The ever-dramatic race for the White House was more controversial than ever this year – and we all know how it ended now. But the arrival of the 2016 US Presidential Election was also the chief reason behind Chicago rapper Common releasing his eleventh studio album, Black America Again. It’s an invigorating record for the turbulent times that America, and the world, are facing.
Alicia Keys’ sixth album, Here, is an unexpected masterwork. Quite unlike her previous release, Girl on Fire, it is an album infused with rhythm, creativity and purpose not heard since her earliest albums. And it’s also one of this year’s must-hear releases.
In the words of director and artist Simon Frederick: “Black is the new black”. And few things this year have brought delight, joy and open-mouthed awe to me than the sight of black sisters rocking natural curls with pride. Alicia Keys, Solange, Corinne Bailey Rae, Fleur East, Nao and Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo, to name but a few of the music world’s natural hair heroes.
But what has hair got to do with music – and Lion Babe specifically? More than you’d think. Hair is an express of the self. And anyone who knows what it’s like maintaining an afro, day in, day out, will tell you that – just ask Erykah Badu, India.Arie or Solange. Jillian Hervey, Lion Babe’s majestic frontwoman, wears a mane of golden curls that look as though they were a gift from the goddess Oshun herself.
Hervey’s natural hair journey – as well as the fact she is the daughter of singer and actress, Vanessa Williams – brought her face to face with taunts, teases and pressure for her to conform to her attacker’s standards of beauty. But, as she told Glamour magazine earlier this year, returning to natural hair led her to feel “very comfortable in my skin and really confident about who I was”. The Lion Babe of today could not exist without this comfortable, confident brown-skinned wonder woman.
D’Gaf, LondonTo see spoken word poet, Shareefa Energy, and her performing friends is to witness a bountiful celebration of generosity and positivity. A celebration that smacks in the face of the continued tokenisation of women with agency in our society.
Shareefa launched her debut EP, called Reasoning with Self, at D’Gaf in Leyton, Tuesday evening, July 21, and to mark the occasion she organised her own spoken word poetry night with a guest line-up of all-female acts. What follows is simply a taste of what these eloquent sisters had to show.
Energised. That’s the way I am still feeling now, having returned from a spoken word poetry night at SOAS University, London. Hosted by poet, writer and teacher, JJ Bola, the evening (on April 30) was the final event in series that has grown far beyond what its organisers at the Decolonising Our Minds Society expected.
They’ve held events about “deconstructing social norms that are remnants of colonial thought” for last couple months, including a discussion with British-Jamaican filmmaker, Cecile Emeke, which had to be moved to a bigger venue because of sheer demand. The cosy chillout zone-cum-lecture space in SOAS’s main building was similarly packed for yesterday night’s parade of vibrant performances.
If I could show the sights, bring you the sounds and allow you to feel the exchange of energies at play that night, at Hype your writers like your rappers, with more than these simple words, I would. Videos were taken, but they’re never around when you need them and nor do they convey the full flavour in their 16:9 window frame. But, even without a poet roster or schedule sheet for this open mic night, I will try, right now, to give you a sense of what occurred.
You might not know his name, but you’ll certainly have heard his music. In the wake of his contribution to Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’, his profile has aptly been raised, but this musician, songwriter and producer has been unleashing trendsetting-hits for decades. A fact too few people appreciate to this day.
He is, of course, Nile Rodgers. One half of rhythm kings Chic, along with his late partner Bernard Edwards, Rodgers has masterminded hit, after hit, after hit, and then some.
It’s a real struggle to try and sum up what’s so arresting about Marlena Shaw. This New York-born chanteuse of soul and blues is best known in the UK for her interpretation of ‘California Soul’, the exuberant, feel-good soul-stunner written by Ashford & Simpson.
From the instant Shaw’s coffee-blend-rich voice takes over from the gust of strings and hand claps that greet your ears, you are enveloped by visions of a picturesque California. Glamorous figures gliding by sun-soaked beach strips; open-topped convertibles streaking through the heat haze, coursing down bare roadways; M&S Food ad-style close-ups of buffet tables and barbeques awaiting party guests; lovers laughing together like not a thing in the world could trouble them. Not just good times, the best of times.
You have to be certain kind of crazy to launch a print magazine in today’s climate. Yet the magazines that are providing stories and content that readers can’t find anywhere else and, most importantly, continue to serve the needs of an active community are the ones that are still in good health.
Nu People, a lifestyle magazine for black people, is a fresh publication that has the potential to become an essential companion for its target audience – one that is desperately underserved in Britain today.