Abidemi Sanusi

Abidemi Sanusi

Abidemi Sanusi is an author, photographer and founder of Ready Writer - www.thereadywriter.co.uk, a digital content agency and budding film-maker. Born in Nigeria, she moved to the UK in her teens. Abidemi has an MSc in Development Studies, an MA in Christianity & the Arts and in her past life, has ...

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Madison John Speaks to MOBO Nominee Afrikan Boy Ahead of This Weds’ Awards!

Madison John Speaks to MOBO Nominee Afrikan Boy Ahead of This Weds' Awards!

Olushola Ajose better known as Afrikan boy is a Grime MC artist from Woolwich, South East London who is best known for his popular song released on YouTube many years ago 'One Day I Went To Lidl'. Since then, Afrikan Boy took some time out from the music industry to study  for a ...

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Director, Destiny Ekaragha

The British Blacklist's @DescantDeb Goes Pretty Far with Director Destiny Ekaragha

Destiny Ekaragha has a soul full of passion. It's mainly taken up with a love of film, but there's a significant proportion devoted solely to Jollof rice.   Sometimes I'll just stop what I'm saying and start talking about food... Honestly, the amount of interviews where Jollof rice is mentioned... I swear, ...

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Playwright, Ade Solanke

Playwright, Ade Solanke Speaks to The British Blacklist About Her Play 'Pandora's Box'

"I like the British Blacklist! I'm a friend on facebook, actually. You do really interesting stuff. Things have changed completely from 2 or 3 years ago." How can you not immediately take to someone who uses that as an opening greeting? This was my introduction to the multi-talented Ade Solanke, currently ...

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The British Blacklist Looks At The 1990s A Pioneering Decade of Black Film. Part One: Choices From the Past…

The British Blacklist Looks At The 1990s A Pioneering Decade of Black Film. Part One: Choices From the Past...

Part One: Choices from the Past It's never too early to start thinking about your legacy; to help you along August is the month which has been earmarked to remind you. Designated, 'What Will Be Your Legacy?' month in 2011, the intent is to spend August's 31 days taking stock, looking ...

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Sarah Jane-Crawford & Idris Elba

2014 MOBO Awards Nominations Announced!!! Idris Elba is A Surprise Winner. Voting For Nominees Now Live...

After a five year hiatus, the MOBO Awards are back in London by popular demand. Marking its 19th anniversary, the internationally established brand is celebrating nearly two decades of its growing success. This year’s emerging talents will champion the stage at The SSE Arena, Wembley on 22nd October, with the ...

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Bolaji Alakija

Bolaji Alakija

Bolaji Alakija is an emerging actor in the U.K. He developed a huge passion for theatre after creating and performing in a friend’s play in 2011. Bolaji then went on to study Performing Arts at West Thames College completing his HND (Higher National Diploma) whilst taking up extra drama school classes ...

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Kunga Dred Speaks to Director Mark One about Short Film ‘I Am Who’ Premiering at BUFF 2014

Kunga Dred Speaks to Director Mark One about Short Film 'I Am Who' Premiering at BUFF 2014

ON YOUR MARKS! In this fast paced, visually mediated world you could be forgiven for not knowing the name of Mark One Group creative agency. But you would have almost certainly seen some of the images created by this London based global reaching film and branding company. Founded by Mark One ...

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BBC Wales’ Launchpad Fund to Help Further Music Careers. Deadline to Apply 3rd November 2014

BBC Wales' Launchpad Fund to Help Further Music Careers. Deadline to Apply 3rd November 2014

The Launchpad Fund, part of the Horizons scheme to develop new contemporary music in Wales, is for those starting on their musical journey and at a crucial point in their development. Launchpad applications will be open from today to Wales-based artists and bands writing, producing and performing original contemporary popular music ...

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Labrinth

Labrinth

Timothy McKenzie  better known by his stage name Labrinth, is an English singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer. Initially, he was tipped to work as a producer, but Simon Cowell signed him to his record label Syco Music as a solo act. In the process, Labrinth became Cowell's first non-talent show ...

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Kwabs

Kwabs

Hailing from the United Kingdom, Kwabs follows in the footsteps of other electronically-tinged soul artists such as Sampha and James Blake, bringing his warm baritone to soul pieces informed by modern electronic music trends.   Facebook / Soundcloud / Twitter / Spotify     If any information on this page is missing or incorrect please ...

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Ella Eyre

Ella Eyre

Ella McMahon, better known by her stage name Ella Eyre, is a British singer and songwriter signed to Virgin EMI Records. She's known for her collaborations with Rudimental on their UK number one single "Waiting All Night" and Naughty Boy and Wiz Khalifa on his single "Think About It". Her debut ...

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ShakaRa Speaks On It: The MOBO’s Legacy Then, Now, Future?

SHAKARA

We all LOVED the MOBO’s. I am sure 99% of those reading this have a favorite ‘MOBO Moment’ they can recall from the Music Of Black Origin award show’s 17 year existence. Few would deny that the MOBO’s has played a key role in raising the profile of British Black Music in the UK since its inception in 1996 and for that, credit is due to Kanya King who undoubtedly made sacrifices, such as apparently remortgaging her house – to see this vision come to life.

It is within this context that critiques of the MOBO’s, what it has become, and where it appears to be heading, should be assessed. While many celebrated the mainstream success of British Black Music in the UK, there appears to be an increasing number of us asking whether the price of recognition was too high; the MOBO’s being just one indicator. Has success come at the price of the integrity of our music and the contributions of our community?

Omowale Malcolm X is often quoted as saying “History is best qualified to reward our research”. If the History of Black music is properly considered, we find an often identified yet woefully under considered pattern. Blues, Jazz, Soul, Reggae & Hip-Hop are popular genres which  exploded onto the world stage only to then become subject to “whitewash”. This “whitewash” manifested itself first in the control of the business of Black Music which then undoubtedly affects the art itself. So in the case of Blues & Jazz, white artists often dominated the stage as well as the boardroom and the music began to shift in order to suit the sensibilities of increasing white audiences.

mobo_no_urban

In each instance, entire generations of Black people worldwide appear to have been caught off guard by the corporate takeover of all ‘our’ popular music forms, whilst we were distracted, celebrating the “success” provided by being featured on the world stage. As a result, Black music is the ONLY music in which the main benefactors in economy and often accolade are not born of the people and culture who birthed the music.

So we have a situation in which the MOBO’s, which was expressly developed for the purpose of “elevating black music and culture to mainstream popular status in the UK” today promotes itself as “Europe’s leading urban music brand”. The use of “Urban” is a well established commercial tool designed to disconnect the music from its heritage, and it appears that MOBO’s is following this trend. From what I have seen and heard, here in lies the concern for many who were disappointed with the 2014 MOBO awards which took place last Wednesday 13th October. People expect the MOBO’s to set the trends as opposed to following them. Especially those that are set by the industry, which has been near criminal in its lack of recognition/respect for British Black Music and its black artists. So why once we have maneuvered ourselves into a position of influence do we seem to follow them as opposed to have them follow us?

As far as the MOBO’s are concerned, this has manifested itself with a number of critical omissions some of which have been challenged publicly. In 2006 & 2007 Jazz/Hip-Hop veteran Soweto Kinch and soul legend Omar respectively lead acts of demonstrations at the MOBO’s award show for omitting the Jazz category and failing to have a Soul Category altogether. This year, particular concern was given to the fact that the Afrobeats, Gospel and Reggae categories were relegated to off screen presentation along with the fact that there was no mention of recently deceased Reggae icon John Holt.

Reggae legend, John Holt

Reggae legend, John Holt

The latter omission is even more significant when it is considered that over the last decade at least, John Holt has consistently hosted arguably the largest Reggae concerts in the UK with full orchestra; selling out the Royal Albert Hall on countless occasions. In contrast, The MOBOs has not hesitated to pay homage to Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston, both of whom are more than likely considered far more commercially appealing to the mainstream than Mr Holt. This, coupled with the fact that Sean Paul seems to swipe an inordinate amount of “Best Reggae Act” MOBO awards when his output is compared with that of his peers, signals that the industry has a stronghold on who is deemed rewardable, and this stronghold is disconnected from the culture of the music on the ground.

Take Akala for example. A MOBO winner in 2006, when he declared “Roll With Us or get rolled over”. Since his SB.TV special in 2010, he has stood at the forefront of MCing in the UK with 2 albums (Knowledge is Power & Thieves Banquet) various tours associated with both albums, his Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company touring nationally – and throw in some of the most high profile radio sessions, particularly Fire In The Booth 1, 2 & 3 – all fuelled by an independent label for good measure! All of that and the brother has barely received a nomination over the recent years. Now, it is reasonable that some things may get overlooked at award shows, but for an artist of Akala’s prominence to be overlooked consistently year in year out suggests that the criteria for recognition must be called into question. On top of that, concerns are being raised as to the degree to which non-Black, particularly White artists appear to be increasingly dominating the awards. Jessie J, Plan B and most recently Sam Smith effectively dominating in ways that only Emile Sandae has come close to replicating.

The heightened focus of this critique in 2014 has been fuelled by an entire year of revelations as to how developed this dynamic has become. In the past year DJ 279 was axed from Choice FM only to be replaced by Tim Westwood, just before Capital drove the final nail in the coffin of its takeover and rebranded the station Capital Xtra. David Rodigan continues to be lauded as the number one Reggae DJ in the country over Robbo Ranks, Chris Goldfinger and all other DJs who have been BBC favorites. To much uproar Ed Sheeran was declared by BBC’s ‘Black/Urban’ station 1Xtra as the Most Powerful artist in Black music earlier this year, and who can forget the English Frank saga of 2013…Coupled with the fact that artists such as Ty, Wiley and even Lenny Henry have been particularly vocal about the lack of recognition of Black talent over the last year means that Sam Smith’s clean up could certainly be received as a slap in the face, from the one award show that should be celebrating black talent where other British awards shows fail to do.

But, MOBO’s does have it supporters. Amidst the rounded criticism, So Solid’s Mega Man took to twitter in defense of the institution he says supported him and his crew during their rise to prominence:

“The @MOBOAwards is only award show we have which even recognises urban talent, this is our awards show.”

When questioned about the apparent whitewashing he responded:

“It’s our people’s writing and producing for most of them…”

So Solid at the 1999 MOBO Awards

So Solid at the 1999 MOBO Awards

The latter may well be true and true to historic form it’s not any different to the dynamics of Elvis Presley being written for by Otis Blackwell, who defined much of the sound that would be associated with Elvis as well as his vocal performance style. This practice of black musicians creating smash hits became commonplace. Encouraging the whitewash of Rock ‘n’ Roll, R ‘n’ B and related genres, with Presley firmly placed as the King above all.

Using that example and the Rock and Roll era alone, it is reasonable to suggest that the issues surrounding black music today were very much foreseeable, and possibly preventable if the lessons of history were well and truly learned. As a spoken word artist I was added to the Mega Man twitter conversation by a brother who shared a spoken word piece I had written on the Urban dynamic. I was struck by the realisation that I had written the article an entire decade ago, in an era when such observations were often condemned as “Racist”. Yet here we are in 2014 seeing that having a “cultural melting pot” doesn’t make a people immune from the impacts of Racism on an economic and cultural level, even when the vehicle is their own music.

In this context we must address the issue of economics. Does the British black population have substantial enough black economy in which we can find companies such as HTC to sponsor an award show such as the MOBOs? While we may, justifiably,  critique the extent to which the MOBOs has given in to cooperate interests, can it be said that black music as a whole is immune from that kind of take over? A considered attempt at answering these questions will ensure that we are not constantly bolting the door once the horse has well and truly gone through it.

 

ShakaRa Speaks On It by Tafadzwa ShakaRa Mbandaka /  @ShakaRaBKS for the british blacklist

@DescantDeb Overview of Ade Solanke’s Play ‘Pandora’s Box’ & ‘Fight or Flight’ Panel Discussion

pandoras_box_new_poster

Pandora’s Box has come home to London, having started its national tour on September 1st. TBB interviewed playwright Ade Solanke and got to know a little of the labour pains of this particular project, which you can read here. We also discovered the determination and support system a production needs in order to achieve a tour like this.
It was, then, with great anticipation that I went along to the Broadway Theatre, Catford not only to see the play, but also to listen to the scheduled pre-performance panel discussion.

Solanke was joined by mentor Professor Osita Okagbue, MP Diane Abbott, Educationalist Mbeke Waseme and President Emeritus of the ‘100 Black Men of London’ project Ola Alake. For an hour or so before the staging, the theatre foyer played host to an interactive discussion, chaired by Alake, where some of the play’s themes were explored by the panellists and audience participants: the perception of young black men in British society, its source and perpetuation within the education system, and the advantages of gaining a portion of schooling in a less mistrustful or even hostile setting. A portion of the discussion was given over to the plight of young black women, mainly in terms of the shared lack of safety and feelings of a precarious place in society.
It was lively, but emotive, as parents in the audience asked advice about various issues. Possibly the most heart-breaking was the young Jamaican nurse whose young son was told, “My dad says blacks are not supposed to be smarter than Indians.”

Although the title was ‘Fight or Flight’ and with the exception of the Prof, there didn’t seem to be much consideration for those who have chosen to stay and fight. The expense alone to send a child to be educated (in a ‘good’ school) makes this completely inaccessible to many of the young black men more likely to fall prey to misperception than, I suspect, any of the panelist’s sons.
In fact, they asked the question, what to do to improve things here, which was slightly disappointing, since the audience seemed more informed of events like the recent Back 2 Black at BAFTA, its featured artists and speakers and Inspiration Award recipients – Akala, JaJa Soze and Shakeel Romero and Nathaniel Peat, to name a few (read TBB’s reflection piece here).
Still, all were enthused by the discussion as it came to an end and the play was imminent. Which was a joy!

Pandora’s Box is a comedy drama which very deftly finds drama in its comedy and comedy in its drama. It is sharply observant of sibling rivalries, parental guilt, teen dilemmas and, in some respects, the nature of respect. Solanke not only has an ear for dialogue, she has been able to utilise truths we all know and have heard before and sell them back to us in a fresh way
This is an incredibly strong cast, with stand-out performances from Yetunde Oduwole (Ronke) and Tunde Euba (Baba), utter maternal realism from Tomi Ogunjobi – Pandora herself and a scene between the 15 year-old Timi (Edward Kagutuzi) and Tope (Anyebe Anteyi) that was a joy on so many levels as the truth of it resonated even with my 15 year-old cousin!

Amour Owolabi’s ‘Principal Osun’ was brilliantly strange with his mix of arrogant pride in his school and the doom of those boys unfortunate enough not to be his pupils. Esther Uwejehah’s ‘Toyin’ was the embodiment of confused guilt and parental denial, whilst Chinwe Nwokolo’s ‘Bev’ was the cultural stranger delighted by the wonders of Nigeria, yet still centred in her identity as an Antiguan and Londoner. She was easy to empathise with.
This was a fully engaged audience, which has been the universal effect of the play to date. There were countless laugh-out-loud moments and a few where every audience member held their collective breath. The Team are to be congratulated. as they managed to transform a dank and dark night in a small Catford studio theatre into the heat of a Lagos day, agitated by a family’s search for a key to release the head of steam built up by years of simmering secrets and half-truths.

This is a play of our time and should be experienced by as many people as possible, being fully translatable cross-culturally as it is. Let’s hope it can transfer to the West End proper, once the tour ends.

LONDON VENUES

CLF Art Café, Bussey Building
(with half-term family participation activities)
27 Oct – 1 Nov, 3pm
www.clfartcafe.org | 020 7732 5275

Hackney Downs Studios
(no performances; half-term family participation activities only)
27 Oct – 1 Nov
hackneydownsstudios.wordpress.com/ | 020 3095 9742

 

 

review of  Pandora’s Box for the british blacklist by  @DescantDeb

A Reflection of Gone Too Far ‘The Politics of Identity & The Miseducation of Diasporan Youth’ By Orvil Kunga

Malachi Kirby 'Yemi' & Golda John 'Mum' - Gone Too Far! (2013)

Malachi Kirby ‘Yemi’ & Golda John ‘Mum’ – Gone Too Far! (2013)

Bola Agbaje and Destiny Ekaragha’s comedic film ‘Gone Too Far!’ examines the politics of identity but the butt of the jokes seems to be the miseducation of diasporan youth…

It’s a brave film by award winning writer Agbaje and director Ekaragha. The filmmakers use comedy to explore the situation felt by a Nigerian mother (Golda John) as she tries to eek out a life in a country which has long since benefitted from the dislocation of its foreign settlers and the confusion felt by her son, Yemi (Malachi Kirby) as he reluctantly opens up his bedroom and eventually his heart and mind in welcoming the brother he barely knows from a continent he barely has respect for.

The film has made history in that it’s the first ever-black female writer/director partnership to release a film in the U.K and Ekaragha is only the third Black female director to ever direct a British film. Their groundbreaking film takes us on a speedy ride through the concrete jungle of the South London streets as the brother’s battle with the harsh reality of their separation and their awkward coming together.

It is the no brands sandal vs. the high brand hi-top sneaker. The technological progressive but altruistically backward world, clashing with a world, fixed in the minds of many as a world, of monkeys, malaria and mud huts.
Young U.K. born ‘Razer’ (Tosin Cole) encapsulates this dichotomy. Proud to be born of Jamaican stock, he has an unhealthy contempt for Africa.
His character forms the immovable and ignorant object of bigotry normally placed on the racist white characters within such classic working class films as Scum (1987, Alan Clarke) and This Is England (2006, Shane Meadows). Razer’s pro- Jamaican personae anti African stance seem truly misinformed and his possessive and violent nature arrives to us like a tabloid newspaper headline.

The scene where ‘Razer’, turns off the car radio, mid-debate, not interested in learning about ‘race politics’ but preferring instead to smoke copious amounts of weed in a small car which does not seem to go anywhere, seems systematic of the closed mind-set often offered up as a representation of many of today’s youth.
Razer’s dislike for Africans is shared by his ‘on, off’ mixed race girlfriend, Armani, (Shanika Warren-Markland), who also espouses anti-African rhetoric as she too clings to her Jamaican ancestry despite little knowledge of her long-time absent, Jamaican father.

The filmmakers do not shy away from these contradictions, but these contradictions portray a severe dereliction of duty by an uneducated school system and adults who have been either absent, too busy, or unable to effectively galvanize the youth around the commonalities of their culture.
This worrying paradox is exemplified in the climatic scene where all the players have a stand off and as we look into their faces we are mindful that if the police were to drive by, the tropes of their ascribed culturalised tribalism would bear no importance, as all would be tagged as IC3 [1]. Not ‘Yardy’, not ‘Aff’, just bad, black and dangerous!

(l) Tosin Cole 'Razer' & (r) Miles McDonald 'Ghost' - Gone Too Far! (2013)

(l) Tosin Cole ‘Razer’ & (r) Miles McDonald ‘Ghost’ – Gone Too Far! (2013)

The parodies fill the screen and the talented writing finds comedy in the most sensitive of places. Cheap weave gags, Chinese restaurant staff who fear a visit from immigration control, an Asian shopkeeper who does not trust black people and a fast-food shop owner who has picked up a little Yoruba due to his proximity to his chicken hungry patrons.
Ekaragha’s cinematic creation of Agbaje’s award winning stage play looks at the issues which co-exist within contemporary Black society and within the cacophony of the laughter I felt a little sadness due to the gravity of the situation we now find ourselves in.
The light-skinned female ‘spoilt’ by a Europeanised perception of beauty, which historically has propelled light above dark, with dark often falling beneath its spell, Armani’s personality is as fractured as the community graphically portrayed on the big screen.
Armani is tall, her friend, Paris (Adelayo Adedayo), is short. She is light, her friend is dark. Polar opposites but both struggling in a society where men have been taught to either objectify or ignore them.

Like in so many Black narratives, a mother plays the absent father. Agbaje’s proud and hard-working patriarchal and matriarchal character has a loving but strict and over-bearing nature. Her traditional attire and culinary expertise also highlights a generational problem as Yemi, like many children born of parents from the continent, sees little value in speaking his mother language and exemplifies this disconnect as he purchases chicken and chips whilst on a shopping errand for okra. The film contains the occasional mixing of Yoruba and English, which forms an interesting hybridity of language. But some of the comedy nuances may have been lost to the none-Yoruba speaker, as subtitles were not offered. But judging from the laughter in the South London cinema I can only conclude that there were either a lot of Yoruba speakers in the space or the lack of linguistic aid was not a big issue.

Gone Too Far is a well crafted film especially considering its low budget and with a healthy cinematic release and good audience support, this ground-breaking venture will hopefully ensure BFI keeps the faith in supporting and funding up and coming talent from often overlooked sections of society. Whilst the controversial 12a certificate shows a sign of the times, the film’s vast topics will engage young people living both in and outside of the capital, as the issues portrayed are not just confined to the metropolis.

Anuva Hood (2011, Dirs. Adam Deacon Daniel Toland) another comedic parody of life on London streets was critically panned and with sci-fi hoody flick Attack the Block’s mammoth £8,000,000 budget unlikely to be recouped anytime soon, it seems as though the high rise council estate narrative is becoming just a little bit overfamiliar to those considered to be the target audience for the grit genre.
A point not missed by Stil Williams, the DOP working on Gone Too Far. Writing in his tech blog, the Director of Photography recounts a night scene where members of the crew had to be shuffled off set by concerned security staff, mindful that a small crowd of ‘locals’ were just getting a little bit too close to the story unfolding before them.

“This is our estate, get off our f*ck^ing estate!” Waving bottles fights nearly broke out! [2]

Whilst I praise the filmmakers for this seminal piece of work, I did leave the cinema with slight reservations.
The offspring of Jamaican parents have often been viewed with derision, lacking intelligence and portrayed as victim or feral perpetrator.
This film does little to redress this perception whilst Yemi’s character is able to arc fully; Armani and Razer are left on the margins, with no land to fully identify with. Both are left, isolated, angry and confused, unable to change in a changing world they seem ill-equipped for having been given an island in exchange for a continent. The film brings out the scars through the jokes and the discussions, which will surely follow, could well change how Black youth view themselves in contemporary Britain for some time to come.

There have not been many films made in the U.K that have been able to thematically articulate the diasporic sense of longing for a cohesive identity felt by those of African descent brought up in the U.K.
Apart from the usual themes of inner city gang violence and formulaic rom-coms, the experience of Africans in the UK has rarely been told in an intelligent and informative way on the big screen.
The audience which comprised of a large number of people under the age of 21, left with smiles on their faces and the story created by two young African women was not just historical, but might also create a platform for the next generation of African centered filmmaker to go even further.

 

article by Orvil Kunga  / @kungadred -  Founder/curator of  Welcome to Busseywood , African Film festival 2014

TBB Interview with Andy Siege Director of ‘Beti and Amare’ @ 2014 BFI London Film Festival Premiere

(l-r) Beti & Amare Actor/Producer, Pascal Dawson & Director/Writer, Andy Siege BFI London Film Festival 2014

(l-r) Beti & Amare Actor/Producer, Pascal Dawson & Director/Writer, Andy Siege
BFI London Film Festival 2014

Andy Siege was born to German Aide workers and he has a certain younger Penn Jillette-ness (of Penn and Teller) about him, which is almost prophetic, given what he is attempting to achieve with his first feature Beti and Amare, showing at the 2014 BFI Film Festival.
Through his production company, Kalulu Entertainment , he managed to raise $14, 000 – mainly self (i.e. family)-financing and some via Indiegogo crowd-funding, and has produced a unique work which, I think, has all the makings of a cult classic.

Set in 1930s Ethiopia, Beti is forced to flee the WWII Italian invasion and all of the terror and violence that face a beautiful young woman. She finds sanctuary with her grandfather in a remote part in the southlands of the country, but arrives just before circumstances force him to journey away from her. Even here, she is not entirely isolated from the perils of a country at war, or from a wondrous adventure when Amare literally falls from the sky.

I went along to speak with director-producer Andy Siege (AS) and was delighted to find actor-producer Pascal Dawson (PD) was also in attendance. Both unassuming and gently spoken, they were incredibly pleased to be at the BFI and very much captivated by their project – a story to engage and challenge the audience, not least because it has a feel of being made by an African…

AS: We are both persons of colour – but we’re not African genetically. I’m Persian, partially, and he’s (PD) Chinese.

I liked the affirmation, the bold statement of solidarity and empathy which, as you’ll see, is not simply for the purposes of a PC sound-bite. So, Beti and Amare, this is your first feature, you’ve done a few short films, you’ve done a few stage plays?

AS: Yes, and audio dramas and stuff. I’ve never sent anything to a festival previously.

Aren’t you glad you did? (Uh, yeah…) You were born in Kenya which is near Ethiopia and you…

PD: I was born in Canada, in Vancouver.

Is that where you met? Because you (AS) went there to study your creative writing…?

AS: I went there to study creative writing, then I went to Europe, then I went to Bath where I did a Master’s in Political Science… I went back to Vancouver Island to study another Master’s in Business, which I quit after 2 months and I got my money back; and I went to a small film school, where I met Pascal. He was just fresh out of high school.

And now, you are both co-founders of Kalulu Entertainment! So, the concept of Beti and Amare… now that I am speaking to you and hearing more, I can see that this is really an amalgamation of many of your interests and influences. It’s been described as an art film, experimental, psychological thriller, sci fi, love story, fantasy, historical drama… How do you see it?

AS: … I think the more choice you give the viewer, without making it annoying, the nicer the experience is, and I really wanted to make something which allows the viewer to decide how they want to see it. So, you can watch it as a sci fi – Amare falls out of the sky, you know, and he protects Beti and she protects him. Or you can see it as her psychological state and dissociation in the face of violence of WWII in Ethiopia, which is what happens when we are victims of traumatic violence. We remove ourselves from the situation, sometimes creating alternate realities, perhaps not necessarily specific alternate realties with aliens. But that’s what I wanted to do.

Pascal, were you involved in the development of the story at all, or strictly as an actor and producer?

PD: Strictly as actor and producer. We did create the company together, then we went to Ethiopia and Andy wrote the script. He showed me the script and… right away I fell in love with the story, I fell in love with Amare. I didn’t have to tell him to change anything, because the script was already just perfect…

Hiwot Asres, lead actress in 'Beti and Amare'

Hiwot Asres, lead actress in ‘Beti and Amare’

For your first scenes on-screen, it’s all very expressive. Did you have to discuss how you were going to approach that or was it all there on the page?

AS: It was all there in the script. I wrote it down to hand movements…I don’t remember how many pages, but it was 120 scenes… I had thought about it for a long while, but I wrote it in 3 weeks, while we were shooting a documentary in Ethiopia.

Film makers are such multi-taskers, it actually boggles the mind! So, how did you find Hiwot Asres, who plays Beti?

AS: We went to the Pushkin Cultural Centre in Addis Ababa, which is the Russian cultural centre. Actually Pushkin was the Russian Shakespeare or Goethe. He was part-Ethiopian, as well… I gave a talk to these young film makers and invited these actors to come along to an audition, which we were holding at the University – the Addis Ababa University. Hiwot was the 8th person we saw and when she left I told Pascal, “That’s the one!” …

PD: There were still a lot of people outside – like, at least 15-20 and I said, “At least, let’s look at all of them before we make a final decision!”

AS: And I was like, “Yeah, of course, but she’s the one!” This is her first starring role. She’s been in a bunch of Ethiopian films. Ethiopian directors tend to cast a different look, so I think that’s why she’s often been a supporting character, which will hopefully change now, because she really is extremely accomplished.

Why Ethiopia? Was that from your historical studies; was it that particular period, that Italian invasion that was foremost in your mind? Because you’re actually from Nairobi…

AS: I’m a pan-Africanist, and so Haile Selassie has always interested me in that respect. He was one of the founders of the African Union and so on. I had spent some time in Ethiopia, I wrote my Master’s thesis in Ethiopia for Bath. I wanted to go back – I just love the country… They say that the Holy Grail is in Ethiopia…

Beti and Amare has been described as being very much in the style of, “… oral legends passed down through generations…” (- Durban Review, Twichfilm), and Siege admits that his writing is very oral. He found that he put a lot of himself in the movie, so a lot of it flowed naturally for him. With his creative background, Beti and Amare does reflect the oral tradition element as well as the Monomyth structure. What about the language…

AS: It was filmed in Amharic. I wrote it in English and then got a local writer Yonas An Kidane, who is also one of the riders in the movie to translate it into Amharic.

Not only promoting the continent, but also using local talent! Speaking of the continent…Presumably it was shot on location?

PD: Yes.

OK, what kind of experience was being naked under the African sun? Because you do spend a bit of time naked. The hut looks very rustic and real, how did you cope with that, or did it all help with the slight bewilderment of the character landing on a completely new world?

PD: Yeah, of course. Well, being naked was a must for the script. For the first shot… that was OK, because I was lying on my stomach, so I didn’t really have to move – I was just lying in the sun. We put some sun cream on me, otherwise I would definitely have got sunburned. I think actually, it really worked for the camera, because I had a little shine on my skin from the sun screen. So, it looked a bit science-fictiony and ethereal. The second time I was naked, that was when I had to run and that’s when I had to just let my bits dangle!
Funny story, I was in the hut and Andy was outside saying, “OK, the camera’s rolling. Whenever you’re ready, Pascal.” And I was like, “I’m not ready, I’m not ready!” He said, “It’s OK, just tell me when you’re ready, and then we can shoot it.” I said, “I’m never gonna be ready. Just yell ‘ACTION!’ and I’ll come out!”

So this score! I thought it was quite beautiful. I loved the way that some of it was hummed, using the a cappella human voice and the same passages were then translated to acoustic guitar or flute. Then you used electronic music. Who helped you with the score and is it how you imagined it?

AS: I wrote the screenplay whilst listening to and hanging out with a specific musician in Addis, called Alula Araya. He’s a refugee from Eritrea – originally a land developer – and then was in the refugee camps for 10-15 years… He got himself a box guitar and became a musician. Beti is a refugee and so when I first heard Alula play in this bar in Addis… I saw the movie. I saw what it was gonna look like, because of the music. I asked him to record the different parts of the song separately – the instrumentals and the vocals, then I got some local Ethiopian musicians to play on local instruments – the krar and the… Ethiopian flute. I recorded everything together and everything separately and then, while editing the film… I asked the flautist to do a kind of jazzy thing with it – to improvise quite a lot. That really worked well. I was able to find any kind of emotion I needed… I also intended to bring in those sci fi elements. I had a friend from Vancouver, who is schizophrenic, come up with a bunch of electronics … and I used that… Later on, I got a German musician to kind of work on it again to make it a unified score. So, a lot people worked on this score. It’s gone though a lot of stages.

Pascal, how did you feel seeing yourself as an alien (with a completely different look) put to such evocative music?

PD: Watching it for the first time, I was just so drawn in by the whole film and how Andy edited it, just made it a masterpiece. The music in it is so beautiful, I just felt really excited when I watched it for the first time…

AS: … When I’m working on something, I’m able to work on things with different part of my brain. Then when we watched the rough cut for the first time, in one go, Pascal was surprised, because it was a real movie.  I was kind of surprised as well.

… I read the Durban review from July this year. Was that the first time it was shown?

AS: No. The first time was in the main competition in Moscow at the International Film Festival. Durban was the African premiere.

Do you think there are any more African-based films for either of you?

AS: Oh yes, definitely. I’m African! I definitely wanna tell more stories… Steve McQueen, the Oscar winner said in a recent interview… he was sitting at a round table with a bunch of other directors. All of them were white Americans and he asked them straight up “Why don’t you make movies with black main characters?”… Nobody wanted to say anything. They didn’t know what to say. I saw that as encouragement…because I want to make movies with African main characters. Most Africans are black, so… Often I’m interpreted as full white, but I don’t think that should matter.

We are getting to the point where it won’t matter, but I think it’s still a novelty, certainly in this country. It’s interesting, because on the continent, in Europe… Cannes has a very good track record with African film within the competition itself and the pan-African competition… Germany, Vienna, Moscow – all of these places also seem to embrace (African film)…I have to ask about the effects. Everyone else talked about the powerful imagery, your use of colour and effects and… I think there was some animation used, from what I could see… Was that a budgetary constraint or an artistic choice, how you envisioned it…?

AS: Both… I feel like low budget… isn’t necessarily negative, because it makes you feel more creative. It makes you problem-solve and that’s when beautiful things happen. When I was editing I did them (the VFX) really simply with my effects skills. I’m not a visual effects artist at all. Then I had a specialist work on them, David Teng Olsen was, at the time, teaching animation at Wellesley in the US. He’s an artist and he got what I was asking for… I decided on this kind of 80s visual effects…

Battlestar Galactica, actually. It was very reminiscent of the original series, I thought. Now knowing that there is this blurred perception of whether its real or a psychological journey that Beti is on, it makes (it)… a lot more powerful in that respect. You come from quite a solid line of film makers on the German side of your family…(Grandson of actor Rudolf Siege (active 1958-1967) and the great-nephew of director Wolfgang Staudt, a legend himself.) Did you know your grandfather?

AS: I never met my grandfather or my great-uncle… Yes, I heard about them quite a lot. I think that had something to do with when I was really small in Zambia, wanting to become a cowboy or a film director…

Is there an acting legacy or a film making legacy in your family, Pascal?

PD: My father did do one documentary in Vietnam when he was travelling over there. But other than that there’s no film or acting legacy. He’s not with us anymore.

Can you tell me anything more about Beti’s grandfather, the actors who portrayed him?

AS: The grandfather was a local – a security guard. He wasn’t an actor at all – he was just himself. He just IS that person and I think that worked really well…I was really lucky with him.

The Militia, who are the immediate threat in this context, were they also local?

AS: Yonas An Kidane, the translator is one of the Militia; Biniyam Kore is the main rider; the main Militia is Mahdere Sisay, who is our co-producer. They weren’t actors either, apart from Delelegne Sharwe, who has done theatre.

Was there anything in particular you wanted to say or to put out there, either about your character (PD) or the film (AS) or about the company?

AS: …The name Kalulu – all over Africa there are these stories about a rabbit, who tricks the bigger animals, who isn’t strong, but he’s smart. In Zambia, his name is Kalulu… He was actually brought over to the States by slaves where he turned into the Uncle Remus stories. He came to the UK as Brer Rabbit. So Kalulu has had lots of children all over the world and one of them was Bugs Bunny! So, I like to say that Kalulu is Bugs Bunny’s grandfather. When I was a small kid, I grew up on these stories of Kalulu, because I lived quite rurally in the villages with my friends.

Kalulu take Beti and Amare up to Scotland next – to the Africa In Motion Film festival where there will be a couple of special Halloween screenings: Free/non-ticketed in Glasgow on Thursday October 30 (7pm), and £5 entry at Summerhall in Edinburgh on Friday October 31st (7pm). They are really looking forward to it, as they are going to dress up for a fun costume screening! After that, the film goes to Nigeria, then Bahamas.

Beti and Amare showed at the BFI on October 17-19, so I apologise to the TBB faithful and to my interviewees for the late notice. However, distribution is currently through Aya Distribution. Kalulu are looking for a theatrical distributor with the hope of gaining a general release. Maybe, with the help of social media and a genuinely positive buzz, Beti and Amare will touch down again soon! See the trailer until then…

 

interview for the british blacklist by  @DescantDeb

GO TO The Afrofuturism Film Season As Part of the 2014 BFI Sci Fi Film Festival

bfi_afrofuturism_2014

The beguiling term ‘Afrofuturism’ was coined by cultural critic Mark Dery in his 1994 essay ‘Black to the Future.’ Dery was specifically addressing the work of African-American authors – including the trailblazing likes of Samuel R Delany and Octavia Butler – whose science fiction prose explored black themes within the context of developing 20th century technology.

Over the years, however, the term has come to refer more generally to works (both new and historic) which engage with ideas around imagined black futures across a variety of media and disciplines. Key reference points include magical realism, Afrocentricity and non-Western cosmologies and theology.

As well as seeking to entertain, Afrofuturistic works look to critique both the present-day dilemmas of black people and to interrogate and re-examine significant, often traumatic, events of the past (slavery, for example, is a recurring theme in Afrofuturistic texts).

Afrofuturism, then, is a broad canvas, but notable examples include the visual art of Wangechi Mutu, Jean-Michel Basquiat and graffitist Rammellzee; the performance art of Chicago-based Nick Cave; the music and cosmic imagery of Sun Ra, Parliament-Funkadelic and OutKast; and the pioneering techno of Juan Atkins and Derrick May. The most prominent current proponent of Afrofuturist aesthetics is the Archandroid herself, Janelle Monáe, whose hyper-stylised music videos have explored the realms of bondage and freedom through fashion and robotics.

Using this diverse body of ideas as a launchpad, Inside Afrofuturism spotlights some key cinematic works that have engaged with, inspired or been inspired by this ever-evolving stylistic and intellectual cornucopia. On the 40th anniversary of its release – and the 100th anniversary of the birth of its star – we present the legendary Sun Ra in Space Is the Place: a stunning swirl of cosmology, comedy and social consciousness which remains the ultimate filmic expression of Afrofuturistic ideas. Also included are forays into black-themed science fiction, documentaries which shine a spotlight on Afrofuturistic pioneers, and genre-bending global cinema which vividly conjures alternate black pasts and futures. To take a trip inside Afrofuturism is to have your horizons broadened forever.

Film Schedule:

Sankofa

Sankofa

SankofaDec 1, 2014 8:20 PM - A blistering, time-bending slavery parable which interrogates the past through a contemporary lens. This blistering parable by Ethiopian-born, US-based director Haile Gerima unspools the story of a self-absorbed black American fashion model who, while on a photo shoot in Ghana, is spiritually transported back to a plantation in the antebellum south. Here, she experiences the physical and psychic horrors of slavery, and eventually the redemptive power of community and rebellion. Sankofa is a beautiful and disturbing Afrocentric interrogation of the past through a contemporary lens.

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

 

Space Is the Place -9, 2014 6:40 PM - Avant-garde musician and mystic Sun Ra stars in a one-off fusion of cosmology, comedy and social consciousness.

The late, legendary avant-garde jazz musician and mystic Sun Ra – who would have celebrated his 100th birthday in May this year – starred in the movie version of his concept album ‘Space Is the Place’: his sole fiction film appearance. This kaleidoscopic, hugely entertaining adventure rejects a linear plot in favour of a mélange of interplanetary travel, sharp social commentary, goofy pseudo-Blaxploitation stylistics, and thrilling concert performance.

Plus Afronauts (USA 2014. Dir Frances Bodomo. 13min). This stylish, brilliantly entertaining short is set on July 16 1969, when America is preparing to launch Apollo 11. Thousands of miles away, the Zambia Space Academy hopes to beat America to the moon. How will it end?

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty_BFI_afrofuturism_2014

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty + Skype Q&A with director Terence Nance - Nov 29, 2014 2:00 PM - An explosively creative romance that combines Afrofuturistic imagery with heartfelt reflection.

This explosively creative debut feature charts the relationship between a man (Nance) and a young woman (Minter), as it teeters on the line between platonic and romantic. Weaving an alluring tapestry of live action, home video and Afrofuturistic animation, Nance explores the fantasies, memories and emotions of a single moment in time.

Plus Touch (UK 2014. Dir Shola Amoo. 13min). A fractured, futuristic love story.

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

Ornette: Made in America - Nov 29, 2014 8:45 PM - An entertaining portrait of free-form jazz musician and forward-thinker Ornette Coleman.

Is it a bird? A plane? No, it’s legendary free-form jazz musician Ornette Coleman floating through a charmingly analogue rendering of outer space, in this documentary by experimental filmmaker Shirley Clarke. NASA once asked Coleman to create some work to coincide with their new shuttle program, and this compelling film shows why. Thrilling performance excerpts, futuristic music videos and imaginative reenactments of Coleman’s childhood mingle to create an invigorating portrait of a unique artist and original thinker.

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

Exploring AfrofuturismThe Last Angel of History_BFI_2014

Exploring Afrofuturism: The Last Angel of History

Exploring Afrofuturism: The Last Angel of History + Panel Discussion - Nov 30, 2014 3:15 PM - An intriguing blend of sci-fi parable and essay film followed by a discussion on Afrofuturist themes.

Crafted by the influential British outfit Black Audio Film Collective, The Last Angel of History is a tantalising blend of sci-fi parable and essay film, where interviews with esteemed musicians, writers and cultural critics are interwoven with the fictional story of the time-travelling ‘data thief.’

Following the screening, season curator Ashley Clark explores key ideas and issues associated with the ever-evolving Afrofuturist movement with academic Mark Bould, writer and musician Anthony Joseph and curator Zoe Whitley

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

The Brother from Another Planet - Nov 30, 2014 5:30 PM - This hugely entertaining time capsule of 80s New York doubles as a sci-fi.

Sayles’ witty urban spin on the runaway slave narrative features an expressive performance from Joe Morton as a mute, unnamed extraterrestrial who crash-lands in Harlem after a spaceship accident, and soon finds himself on the run from two mysterious white men. Stylishly shot by regular Spike Lee collaborator Ernest Dickerson, Brother offers a thought-provoking spin on the use of the black image in science fiction, and celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

Also screens in December.

Plus Pumzi (South Africa-Kenya 2009. Dir Wanuri Kahiu. 21min). Kenya’s first science fiction film takes a dazzling trip into a post-apocalyptic world in which water has almost run out.

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

Born in Flames Discussion_BFI_2014

Born in Flames + Discussion

Born in Flames + DiscussionNov 28, 2014 8:30 PM - A dizzying, doc-style feminist sci-fi set in a future New York City.

Borden’s dizzying, doc-style feminist sci-fi is set in New York ten years after a peaceful socialist revolution has rendered all men equal, leaving women to pick up the battle. It focuses on two feminist groups, each voicing their concerns via pirate radio. Tricky issues of class, racism and sexism are broached throughout with confidence and post-punk swagger.

Plus Robots of Brixton (UK 2011. Kibwe Tavares. 6min). Tension erupts among a group of young robots attempting to survive the daily grind.

Followed by a discussion with Emma Dabiri, Jemma Desai and Sophie Mayer, chaired by Gaylene Gould.

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

Afrika Bambaataa in Conversation, Hosted by Don LettsDec 1, 2014 6:20 PM - Hear from the legendary ‘godfather of hip-hop’ and founder of Universal Zulu Nation.

Alongside Sun Ra and George Clinton, Afrika Bambaataa is one of the true Afrofuturist musical pioneers. He developed the electro-funk sound with ‘Planet Rock,’ the 1982 hip-hop track that infused 808 beats with a techno-pop futurism inspired by German electronic pioneers ‘Kraftwerk.’ Combining wrap-around sunglasses with Egyptian and native American headgear, Bambaataa rocked a look that perfectly matched the ‘outer space’ vibe of the new sound he’d created. He was a seminal Bronx DJ during the 70s, and – as one of the three main originators of breakbeat DJing – he became affectionately known as ‘The Godfather’ of hip-hop culture. Through his Universal Zulu Nation collective (which includes the likes of ‘De La Soul’, ‘A Tribe Called Quest’ and ‘The Jungle Brothers’), he has helped spread black consciousness and hip-hop culture throughout the world with a message of peace, unity, love and having fun. We’re delighted to welcome this cultural icon the BFI stage to discuss Afrofuturism, cinema, music and more with DJ, musician and filmmaker Don Letts.

Book Tickets: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk

 

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