London culture

A Quick Guide to London Beards (Visit London Blog)

Once the favoured accessory of weathered fishermen and chin-stroking academics, the beard has had a revival in fortunes of late – and no more so than in London.

New research warns we may have reached ‘peak beard’ – but you just try telling that to East London, where the ‘hipster’ beard reigns supreme. London’s finest fuzz was even captured by photographer Jonathan Daniel Pryce in his blog-turned-book 100Beards.

We look back at some of the beard’s most famous moments in London history and culture…

The UK’s most beard friendly pub

The Cock Tavern in Hackney was recently crowned the most beard-friendly UK pub 2014. It was selected in an online poll organised by The Beard Liberation Front. It’s also where the British Beard Club hold their meetings – although that might be more to do with the pub’s great range beers from different micro-breweries – including its own.

Henry VIII. Image credit: Lucas Horenbout/ Web Gallery of Art

Henry VIII’s Beard Tax

Everyone’s favourite head-chopping king, Henry VIII, is said to have introduced a ‘beard tax’ in 1535 – despite having one himself. Walk in the king’s footsteps at his stunning former home, Hampton Court Palace.

Tower Green and the Queen's House at the Tower of London

A bearded escape at the Tower of London

On the eve of his execution in 1716, Lord Nithsdale staged a daring escape from the Tower of London. His wife and two of her friends smuggled in a set of women’s clothes and managed to sneak out the prisoner disguised as one of them – even though he hadn’t had time to shave his long beard. Visit the Tower of London for a glimpse of the site where the Lieutenant’s Lodgings (where the Lord was held) once stood – next to what is now the Queen’s House.

Weird Beard Brewery

West London brewers Weird Beard Brew Co (“all beard, no sandals”) concoct fantastically named beers like American IPA Five O’Clock Shadow, K*ntish Town Beard and Black Perle. Give them a taste for yourself at the Craft Beer Co in Covent Garden or The Harp near Charing Cross, which regularly stock Weird Beard Brews – just two of many other pubs and bars across London to do so.

Margaret Thatcher with Ronald Regan outside Number 10 Downing Street. Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.

Margaret Thatcher’s fear of beards

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had a thing against facial hair and famously declared “I wouldn’t tolerate any minister of mine wearing a beard”. See where the Iron Lady once lived by peering through the imposing gates of Downing Street.

The Beard of the Great Sphinx at the British Museum

The Great Sphinx is one of the most iconic sights of ancient Egypt – and the British Museum has a piece of this massive sculpture: specifically a fragment of its beard. It dates back to about 1500-1295 BC – possibly even further back – and was excavated at Giza in 1817. See it for yourself in Room 4 at the British Museum.

To Beard or Not To Beard window display at Selfridges London. Photograph by Gareth Davies/Snap Media Productions

To Beard or Not to Beard at Selfridges

The latest window display at Selfridges cheekily picks up on the beard/no beard debate. Titled To Beard Or Not To Beard, it features a recreated barber’s shop – with all the trimmings. Step inside and you’ll find an actual barber’s shop – a collaboration between the people behind Return of the Rudeboy (an upcoming exhibition at Somerset House), top hairdresser Johnnie Sapong and Soho salon We Are Cuts – snipping beards into shape until 12 June.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2014/06/a-quick-guide-to-london-beards/

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

junior_main

(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

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 · London culture

Dele Sosimi: Afrobeat Ambassador

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(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 · London culture

On the buses

olu

(ARISE magazine, issue 14) A mutual love of eavesdropping inspired illustrator Olu Oke and writer Michael O’Kelly to create a graphic short story set on a London bus. Now the duo’s four-page creation, Ding! (above), has been named runner-up in The Observer/Cape Graphic Short Story Prize 2011.

It’s a welcome validation for Oke who has been working in the industry for almost ten years, supplementing her work as a freelance illustrator with part-time jobs as a cinema projectionist and theatre manager. Born Oluyinka Adunola Omoyeni Oke to Nigerian parents in south London, Oke says her family’s background is a major influence on her work. “As an illustrator you tend to draw from life; if someone asks me to draw a large granny, it’s not your ubiquitous Red Riding Hood granny; it’s my granny, who is big, colourful, wears a headscarf, is always feeding you.”

However, these drawings aren’t always received well in the industry, says Oke. “If you, as a black artist, draw black characters, no one will employ you because they think that’s all you can draw. And I was told quite clearly that if I wanted to work I needed to draw white people. It’s good that someone’s that honest but really? Now?”

Oke’s decision to ignore that advice and draw as diversely as she wants has, in the end, made her work stand out. There are plans to release a short edition of Ding! in February, Oke and O’Kelly are working on another four stories – each set on a different form of public transport, and then there are children’s books for Oke to illustrate. The five-year-old Oke, who drew on walls at the family home and precociously declared she would one day be an illustrator, would have been proud.

http://www.oluoke.com

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Word play

sudan

(ARISE magazine, issue 14) “All the world’s a stage,” wrote William Shakespeare. Now all the world is taking to the stage as London’s Globe Theatre presents Globe To Globe, an Olympian series featuring all 37 of the bard’s plays staged by 37 international theatre companies in 37 languages. Africa is represented by five productions: The Two Gentlemen of Verona in Shona by Zimbabwe’s Two Gents Productions, The Winter’s Tale in Yoruba by Lagos’ Renegade Theatre, Venus and Adonis by Cape Town’s Isango Ensemble, The Merry Wives of Windsor in Swahili by Bitter Pill and Theatre Company Kenya, and Cymbeline (right) in Juba Arabic by the South Sudan Theatre Company, the first-ever adaptation of Shakespeare into Juba Arabic. The season runs from April 21 to June 9.

globetoglobe.shakespearesglobe.com

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Senegal in London: Sabar Dance Classes

diene_sml

(Visit London, 10 October 2011) Senegalese director and choreographer Diene Sagna moved to the UK four years ago to run his own dance company, Yaye Dib Sabar. He also holds sabar dance classes in London:

“Sabar is the drum, and also the dance – they go together. Of all the dances in the world that I know, it’s only sabar where you have to be in the air all of the time! You have to be light but also energetic and powerful. In the past it used to be just women who danced but now men are dancing sabar too.

“I’ve been dancing for a long time. When I was six years old I won a competition and after that, even though I was also going to school, dancing was my focus. When I was 17 I started to work professionally, going to Europe and working with big artists. I’ve worked with Youssou N’Dour, dancing on his video for 4444. I’ve also toured and performed with [bestselling Senegalese singer] Coumba Gawlo Seck.

“There are a lot of different African dance classes in London. They used to be mainly from Ghana or Nigeria, but now I can see the interest in Senegalese dance is increasing. It’s hard to make African dance respected in Europe – people think it’s just for fun. You can find contemporary and hip hop dance in the big theatres, but not this West African dance. I want to bring it onto the stage, that’s my fight.

“In London this June we held the first Yaye Dib Sabar International event, a weekend of Afro-dance workshops called Jump for Joy! We will be holding this every year in memory of my mum (who died in 2009) as a way of celebrating not only her life but also West African culture and in particular Sabar dance and drumming.

“I invite all students, from London and the UK as well as Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Belgium where I do workshops every year. I also organise an annual two-week dance training holiday in Dakar, Senegal, called Kaye Fecc, meaning Come Dance. The next one will be from 23 January to 4 February 2012.

“When my students see sabar they say it’s powerful, fast, fun and energetic also. But some people also say sabar is harder because they cannot understand the timing, the breaks. People also say sabar is the most difficult West African dance because it’s changing every week in Senegal. If I stay in UK for two years without going to Senegal I’m going to be lost! That’s why I go every year and spend two or three months there, finding out what’s new.”

The next Yaye Dib Sabar dance and drumming class in London is on Sunday 23 October 2011 at Studio 68 dance studio. More information

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2011/10/senegal-in-london-sabar-dance-classes/

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Nigeria’s No 1 Samba School

ekosambaband_edit

(ARISELIVE.com, October 2011) Pictured Seyi Ajeigbe, founder of Eko Samba School in Lagos, with his growing bateria

Words Carinya Sharples

It’s the national music and dance of Brazil, yet the roots of samba stretch back to Africa – from the semba rhythms of Angola to the Yoruban agogô bell. Now one musician is completing the circle by setting up Nigeria’s first samba school.

Seyi Ajeigbe moved to the UK from Nigeria ten years ago and it was in London that he discovered and learnt to play samba. “I was amazed and dazed at the same time,” he remembers. “I had never seen anything like it … the energy was so gripping I had to get involved immediately”.

After performing with many groups – from the London School of Samba to samba reggae band Eri Okan – Ajeigbe decided to share his expertise with young children in his home city, Lagos.

Through his new project, Eko Samba School (named after the traditional Yoruba name for Lagos), Ajeigbe aims to teach samba to kids in disadvantaged communities in the Nigerian city. “The children just love being able to play drums, a lot of them would love to but haven’t got access to anything like it,” says Ajeigbe. “Samba for them is something they’ve never heard of, but they are willing to learn something new, they truly enjoy it and I think it makes them feel like they’re part of an international community.”

On the ground, setting up Eko Samba School has had its obstacles. “We’ve had a lot of difficulties getting any support or recognition from within Lagos itself,” says Ajeigbe. “We couldn’t get into the Lagos carnival… it was also impossble to get an audience at the Brazilian Embassy. No one really knew or understood what we were trying to do except us”. However, he adds, the music has made it all worth it. “The best part so far has been the music itself. It brings a lot of satisfaction to hear the samba swing in the middle of a slum in Lagos, it’s as if the souls of those slaves taken via Lagos to Brazil are returning.”

After returning to Nigeria earlier this year to set up the school, Ajeigbe is back in London to raise capital for the project – to buy much needed resources and instruments. A night of live music will be held on October 30 at East London music venue Cargo to kickstart fundraising. Ajeigbe will perform at the one-off event with his band Agemo, alongside Maracatudo Mafua and a special samba bateria.

For more information on the Eko Samba School fundraiser on October 30 and details on how you can donate to the fund visit www.gandaia.org.

London culture

Ecuador in London: Fashion Designer Soraya Fernandez

soraya_fernandez

(Visit London, 6 September 2011) Soraya Fernandez is a fashion designer inspired by the colourful cultural art of her home country, Ecuador. She lives and works in London, creating unique designs for her own fashion label, Soraya Fernandez DF.

Why did you leave Ecuador for London?

I love London, it is a city that always hypnotised me. I came to live in London more than one year ago because I feel it is one of those perfect places to experience a new life and is ideal for me to develop my profession – there are many opportunities.  I always search for a historical aspect to the places where I walk, and find a lot of inspiration.

Is there an Ecuadorian community in London?

Yes, there is a very large Ecuadorian community in London. I am more connected to communities based in South East London, where I live. I am involved with a group known as Nueva Generacion, which is a workshop for Latin American people who raise awareness of social issues, stimulating change and promoting our culture.

Do you know of any Ecuadorian places to visit in London?

Around Elephant and Castle there are some very good restaurants and shops specialising in Ecuadorian food. On the weekend at La Tienda Latina in the shopping centre you can taste typical food. And there are some very good live bands on the weekend at Costa Azul restaurant and Parrilladas del Sur on Old Kent Road.

How would you describe your designs? Are influenced by Ecuador?

My designs are a reflection of my vision of the Andean world view. In Ecuador we have many ethnic groups which provide a colourful magic and allegory in their traditional costumes and handicrafts.

I like that people are not dressed for reasons of fashion or trend – clothing is something that identifies each individual. So I don’t repeat my designs, they are each unique.

How can people buy your clothes?

I sell my work online and to individual customers. My work includes designing and making tailored suits, cocktail dresses, wedding dresses, luxury dresses – all to suit an individual style and made with the highest quality.

What do you hope to do next?

I’m currently working on the release of my autumn/winter collection for stores that sell work of independent fashion designers in London. I’m also working on a project called Almas del Cuarto Oscuro (Souls of the Darkroom) with Fotosynthesis,  which is a community project founded by a group of photographers.

Where else can you find Ecuadorian culture in London? Tell us in the comments below.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2011/09/ecuador-in-london-fashion-designer-soraya-fernandez/

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Ten minutes with… Mayra Andrade

Mayra_1v2

(ARISELIVE.com, July 2011) Words Carinya Sharples

Her rich, earthy voice and beautiful lyrics have captivated fans across Africa, Paris, London and beyond. On the eve of her first performance at London’s legendary jazz club, Ronnie Scott’s, we spoke to Cape Verdean singer-songwriter Mayra Andrade about her freedom fighter father, living a nomadic lifestyle and singing The Beatles.

Did you already know about Ronnie Scott’s before coming to London?

To be honest not really but everyone around me knew about this place… For example my boyfriend’s dream, when he was a child, was to go and see a show in Ronnie Scott’s! So I’m happy because I understood how important this place is.

Will you be performing songs by other artists too?

Yes, Michelle from The Beatles – I recorded it on my last CD – La Javanaise, Serge Gainsbourg, a song from [Brazilian singer-songwriter] Caetano Veloso, and other Cape Verdean composers. I also have my own songs but I’m composing for my new album [out in 2012] so I’m not playing any of the songs yet.

You’re very connected to your roots in Cape Verde.  Now you live in Paris, how do you find life there?

I arrived in Paris when I was 17 so I’m very connected to that city – Paris saw me becoming a woman and growing and making my career. But you know, I’m very nomadic. I’ve lived in five different countries [Andrade was born in Cuba and raised in Cape Verde, Senegal, Angola and Germany]. I’ve never stopped more than six years in a country and I’ve been in Paris for nine years so I’m already looking for the next place. [ARISE: Where might that be?] I’ll tell you when it’s decided! I have my little ideas…

In your songs, you often mention freedom fighters from Cape Verde’s history.

Yes, my father is one of them you know. He went to Guinea Bissau when he was 15 years old because Cape Verde and Guinea fought for independence together. So I’m very concerned about this – recognising what these people did for us.

Is the connection still strong between Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde?

No because it’s also political. We had the PAEGC, which was the Partido Africano para a Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde. When the two countries got independence they didn’t agree with what they wanted to do or how to move on so they split and the Cape Verdeans did their own politics and so on. The situation in Guinea is quite complicated.

Do Cape Verdeans think of themselves as from Cape Verde or Africa?

You have these two sides. I consider myself as an African woman – I don’t have any doubt about this, because Africa is so many things together. We are a mixed country, because when the Portuguese arrived nobody lived there… But some Cape Verdeans like to say ‘no, I’m not African. I’m Cape Verdean, because we are too mixed to say that we are African’. So I say, ‘OK, are you European?’ ‘No, not exactly’. ‘But you try to be, right?’ ‘No I’m Cape Verdean’.

We are ten very, very small islands – separated just by ourselves. So it’s not only a racial aspect it’s also a geographic thing. In Africa you can walk and go all over Africa, in Cape Verde you can’t. It’s a particular mentality – but a good one. We are very open to people and friendly. I love to be with people when they are going to Cape Verde for the first time because I’m like, ‘Oh I know, I know! I know it’s wonderful. I know every woman is beautiful here. I know they all say welcome to my home’. I feel proud.

You’ve collaborated with many African artists, including Angélique Kidjo, Youssou N’Dour and Asa. How did that happen?

I met Angélique about nine years ago; I was opening for her. Since then we’ve met so many times in so many festivals and we’ve sung together – she invited me and other African singers to join the last song of her show.

I met Asa when she spent two months in Paris four or five years ago. I was preparing my first CD – I already signed with Sony – and was invited to a conference to talk about my culture with other guests. Asa just came to sing two or three songs at the end and I was like, ‘Introduce me to her, I want to meet her!’ and then we became friends. I tried a little bit to present her demos to the labels but they didn’t pay attention. But when she came out with [French music label] Naïve, I called that guy and was like ‘you see!’ And then she invited me to sing in a show, which is on her live DVD, with Yael Naïm.

Are there any new, Cape Verdean singers you would recommend?

Yes, Sara Tavares; Carmen Souza, a Cape Verdean singer here [in London]; Tcheka, Tito Paris, who is not so known unfortunately… There are so many.

Mayra Andrade is performing tonight at London’s Ronnie Scott’s, before heading to Festival Nuits du Sud in France (July 21) and Luanda Jazz Festival in Angola (July 30)

London culture

Honduras in London: Central America Women’s Network

CAWN's Laura Ouseley (second from right) at the Million Women Rise march in London on 5 March 2011
CAWN’s Laura Ouseley (second from right) at the Million Women Rise march in London on 5 March 2011

(Visit London, 29 March 2011) We speak to Laura Ouseley from London-based organisation Central America Women’s Network (CAWN), which supports women’s rights groups in Honduras and across Central America – and is celebrating its 20th birthday this Thursday.

What does CAWN do?

We help women’s organisations in Central America with advocacy and campaigning, for example organising speaker tours and building links between women’s groups in the UK and Central America.

Our main areas of work are around gender equality, women’s rights and violence against women. CAWN’s main project at the moment is supporting a women’s organisation in Honduras to set up self-help groups in order to tackle gender-based violence.

How long have you been running?

We’ve been going since 1991. This Thursday is our 20th anniversary.

You have a speaker tour this week in London, what’s that about?

We have two women’s rights activists from Honduras coming here, Evelyn Cuellar and Mercedes Lainez. They’ll be here for two weeks to talk about their work for Centro de Estudios de la Mujer Honduras (CEMH), our partner organisation in Honduras.

What events are planned in London as part of the tour?

Tonight the two speakers will be at a public meeting we’re holding with the London Feminist Network in the House of Commons, talking about femicide and the role of feminists in social transformation.

Then on Thursday we have a smaller meeting at The Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of London about violence against women in Honduras. Later than evening it’s our 20th anniversary celebration at the Human Rights Action Centre, which anyone is welcome to attend, whether you have been involved with CAWN over the last 20 years, or would like to know more about our work.

The two speakers are then going to Manchester and Scotland before coming back to London for a panel discussion at The Commonwealth Club on 12 April for the Women Reaching Women Conference 2011.

How can people learn more or help with the work you do?

We often rely on volunteers to help us carry out and promote the work we do. Some CAWN volunteers and activists help with translations, for example, while others organise events, fundraise and promote our work.

The best way to get involved with CAWN is to become a member and receive more information about the work we do, or come along to one of our events and speak to us in person.

Where else can you find out about Honduras in London? Tell us in the comments below.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2011/03/honduras-in-london-central-america-womens-network/

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Ghana in London: Nzinga Dance

Credit: Ludo des Cognets
Credit: Ludo des Cognets

(Visit London, 11 March 2011) For the latest in our World in London series, we put on our dancing shoes and spoke to Deanna Michel-de Sousa, leader of African performing arts ensemble Nzinga Dance, which teaches African drumming and dance at south London’s Horniman Museum

What does Nzinga Dance do?

Our main remit is bringing African history, culture and tradition to life – telling its story with dance and music. The classes are about coming along and learning traditional dance and drumming – and about their importance in African culture – but in a fun and creative way.

We do lots of performances at the museum and elsewhere too – for Refugee Week, Adult Learners’ Week, at summer festivals… We’re not just at the Horniman!

Are all the Nzinga teachers Ghanaian?

There’s a mixture of people, mainly Ghanaian and a couple of us from St Lucia – the one person that isn’t is from Pakistan, so there you go! We’re an African-Caribbean group but a lot of what we teach and perform is from Ghana.

Ghanaian dance is a big part of what we do. In terms of African dance culture, Ghana has prolific dancers and musicians. You have one country but within that country so many different nations – whether it’s Ewe, Ashanti or Ga – and each has their own style. You find literally hundreds of dances and that’s what’s quite unique about Ghanaian dance and drumming – there’s a lot to learn and pick from as well. So within one course, we may say to people we’re teaching Ghanaian dance but that can include completely different styles.

Who comes to your dance classes? Ghanaians living in London or a mixture of people?

We get a mix of people, although we do have Ghanaian students who come along that haven’t learnt so much about their culture in that respect and just feel that they really want to touch base and learn.  It’s nice that people want to come along – both Ghanaian and non-Ghanaian – and learn about African culture in a creative way, and in a really social atmosphere.

What do your students think about the course?

Most of them say they enjoy coming along because it’s a non-competitive atmosphere and they feel that what they’re learning is authentic. We can be specific – we can say you’ve learnt Kpanlogo dance from this place in Ghana – and they like that feeling of knowing what they’ve been taught and the significance of it in history and culture. For example, that when I’m dancing this step, it means this or that.

I think we get lots of students, too, because of the live drumming [the djembe drummers who accompany the dance classes]. Not knocking anyone who uses a CD, but I think it being authentic is a big part of drawing people. I think that’s why we’re still going strong.

See Nzinga Dance (and their students) perform at the Nzinga Dance Ensemble Concert on 27 March 2011 at Horniman Museum. The next term of Nzinga dance and drumming courses for adults and children at Horniman Museum begin on 1 May 2011.

Do you know anywhere else you can experience Ghanaian culture in London? Let us know in the comments below.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2011/03/ghana-in-london-nzinga-dance/

London culture

Guyana in London: Stockwell’s Bronze Woman

Bronze Woman. Courtesy of Lambeth Council
Bronze Woman. Courtesy of Lambeth Council

(Visit London, 2 February 2011) London is home to many people from the small South American country of Guyana, but there are few indicators beyond the odd Guyanese takeaway (think delicious hot curries and roti bread) or famous figure – be it reggae star Eddie Grant or former Southbank Centre writer-in-residence John Agard.

However, venture into the south London pocket of Stockwell and into Stockwell Memorial Gardens and you’ll find another piece of Guyana – a 10-foot bronze sculpture of a woman holding a child. It’s a powerful image, not least because of its fascinating history.

The first public statue of a black woman in England, Bronze Woman was the brainchild of a black woman: Guyanese poet and local resident Cécile Nobrega.

Based on and named after her own poem, Bronze Woman took 10 years of planning, fundraising and determination by Nobrega and other groups and individuals who wanted to mark the struggles faced by Afro-Caribbean women, as well as their contribution to society.

The statue was designed by renowned sculptor Ian Walters, whose many famous London sculptures include the Nelson Mandela statue next to the Royal Festival Hall.

Sadly Walters died before the project was completed. But the project was picked up by London-based sculptor-artist Aleix Barbat, then a final-year sculpture student at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art.

Eventually, on 8 October 2008 – during Black History Month – the sculpture was unveiled, with the help of the then 89-year-old Nobrega.

Do you know anywhere else you can find a bit of Guyana in London? Tell us in the comments below.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2011/02/guyana-in-london-stockwells-bronze-woman/

London culture

Guatemala in London: MAYA The Musical

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(Visit London, 31 December 2010) Guatemala is best known for its fascinating Mayan heritage. Sadly London’s Guatemalan Maya Centre has closed its public gallery and craft shop, but you can still learn about this ancient civilisation in MAYA, an unusual new musical set in the final days of the great Mayan empire.

Facing a devastating drought, a desperate Mayan king is torn between seeking personal power and pleasing the Gods. Amid this disaster, two brothers compete to follow their dying father’s instructions and embark on a quest, discovering along the way what’s worth living for – and dying for.

Katy Lipson from new musical theatre initiative A Stage Kindly, the organisation behind the production, says:

“This is a unique and very exciting work, and from the moment we first heard it we knew we were on to a winner. With its contemporary score and strong Mayan theme, MAYA is entirely different from previous productions.”

You can catch the UK premiere of MAYA, written by American Rick Williams, at The Baron’s Court Theatre, an intimate subterranean theatre below The Curtains Up pub.

After discovering Guatemala’s history, explore its present in a powerful retrospective of work by Guatemalan artist Regina José Galindo at ROLLO Contemporary Art gallery near Goodge Street.

This exhibition shows that while the Mayan civilisation perished long ago, violence and political power games remain a part of life in Guatemala. Works on show include Galindo’s unsettling video-performance piece No perdemos nada con nacer (We don’t lose anything by being born) 2000, in which the artist was self drugged, put in a clear plastic bag, placed in a bin and left at the local rubbish dump.

MAYA is on at The Barons Court Theatre from 24-30 Jan. Regina José Galindo is on at ROLLO Contemporary Art until 11 Feb.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2010/12/guatemala-in-london-maya-the-musical/

London culture

Brazil in London: Brazilian Music in London

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(Visit London, 26 November 2010) Rebeca Vallim, a singer from Rio de Janiero, tells us about the exciting Brazilian music scene in London for our World in London project.

How long have you been living in London?
Almost six years now. What I really like about living in London is all the different cultures in one place.

Where have you performed in London?
All around London, including Guanabara, Ronnie Scott’s, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Favela Chic, Pizza on the Park, Rose Theatre Kingston, On Anon, Barbican and The Green Note.

I’ve also performed at different London festivals, like Thames Festival, Carnaval del Pueblo, Summer in Holborn and Bloomsbury Festival.

What is your favourite place to perform?
It’s really hard to say!  Probably the Southbank Centre as they’re very supportive of artists, and encourage and promote Brazilian music, like with Festival Brazil this summer. The audience are great too, people aren’t busy drinking or chatting – they come to appreciate the music.

What is the Brazilian music scene like in London?
The Brazilian music scene in London is very varied, with rhythms from North to South of Brazil. It’s exciting, there’s so much happening.

You can hear all kinds of Brazilian music in London: bossa-nova, samba, maracatu, forró, samba-rock, pop, country, chorinho, samba-reggae and others…

Where do you go to listen to Brazilian music in London?
The last places I’ve been to hear Brazilian music were Guanabara for a concert by Diogo Nogueira, a great sambista of the new generation; Royal Albert Hall to see Gilberto Gil, an icon of Brazilian music; and Koko to see the great singer Maria Rita.

I also recommend the Tia Maria restaurant in Vauxhall, which has live samba and choro every Thursday.

So where can we see you perform?
I perform in a number of different bands: Rebeca Vallim & Band, Mafua de Yaya, Viramundo, Umpatacum and Maracatudo Mafua.

My next gig is Brazilian Night at Ronnie Scott’s Bar, upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho, on 9 Dec from 8pm.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2010/11/brazil-in-london-brazilian-music-in-london/

London culture

Into The Wild: Heaven & Earth at Menier Gallery (review)

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(Visit London, 22 October 2010) Yesterday I popped into Heaven & Earth, a striking new exhibition of African photography at the Menier Gallery.

Snapped by Cape Town photographer Caroline Gibello, the sundrenched, over-exposed photos show the wildlife, landscape and people of Botswana and Namibia in a new light – literally.

Instead of lush greenery and the bright colours we usually associate with Africa, the photos have a stark, dried-out feel. This is intensified by the choice of subject matter – the cracked texture of elephant hide, dry grasses and local people walking through clouds of dust.

The photos reminded me of the increasing water shortages in Africa, and beyond. However, the unusual beauty of the wildlife and landscape, plus joyful photo names such as Courage, Spirit and Reverence, can’t help but lift your spirit.

Judge for yourself by stopping in at the exhibition. Make a night of it by nipping next door to Menier Chocolate Factory for dinner or to catch Samuel and Timothy West in A Number, the downstairs theatre’s thought-provoking new show.

Myerson Fine Art presents Heaven & Earth at Menier Gallery until 30 October.  Entrance is free.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2010/10/into-the-wild-heaven-earth-at-menier-gallery/

London culture

Brockley Max Festival Opens The Door To Local Talent

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(Visit London, 7 June 2010) For the past week, Brockley has been a hive of activity with the return of community arts festival Brockley Max.

Following the recent arrival of the East London Line in Brockley, it seemed the ideal time to showcase the area’s talents.

There was comedy at Jam Circus, Sonnets From Shakespeare at The Brockley Barge and poetry in the bizarrely named Toad’s Mouth Too Cafe.

In fact, there was something going on wherever you turned. Tree-stump sculptures mysteriously popped up in Hilly Fields Park, and on the opening night of the festival I stepped off the train to find half the neighbourhood crowded round the colourful murals of Brockley Station for a free music concert.

The week’s festivities ended on Saturday with live music, food, DJs and children’s activities at the Hilly Fields Park Stone Circle – South London’s answer to Stonehenge. Brockley wine bar/shop Mr Laurence was doing a roaring trade in Pimm’s at the bar, while excited kids tore around the newly refurbished playground.

Brockley Max may now be over, but there are still many events happening in Brockley where you can discover local talent, including:

  • Tea Leaf Arts Summer Open: exhibition of work by local artists at Tea Leaf Arts Gallery, until 12 Jun
  • Working On A Groovy Thing: art exhibition with music at Lewisham Arthouse, until 13 Jun
  • Books In Limbo: get involved as a huge installation is constructed from salvaged books at Tank Gallery, 28 May-19 Jun

Plus, keep an eye out for our review of The Last Five Years at Brockley Jack Theatre, which opens tomorrow.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2010/06/brockley-max-festival-opens-the-door-to-local-talent/

London culture

Markus The Sadist at Bloomsbury Theatre (review)

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(Visit London, 19 May 2010) It’s going to be hard watching hip hop videos without a heavy dose of cynicism after seeing Markus the Sadist at Bloomsbury Theatre last night.

Created by Jonzi D – the man behind Sadler’s Wells‘ street dance sensation Breakin Convention – Markus The Sadist is a darkly comic diatribe against the fakery of the music industry.

Talented London emcee Markus (played by real-life grime artist Ashley “Bashy” Thomas) is spotted at a local hip hop battle and promised fame and fortune. Success comes at a price though, namely abandoning his intelligent lyrics and adopting a groin-grabbing rap persona and a sneering American accent.

Markus’ transformation from wide-eyed boy next door to hip hop stereotype is hilarious yet uncomfortably recognisable. One of the best moments is Markus’ first video shoot, when the flamboyant director (played by the scene-stealing Rob Broderick) demands the ubiquitous rap-star props of guns, bling and scantily-clad women dancers (“otherwise I’m shooting a documentary”).

Halfway through many scenes, you realise all the characters are talking in rhyme – which works surprisingly well. The musical thread is strengthened with jazz saxophonist Soweto Kinch as composer/musical director, while much of the cast are clearly talented artists in their own right.

There were a number of technical hiccups that need tightening and the play could be shorter and tighter. But on the whole, Markus The Sadist makes for a fresh, intelligent addition to the British theatre scene. Interested? Don’t hang about – the last performance is tomorrow night (Thursday)! Buy tickets (£14-£17.50) at http://www.thebloomsbury.com

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2010/05/markus-the-sadist-at-bloomsbury-theatre/

London culture

London International Documentary Festival: Rio Breaks

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(Visit London, 5 May 2010) The weather may have been miserable this Bank Holiday Weekend (surprise, surprise), but in Kilburn the surf was up, the sun out and bikinis on.  Unfortunately, it was only in celluloid form, as Tricycle Theatre hosted the European premiere of Rio Breaks, a Brazilian surfer film with heart.

While the rain poured outside, we were transported to the beautiful beaches of Rio de Janeiro to meet two best friends; 13-year-old Fabio and 12-year-old Naama. For this cheeky duo, surfing is a total obsession – but also a saviour.

Born into a dangerous favela (or slum), the boys face obstacles as high as the hill they live on – including hunger, poverty, drugs, gangs and even murder. Their escape route is provided by a local surf club that offers free lessons and board loan to young people – on the condition they attend school.

Beautifully shot, the film is inspiring and funny – but still realistic; the boys aren’t angels, their future isn’t fixed and the violence continues around them. Yet their talent and passion shine through. And there’s some pretty amazing surfing, too!

We ended the night at local Brazilian restaurant Barraco, with a plate of juicy steak, rice and beans – and a berry caipirinha cocktail made with a liberal pouring of cachaça. Delicioso!

Rio Breaks is just one film from the ongoing London International Documentary Festival, which began on 23 April. The festival continues until 8 May and there are still lots more films to see, including:

  • Children of the Desert / Figli del deserto, 5 May, Free Word Centre
  • Andrew And Jeremy Get Married, 6 May, The Horse Hospital
  • H.O.T. Human Organ Traffic, 8 May, British Museum

For full listings, visit the London International Documentary Festival website.

Visit our London film festival calendar for more cinematic treats in the city, such as the current Terracotta Far East Film Festival.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2010/05/london-international-documentary-festival-rio-breaks/

London culture

Breaking free: London’s Best Dance Crew

The Definitives at London’s Best Dance Crew 2010. Bruce Woods of Tactical Innovations Limited
The Definitives at London’s Best Dance Crew 2010. Bruce Woods of Tactical Innovations Limited

(Visit London, 4 May 2010) If you’re into street dancing, this weekend was designed for you. Breakin’ Convention returned to Sadler’s Wells with another top UK and international line-up, while over in Croydon the finals of London’s Best Dance Crew set Fairfield Halls alight – nearly literally, when organisers thought the stage curtains had caught fire!

For months, young dancers across London have been honing their routines and competing to reach Friday’s final. The atmosphere backstage on the night was one of nervous excitement, as last minute rehearsals were squeezed in and costumes tweaked.

Three groups battled it out in the first half. Trilogy’s fresh take on West Side Story earned them third place and they bowed out with a slick piece that made you realise how tough the competition was.

A fierce, African-inspired performance from The Definitives, featuring a troupe of drummers from London group Maracatu Estrela do Norte, and a hard-hitting show tackling bullying from Retaliation took these two groups into the final.

While we waited for the final showdown, we were treated to shows from a series of top performers – including former Sugababes singer Mutya Buena, Avant Garde and Peridot.

Then, finally, it was time for the final showdown. It was a close call, but in the end it was The Definitives who impressed the judges most. They were presented with a trophy and cheque for £3,000 by Private Johnson Beharry, the first soldier to be awarded a Victoria Cross since 1982.

And if two great street dance shows in one weekend wasn’t enough, the UK dance film Streetdance 3D is out at cinemas from 21 May. It’s time to invest in some lessons in popping, locking and breaking!

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2010/05/breaking-free-londons-best-dance-crew/

London culture

Silent film: The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (review)

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(Visit London, 30 April 2010) Murder, mysticism and eerie music – the screening of 1920s silent film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari at Greenwich Picturehouse on Wednesday night had it all.

The live rescore came courtesy of music maestros Minima. I had expected a tinkling piano, so was delighted by their electrifying mix of drums, base, cello and guitar.

Celebrated as a classic of German expressionist cinema, the film makes good use of menacing shadows, agitated characters and bulging eyes ringed in thick make-up – even for the men!

The strange story centres around the sinister Dr Caligari who tours fairgrounds with his ‘exhibit’, a hypnotised sleepwalker called Cesare who “knows the past and can see into the future”.

Alternately hilarious and mystifying, I found the film a fascinating change from today’s slick flicks, with its slow-building story, flimsy stage sets and descriptive title cards.

Minima’s score was fantastic. I loved the exotic African-style drumming that accompanied Dr Caligari’s fairground show, the slightly sleazy background music for a bachelor pad and the well-timed drum beat that made me (and half the audience) jump out of our seats!

Minima are sadly coming to the end of their performances of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, but they have one more show in London at The Prince Charles Cinema on 18 May. You can also keep an eye out for more Minima performances on their website.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2010/04/silent-film-the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-2/

London culture

Southern Showcase in Arty Deptford

Dan Coopey´s Urchin Eating
Dan Coopey´s Urchin Eating

(Visit London, 7 April 2010) Deptford and New Cross have long been hailed as the new Shoreditch. So when an invite to a local art showcase case came through, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

The action was taking place at BEARSPACE, a tiny gallery nestled among the colourful grocery shops, fish stalls and Caribbean bakeries of Deptford High Street.

The room was already packed with local artists and creative types; mingling, enjoying a free glass of wine and trying to avoid knocking over Dan Coopey’s geometrical Urchin Eating sculpture. Again.

All had gathered for the P&B Cultural Showcase, a thrice-yearly celebration of the best local designers, filmmakers and craftspeople in the area.

In a nod to Deptford’s naval history, the exhibits included a ceramic anchor by Katie Bonham, while Angela Buffini had transformed photos of junkyards into art with some neat symmetry.

There was also music, illustrations and a video performance from Heart n Soul, a company of learning disabled actors and musicians based at Deptford’s popular performing arts venue, the Albany.

The BEARSPACE does its fair share to promote up-and-coming artists too, and has recently launched a new Portfolio range, selling limited-edition art and design works.

With Goldsmiths College just up the road, which counts everyone from Antony Gormley to Damien Hirst amongst its alumni, there’s plenty of local talent to showcase.

If you want to discover other galleries and public art works in the area, such as the APT Gallery and Cockpit Arts, download a Deptford Art Map or book a slot on the Deptford Art Tour.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2010/04/southern-showcase-in-arty-deptford/

London culture

Disabled Arts Given Boost for London 2012

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(Visit London, 7 October 2009). There was a buzz of excitement at the Southbank Centre today as Unlimited, the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad project to support disabled-led arts, culture and sport, was launched.

“Bring it on!” was the enthusiastic verdict of Jenny Sealey MBE, Unlimited’s Artistic Advisor and Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre Company. “There are plenty of us waiting in the wings to come and fly.”

We were given a sneak peek of the sort of talent Unlimited will be supporting over the next three years as The BLT Crew – an upbeat trio of DJs with learning disabilities – spun a selection of feel-good party tunes, from My Guy to Baby Love.

There was also a performance by Cando2, the Candoco Dance Company’s Youth Dance Company, which runs weekly classes for disabled and non-disabled youngsters at London’s Siobhan Davies Dance Studios, The Place and Aspire.

£3 million has been earmarked for the project, which will provide funding, training and a platform for disabled and deaf-led organisations and artists.

Other speakers included Tony Hall, chair of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Board and Chief Exec of the Royal Opera House – who wasted no time in getting on the decks with The BLT Crew and picking up some tips – and Chris Holmes. The nine-time Paralympic gold medal winner and London 2012 Director of Paralympic Integration entertained everyone with some sporting anecdotes before getting us all to shout “Unlimited” – and refusing to accept our feeble first attempt!

Like the project, the event was as inclusive as possible; with a sign-language interpreter on hand and instant subtitles on a large TV screen. Jenny Sealey even created a new way to “sign” Unlimited – an energetic combination of the sign language words for “create” and “explosion”.

After the launch, we spoke to Jenny about the two main obstacles facing many disabled artists:

  • negative attitudes
  • physical obstacles (such as lack of interpreters, lifts etc at venues).

“There’s still a perception that disabled performers can’t do Shakespeare, for example,” she says, with frustration, “but it’s still Shakespeare, there’s just another undercurrent to the performance. We all have our own unique selling point.”

To apply for funding or find out more about Unlimited, visit http://www.london2012.com/unlimited.

If you’re interested in exploring the disabled arts scene in London, why not check out Crossings, a new play by Julie McNamara at The Cochrane Theatre in London this November – it comes highly recommended by Jenny. And who knows what new talent Unlimited will uncover… watch this space!

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2009/10/disabled-arts-given-boost-for-london-2012/

London culture

The Black Album (review)

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(Visit London, 26 July 2009) It’s not often that you find religious radicalism, comedy and the artist formerly known as Prince in the same sentence – let alone the same play. But award-winning author Hanif Kureishi has managed it in The Black Album.

The new production is Kureishi’s stage adaptation of his own novel, also called The Black Album, which takes its name from Prince’s unreleased but widely bootlegged album of 1987.

The music theme continues with a energetic soundtrack from Sister Bliss from Faithless. Who better to do the music for a play about religion than a member of the group who once sang God Is A DJ? The mix of 80s classics had me tapping my feet as soon as I entered the National Theatre.

The scene is set 20 years ago in 1989 – the year that a fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie for his controversial book The Satanic Verses.  The play explorers the religious tensions of the era, the repercussions of which are still felt today, through Shahid Hasan (played with energy by Jonathan Bonnici), a young Asian boy leaving leafy Sevenoaks to study in the bright lights of London.

The Black Album deals with some pretty heavy issues: religious fanatism, drugs, racial identity, sex and violence, yet at times it felt more like a comedy sitcom. Family dramas were peppered with comic insights into Pakistani domestic life, Shahid’s brother Chili (Robert Mountford) was like a flamboyant Boycie from Only Fools And Horses, and there was even a starring role from an aubergine pakora!

Like the multi-named, cross-dressing Prince, the characters each juggle different identities. Watching the play, the hardest part was not deciding who to believe, but trying to figure out what they believed.

I’m off to the upcoming talk on 10 August with Hanif Kurieshi and the play’s director Jatinder Verma in search of enlightenment!

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2009/07/the-black-album-at-the-national-theatre/

London culture

Walking In My Mind (review)

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Yayoi Kusuma, Dots Obsession 2004, © Yayoi Kusama 2009, Photo: Yayoi Kusama Studio

 

(Visit London, 22 June 2009). The Hayward Gallery has gone all John Malkovich on us with their surreal, new exhibition Walking In My Mind. Through a series of giant works and sculptures, ten artists invite us to enter their imaginations.

The exhibition begins before you even step foot inside the Hayward. Along the sunny Southbank, 24 trees have been wrapped in red spotted fabric. It’s the brainwave of iconic Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama – a life-long dot-obsessive, according to a recent interview in The Guardian.

Of course, all art is about stepping into the artist’s imagination, but in Walking In My Mind it is a much more physical, adventurous experience. It was also darker, funnier and more bizarre than I expected.

Scottish-born artist Charles Avery had me chuckling out loud with his inventive project The Islanders. As well as sketches of life on his imaginary island, Avery displays his ’souvenirs’, including Stone-mice (part rodent, part mineral), which look suspiciously like normal stones, and a Bejewelled Hare – stuffed and brandishing its bling like a hip-hop superstar.

Thomas Hirschhorn’s Cavemanman was even more surreal. His uneven maze of tiny caves and tunnels, made of cardboard and plastered in brown parcel tape, was like something out of a postman’s nightmare.

But there was a darker side to the exhibition too. Walking through Chiharu Shoita’s After The Dream was quite unsettling. The painstakingly woven web of wool – Shoita told me it took a week to complete – felt like a swarm of bats that could get caught in your hair any second.

Yayoi Kusama’s new work, Dots Obsession, has become the ’face’ of the exhibition so I was eager to see this. For me, the red spotted shapes worked best on the Southbank and on the bright, green Astroturf of the Hayward’s sculpture terrace, where they looked vibrant and delightfully out of place.

One of the curators Mami Kataoka pointed out that while a doctor can visually see the brain, the mind itself has no boundaries – there is no shape. This sense of freedom in self-expression has produced an exhibition that really does blow your mind.

Inspired by the exhibition and want to discuss your views? Head along to the Hayward’s free workshop Talking In My Mind on 5 July.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2009/06/walking-in-my-mind-at-hayward-gallery/

London culture

Lewisham Life: Selection of articles

Articles on local cultural happenings, courses and training opportunities for Lewisham Life, the magazine for Lewisham Council.

Work Experience: Are you experienced? (PDF)

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Christmas Around The World (PDF)

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Best In The Business

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Film in Lewisham: Screen Secrets

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VoxPop: Do you make use of your library?

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Get ahead in business

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Caring for the carers

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Sisters doing it for themselves

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If the cup fits…

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Building for the future

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Dance Fever

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VoxPops: Will the extension of the East London line benefit you?

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Forward-thinking Retreat

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Anti-tag team

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Art in Lewisham

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Balancing the books

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Turning junk into treasure

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Getting back to work

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We are the champions

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Care and committment

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Rocklands

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A Safe Haven

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Who do you love?

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