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/

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Senegal in London: Sabar Dance Classes

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(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/

London culture

Ecuador in London: Fashion Designer Soraya Fernandez

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(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/

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/

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/