plaque dedicated to his former bandmate in the London town of Feltham, where Mercury lived when he first moved to England in 1964. Last year The Asian Awards recognised the Queen frontman, who was born to parents from India and studied there as a child. And in Zanzibar, visitors can find a gold plaque outside Zanzibar Gallery commemorating the island’s most famous son, who was born at the Government Hospital on September 5 1946. For most of his fans though, Mercury is simply a legend – the musical genius who made Queen famous and dazzled audiences around the world with the always-fulfilled promise: We Will Rock You.

Mercury came into the world as Farrokh Bulsara, son of Bomi and Jer Bulsara. In Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography by Lesley-Ann Jones, his mother remembers: “As a young boy he was very happy and loved music… I think he always wanted to be a showman”. At the age of eight, Mercury left Zanzibar to go to St Peter’s School in Panchgani, India, where he formed his first band, the Hectics. “I was a precocious child,” Mercury remembered in an interview with Melody Maker in 1974. “My parents thought boarding school would do me good so they sent me to one… I look back on it and I think it was marvellous. You learn to look after yourself and it taught me to have responsibility”. It was also here that Farrokh got his nickname Freddie, though it wasn’t until moving to England that the transformation from Bulsara to the intergalactic Mercury would happen. In The Definitive Biography, a friend recounts his memories of hanging out with Mercury on his return to Zanzibar: “We’d cycle to Fumba in the south, Mungapwani in the northeast, the site of the old slaves’ caves… we’d swim, eat snacks, climb coconut trees. We were mischevious but not bad”.

Under pressure

Away from their youthful adventures, however, a political and social storm was brewing. After gaining its independence from Britain in 1963, Zanzibar’s power passed into the hands of an Arab ruling elite – despite the Afro-Shirazi Party winning 54 per cent of the electoral vote. Furious that the party, which represented Zanzibar’s African majority, had lost out, revolutionaries overthrew the Sultan and his government in 1964. In the aftermath of the coup, Arab and South Asian Zanzabaris were targeted in reprisal attacks. A headline from a Los Angeles Times report of the time declares “Hasty Mass Burials Prevent True Count; Toll of ‘Political Suspects’ May Hit 4,000”. Years on, the BBC website is no closer to knowing an exact figure – saying only that “as many as 17,000 people were killed”. During these events, the Bulsara family fled the country – with England in their sights.

For Mercury, the move opened a world of possibilities. “He really wanted to come to England,” his mother later told BBC radio. “Being a teenager, he was aware of these things in Western countries and they attracted him.” In London, Mercury flourished. After A-Levels, he enrolled on a course at Ealing College of Art, where he met bass player Tim Staffell, who was in a band called Smile with May and Roger Taylor. In 1970, Mercury replaced Staffell, and Queen was born.

During a spectacular career, Queen would monopolise the number 1 single slot for nine weeks with Bohemian Rhapsody, perform what’s widely regarded as the greatest-ever live gig at the Live Aid concert in 1985, and send audiences around the world wild. One of these tours took Mercury back to his African roots when in October 1984 the band played at Sun City in South Africa. However the run received huge criticism as the British Musicians’ Union’s boycott of the venue was still in place, in protest at South Africa’s continued policy of apartheid. “We’ve thought a lot about the morals of it,” said May at the time, “and it is something we’ve decided to do. The band is not political – we play to anybody who wants to come and listen.”

While in South Africa, the band made some amends. As Mercury rested a damaged throat, which had led to several cancelled dates, his guitarist accepted an invitation to present an award in Soweto. “Moved by the welcome he received, May vowed that Queen would come back some day and play for the Sowetans,” recounts Phil Sutcliffe in Queen: The Ultimate Illustrated History of the Crown Kings of Rock.

While Soweto is still waiting for its show, Queen have since performed elsewhere in South Africa – namely at Nelson Mandela’s 46664 charity concert in March 2005. But the show went on, of course, without Mercury, who died in London on November 24 1991 of Aids-related bronchial pneumonia. The 45 year old had publicly announced he was HIV positive just 24 hours before.

Buried past

As with his diagnosis, Mercury was cagey about his heritage. When asked about his roots in
a 1977 interview with NME, he responded: “Oh you sod! Don’t ask me about it. Read my bios. Oh, it’s so mundane.” Even Tony Brainsby, Queen’s first publicist, was none the wiser: “He was very secretive about his background… He was fairly dark-skinned… so there was no disguising that he came from somewhere off the beaten track, or at least had exotic parents.”

Whether his decision to hide his background was born of a desire to fit in, a lack of interest or self-denial, Mercury’s loss of contact with his Zanzibari roots – and the exodus of 1964 – means little is known about his time on the island. “I don’t know anything… there is no one left here who knows” a local Indian shopkeeper says in The Definitive Biography (first published in 1998). “Local people don’t understand. Who was this person anyway?” Since then, however, few can have failed to have heard of Mercury. In 2006 a Freddie Mercury-themed restaurant on the waterfront of Zanzibar’s capital city, Mercury’s, drew up plans to hold a 60th birthday party in the singer’s honour. However the celebration was cancelled after the Association for Islamic Mobilisation and Propagation declared: “We do not want to give our young generation the idea that homosexuals are accepted in Zanzibar”.

Today Mercury’s name is woven into the history of Zanzibar and India – just as these countries left their mark on him. “If you know that Freddie was born in Zanzibar, then went to India, then came to London… then you can see multiculturalism in Freddie Mercury and the way he used his voice,” says Rudi Dolezal, director of Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story. Mercury’s own analysis of his technique, especially being able to hit the high notes, was less exotic: “I used the Demis Roussos method: you get a pair of pliers under the frock and go ‘crack’. ”

African arts, culture + politics · Travel

I Love… Casablanca

simo

(ARISE magazine, issue 16) TV presenter Simo Benbachir guides us around Morocco’s largest city, from where to eat the tastiest couscous to the best view in town

Squala
Located in an 18th-century bastion, Squala has a rustic interior and a delightful garden, surrounded by flower-draped trellises. Their traditional Moroccan breakfast is mouthwatering; the fresh fruit juices are wonderful and the tagines are fabulous, especially the lamb. I go at teatime to escape the stress of Casablanca and on Fridays for its legendary “couscous time”!
Boulevard des Almohades

SkyBar
Skybar is classic and very elegant. When it’s hot I have a drink at the lounge by the pool or at the bar. It’s home to Casablanca’s jet set – locals and tourists stay there until 2am having fun. The music’s great, from hip hop to house.
Boulevard de la Corniche

Le Carré
After a drink at Skybar, if I want to stay out I go down to Le Carré: a club with good music and good vibes. It’s better to go midweek as it’s packed on the weekend. On Wednesdays the DJ plays hip hop remixes – I can dance all night. It’s a bling-bling place, so be sure to have plenty of cash in your wallet.
Boulevard de la Corniche

La Suite
La Suite isn’t far from Twin Center, Casablanca’s new downtown. I go there for after-work parties and happy hour. As the owner and chef are French, the menu is too, and it’s delicious. Although I also like their hamburger. It’s a good place to meet your friends for a quiet dinner or to dance in the mojito bar. I give it two thumbs up.
Rue Jean Jaurès, Quartier Gauthier

Lizarran
My best friend is Spanish but has lived in Morocco since she was a kid, and she introduced me to Spanish culture. I go to Lizarran because I love the tapas bar with great sangrias and wines. The selection is extensive and a waiter comes around every so often to offer tapas fresh from the oven as well. I like dining downstairs then ending with the DJ upstairs.
Boulevard d’Anfa

Relais de Paris
I go here for lunch. There’s an elegant terrace, with a view of La Corniche, the beachside promenade. The food is excellent – modern brasserie style, with superb desserts. At midday the cream of Morocco’s business world arrive for lunch. It’s great for a romantic evening too or a night with friends or colleagues.
Boulevard de la Corniche

SKY 28
If you’re in town for a visit, Sky 28 is a must for the view alone. It’s located in the Kenzi Tower Hotel in the heart of Casablanca, with a breathtaking view of the skyline. It’s a wonderful location for afternoon tea and pre- and post-dinner drinks in the bar, listening to live piano music, before the DJ takes over.
Boulevard Mohamed Zerktouni

Rick’s Cafe
Rick’s Cafe, the mythical saloon from the 1942 film Casablanca, is set in a mansion with a courtyard in the Old Medina of Casablanca. The restaurant is intimate, with a view of the fishing port, and it has an international menu that specialises in Casablanca’s fresh fish, vegetables and fruit.
Boulevard Sour Jdid

Le Cabestan
I’d recommend this place for couples, as the atmosphere is quite intimate. If you’re seated by the huge windows overlooking the ocean I’m not sure you’ll ever want to leave. The bathrooms are one of a kind, very spacious with a big couch. It has excellent service, great food, a fine wine list and is open all afternoon – perfect for a business lunch after an interminable meeting.
Boulevard de la Corniche

Saveurs du Palais
Saveurs du Palais is an authentic Moroccan restaurant. Here the chef pays attention to detail: the couscous is done as it should be, the pastries are fresh and tasty and the mint tea is homemade. The owner is such
a nice person and takes care of you personally.
Rue Jallal Eddine Essayouti

African arts, culture + politics

Flashback: August 1986. Paul Simon releases Graceland

paul

(ARISE magazine, issue 16) Over a quarter century has passed since Paul Simon went into a Johannesburg studio with a host of South African musicians, defying the UN cultural boycott. But the ‘was he right or wrong?’ debate rages at the core of every Graceland anniversary review, casting a shadow over a universally acclaimed album.

In new documentary Under African Skies, Joe Berlinger looks at the album’s legacy, but the story isn’t a South African one. Guitarist and Graceland collaborator Ray Phiri lamented in an interview with South Africa’s Times Live. “Other individuals haven’t started telling their stories yet… There are gaps and holes. And these are the South African stories.” Even Simon admits in the film “I don’t know what the internal debate was here.”

However the US singer was well aware of the situation. Harry Belafonte advised him to tell anti-apartheid party the African National Congress (ANC) he was coming but Simon ignored the singer and civil rights campaigner. And though he refused to play the boycotted casino resort Sun City, Simon felt his recording visit was justified. “To go and play Sun City would be like going over to do a concert in Nazi Germany at the height of the Holocaust,” he told Rolling Stone in 1987. “But what I did was to go over and play to the Jews.”

Adopted in 1980, UN resolution 473 called for a cultural boycott of South Africa – backed by the ANC, the UK-based Artists Against Apartheid movement (AAA) and other international groups. “We saw Paul Simon coming as a threat and an issue,” remembers Dali Tambo, AAA founder and son of ANC politician Oliver Tambo. The concern, Amer Araim from the UN Centre Against Apartheid told the LA Times in 1987, was that “the apartheid regime is utilising them [artists] to show the people that everything is business as normal.”

Despite Graceland going triple platinum within a year in South Africa, Simon was blacklisted by the UN, a mark that was only lifted once he had promised he would not play in the country. The advocacy of Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela – who both spent over 30 years in exile in protest against apartheid – certainly helped. “[Graceland] revealed the excellence of our indigenous urban and rural music,” said Masekela, “leading listeners to lean on their governments, to turn their backs on the racist regime that had destroyed the entire Southern African region”.

Politics wasn’t the only issue dogging Simon and Graceland. While the South African musicians had been paid generously (triple the NY studio rate), some complained that they had not been properly credited. Chicano group Los Lobos accused Simon of stealing songs from them, while Phiri claimed co-songwriting credits on Crazy Love and Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes – although he later said he had “no hard feelings” and recently joined Simon on his Graceland 25th anniversary tour.

Further criticism of Graceland was that Simon hadn’t written any anti-apartheid songs to add to the growing canon, which included: The Special AKA’s Free Nelson Mandela, Eddy Grant’s Gimme Hope Jo’anna and Stevie Wonder’s It’s Wrong (Apartheid). But Simon admitted, “I realised I’m not capable of telling a South African story, nor did I have the right to.” Despite this, Graceland and its 1987 world tour were far from apolitical, with Miriam Makeba’s Soweto Blues, Hugh Masekela’s Bring Him Back Home, and the entire line-up joining in on a rendition of then-unofficial national anthem Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (Lord Bless Africa).

With South Africa off limits, Simon took the tour to Zimbabwe – but criticism still dogged him. Phineas Ndlovu wrote in Zimbabwe’s Herald newspaper ”Paul Simon stands like some explorer or missionary in 19th century Africa surrounded by a group of singing, tribally dressed Africans. The European is the center of attraction… the master.” However the event itself was harmonious – uniting white and black Zimbabweans with the 2,000-plus South Africans who had crossed the border.

Apartheid’s death knell sounded in 1992 and Graceland finally came to South Africa, with concerts in Joburg, Port Elizabeth, Durban and Cape Town. The boycott over, the ANC gave their support and even held a reception for Simon. “It’s poetic that it finishes like this,” said Simon. “I can feel a sense of completion and move on”. His 2012 reunion tour – where he was joined by Hugh Masekela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and, for the first time, Jimmy Cliff (who sang on pro-boycott song Sun City) – shows that while he may have moved
on, the power and legacy of Simon’s music remains.

African arts, culture + politics · London culture · Travel

Land of my father

richard

(ARISE magazine, issue 16) Richard E Grant lives in two timezones: “I wear my late father’s watch on the left, set to Swazi time, and one my wife gave me set to GMT on my right. It’s both sentimental and practical.” It’s also a sign of the strong hold Africa still has over the actor, who spent his formative years on the continent.

Born Richard Esterhuysen to a South African mother and his education minister father, Grant grew up in the British Protectorate of Swaziland, which became independent in 1968. In 1982, after studying at the University Of Cape Town (UCT), Grant came to the UK and five years later made his name as Withnail – the narcissistic, acerbic, out-of-work thespian of Withnail & I.

He’s gone on to play many more scathing anti-heroes; from George in Gosford Park to Larry Lefferts in Martin Scorcese’s The Age of Innocence. But while he does a good line in English toff, Swaziland still looms large in his life. He documented his childhood in the 2005 film biopic Wah-Wah and returns every year. Despite a reputation for satirising Hollywood – his book With Nails: The Film Diaries Of Richard E Grant is full of candid anecdotes – Grant is always in demand. He voiced Cecil in new South African 3D animation Zambezia, and joins comedy duo Kath & Kim in the upcoming Kath & Kimderella.

How did you get involved in Zambezia?
I was in Johannesburg for a couple of days finishing a BBC documentary about the history of safari and was asked to record the voice for this cartoon character. The bonus of doing a voiceover role is that it gets done quickly, doesn’t require costume or make-up and is very enjoyable to record. Playing an ugly marabou [stork] was a good laugh.

You have retained a strong connection to Swaziland, what draws you back?
I usually go once a year as my father is buried there and I still have many friends from my childhood. I was last in the country for the Bushfire Festival [in May], which was a real pleasure. I was good friends with Jenny Thorne, whose sons Jiggs and Sholto created the House On Fire open-air theatre in Malkerns, and they asked me to be a patron. It was my first taste of the festival – and unforgettable.

After graduating, you co-founded the Troupe Theatre Company, described as ‘multi-racial’ and ‘avant-garde’. Was it unique for the time?
We founded the company in 1980 at the People’s Space theatre [now The Space Theatre] in Cape Town. The opening production was David Hare’s Fanshen; about the Chinese communist revolution. This prompted the censors to fly down from Pretoria to decide whether we were legally allowed to perform. It put us on the theatrical map. Working with actors I really trusted was an incredibly important grounding for me.

How vibrant is the film industry and theatre world in Swaziland now?  
Since the advent of TV and the exodus of British expats the once-thriving amateur scene is a destitute shell of what it once was.The House On Fire is now the epicentre for all things artistic in the kingdom.

You directed Wah-Wah in Swaziland. What was the country like as a film location?
No film had ever been made there before so everything had to be imported. We had crew and cast from England, France and South Africa, as well as trainees and crowd extras from Mbabane. We had full co-operation from the government and police departments, which made it possible to complete the film on schedule and on budget.

Media coverage of Swaziland tends to focus on King Mswati III’s wives, the Reed Dance and its high HIV rate. What do you make of it?
The politics of Swaziland are very troubling. How the king can justify buying a private plane and amassing an army in the smallest country in the southern hemisphere – and purportedly be worth £150million – while asking for more loans from world banks I find very depressing. Hopefully the Jasmine Revolution will filter south and the decades of dictatorship and despots holding their countries to ransom, while amassing fortunes stashed away in Switzerland, are numbered.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m making a documentary about French impressionists for the BBC, then start filming in London this October on Dom Hemingway, with Jude Law.

[Boxout] R.E.G.’s 5 Swaziland must-do’s

1 Take a drive through the mountains of Piggs Peak past the Maguga dam
2 Buy anything you can afford from Coral Stephens handweaving shop
3 Climb Sibebe mountain in Pine Valley
4 Swim in the hot springs in the Ezulwini valley, called the Cuddle Puddle
5 Visit the House On Fire venue for music and food at Malandela’s restaurant and spend some nights at Mkhaya game reserve

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Pulling the strings

puppet

(ARISE magazine, issue 16) After providing the lifelike neighs and nuzzles that have charmed audiences of theatre-hit War Horse, Cape Town’s Handspring Puppets could be forgiven for dismounting for a while. Instead, the team is busy reviving their 20-year-old puppet drama Woyzeck On The Highveld for a US tour and organising a platform for their home town’s Out The Box Festival next year. “It’s a good time for puppetry,” says Basil Jones who co-founded Handspring with Adrian Kohler.

Creating the War Horse puppets was an epic undertaking. First came the research. “We watched videos, visited museums, talked to people who’d seen horses die, listened to recordings of horse sounds,” lists Jones. “We also spent time with the King’s Troop in England, one of the few military regiments that still work with horses and draw gun carriages like they did in WWI.”

The attention to detail paid off. On stage the puppets – made out of carefully-curved strips of cane – are seen whinnying, braying and cantering across the stage like the real thing. To make a full set of War Horse puppets
– including horses, a goose, two or three swallows, crows and cavalry officers – takes around nine months. And with shows pulling in crowds in London, New York, Toronto, Australia, Berlin, not to mention the ongoing UK and US tours, the Cape Town workshop rarely winds down.

Where there was once just Jones, Kohler and a few freelancers, there are now 20 full-time employees and part-time puppeteers touring shows abroad. Recruiting is an organic process thanks to the training programmes Handspring runs for people with no previous experience of making puppets or, sometimes, even working. “We’ve got guys that have come through from the bottom and are now making horse heads, which is highly sophisticated and skilled,” says Jones. “We’re really proud of them.” A new non-profit arm, Handspring Trust, is also reaching out to townships and informal settlements around Cape Town.

handspringpuppet.co.za

African arts, culture + politics

Social science

science

(ARISE magazine, issue 16) In Uganda, pop out for coffee and you may learn something that could save your life. Science Café Uganda is a popular format in which ordinary people gather in a café, church or school to learn about science in a simple, accessible way.

“We found that when you discuss abstract ideas, people aren’t so interested,” says Christine Munduru, responsible for communications at the company. Instead, experts talk on a topic of the community’s choice – diabetes, domestic violence or living with HIV. Afterwards the floor is opened for a Q&A session. The Science Café Uganda team are uploading videos of debates to YouTube.

sciencecafeuganda.org

African arts, culture + politics

Key player

samuel

(ARISE magazine, issue 16) Pianist Samuel Yirga is at the melodic heart of Ethiopian collective Dub Colossus. But left to his own devices, as he is on his brilliant debut long player Guzo, the 27 year old shows us his keyboard skill set stretches to classical, jazz and Latin too. “I took good experiences from the Dub Colossus tour and how audiences accept your experimental works,” he says.

Dub Colossus came about after producer and aid worker Dan Harper started a home studio in Ethiopia and called on local musicians to come and record. After Harper got in contact with him, producer Nick Page came to Addis and took recordings of the musicians back to the UK. “Three years later he rang five of us and he told
us he wanted to work with us,” remembers Yirga. “So we processed everything, went to the UK and made the first album with Dub Colossus. After that we started touring, and it’s been a great time for all of us”.

Despite now striking out on his own, Yirga has continued working with Page, who produced Guzo. “Nick opened my mind and really made me think broader,” he says. “He is an amazing guy, like a father or big brother.”
Ethio-jazz and its variants are popular in Addis Ababa, and when he’s not in his studio, producing or working on his R&B album, Yirga is playing in one of the city’s jazz bars: “Every Monday I play in Guramayle and on Wednesdays in a new bar called Jazz Amber”. Ethio-jazz is definitely unique though, he says: “There
are different styles in each group, for example I have a group Nubian Arc which plays Ethio-funk and jazz. Another group plays experimental Ethio-jazz and you can see the difference. It’s really bringing a change to the audience”.

On Guzo, Yirga enlists the varied talents of The Creole Choir of Cuba, British/Iraqi singer Mel Gara and Nigerian-British vocalist Nicolette. And he has a whole list of other artists he’d like to collaborate with, from established Ethiopian musicians such as singer, masenqo and krar player Alemayehu Fanta – “he’s amazing” – to acclaimed American jazz pianist Chick Corea, and Alicia Keys. Ms Keys are you listening?

Guzo [Real World Records] out now

African arts, culture + politics

Inside the circle

cypher

(ARISE magazine, Issue 16) When South African filmmaker Bryan Little was commissioned by Red Bull SA to shoot some short films for its Beat Battle, he was so amazed by the talented township street-dance crews he met that he decided they warranted a feature-length documentary. The result, The African Cypher, won the Audience Award for Best South African Film at this year’s Encounters Documentary Festival, was selected for the 2012 Durban International Film Festival and has rightly attracted a lot of interest overseas.

“The Cypher is the circle, especially in b-boy culture, where the battles and expression take place,” explains Little. “The name developed out of a sense that the circles, formed when people dance informally, are places of power, expression and identity”. The film takes the viewer around South Africa – predominantly Soweto, Orange Farm, Mohlakeng, Cape Town and the Cape Flats. “These areas are mostly known for being low-income or impoverished areas,” says the director. “But our experience was one of incredible richness in culture, courage and hospitality. We really tried to integrate ourselves into the lives of the dancers and the communities from a place of respect”.

The result is an intimate, candid and electric record of a vibrant dance scene, and likely to propel its protagonists into the spotlight. Prince and Mada of featured pantsula crew Shakers & Movers are now working on a theatre piece and have teamed up with the Cape Town b-boy crew. “Before the Red Bull event the b-boys had never seen pantsula [dance] and the pantsulas had only seen really bad attempts at b-boying in Soweto,” says Little. “Now they are performing together we might see some pantsula footwork in the b-boy six-step and, who knows, some flares in pantsula. In South Africa there’s an incredible propensity for innovation so there is no limit to what can happen.”

facebook.com/theafricancypher

African arts, culture + politics

Recipe for success

marcus

(ARISE magazine, Issue 16) Adopted from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, made in America, celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson has blended the ingredients of his bittersweet life and come out sizzling

Out of the kitchen to launch his latest book, Marcus Samuelsson has walked right into the fire. It should be a time for celebration, but the release of his memoirs Yes, Chef, has instead put the 42-year-old in hot water. First there was The New York Observer’s scalding critique, in which writer Eddie Huang scoffed that Samuelsson’s famous Harlem restaurant Red Rooster “fails utterly in its goal of paying homage to the neighbourhood, coming off instead like an embarrassing exercise in condescension, much like the book”.

Speaking to Samuelsson days after the piece was published, on the eve of his US book tour, he was clearly still angry and quick to disregard Huang’s comments. “I don’t look for validation. I look at our work here and our purpose here, and whether someone is going to agree with that or not it doesn’t matter. I’m still gonna be here.

“As an African, we’re used to getting jumped at left and right – we get tested all the time… I recognise when somebody tries to enter themselves into the conversation. We live in a world now where even if you don’t produce good content you can just jump in by screaming at those people who do”. He could equally be talking about another man not best pleased with what’s in Yes, Chef: British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. In the book, Samuelsson claims Ramsay called him a “fucking black bastard” during an enraged phonecall back in 2000. Ramsay denies the allegation, his spokesperson describing it as “completely false and extremely offensive”.

While Samuelsson says elsewhere in Yes, Chef that he has “no big race wounds”, he does recall a bully at school in Sweden asking him why he wasn’t good at playing “negerboll” (neger is Swedish for ‘negro’). “Me and my sister just wanted to be like Swedish kids but we couldn’t,” he says. “That’s why it’s so sweet just to be here [in Harlem]. When we stand out it’s because of our actions, not anything else”.

HARLEM’S GLOBETROTTER

As the owner and executive chef of Red Rooster Harlem, Samuelsson has carved out a niche – bringing his own twist and glamour to the neighbourhood’s legendary soul-food scene. It’s been a long journey to the top. After studying at the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg, Samuelsson apprenticed in Switzerland, France and even on cruise ships. In 1994 he arrived in America to take up an apprenticeship at Aquavit, and a year later was made executive chef at the Nordic-inspired restaurant. Within three months he had received a prestigious three-star rating from The New York Times – the youngest chef ever to do so – and went on to win two titles from the James Beard Foundation (the Rising Star Chef Award in 1999 and Best Chef In New York in 2003). In 2009 Samuelsson reached the pinnacle of his career when he was asked to cook for Barack Obama at his first state dinner. His fame shows no sign of waning, with regular appearances on TV shows including his own series Urban Cuisine, Top Chef Masters (which he won in 2010), The Today Show and Dr Oz. Yes, Chef is his fourth book, and Red Rooster is only one of his restaurants (the others are Ginny’s Supper Club, newly opened downstairs at Red Rooster; Marc Burger in Chicago; and Costa Mesa – with Norda and Street Food in Sweden). He also has a website, FoodRepublic.com, “for men who want to eat and drink well”.

Given his eventful life story, public squabbles are unlikely to concern Samuelsson too much. “My mother walked 75 blocks – that was a test in life,” he says, “A real test in life”. He’s referring to his birth mother; the woman who in 1971, in the small Ethiopian village of Meki, gave birth to a boy called Kassahun Tsegie. When he was three years old, his mother put him on her back and, with his sister Fantaye in tow, set out on the long road to the capital Addis Ababa, in search of treatment for the tuberculosis all three had contracted. Seventy-five miles later they reached the hospital – but Kassahun Tsegie’s mother died shortly afterwards. The two siblings recovered and a year later were adopted by a white Swedish couple, Lennart and Anne-Marie Samuelsson, taken to Sweden and renamed Marcus and Linda.

In a recent piece for Huffington Post, Is That Your Baby? Growing Up a Child of White Parents, Samuelsson recalled his childhood with “the original Brad and Angelina (if Brangelina lived in a small fishing town and made cabbage rolls”. “There was so much love, so much positive energy. I never heard my parents say,  ’We have adopted kids’. The minute my sister Linda and I landed in Sweden, we were their kids.” In our Big Question feature in Issue 13, ARISE asked ‘Should non-Africans be able to adopt African children?’ How would Samuelsson have answered? “It’s a complex issue and I think that sensitivity and tone are the key things. It worked for me and my sister but it might not work for everyone else… [and] as I said in the Huffington Post, maybe one day there’ll be an African family adopting from Europe.”

Despite their differences, one thing united the family: food. “We had to learn how to create our sense of family value, and food became this thing that we hung on to,” says Samuelsson. “In my Ethiopian family it could be a tribal handshake, it could be singing, it could be language – we had other ways to connect. When you are a large family you figure out what can be that connecting tie.”

In his online biography, Samuelsson reminisces about how he nourished a love for food in Sweden: “Every morning I went fishing with my dad, Lennart, and my uncles. We caught crayfish, lobsters and mackerel, and often smoked and preserved the catch. My grandmother, Helga, would gather us in the kitchen to teach us how to pickle fresh vegetables, and make meatballs, ginger snaps, cookies, and apple jam”. The legacy of his childhood is still apparent in his cooking today, where the emphasis is on fresh and local ingredients. At Red Rooster you can snack on Swedish delicacies, including pickles, cured meats served with lingonberry jam, and Helga’s Meatballs, which even Huang had to concede are “excellent”.

But on the menu you’ll also find African specialities – from coffee and tea to injera, the spongy bread that is a staple in Ethiopian cuisine. They’re souvenirs of Samuelsson’s first return trip to Ethiopia in 2000. “I got to know about myself, I got to know about different types of food and I developed an African and Ethiopian side to me that I didn’t have before,” he says. Another thing he didn’t know until his sister Linda decided to dig into the family history was that he wasn’t an orphan after all – his father was still alive and he had eight half-brothers and half-sisters. How was the reunion? “It was amazing and very strong,” he enthuses. “I didn’t know him the way I knew my Swedish father but there are other things you pick up like language, his laughter, his walk. He is a tribal leader… and my mother sacrificed herself so that me and my sister would be able go to the hospital, so I knew there was a lot of strength within my family and that has helped me each time I’ve had obstacles in my life.”

Samuelsson later travelled to 20 different African countries, including Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, South Africa, Tanzania and Zanzibar. Unsurprisingly, exploring African food was a highlight. “I stayed with families. I wanted to know it from a family point of view rather than a restaurant point of view,” he says. The trip resulted in the book The Soul Of A New Cuisine, which is full of beautiful photography, stories and recipes from the trip. Samuelsson also went on to create a pan-African menu for the since-closed Merkato 55 in New York. Would he give it another go or even launch his own pan-African restaurant? “It depends,” he says thoughtfully. “Here at Rooster we have a lot of African-inspired dishes and I feel that a lot of the dishes that I wanted to do there [at Merkato 55] I encompass in my restaurants and those dishes are very popular… I wanted to create a menu from Harlem: African-American cooking, Caribbean, Puerto Rican, Mexican food – but also immigrant food from Africa and Sweden.”

THE RIGHT INGREDIENTS

The staff at Red Rooster are as diverse as the cuisine they serve. Says Samuelsson: “Asian, black, white, Jewish, Christian… with a diverse team we’re gonna be more set up for understanding the customer and we can cook better food.” He is also helping to inspire the next generation in his role as a UNICEF ambassador and through the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), an organisation that since 1990 has provided culinary training and employment opportunities for young people. Samuelsson has been hands on, taking on graduates from C-CAP to work in his kitchens. “Having my restaurant and being on TV is a platform,” he says. “Coming from where I come from you have to give back”.

With the notoriously antisocial hours of a chef and all his philanthropic activities – not to mention building a relationship with his estranged daughter, Zoe, who was raised by her mother Brigitta with financial support from Samuelsson – it’s a wonder Samuelsson has any free time. But when he does, chances are he’ll be spending it with his wife, Ethiopian model Maya Haile, who he married in Addis Ababa in 2009. “Marcus was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden and then moved to Harlem,” Haile told Glamour magazine six months after the wedding. “I was born in Ethiopia, raised in Holland and then moved to…Harlem. How many people have experienced those things? Right away our shared backgrounds were something we connected on. And we both love basketball.” And, of course, food. “I cook at home but so much of my time is spent in the restaurant,” says Samuelsson. “My wife cooks a lot of Ethiopian food, which is great. When I want a good Ethiopian stew I just go home and it’s right there”. In Haile, Harlem and his passion for food, Samuelsson has finally found a place to call home.

Homelessness

Invisible People film UK homeless

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(The Pavement, 17 July 2012)  “Hold on a minute.” Seconds after meeting Mark Horvath, founder of pioneering US video blog Invisible People, he disappears into the crowd outside Charing Cross station. He’s spotted three sitting men by the entrance and wastes no time in getting acquainted. “You guys sleeping rough? Want some socks?” he asks cheerfully, before kneeling down to chat properly while commuters stream by unseeing. Horvath seems to have a radar for homeless people, which is unsurprising given he has dedicated his life to trying to help them. One of the men agrees to be filmed and as he recounts his experiences, passers-by look over curiously. With a camera in his face, he’s no longer invisible.

Making homeless people visible is exactly why Horvath set up InvisiblePeople.tv in 2008. Some 17 years ago he too had been homeless, living on Hollywood Boulevard, and knew what it was to be ignored, to not be able to tell his story. He managed to rebuild his life, built a successful career in television and settled into a three-bedroom house (“I know the best of both worlds – I know how to dumpster dive and how to tie a Windsor knot”) – and then economy crashed around him. Facing homelessness for a second time, he decided to set up Invisible People and go on the road. “It wasn’t the best timing. I had just lost my house to foreclosure, was facing my own financial crisis and it was a really dark time.” However he was embraced by the social media community and the site flourished. Today Invisible People has three million views on YouTube and 18,000 followers on Twitter. “The amazing statistic about Invisible People is the amount of people that stay,” adds Horvath. “Twenty-five per cent stay longer than 10 minutes and 14 per cent stay longer than half an hour. That’s huge.” Its success is the subject of upcoming documentary @home, which follows Horvath on his 2010 Invisible People road tour, meeting homeless people from Las Vegas to LA.

Right now, though, Horvath is in the UK on a whirlwind visit (thanks to free airfare from British Airways), taking in London and Chippenham (home of the Doorway Project). Although this is his first time in the capital, Horvath says he has no desire to do anything touristy: “I’m here just to meet homeless people, meet homeless friends. Most people would probably want to go to Big Ben or the London Eye. I’ll eat fish and chips and that will be it!”

Already the site is populated with videos of people he’s met so far in London. The first features 22-year-old Natasha, who has been living on the streets of London for four years. Leaning on her crutches, she quietly explains why she hasn’t been housed (“I’m not a drug addict, I’m not an alcoholic and I’m not pregnant, and they’re three things that get you help”) and her face lights up as she shares her dream of being a writer.

Filming the piece was tough, said Horvath, “I didn’t know what to ask her – it broke my heart… because I know what a young girl has gone through or will go through on the streets”. Already the video has been watched more than 160,000 times on YouTube, and attracted everything from offers of support, a place to live and a hand in marriage to vitriolic comments suggesting she is lying, on drugs and should get a job in McDonalds or as “a street hooker”. Nadia Gomos aka @Homelessgirl1 examined the responses in her blog post Analysing The Controversy Surrounding The “Natasha” Video (now on Huffington Post), concluding “All I know about Natasha is two minutes’ worth of footage on a person who has lived for 22 years… Whether we like it or not, we as a society have failed her.” Even Horvath comes under criticism, with one commenter writing: “Had an email back from Invisible People and they don’t have any contact details or way of contacting her, seems to me to be completely pointless highlighting a problem on a personal level like they did and then not enabling people to help that person.”

The aim of Invisible People, however, is not to act as an agent between individual homeless people and the general public, but to encourage passers-by to notice the homeless people they walk past every day. Nevertheless Horvath is not naïve that he or those he films won’t face criticism or appraisal: “The interesting thing about the internet is that everybody is up for review, so you have to live transparently. And there are always people that are going to be negative. This is how I responded, because it’s the truth; when you saw me homeless, would you have believed me when I told you I used to work in television?”

And despite the negative feedback, Horvath is still a big believer in the transformative and supportive power of social media. “Social media saved my life and it helps me save other people’s lives… Love and reciprocity plays really big on social media. If you’re good to people and real and tell a story people are going to react to that in a positive way.” As well as Invisible People he has set up We Are Visible, a website offering homeless visitors advice in social media literacy, from how to set up a blog to tweeting. “When I first started this I thought when a homeless person in Phoenix, Arizona or someplace says ‘I’m hungry’, the service providers would be on Twitter and say ‘hey, we have food’” says Horvath. “But what happened, which was a little more gorgeous, was homeless people helping homeless people over social media. Then I realised the power of peer-to-peer support.” In response he is in the process of turning it the site into closed network for people to help each other.

Another reason for the change is privacy. “One of first things that is so hard for a homeless person is to raise their hand in public and say ‘I’m homeless’,” explains Horvath. Since he’s been in London, he met many homeless people who although not willing to go on camera were keen to swap email addresses and keep in touch online. Horvath’s @HardlyNormal and @Invisible People timelines are full of conversations and appointment making with homeless people and service providers in London – all keen to meet or share ideas. “I landed and Jenny Edwards [CEO of Homeless Link] – she’s like an icon in homelessness here, she’s an amazing woman – she tweets me about the StreetWise Opera at the Royal Opera House. It was history in the making…it was almost like it was my destiny to be there and I was just blown away amazed.” Since the performance an online twitter petition has sprung up calling for a homeless opera at every Olympics, starting with Rio in 2016. “We’ve seen in the Middle East and other areas where social media has really led to some change,” says Horvath. “I really believe that’s where the change is going to happen. Because there’s so much money and so much bureaucracy in homeless services, that until the people on the streets have that voice you’re not going to see real change or see change happen fast.”

By voicing their views, he believes, homeless people can help homeless services ‘fix’ provision. “No homeless person I’ve ever met said ‘put in me a room with other 100 men, have me sleep on cots, give me one bathroom with two stalls and kick me out in the morning – and that’s going to cure my mental health and drug addiction. But that’s what we do.” Having been homeless and now working in a homeless shelter as his main source of income, Horvath himself is a natural intermediary. “When you listen to homeless services you hear a story. When you listen to homeless people on the streets you hear a story. And the truth I think lies somewhere in the middle. Cos everyone is going from their perspective and obviously a lot of street people are speaking out of their hurt and that’s because the system is broken. And refreshingly enough I was talking to homeless service providers last night [in London] who were saying ‘the system is broken, we got to change it, it’sjust change is slow and it’s a lot of work’.”

Horvath is optimist change can come. “When I was a kid I was a rebel, and if I saw any injustice I fought, I screamed, I yelled. And the only thing that changed was me. Now that I’m older I believe you have to work within the system, you have to make friends not enemies. I come in and say ‘hey, system’s broken, how can we fix it together?’” This approach is bearing fruit. In Arkansas, a farmer donated 40 acres of land that is being used to feed 150 low-income families a week. The Canadian government commissioned Horvath to go to 24 cities in Canada to help champion the Canadian Alliance To End Homelessness, which he says “will save thousands of lives and a lot of money”. Terry Pettigrew was reunited with his long-lost brother shortly before he died of cancer, after the Calgary Times put Horvath’s interview with Pettigrew on its front page. And that’s just the beginning.

“We live in a visual world – Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube,” explains Horvath. “Where homeless services are missing the mark is giveour homeless friends video cameras. If you’re going to give them a Smartphone make sure it has video and have them upload what their day is like. That’s where you’re going to see change.”

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1532

Homelessness

London´s internet cafe homeless hostels

entertainingangels

(The Pavement, 15 June 2012)  In 2009, a flurry of stories about Japan’s “net café refugees” filled the national media – including The Pavement. But the issue may be closer to home, with reports of homeless people sleeping in London’s 24-hour internet cafés.

However, while some internet café owners in Japan were reported as offering individual cubicles, hot food and ‘per night’ rates, not all of their London counterparts are as keen to have sleeping surfers. One owner of a 24-hour Leicester Square internet café told The Pavement that he has had to take steps to dissuade homeless clients: “We get plenty of homeless people here – that’s why I had to close [the section] downstairs. We had people every night – it was affecting business. I don’t know how they have the money. I think some of them have money but prefer to live rough.”

Another nearby proprietor has encountered a similar situation in his downstairs internet café: “We have regular customers who sometimes fall asleep – I don’t know if they’re homeless or not. We don’t allow users to sleep in the dark corners at the back any more, as one time there was someone still here when we closed.”

In December, The Irish Times reported on homeless people sleeping overnight in internet cafés in Dublin. An outreach team described the numbers as “small, but growing and significant”, with two 24-hour internet cafés in Dublin’s city centre pinpointed as being used by homeless people to sleep. One charges €10 per night and even advertises itself in a window poster as being “cheaper than a hostel”.

We asked street outreach teams in London if they have come across people sleeping in internet cafés. Mike Nicholas, communications manager at Thames Reach, says the charity’s London Street Rescue service and Street Outreach Response Teams (SORTS) have had no referrals for people sleeping in internet cafés. “For internet cafés to be viable long-term locations to sleep rough, they would probably need to be open around the clock,” he explains. “I suspect that only very central London locations would have such internet cafés and Thames Reach, which covers which cover 23 of the 33 London boroughs, doesn’t operate in London’s West End, which is looked after by other homelessness charities… Were you to have any information about locations, we would, of course, investigate in order to provide support to those homeless people.”

Feedback from St Mungos’ Westminster Street Outreach and Street Concern, gathered by Media Manager Judith Higgin, “was broadly that [there are] very few open access 24 hour internet cafés in the areas where we have outreach teams, that we’re aware occasionally of people who send emails from libraries to streetconcern@mungos.org asking for advice about their situation. But in terms of rough sleepers ‘bedding down’ in internet cafés this is not really something staff have come across.”

Liz MacEwen, senior communications officer at Camden Council, echoed this: “Although many of our clients do use internet cafés, this is not a problem that has been reported in the borough.” Online forums reveal a few hints from homeless users, such as the posting on a Yahoo forum by a homeless teenager who writes: “I’ve got nowhere to go because I’ve been thrown out of my house by my hysterical mother, so I was wondering whether or not there are Internet Cafés where I could stay till very very late… I’m 16 btw so will I be allowed to stay on my own? thank you.”

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1517

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Dele Sosimi: Afrobeat Ambassador

dele_sosimi

(ARISELIVE.com, 2012) Words Carinya Sharples

Dele Sosimi is the self-confessed ambassador of afrobeat. Ever since he became keyboardist in Fela Kuti’s Egypt 80 band in 1979 at the tender age of 16, he has been promoting the genre.

But like Fela´s former drummer Tony Allen, Sosimi has kept the spirit of afrobeat alive while also taking it into new waters. After playing with Femi Kuti´s Positive Force for eight years, he moved to London in the mid-1990s to strike out alone.

Since then Sosimi has performed at Montreux Jazz Festival, Womad and the Copenhagen Jazz Festival; hooked up with British rapper Ty; and set up his own underground night – London´s answer to The Shrine – the monthly Afrobeat Vibration sessions. Little wonder that he scooped the Outstanding Contribution to Music title at the 2011 Nigerian Entertainment and Lifestyle Awards.

His 15-piece band Dele Sosimi´s Afrobeat Orchestra is due to play at Liverpool´s Africa Oyé festival in July, so we caught up with the man himself on a rare sunny London day (“It´s like we´re back in Lagos!”) to chat Fela, future plans and what he thinks about the new afrobeats wave.

You left Lagos for London nearly 17 years ago now. How has it been?

It’s been fun. It’s been kind of a learning curve for me. I’ve mostly been experimenting with my music, and then trying to evolve the genre by making sure I don’t go stagnant. I’m always happy to try something new. When I initially got to London I was not performing in anything less than a big band but now I do trios, I do quartets, quintets, duets… so I’m ready to experiment as long as there’s a good spirit between me and whoever I’m working with.

Are you collaborating with anyone at the moment?

Right now I´m working with a Brazilian artist, we’re exchanging stuff. Who is it? Well I should keep it under wraps! It’s supposed to be a surprise thing, but I’ll tell you that I’m working on his material to start with then depending on the result we will bring him over to the UK or I will go out to Brazil. We’re not sure what will happen but we’ve got a good spirit. And the jellifying factor is Fela. He loves Fela to bits and when he heard that I was interested in collaborating with him he was over the moon and he was very quick to give me his latest album and say, ‘look listen to that and tell me what you think’.

Any other hookups?

I’m working also with my very good friend, another keyboard player who’s based in London, his name is Kishon Khan. We went to his country, Bangladesh, the year before last and performed in the first Dakar World Music Festival, which was interesting. It was one hell of a performance. We’re definitely going back very soon. But that got me collaborating with him and we’re going to be trying to release a couple of tracks very soon. I happened to also go to India this year so I’m taking afrobeat to two new territories.

You’re like the Afrobeat ambassador

Yeah, more or less. I think I can claim that I’m Afrobeat’s most interesting ambassador at the moment! I’ve taken it to Dakar, Bangladesh; I’ve taken it to Booti in South India and there’s a possibility that I’m going back very soon to those two places and this time I’ll probably stay longer and do some collaborations with local musicians, local traditional Indian musicians. So it’s looking very very interesting in terms of content that people can look forward to.

Do you have much connection with what’s happening in Lagos or Nigeria at the moment?

I try to stay in touch with what’s happening but if you’re not on the ground there there’s no point. You have to be there. And to be honest I’m not there, I’m not there at all! I keep in touch with Femi every once in a while, we chat and all that but it’s not enough. You have to be in Nigeria for you to be relevant. But I’m always looking to see what’s going on, to see what people are doing.

What do you think of the new afrobeats craze?

I don’t know much about it but I know that there’s a particular wave going around now called afrobeats. I don’t know whether it’s a fad, whether it’s a phase but I know there’s a lot about it on Twitter. I also know that a couple of people have made reference to me, Seun Kuti, Fela etc as the originals…For me art is art, I don’t like to criticise art. I think it’s an interesting wave to watch but I still remain true to my upbringing [and] school, and happy to explore, to expand the horizon as long as it’s live and real.

When I performed in India…[there were musicians on stage] surrounded by computers, playing samples, pre-recorded material on a loop… It sounded interesting enough but what I noticed was that there was no energy. When we got on stage the whole vibe changed. When you watch ten men performing afrobeat on stage there’s an energy that you feed off them that makes you move and they are feeding off your return energy.

Why do you remain an independent artist?

Lots of reasons. The industry has changed for starters and I’m a mature artist so I’m more experienced, I’m choosy, I’m picky. And I have not been able to convince myself to sign with a record label, the kind of contract that exists today, which is in my opinion not worth getting involved in. The advent of technology now gives the artist the ability to keep his destiny in his own hands. You can record an album as long as you finance it, you can pay a producer to produce with you if you don’t have those skills and then upon doing that you can release your product yourself. And with the advent of social media networks you can get involved in a lot of things. Working with an established record label is good if they are willing to work with you and earn what they work for – but they always want more.

Are you working on any of your own compositions?

I’ve got quite a number of tracks that I’ve written but – maybe because I’m old school – I don’t believe in releasing something that I have not performed well. When Fela released an album he had been playing that track in The Shrine for over three years. So the band could enter the studio with their eyes closed and record it in one take. That’s what I was exposed to, so I always like doing the same thing. I believe in getting that live feel going, having performed it so many times over and over again you get so used to it and then creatively develop it over the repeated performances so when you get in the studio you know you’re performing the best version of it you can.

What would you say is the most important thing you learnt from Fela?

Loads of different things but one of the most important things is; no matter what happens it’s better to get to your appointment two hours before and be chilled, relaxed and ready than for you to get there late and have to make an excuse. [ARISE: So much for African time!] Oh the African time thing, it’s good it’s all good and all that but to be honest we live in a world today where time is money and time don’t wait for nobody!

What I also learnt from Fela is you need to have somewhere you can be identified with, so in London I have a regular night every two months called Afrobeat Vibration, where if you want to hear what I’ve been up to that is where to go. So that’s where I have been able to keep my sanity, keep my music going, keep my creative juices flowing and also offer an environment for interested musicians, up-and-coming musicians to have an experience of playing afrobeat and funk in front of an afrobeat-loving audience. So I’m really proud of that – four years and we’re still going.

What about future collaborations?

There are a couple of people I’d love to work with. Top on my list is Questlove, it would be nice to do something with him. Last year I did something with the Copenhagen Jazz Festival where we did a Fela tribute, a star-studded line-up of the top jazz musicians based in Denmark, and it was a successful outing so I’m looking forward to doing it again this year – we’re earmarked the 13th or 14th July for that. I’m going to be doing some collaborations with Tony Allen at some point in time too, and I’m looking at collaborating with a couple of hip hop artists because I believe afrobeat is a hip hop artist’s partner – there is a lot they can take out of afrobeat as a vehicle for getting their message across.

Dele Sosimi´s Afrobeat Orchestra is performing at Africa Oyé in Liverpool this July. delesosimi.org; afrobeatvibration.com

African arts, culture + politics

Behind The Label: Vlisco´s Creative Director

vlisco-rogergerards

(ARISELIVE.com, March 2012) Words Carinya Sharples

Its high-quality, colourful designs have earned Vlisco a loyal following across Africa, and taken the Dutch company from textile empire to international catwalk brand.

Hot off the launch of Vlisco´s latest campaign, the Japanese-inspired Silent Empire, we spoke to creative director Roger Gerards about the creative process behind Vlisco´s unique designs, his role in the Six Yards Guaranteed Dutch Design exhibition and why Vlisco is (and isn´t) an African brand.

How did you come to work at Vlisco?
I studied fashion design in the Netherlands at Arnhem [Academy of Art & Design], which is quite a famous school, and I know Vlisco from that time – in the 80s. I had already visited Vlisco, because I thought their fabrics were exceptional and beautiful.

Five years ago I started at Vlisco as a design manager, head of the design textile department, and over five years I became more and more responsible for all the seasonal concepts we are making now. A year ago I became creative director of Vlisco… I was also in charge of implementing the new seasonal structure – we now bring a totally new collection to the market four times a year.

Did you use wax prints before or did you have to learn on the job?
Well, Vlisco is so exceptional and we are really the only ones who are using this [technique] in this way so I really had to learn from scratch. I had a lot of experience of fashion before but when you start working for Vlisco you have to start all over again, which is nice. It takes about a year to get used to all the techniques and the way of designing. And of course the design department is not based in the market we are working for, so you had to learn about that as well.

How did you learn about the cultural significance of Vlisco in Africa?
I travelled around to over eight countries in the beginning, to see all the places where Vlisco is sold. Benin, for example, is a country where we have a huge office and a lot of trade goes on there. Also DRC, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Mali, Niger, Burkino Faso…and of course London and Paris. I met a lot of consumers as well, and learnt how much the brand is loved. People love us, they love the fabric – they love to work with it.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
Everything! Just by living and looking around. But that´s not me – I´m head of the department and there are currently 14 designers who make those collections. I give inspiration to them: I give themes, words or thoughts, and we talk about it. I´m also responsible for the colour card, the colours we are using every season, and from that we start designing.

And you work with quite a few African designers as well?
Always. We sell not only product but also inspiration for African designers to design. Because from the collections they get ideas for fashion design as well.

Do you have any African designers in house or do you work with them on a collaborative basis?
Yes, all on projects. We have European textile designers, and now there are some designers who have an African background, but they are just good designers that we select.

You´re involved in the Netherlands exhibition Six Yards Guaranteed Dutch Design, can you tell us a bit about that?
When I started, Vlisco in Europe was seen as an exotic brand that has a lot of connections with Africa – or even is an African brand, and a lot of exhibitions until five years ago were in a museum of tropical art or colonial history etc. But I´ve always said Vlisco´s not an African brand, Vlisco´s a design brand which Africans love. And from that perspective I always thought it would be interesting to have an exhibition about Vlisco as a design brand in the Museum of Modern Art, and that´s happened now in Arnhem…The Suze May Sho artists collective told me they really liked the Vlisco brand and I gave them the key to Vlisco to make an exhibition around the brand. It´s not only about Vlisco, it´s also about African art and there´s a lot of fine art associated with the Vlisco products.

And there is a book associated with the exhibition?
There are two books, there is one about the brand, Vlisco, which is a small book meant for students. And the other is a limited-edition book about Vlisco fabrics. That for me was very important because it is really a book about the fabrics themselves; the colours, the techniques and the stories people are making around these fabrics on the market. We took a lot of effort on quality, so there are 200 designs which have been printed and the colours are quite exceptional. Each book has a different textile wrap so you really buy a unique piece – and there are only 1,000 for sale.

Traditional fabrics often have a lot of meaning attached to them. Is meaning something you consider in the design at Vlisco?
The designers take a lot of effort to design these patterns and I know they have their own ideas but we never communicate them. I always say that the designers are the father of the drawing and the consumers are the mothers, who baptise the cloth by giving it a name. And that´s really exceptional – you don´t have other products in which the consumer plays such a role. I always say we don´t sell a product but an inspiration.  We give the freedom to people to play.

Looking forward, what are you working on now?
I´m now with May/June 2013, so that´s second and third season next year. And we´re already thinking about 2014… Vlisco is different to other fashion brands. We really have our own inspiration and do our own thing every time. In that way we are a brand other brands are looking to.

Six Yards Guaranteed Design is at the Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem, Netherlands, until May 7 2012. www.vlisco.com

African arts, culture + politics · Travel

I Love… Blantyre

lomwe

(ARISE magazine, issue 15) DJ, rapper and Big Brother Africa 2011 contestant Lomwe gives us a whistlestop tour of the hottest spots in and around Malawi’s largest city

Mustang Sally
This is a really nice club on the way to town. It’s got a tropical garden, two bars and a swimming pool – you can’t use it but when it’s lit up at night it looks really cool. During the week they sometimes have a live band but I don’t go then – that’s for the mature crowd, the older folks!
CI

TJs
This sports bar is about five minutes’ drive from Mustang Sally. People usually go there to watch the Premiership games; anywhere you sit you can see a screen. They have good snacks as well – I particularly like the grilled beef strips called linunda. They come with this amazing hot sauce, which they make themselves. I don’t know what ingredients they use but it tastes real good.
Mahatma Gandhi Road

Club Makokola
This holiday resort, north of Blantyre and next to Lake Malawi, is a really popular place to go to get away from town. I last went there with Zeus [who Lomwe collaborated with on hit single Double Wowza] for a photo shoot and we went snorkelling – there are hundreds of different fish to see. You can also take a boat to Bird Island and see fish eagles in action. I’d suggest going on a Friday and coming back on Sunday – and if you go, you have to try chambo. It’s the most popular fish and only found in Lake Malawi. You can eat it in lots of ways; stewed, or served with nsima, which is made of maize.
Mangochi

Chichiri shopping mall
This is probably the main mall in Blantyre. It’s a good spot to meet someone: there are so many things at a short distance from each other – internet cafés, fast food places, restaurants. There’s a place called Café Rouge, which
is pretty cool, a sports shop, some clothing stores and a supermarket – a chain from South Africa called Shoprite – where you can get your groceries.
Chichiri

Casa MIA
This restaurant is in a nice, leafy area called Sunnyside. It’s got a cosy atmosphere and great food. The owner is English and there’s a mix of European food on the menu. I’m not really into wine otherwise I could tell you all the good wines they have. I’m more of a beer person, and if it’s not a beer then it’s probably a gin or a brandy.
Kabula Hill Road

Robin’s Park
This theatre recently opened and has only had a few shows so far. It has a capacity of around 2,000 with an arena that has the stage in the middle. I’m thinking of doing the launch show for my mixtape or another of my projects there.
Njamba

Protea Hotel Ryalls
I usually go to Ryalls to use the wifi. It’s a big, comfortable, modern hotel in the heart of town, with a small bar where you can use the internet. A lot of people go there and it’s a nice place to have a coffee or business meeting.
Hanover Avenue

The Blue Elephant
This bar has been in Blantyre ever since I can remember. It has a mini dance floor and a DJ every Friday, Saturday and Wednesday – on Wednesday they have a band and a DJ who take it in turns to play. During
the weekend lots of people go there – sometimes too many. They play a lot of African and international house music – a lot of people in Malawi like house music. The dance that goes with it is kwasa kwasa.
Kidney Crescent

Kamuzu Stadium
The stadium is named after the first president of Malawi, Kamuzu Banda. I go there with friends when there’s a big international game on – I don’t really follow the local league. It’s a good, fun day out and everyone really gets
into the football.
Near Mudi Estate

Lomwe’s new mixtape, License To Kill, is available now on http://www.lomwe.com

African arts, culture + politics

Icon: Yves Saint Laurent

yves

(ARISE magazine, issue 15) On June 6 2008, a star-studded cast of mourners assembled at Paris’s Saint Roch church to pay tribute to Yves Saint Laurent,  “the last of the traditional French couturiers” and one of the greatest names in fashion history. John Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood and Claudia Schiffer rubbed shoulders with French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Saint Laurent’s former muse Catherine Deneuve and his 95-year-old mother – as always, wearing one of her son’s coveted creations.

Yet Saint Laurent’s final resting place was not to be a conservative Paris cemetery. Instead his ashes were scattered in the desert winds of Morocco, in recognition of the deep influence Africa had on the designer’s work and personal life – from his childhood in the Algerian city of Oran, to his two decadent homes in Marrakech, to which he regularly retreated in later years.

Boy wonder

Oran was, Saint Laurent later picturesquely described, “a cosmopolis of trading people from all over, and mostly from elsewhere, a town glittering in a patchwork of all colours under the sedate north African sun”. Yet despite being born, in 1936, against such a scintillating backdrop and into a wealthy, privileged family, Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent had a difficult time growing up in Algeria. Bullied for being shy, sensitive and gay, he retreated into the transformative world of fashion, designing clothes for his mother. “Whenever they picked on me, I’d say to myself, ‘One day you’ll be famous’,” he later remembered. “That was my way of getting back at them.”

At the age of 17, Saint Laurent moved to Paris and scooped first prize in the International Wool Secretariat contest. His winning asymmetrical cocktail dress design secured him a meeting with Christian Dior, who instantly hired the young designer. Yet despite his natural talent, Saint Laurent’s ascension came about sooner than anyone expected when Dior died in 1957 and the 21 year old took over as head designer at the US$20million-a-year fashion house. In his first collection he introduced the ‘trapeze’ dress. The fashion world went wild. “Saint Laurent has saved France,” declared Le Figaro.

In 1960, Saint Laurent unveiled his fifth collection under Dior. The ‘chic beatnik’ look was inspired by Rive Gauche (Left Bank) bohemians and featured alligator motorcycle jackets, mink coats with jumper sleeves and turtlenecks under tailored flannel suits. It left the world of haute couture scandalised. Things went from bad to worse when Saint Laurent was conscripted into the French-Algerian war. Within three weeks he suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent to a military hospital. His rescue came in the form of Pierre Bergé, an art dealer he had met at a party. Bergé, who later became Yves Saint Laurent’s partner in life and business, took the frail designer home and nursed him back to health.

African air
By then, however, Saint Laurent had been replaced at Dior by his former assistant Mark Bohan. When the fashion house refused to reinstate the designer, Bergé successfully sued for £48,000 and convinced Saint Laurent
to break out on his own. In 1961 the pair launched the first Yves Saint Laurent collection, featuring what Life magazine called “the best suits since Chanel”.

Success followed and in 1967, a year after opening his prêt-a-porter boutique, Rive Gauche, Saint Laurent unveiled his landmark Africa collection. Described by Harper’s Bazaar as “a fantasy of primitive genius”, the collection showcased revealing shift dresses made with wooden beads, shells and raffia. With it, Saint Laurent set the template for African-inspired fashion for years to come – including as recently as Dolce&Gabbana’s spring/summer 2005 and Gucci spring/summer 2011. It wasn’t the only time Africa was to thread its way into the designer’s clothes: there was the 1968 safari suit; his use of colours drawn from the north African landscape; and interpretations of traditional Moroccan clothing such as the djellaba, jabador and burnous. Even in the latest Saint Laurent collection for spring/summer 2012, Vogue found the colours of north Africa in the “sand, navy and khaki palette” of designer Stefano Pilati.

Africa’s influence perhaps also explains why Saint Laurent was one of the first designers to use black models. “It’s extraordinary to work with black models,” he declared, “the way they hold their head, the legs, the body, is very, very provocative and exhilarating. It gives meaning to the whole creation, and modernity too”. While today this makes for a somewhat outdated and exoticised view, it nonetheless opened doors for black models – including Katoucha Niane from Guinea and Somalian model Iman, who Saint Laurent described as his “dream woman”.

The pied piper of fashion

Today Saint Laurent is credited with having created a new wardrobe for the modern woman. His controversial tuxedo suit Le Smoking earned him a ‘bad boy’ reputation but simultaneously achieved its intention of empowering women. On being refused entry to Manhattan’s stylish La Côte Basque restaurant, socialite Nan Kempner simply removed her trousers and waltzed in wearing an Yves Saint Laurent tunic.

Although Saint Laurent became increasingly reclusive over the years, battling with depression and drug addiction, his legacy had already cemented itself. In 1983 New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art held a retrospective of his designs. And in 1985 he was awarded the Légion d’Honneur. The 66 year old finally announced the closure of the Yves Saint Laurent couture fashion house in 2002, calling himself “the last of the fashion Mohicans”.

Although Saint Laurent’s huge collection of art, antiques and furniture was sold in 2009 (fetching a record £333million), he lives on through the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, based in his former couture house in Paris, and Jardin Majorelle, the beautiful Marrakech garden he and Bergé bought and restored to its former glory. The botanical garden also houses the couple’s extraordinary collection of Islamic art from Africa and beyond, and has become a peaceful and popular tourist attraction. And of course Saint Laurent’s legacy continues through his clothes themselves, and the sketches, designs and collections of all the designers he has inspired. As he famously once put it, “Fashions fade, style is eternal”.

African arts, culture + politics

My Favourite Things… Vieux Farka Touré

vieux

(ARISE magazine, issue 15) The Malian singer-guitarist and son of late blues legend Ali Farka Touré has just completed a new collaboration with Israeli musician Idan Raichel – The Touré-Raichel Collective – and tours America in April and May.

Zebulon, Brooklyn
This venue has the best energy. It’s where I played my first ever concert outside of Mali with my own group in 2007. It’s a small place, really cool and intimate. The crowd goes crazy there. Beautiful place.

WOMAD
It is always a really fun festival with some of the best music in the world. I played at WOMAD last year so I do not think I will play there again this year.  But of course, if they want to invite me I will be happy to play again.

The Source, Ali Farka Touré
The Source by my father, Ali Farka Touré. It is my foundation. I grew up listening to it and it is the one I put on the most when I have the choice. I cannot say why, I just love it.

The Banjo
I love the sound and I play some too. I got one when I first went to North Carolina. I associate it with bluegrass music, which is deeply connected to the music from Mali – it is very similar to our ngoni.

African arts, culture + politics · Homelessness

Far from home

stanley

(ARISE magazine, issue 15) After a starring performance in acclaimed film The First Grader, Kenyan actor Oliver Litondo could have lent on Hollywood for his next role. Instead the 63-year-old former journalist chose a part in a short film about homelessness. The Truth About Stanley centres around the eccentric Congolese homeless man of the film’s title (played by Litondo), who forms an unlikely friendship with runaway Sam, regaling the 10 year old with fantastic tales. “What he lacks in material possessions, he makes up for with his vivid imagination and an insatiable desire to tell stories,” explains director and co-writer Lucy Tcherniak. “This storytelling serves as a coping mechanism, a crutch that allows him to deal with the harsh hand life has dealt him.” Produced in association with UK street newspaper The Big Issue and homeless hostel Anchor House, the film was shot over five days in London and premieres at London arts hub Rich Mix on April 2.

http://www.thetruthaboutstanley.blogspot.com

African arts, culture + politics

Human zoo

jane

(ARISE magazine, issue 15) People with animal faces, towering security fences, mouthless mutants – the imagery used in South African artist Jane Alexander’s work is not always comfortable viewing. But it’s not her intention to unsettle says Alexander, as she prepares for a new exhibition at SCAD Museum of Art in Georgia, US: “I have responded to the social environment as I interpret it from observation and conventional research… and the images evolve from this. It would seem to me that life is often unsettling, and that South Africa has always been so.”

The exhibition, entitled Surveys (From The Cape Of Good Hope), features work dating from 1998 to as recent as last year – including the tableau African Adventure, developed during South Africa’s shift from apartheid to democracy. “I see the works as fitting into a broad project of African adventures,” explains Alexander, “referring to the continent as a site of discovery, mystery and pleasure; colonial adventure and intervention; economically driven social control and enterprise; and pervasive exploitation, discrimination and damage”.

Born in Johannesburg in 1959, Alexander grew up under the shadow of apartheid. South Africa was, she remembers, “very isolated, constrained, controlled, conservative and divided in almost every way.” And although the instruments of apartheid have long been dismantled, Alexander still finds injustices. “There is exceptional work being produced in South Africa but the art scene is still largely dominated by a privileged minority in terms of access…While this may be true of other countries, it still impacts primarily on those who were and still are discriminated against because of apartheid.”

Surveys (From The Cape Of Good Hope) is at the SCAD Museum of Art from February 21 to June 3. http://www.scadmoa.org

Homelessness

Rough sleepers predicted to live longer – 47 is the new 42

coverL68

(The Pavement, 11 February 2012) The outdated and overused statistic that “the life expectancy of someone who sleeps rough is 42 years” has finally been updated. The original figure came from Crisis’ 1996 report Still Dying For A Home (which we reported on in May 2010). The new report from Sheffield University, also commissioned by Crisis, ups this figure to 47.

But this doesn’t mean 46-year-old Pavement readers should start worrying. What the 1996 and 2011 Crisis reports calculate is not how long homeless people can expect to live, but their average age of death.

The briefing to the new report, Homelessness: A Silent Killer, makes this clear (unlike the 1996 study) by avoiding the term “life expectancy.”

In comparison to the average age of death in the so-called general population (77) it’s a shocking, headline-grabbing figure – even though the reason the figure is so low is that more homeless people die at a young age, dragging down the overall average.

Cause and effect

In the briefing to the report (which is still to be released in full), Crisis chief executive Leslie Morphy summarises: “This report paints a bleak picture of the consequences homelessness has on people’s health and wellbeing. Ultimately, it shows that homelessness is killing people.”

However, while being homeless can exacerbate existing health problems or even cause them, not having a home was not found to be the main cause of death among those counted. Instead, the study found homeless people are over nine times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, three times as likely to die as a result of a traffic accident, twice as likely to die of an infection and three times more likely to suffer from a fatal fall.

Most significantly, however, it calculated that drug and alcohol abuse account for just over a third of all deaths – a huge proportion. But drug and alcohol abuse of course also affects (and kills) members of the general population too. And as Jeremy Swain, CEO of Thames Link, commented on Twitter soon after the release of the report briefing on 21 December: “we know from robust academic research that alcohol and drug misuse nearly always precedes homelessness”.

Counting issues

The researchers also faced major obstacles in methodology. As Dr Bethan Thomas admits in the report: “Almost by definition, it is difficult to count homeless people and it is not possible to reliably estimate mortality for the previously homeless who have now found secure accommodation and so to discover what the long term effects of a period of homelessness might be. It is also difficult to count deaths of homeless persons. Death certificates do not record the deceased’s housing status.”

Despite these obstacles, Dr Thomas went ahead with the report – finding potential homeless deaths by matching postcodes from mortality data provided by the Office for National Statistics with postcodes of homeless day centres and hostel accommodation as provided by Homeless Link. In total 1,731 deaths (where the person was definitely homeless or there is a high probability they were) were counted.

What next?

Crisis has used the new report’s findings to outline a set of recommendations to improve homeless people’s health, in short: prioritise the needs of homeless people in the restructure of the NHS, reform health service delivery for homeless people and ensure provision meets needs and is integrated and holistic.

The next phase of the project, to be published in summer 2012, will investigate cause of death by age and analyse more detailed causes of death – plus, it is hoped, mortality by different accommodation type and area.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1425

African arts, culture + politics

Spoek Mathambo: Culture Vulture

spoek-sean-metelerkamp
(ARISELIVE.com, February 2012) Words Carinya Sharples   Photography Sean Metelerkamp
ARISE can’t get enough of South African rapper and producer Spoek Mathambo. After hosting his first UK performance at our Afropolitans night at the V&A, we shot him in glorious technicolour for issue 13.
These days, Mathambo’s a very busy man. As well as fine-tuning his new album, Father Creeper, and rolling around for some suitably spooky promo shots (our pick above is one of the tamer versions), he’s been exercising his producing arm with vowel-deficient Danish producer and long-time collaborator Chllngr. Together they have whipped up remixes for Lana Del Rey, Seun Kuti and the enigmatic son of South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, Alekesam (Masekela spelt backwards. Not so enigmatic after all).
Before he launches into a whirlwind round of tours – with stops in the US, Canada, South Africa and Europe – ARISE got Mathambo to sound off on annoying labels, cool collaborations and not being a political poster boy – before mining him for his hot cultural tips.

On coining the label “Township Tech”…

It’s so weird how labels work; stuff getting slapped on. It’s something that I initially coined for a lot of South African music that I was a fan of. I did a lot of DJing and my work was kind of curating exciting new South African music – hyper techy, hyper house, which was very based in South African township culture. And I just clumsily stuck that together to make it township tech.

On the first album I was so hugely influenced by that. But if you listen to the new album it’s very far from those influences. Now I pretty much just do me. The goal is to make big enough sounds, which are accessible, interesting and beautiful enough that people will just appreciate them as Spoek Mathambo’s music, and not necessarily need a tag.

On collaborating with Sauti Sol

Late last year we went to Kenya to work with R&B group Sauti Soul [look out for the band in issue 15 of ARISE, out in March]. They’re incredibly talented. Through some friends we got the link up to work with them and produced some songs.

On scoring an operetta…

There is a performance artist from Cape Town called Athi-Patra Ruga who’s making big moves. He was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary African Art in New York and produced a performance piece, Ilulwane, in which he was suspended on a ridge above about 20 synchronised swimmers He’d written it as an operetta about Xhosa initiation ceremonies mixed with some stuff about the male body, and we scored a 50-minute piece for it. That was a good collaboration.

On making music on the road…

Touring is really boring. A lot of the time you’re just waiting for sound checks, and getting drunk. I’m used to having a mobile studio on tour with me and being fully able to work. That’s how Prince has done it for years.

On working with Chllngr…

Steven [Chllngr] is a saxophonist. His music theories are pretty like tight. I come up with a lot of rhythmic and conceptual stuff. And we meet in the middle. We just have fun, and have a nice rhythm of working together. The stuff we produced together for the album was made on the road. We’re totally used to this two headphones splitter and laptop style – we’re literally in the back of a car making beats with a keyboard on batteries.

On performing with live musicians…

I’ve been doing electronic music for a while, a couple of years. I don’t appreciate the staid, really strict format with a beginning and end to it and I think that’s why I got into more having more live musicians – to have it be new and to go into different directions, to have more possibilities.

On not sticking to one thing…

What’s the need? The people I look up to are Prince, Stevie Wonder – really well-rounded artists. Every day I am less and less a rapper. I’m moving more and more towards being a musician and learning that side of it.

On making the viewer the video artist…

We’re doing the second video from this new album for the track Kites. The point of it is to have a kind of mass collaboration, where we film a part of the video and then have the rest of the video made up of contributions from digital and video artists from all over Africa. As a viewer you generate original content – you basically generate your own video. So everyone who watches it will be watching a different video. I’ve never heard of a video like that so that’s exciting.

SPOEK MATHAMBO EPK from Romain Cieutat on Vimeo.

On South Africa’s ruling ANC party celebrating 100 years…

I am absolutely into politics and I believe everything is somewhat political but looking at the ANC as something absolutely to celebrate is a bit ridiculous to me. It’s a party that shouldn’t necessarily be running the country now, and is responsible for a lot of good and a lot of bad. So stuff should be looked at absolutely critically. I’m a musician…but to be a poster boy for a political ideal that I don’t necessarily believe in is tough. I mean a lot of people do it because its profitable but that profit is taxpayers’ money – it’s ugly, it’s dicey and it’s corrupt.
It’s not like people have to vote for them because of what they’ve done necessarily. A lot of people vote for them because if they don’t another white party might win, which might mean South Africa regressing back to what it used to be – and it was a very ugly place. So it’s like to defend their freedom. And that’s what the ANC plays on a lot: the “upholders of the liberation”, “the liberation movement”, “the revolutionary house” etc etc…

On bigging up South African dance…

In the video for Let Them Talk I wanted to represent South African dance culture – not dance music, actual dancing. It’s very vibrant, very vital scene. There are so many different styles – and I don’t think the video showed this as much as even I wanted it to, so it’s going to be an ongoing goal for me for a while; to meet with and work with different dancers. There’s always new styles emerging so it’s very exciting.

On future collaborations…

As far as future collaborations go, there’s a great group from Niger, Group Inerane – two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer – who just blew me away. I saw and met them in Malmö [Sweden] when they were touring Europe a couple of months ago. They put music out on the Sublime Frequencies label. It’s just really, really great. I appreciate what they’re doing and I’d love to work with them in the future. It’s not in the works now but like to put it out into the ether…

Listening to…

Dirty Paraffin: the group [made up of Okmalumkoolkat and DJ Spizee] is putting out something new soon. They’re really, really sick – great stage presence as well.
Soulfaktor: Really nice producer. I want to work with them [Soulfaktor is part of creative hub SHO!EPIC a lot more.
The Frown: The singer Eve [Rakow] is in Johannesburg. I love her voice, it’s really, really unique.
BFG: A rap group from Durban. Bra Solomon is a sick Zulu MC. As far as Zulu rapping, I really, really rate him.

Reading…

 Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami: I’m trying to get through this because I enjoyed Murakami’s book The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It took me something like 300 pages to get to parts that I liked but I stuck it through. This time I’m not really winning. I’m still on page 150 and every page is work.
Forced Landing: Africa South Contemporary Writings, edited by Mothobi Mutloatse: This is a bunch of short stories from the 1980s from South Africa.
Connected: The Surprising Power Of Our Social Networks And How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler: It’s about human life in relation to social networks. In terms of dyads and triads, and how society’s influence works across the digital realm. How the sickness of someone you’re in contact with can make you sick, how their unhappiness can make you unhappy or how they can make you buy certain things. It also talks about social hysteria. For example, there was a laughing fit that started at a high school in Tanzania in the 1960s and spread across thousands of people and into another part of the country…It’s interesting.
Father Creeper by Spoek Mathambo, out March 12.
African arts, culture + politics · Travel

I Love… Kinshasa

Detail from illustration by Christina K
Detail from illustration by Christina K

(ARISE magazine, issue 14) Director of Congolese thriller Viva Riva!, Djo Tunda Wa Munga zooms in on the top hangouts in his native city – including locations from his award-winning film

Chez Ntemba
What I like about this nightclub is that it has a really African identity. Of course you have Congolese music but you also have South African music and music from West Africa… At the same time, Chez Ntemba is modern and contemporary. I think they’ve opened something like 10 of these clubs in Africa. I go there to hang out, stop for
a drink and watch the dancing.
Rond-point Forescom, Gombe

Chez Maman Colonel
This restaurant is known for its chicken – especially the chicken and plantain, which is very good. It’s my favourite place to go for something to eat. Kinshasa has a lot of restaurants but you don’t have many new places like this, where someone has said “we’re going to make chicken and it’s going to be delicious”, and that’s exactly what you get.
Avenue Bayaka, Kimbondo

Place Commercial
My office is right next door to Place Commercial and at the end of the day it’s nice to go out, sit there and have a beer or walk around. It’s in the suburb of Ma Campagne, where we shot many of the scenes from my film Viva Riva! It’s a cool and relaxed place with a lot of trees, but at the same time urban.
Ma Campagne, Ngaliema

Grand Hotel
The Grand Hotel is this old, old hotel. Everybody knows it, everybody goes there – they go for drinking, showing off… making sport! All the city likes hanging around there. Located in the residential Gombe area, the hotel also has great views of the river and the city.
Avenue Batetela, Gombe

Le Bloc
You’ll find Le Bloc in a neighbourhood called Bandal. It’s like a long terrace with lots of bars where you can sit and drink beer. I love stopping by here. It’s pretty noisy any day of the week but at the same time it gives you a real flavour of Kinshasa.
Bandal

The Congo River
Kinshasa is built right on the Congo, which is the second longest river in Africa after the Nile. If you look across
it, directly opposite you can see the city of Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of the Congo. For the best views
over the Congo I’d always suggest a visit to National Museum of Kinshasa.

Place du 30 Juin
This new area in front of Kinshasa’s Central Station is a bit of a people magnet. It’s under construction at the moment – on one side you have a Chinese building, on the other a piece of Arabic architecture and then there’s the old Place de la Gare. The space has a nice atmosphere and I often go there with my daughter in the morning.
Central Station, Gombe

African arts, culture + politics

Flashback: March 11 1959. A Raisin In The Sun

raisin

(ARISE magazine, issue 14) On March 11 1959, Lorraine Hansberry sat down inside the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, waiting for her play A Raisin In The Sun to begin. At the time, civil rights activists were intensifying their fight against segregation in the Deep South. Inside the theatre, history was also being made as Broadway prepared to welcome its first play written by an African-American woman.

Despite a talented cast, which included Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee and Diana Sands, the Broadway preview on March 10 received a lukewarm reception from its mostly white audience of theatre insiders. As the curtains lifted the following night, the 29-year-old playwright clutched the hand of her producer, Philip Rose, with no idea what the evening held in store.

She needn’t have worried. As the curtain was lowered, the audience roared in appreciation. Even the critics rose to their feet, calling Hansberry to join her cast on stage. “It was the most electric night I spent in the theatre,” Poitier later remembered. A Raisin In The Sun went on to enjoy a run of 500 performances, win a prestigious New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and be nominated for a Tony Award. The cast also reprised their roles for a film adaptation in 1961.

It was a welcome reward for Rose, who had spent more than a year struggling to drum up interest. “The theatre owners were concerned that there would be no black audience,” he later explained. “The other side of the coin was the producers felt if they did get the black audiences the white audiences would stay away.”

In the end, theatregoers of every colour flocked to see what all the fuss was about. James Baldwin wrote: “I had never in my life seen so many black people in the theatre. And the reason was that never before… had so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on the stage. Black people ignored the theatre because the theatre had always ignored them.”

Taking its title from Langston Hughes’ poem A Dream Deferred, which begins “What happens to a dream deferred?/Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?”, the play centres around the Younger family, who are awaiting a life insurance cheque for U$10,000 following the death of the father.

They disagree on how best to spend the money: Mama dreams of a bigger home; her frustrated son, Walter Lee, of hanging up his chauffeur’s cap and opening a liquor store; and her daughter, Beneatha, of becoming a doctor. When the family are offered money to not move into a white neighbourhood, they must decide what is more important: money or dignity.

“Mama, it is a play that tells the truth about people, Negroes and life,” Hansberry wrote to her mother in 1958, “and I think it will help people to understand how we are all just as complicated as they are – and just as mixed up – but above all, that we have among our miserable and downtrodden ranks people who are the very essence of human dignity.”

Through the Nigerian Joseph Asagai and his relationship with Beneatha, Hansberry reflected the growing Afrocentrism of black civil rights campaigners – including herself (Hansberry studied African history with pan-African author W E B Du Bois and later wrote Les Blancs, a play set in the fictitious African nation of Zatembe). It was also, noted Roots’ author Alex Haley, “the first time a large audience had seen and heard an African portrayed as carrying himself with dignity and being, moreover, a primary spokesman for sanity and progress.”

Since 1961, A Raisin In The Sun has returned in many forms including a musical adaptation, Raisin, which won a Tony Award for best musical in 1973, and George C Wolfe’s sketch The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play, which mocked the by now beloved classic. In 2004 the play returned to Broadway for a US$2.6million revival with Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs reprising the role made famous by Poitier. While reviews of Combs’ performance were mixed, Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald, who respectively played Mama and Ruth, scooped a Tony Award each and the whole cast also starred in a film version in 2008.

When Hansberry died of cancer in 1965, at the premature age of 34, Martin Luther King sent a message to be read at her funeral: “Ms Hansberry’s commitment of spirit, her creative ability and her profound grasp of the deep social issues confronting the world today will remain an inspiration to generations yet unborn.” The fact that A Raisin In The Sun continues to inspire and instruct students, actors and activists decades later is testament of the veracity of King’s prophetic words.