blog · Uncategorized

Roots + revolution at Guyana’s Museum of African Heritage

P1040901.JPG

Dropping me off outside Guyana’s Museum of African Heritage on Barima Avenue, my friend hung around to see if it was actually open. “I’ve never actually been here,” she said, peering at the sign. The closed gates didn’t look promising.

I had only discovered the museum existed a few days earlier, after walking up the wrong road (something that happens often to me). But being within walking distance of the National Zoo, Botanical Gardens and Castellani House, it’s actually well placed for the enterprising visitors who track it down.

Luckily, it turned out, the museum was open – and I wasn’t the first visitor that day. “We had a tour earlier,” said the friendly guide optimistically (admitting later that before starting work there, even she hadn’t heard of it). More promotion was needed, we agreed.

P1040893.JPG
Painting outside the Museum of African Heritage, Guyana

Until 2011, the museum was known as the Museum of African Art and Ethnology. According to the tourism board, it was renamed to “open their doors to a wider audience and begin to fully address the African experience in Guyana”. Most of the museum is still given up to artefacts from (predominantly) the West Coast of Africa and neighbouring Suriname, but there are artworks by local artists too.

On entering the top floor, you’re immediately met by a small replica of Guyana’s famous moment to Cuffy (more in this post)– an African slave who led the great slave revolt of 1763 in what was then the Dutch colony of Berbice. Most of the lower floor of the museum is dedicated to Cuffy and his men, too.

P1040866.JPG

The Dutch began bringing Africans to the colony as early as the mid-17th century. Over the following years, thousands of slaves were captured and transported over the seas in appalling conditions, for a life of back-breaking work, oppression and abuse.

Today, Guyanese of African ancestry make up around 30.2% of the population – according to the 2002 census. (There was a census in 2012, but the preliminary report makes no mention of ethnicity and I cannot find anywhere the final version, which was ‘due soon’ last May.)

The connection between Africa and the Guyana of today is made by the contemporary art itself, which tackles themes including slavery, unification and revolution. Like this striking piece by artist Ras Iah entitled ‘Escape Mental Slavery’:

P1040882.JPG

There’s also a great painting that imagines the pioneering group of former African slaves who clubbed together to buy their own plantation village and make it their home of freedom. But I’ll save that one for you to discover in person.

Museum of African History, Barima Avenue, Bel Air Park, Georgetown Guyana. Entry: Free. Getting there: Take the number 40 bus and get off near Popeye’s.

blog · Uncategorized

The wobbly flag pole + a national hero

P1040851

On a visit to D’Urban Park in Georgetown yesterday in search of the giant Guyana flag unveiled on Republic Day (23 February), I encountered the 1763 Monument (better known as ‘Cuffy’).

This striking statue was built in remembrance of the African slave rebellion which took place at a plantation in Berbice that same year. Created by Guyanese artist Philip Alphonso, it was unveiled on 23 May 1976.

According to local arts venue Castellani House (via Stabroek News), the figure’s pouting mouth is a sign of defiance and resistance. While in his hands he throttles a pig and dog – the pig representing ignorance; the dog covetousness, lust and greed. “This image … is inspired by a quotation from the Holy Scripture: ‘Cast not your pearls before swine nor give what is sacred to the dog.'”

Beyond the powerful figure of Cuffy, the super-size Golden Arrow flag was still nowhere to be seen. Surely a 65 × 35ft piece of patriotism isn’t lost so easily? Fear not, a friendly security guard told me, the 180ft flagpole has been taken down for extra reinforcement. “But don’t worry, it’ll be back in time for Independence Day!”

guyanaflag_motp_gy

Flag image credit: Ministry of the President, Guyana

African arts, culture + politics

Interview: Director Samba Gadjigo

sembene

Sembene! director Samba Gadjigo on preserving the legacy of the ‘father of African cinema

As co-director of Sembene! – the acclaimed new documentary about Senegal’s legendary film director – Samba Gadjigo has had to (grudgingly) get used to walking the red carpet. “If there is one thing I’ve hated so far in my experience with the film it is that kind of artificial world,” he admits. But he’s also had to content with the restrictions and roadblocks still hampering Africa cinema, both locally and globally: “I’ve witnessed some horrific scenes; [like] when a director is invited to a festival at the other end of the world and they’re hopping from plane to plane with a suitcase full of reels … Many of the film directors unfortunately do not have distributors or they self distribute.”

…..

Read full article: http://whatsonafrica.org/interview-director-samba-gadjigo-i-dont-think-with-sembenes-films-its-a-memory-of-a-continent-the-issues-he-dealt-with-are-so-timeless/

African arts, culture + politics

Airbnb in Africa: Airbnb makes its move on the growing African tourism market

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 16.24.25

Since it launched in 2008, Airbnb has revolutionised the way many of us travel. Goodbye bland hotel room, hello chic artist’s loft apartment. It’s not hard to see why millions have joined the site. In South Africa alone, the number of people using Airbnb has shot up by an incredible 255 per cent in the past 12 months with 11,000 properties now listed in the country. This spike in popularity has not gone unnoticed by Airbnb, which in July announced plans to “accelerate its growth” in the rainbow nation.

Read full article: http://www.nataal.com/airbnb-in-africa

African arts, culture + politics

Groundnut: London’s Afro-European food collective prepare to go global

groundnut

When you look on a menu and find moin-moin alongside sukuma wiki and sweet pepper frozen yogurt, you know you’re in for a treat. And it’s thanks to South London foodies Duval Timothy, Folayemi ‘Yemi’ Brown and Jacob Fodio Todd who are drawing on their varied African roots to start a taste revolution.

Read the full article: http://www.nataal.com/the-groundnut

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