Category Archives: Article

There’s Something About Chimamanda

Chimamanda-Ngozi-AdichieFor most people, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s second novel Half of a Yellow Sun was their introduction to African literature and Adichie’s growing cannon of fiction. Conversely, I first met Adichie in the pages of her first novel Purple Hibiscus, and preferred it to her second, possibly because I was only just understanding the history of Biafra that so grounds the award-wining text. During my A-levels I studied her collection of short stories: The Thing Around Your Neck, and today spent just under £40 on her latest  novel Americanah. I state all this in order to ensure that the reader is aware that Adichie is neither a flash in the pan writer, nor a token symbol of the African canon, but rather a solid and ever-expanding force in global literature. 

 This evening, after a very lucky purchase to the Cambridge Wordfest seminar featuring Adichie, I sat in the Palmerston Room of St. John’s College with eager anticipation. The following account is everything I scribbled in my Moleskin diary (what other option is there?) whilst wedged beside two elderly English ladies who were ever so curious to decipher my scrawl. The interview was chaired by Alex Clarke, the narration (influenced by retrospective analysis and now steady hands) by me. Although it is quite lengthy i implore you to read through, she has some incredible pearls, and her question and answer session is the definition of how to be a BOSS. 

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The Palmerston Room  of St. John’s has a capacity exceeding 300. I know, because two years ago I sat and watched myself get inducted  in that very room. Today it is crowded, not with students, but mainly geriatrics and those that have or are about to hit their half a century mark. There are very few women of colour (let alone men) and for some reason that interests me. On one hand, after the total sum of ethnic people halts at ten, I conclude that hey, it’s Cambridge what can I expect. Yet listening to the conversations that spool around me, it becomes apparent that, like Jon Snow, many of the audience members would have been young adults when Biafra hit the West. The first image of Africa post-independence, the first time images of children suffering from kwashiorkor at the expense of ‘tribal warfare’ really hit home, Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun was both topical and insightful for this generation. It resonated with their experiences, not least because, as she candidly states towards the end of the interview, many of the audience members would have had relatives who were instrumental to the construction of Nigeria, and inevitably it’s demise (yes, she literally said that).

As people pile in the heat becomes stifling, the anticipation crawling at your skin. Late-comers eagle eye vacant seats, the elderly lady next to me gets her toe crushed by a desperate scavenger. All eyes are fixed earnestly on the stage. It’s empty, except for two white chairs and a matching table, inspired by Ikea, decorated with a jug of water, two cups and a pair of microphones. At this point there are only four women of colour noted, excluding myself. One has an afro-hawk with shaved sides, the others perms, weaves, and then there’s me, with a natural afro tied back into a large poof, with a clipped fringe. I note this, because Americanah and Adichie, are both obsessed with hair – especially the politics of black women’s hair.

Dressed in a black top and jacket,  forest green shorts with red trimming all made out of traditional cloth, over dark tights and high-heels, Adichie looks like the perfect image from ‘Black-Girls Killing It’. She looks fierce. African, beautiful, and with her hair piled up on her head and highlighted by her afro-kinky extensions (she proudly mentions later) she looks regal.  The audience clap, she smiles benignly, takes her seat and is introduced by the MC. The MC gets her name wrong – what a shame (I reserve judgement, that is for another post).

She begins with a short reading from Americanah. Recently, a friend described Chinua Achebe’s prose (Adichie’s greatest literary influence) as palm wine. I’ve never tasted palm wine, but listening to her voice, flecked with a subtle naija accent, rich, deep and confident,  pool over the audio system, i’m sure you can drink palm-wine through your ears. Definitely. Then we begin:

Americanah

Americanah

There is a disjuncture between Adichie and her audience simply because her novel is concerned with the politics of black women’s hair. Her protagonist complains about having to travel to Trenton to get her braids done, as Princeton wouldn’t have a black hair salon. The audience giggle but find the description of a grown American man eating ice-cream far more humorous. It’s only until Adichie shows that women’s hair in general is political that change starts dropping.

“I think white women’s hair is very different to black women’s hair. But white women’s hair can be political, for example, when they choose not to colour it. Then they are presented as one of those ‘earthly organic types’”. At this the audience laugh.

‘The difficulty for black women, is that the way our hair grows on our heads is not something the world likes. (Audience giggle), No – it’s true’, she’s insistent, leans forwards and gets serious.

Growing up I used to always want straight hair. And we weren’t allowed it in secondary school. So in the holidays I would get it straightened with the hot comb. Even though it could burn me, I loved it. It was only until I got a really nasty burn from a relaxer when I was at University, that I suddenly decided I didn’t like this any more. I wanted to love my own hair. But it was a very long journey. It wasn’t easy. Even now, underneath here (she touches the pile of braids that crown her head), I have a very thick afro. Now, my mother loves me, but when she sees it she asks me – when are you going to do something with your hair? I.e, when are you going to straighten it. Even my cousins, when they see my hair, they always say (here she switches to a Naija accent), Aunty, your hair is very rough’.

The audience titter, but they still haven’t grasped the depth of the identity crisis Adichie is pointing too. But this woman is astute and fearless in the best of ways – she tells it like it is.

Hair is political for black women because it casts allusions about our character. Now, if three women were to get onto this stage, all dressed the same, but one with dreads, one with straight hair like yours (she points at Alex Clarke), the other with an afro, we are going to draw very different conclusions. The best is that they are vegetarian (a loud guwaff erupts), the worst is that they are ‘angry black women’. Silence. ‘There is this idea, that black hair as it is, is not suitable. If we were to go for a job interview, our hair as an Afro or in dreads would not be deemed acceptable. You’d think – oh this one’s going to be trouble, if they aren’t vegetarians, then they’re radicals, maybe even Black Panthers.’

Adichie says all this with a smile on her face, her tone easy and non-judgmental, but suddenly her audience are starting to think.

I’d love it, if after this discussion or after reading the book, the people in here, when they do job interviews, wouldn’t judge someone because they have dreads or a fro. They wouldn’t assume someone is a musician or an artists or writes poetry because their hair is natural. Maybe, there will be someone in the audience who runs a magazine, and after this will think – ok black hair isn’t scary. Maybe i’ll put someone on the front cover of the magazine who has natural hair. Because growing up, if all a young black girl sees is straight hair, she’s going to want that. When you see those before and after images in magazines, the before image she always has natural hair, the after image it’s straight. It’s basically saying natural hair is ugly’.

At this point I am silently fist-pumping Adichie to victory. Now she’s said a lot that I haven’t written, about her relationship to America (which she is grateful for because they gave her money for education) and Britain. Britain she views as belonging to her parents generation. It was the only place they looked to because it had money and was instrumental in the construction of Nigeria, but now  the country isn’t doing so well,  young Nigerians are looking to the US, because it has money (oh UK financial crisis, look what you’re making us miss out on!).  But now – onto Question Time Adichie style!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Hay festival 2012Q: How does Half of a Yellow Sun differ to Americanah?

A: 1/2 YS made me cry and cry. Americanah made me laugh and laugh. 1/2YS made me cry because I was mining the pain of my people. My father was sharing things with me about Biafra that he had never told anyone before. I felt very fragile writing it. With Americanah I was laughing, because I was intrigued by the absurdity of race. Coming to America was the first time I realized I was black. (audience laugh). No really, I arrived and I suddenly realised I was ‘black’. We have a lot of problems in Nigeria, but race isn’t one of them. I felt like, in the US I could observe things and criticise racial issues, because whilst I was black, I am not an African-American. I am Nigerian. Therefore race wasn’t so much of an issue for me before I went to University, it was something I learnt. Writing Americanah I used to wonder if it was wrong that i found it so funny, you know, I thought that i’d be one of those people who thinks they’re hilarious and then tells someone a joke and  they’re like….ok? (Laughter, this sums up my humor perfectly).  

I am passionate about gender and I am a happy fierce feminist. I am keen on women’s issues but not in an “issues” way (she laughs). I am passionate about the multiplicity of female voices and what constitutes femininity.

Q: What do you think of Chinua Achebe?

A: (Pause and she looks very emotional). He was a man of intense integrity, he told stories beautifully, brought dignity to my history and made it worthy of literature. 

Q: (MY QUESTION, I was sweating but forged ahead).  My name is Kehinde (yes i’m going to buss out the traditional name!), and I am an English student here at John’s. I was fascinated by you stating that when you were in the states you knew that Nigeria was your home. As someone born here, having studied English, I feel more and more as though Nigeria is also home or has a claim over me. I was wondering how you came to the conclusion and contentment that Nigeria was also home for you.

A: First and fore most I am a Nigerian. That is non-negotiable. Though I am grateful to the US, Nigeria is my home. More importantly Anambra state (she then names her patrilineal town and village, I was too engrossed to scrawl it down, shame on me) is home for me. I think being in the States has made me understand the difference in race, the US added to my acknowledgement of being black. Initially when an African-American would be like to me – ‘Hey Sister’ – I would move away thinking ‘No, no  I am not your Sistah (in Naija accent), because I knew that being black had bad connotations in the US. But now, I am not afraid to acknowledge that. I think being in the US helped me to understand and redefine race and being black.

At this point she asks them to turn the house lights up so she can SEE MY HAIR!!!

A: I like your hair. It’s super cool. Really cool, I love it. When you were asking the question i couldn’t see your hair, but now I can I really like it

I died…literally and was born again. The audience clapped. Power to black women’s hair being beautiful. Boom!Chimamanda-Ngozi-Adichie-Commonwealth-Lecture-2012

Q: You talk a a lot about yourself as a Nigerian, and you formerly mentioned Britain’s sins in Nigeria. Is there such a thing as being Nigerian? And has Nigeria made it yet.

“Trigger warning – this is when Adichie shows you what it means to be A BOSS”

A: Well I think what you are really saying is ‘Didn’t we (the British) do well in creating Nigeria?’ Parred. Straight out, woman went IN. ‘Is there such thing as Nigeria? Yes, you created it. Is it working, no. You can’t expect Nigeria to have it all together. Maybe your father was involved in setting up Nigeria. It takes time to make a country work. The concept of a ‘Nation’ is an idea. First and foremost, when you came and lumped together groups of people that, apart from perhaps trade, had no actual relationship with one another, you can’t expect it to work. I mean even today, the North and South are so different. Yes, there is such thing as Nigeria in the sense that we have for example the same education curriculum, but we are very different culturally. There are larger characteristics. For example, all Nigerians are aggressive, and we have this very confident swagger which means we act like we own everything, even though Ghana as things worked out and we don’t, we still believe we run the continent (laughs). We won’t break apart, but we still have a way to go. 

I suppose the question you are asking is ‘Do I wish the ancestors of people here hadn’t gone meddling, Yes, I do.  Can I change that, No’.

And she said it all with a beautiful smile and a calm tone.

This woman is the image of intellectual grace, talent, beauty and power. She is proud to be an Igbo woman, to be a ‘fierce and happy feminist’, and to speak the truth. There is so much more scribbled down but i’ve already passed the 2000 word count, so figure I should stop around about now. If you haven’t read her work, GO, if you haven’t got Americanah GET. This woman is a Queen. I am proud to be half Igbo, also from Anambra state (yes I told her that when I got my book signed, and my family surnames and my Igbo name, she was duly impressed and inquired some more. I’m sure if I dig hard enough we can find some common ancestor, Nigerians are all related, she also made a point of saying how Glorious may hair was and how she was proud I was wearing such glorious hair – allow a girl to be gassed for once in her life), but she has made me proud and excited to be part of a long, colorful, heritage that embraces great writing, and now hair.

What a Queen. A real, bona-fide African Queen.

Adichie in a recent Ted Lecture: Again, what a Queen:

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#345 ~ Laura Clemo


ClemoSultry and subtle, it isn’t often you hear modern music that reverberates with the tones of a bygone era of jazzy soul. Just turned 22 and a recent graduate of Cambridge University, Laura Clemo mightn’t look like your typical ‘voice,’ but when she sings your heart can’t help but weep in gratitude. There’s a haunting quality that hangs delicately around her acoustic sets. I had the privilege of watching her at a summer ball last year, and though she sat alone on a stool, guitar in hand, she was riveting. An honesty coloured with a depth only attained as the illusion of naiveté begins to fade, her lyrics are wry and penetrating.

Smooth, sultry and personal, there’s a hint of Melody Gardot, a lighter Adele with a bit of Eva Cassidy thrown in to the mix, but more importantly, a large dose of the phenomenal artist herself.  Laura Clemo is one of those musicians who could so easily be humming on the peripheries of music circles, but if you get a chance to listen to her music, you will most certainly find yourself soaring. New voice, young talent and a future of potential: watch this space.

Check out her Facebook page by clicking here and her newest release (which inspired this post) Save Me, below.

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#341 ~ I’m Every Woman

You are approaching womanhood. Those hips that had always been so narrow, eliciting a pitying head shake from Mothers who could see decades down the line into the labour ward and preempt the cries of pain that would ensue – well they are still narrow, but your thighs are definitely larger. Although the cup size hasn’t changed, you now know that if you just adjust the straps, it might just fit – well at list it’ll fit better. The grease globules that adorned your face like stick on jewels have reduced in size and frequency, now you just need to work on removing the scars you created from picking, or rather Mum created (but that’s another story…). All in all, you are making the slow crawl into womanhood.

It seems different to the other time. Why, you wonder naively. Surely womanhood occurred when that pack of ‘Always Ultra Light’ appeared surreptitiously in your underwear draw. No my friend, no that is called puberty. Don’t you remember? Once that cycle had begun, Mum took you to the Chinese restaurant to celebrate – you were finally, officially, fertile. You didn’t understand why stomach cramps and blood equated to a buffet of spring rolls and hoisin duck, you probably appeared quite ungrateful – very ungrateful. Besides, Chasing Dragon just really wasn’t that good…pidgin meat.  But that’s ok now, because Womanhood will be very different (you say proudly, placing a captial letter to make it seem more definitive.)

There isn’t a specific time when the Big W says hello. It’s more a feeling. When you were a little girl, well you were a little girl. A child, people oo’d and aah’d about you. You got smacked, you got treats, you were a kid. Then you became a tomboy child (that’s when the disappointed head shakes began, don’t worry, you’ve redeemed yourself ever so slightly, that prom dress…good choice). You were still a kid, slightly androgynous, but that’s fine, you had KS1 SATS and football to deal with. Then you had the gawky phase. The legs shot out, the hand-eye-co-ordination jumped ship every time those Ikea glass slipped between your butter fingers. Getting food into your mouth was a mission, and you slept like hibernation was the ‘in-thing’. Yet slowly, you began to wake up, and when you did something had shifted in people’s pupils. It was a blurry image at first, but the closer you peered, the more you realized it was your mouth, finally released from the iron claw of braces, your eyes framed by spectacles, your nose, no longer resembling a hill potted with mole-holes, your eyebrows slightly reddened from threading…it was you….starting the journey into womanhood.

Now, when you set off on this long expedition which goes from point A to the end of your life, you have two courses available. On the one hand you will be the girl/woman/thing that is admired, appreciated or acknowledged by her own age mates. That means you will get dates. Yes, yes you will. Or you will be the girl who reminds old men of their youth – that means you will find yourself in awkward conversations or be hit on by grandpa’s – yes, yes you will. I fell into the latter category. For the majority of the time it’s ok. You get complimented by men who are too old to try and chase you – literally and figuratively. You don’t need a rape alarm to scare them off, your beauty has probably given them an asthma attack, the jolt of love like an unwanted defibrillator (time to learn first aid). Once in a while, the one’s who can’t actually imagine being at your birth, but are well and truly settled in the decade above you, will give you the wonky eye. How do you avoid them? No my friend, I am too young for you, but not too young to be your ‘friend.’ If you are not a particularly assertive person, a.k.a moi, then you are inundated with awkward situations which steal your thunder, your mojo, and your patience for the look of love – you need to get out of this depressive state.

If you fell into the former category, you will be tempted by sex. You will also have to deal with the immaturity of boys who think they are men, but haven’t quite made it. No boys, this is why you are still called boys. The beard, the deep voice and the sexy cologne do not fool us, so don’t fool yourselves.

The difficulty with Womanhood, being a girl who’s just about to open it’s well used gate, I can feel it calling to me, sucking me, in there is no escape, is that you become a Woman. It sounds silly, but trying saying the word: Woman, Woooman, Womb man, Womaaaaan, Woe maaayyyn, Woman. That is a deep word. A heavy word. It is weighted. What is a woman? What makes a woman? They say behind every [great] man is a woman – but who or what is behind a woman? Other women? Who’s behind a crap man for that matter? Men? Ghosts?

Once you dress yourself in the cloth of Womanhood there is a responsibility that comes with it. A responsibility in your actions. The relationships you enter into are mature, serious, there is a gravity to you. A wealth. It’s exciting, but daunting. I feel i’ll put on metaphorical pounds once I become a woman, just to ensure I understand how weighty the proposition is. Wooommmmaaaaan.

What a strange word. I wonder if people will see me any differently. Will they see the little girl who laughs and run’s riot behind this scarred skin? Will they notice the tomboy in the frown and cutting eyes? Or the gawky teenage who laughs at inappropriate moments, and ends up in a coughing fit because they still haven’t mastered how to breathe. And what about the woman that’s about to take center stage. Is she ready? Is she happy? Is she excited? Does she know that’s what she is? A woman?

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#334 ~ The Icarus Girl

1icarusgirlTwins are a fascinating natural phenomena. Mirror twins more so. Yet whether they are fraternal or identical, there is something…supernatural about the relationship between them. It is not so much that there is something telekinetic which creates a mental bond or grants them supernatural powers, but rather there is a spiritual bond. You are, in a sense, joined intrinsically and innately with another human being in a way no other person could comprehend. You don’t necessarily feel their pain, but you know them. You are part of your twin and they are part of you. I should know, I am a twin and though we are chalk and cheese, to some extent we don’t complete but we compliment each other. We make sense of each other and ourselves, together.

Yet at some point in a twins life separation must occur. In Oyeyemi’s stunning novel The Icarus Girl the physical divorce begins at birth, in my experience it happened at University. What is interesting however, and one of the many paths Oyeyemi explores, is the manifestation of the ‘other’s’ characteristics. My twin is extremely assertive, whilst I am overtly sympathetic. Being apart we found ourselves taking on each other’s characteristics in order to generate an equilibrium within our characters.

In Oyeyemi’s dark and twisted retelling of the western ‘doppelgänger’ tale, there is something far more sinister in Jessamy Harrison’s childish pursuit of a fragmented identity she is only aware exists in the chilling screams which regularly wrack her body. Joining Yoruba mythology with the haunting trials of childhood, Oyeyemi expertly moulds the Ibeji deity into something far more powerful and dangerous than a mere reflection, or two halves of a whole. Rooted in the Ifa religion, twins within Yoruba culture wield a spiritual power that combines the world of the living, the spiritual and the wilderness of the mind, the Bush.

Though Icarus Girl is praiseworthy in and of itself, not including the fact that Oyeyemi was 18 and doing her A-levels when she wrote it before gaining a place at Cambridge and then going onto have her student plays performed and published by Methuen, and two more novel’s published to critical acclaim and I’m sure justly deserved awards, its praiseworthy because it touches on something unnervingly real. It reaches back into a prehistoric time when what we now see as ‘organised religion’ had not tamed the wildness of the unknown,  the ‘occult.’ It pierces the hollow facades of unity and presents human nature as a ‘half-and-half’ construction, both within our reality and the domain of the spiritual. It takes identity and presents it as something not only malleable, but transitory and at the mercy of the unknown.

Chilling in its facade of childish simplicity, Icarus Girl is a hauntingly splendid book, from an incredible writer with enough layers to garner at least ten first rate PhD’s out of it. Though this review has hardly begun to sell it, if you have any sense you’ll buy it anyway and peer through the fractured mirror of language and maybe even glimpse apart of the other you, trapped within the wilderness.

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#328 ~ 7 Things About Christmas.7 – The End

The 25th of December is an arbitrary day.

So Christmas isn’t really about Santa. No, I have no shame stating that, because even the people who propagate that foolishness don’t even have the decency to tell their children who Santa really is. Stop being geographically ignorant, Russia isn’t the North Pole and neither is Greece or Turkey. Aha, you are now confused. Good. Let me instruct you on a lesson (kindly passed on from the greatest Academic this world has ever known, Wikipedia). Santa is an abbreviation of Santa Claus, which is a contraction (and most likely an Americanization) of Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was a 4th Century Bishop from Greece who pastored part of modern day Turkey and, in the long and short of it, was compassionate. Amongst many of his great exploits, he was known for helping those in need. In one case he anonymously gave a man who couldn’t pay his daughters dowry the money necessary to prevent them falling into prostitution as they were able to have honourable marriages. Revered in Russia, he’s also known for giving presents to children, especially orphans and the needy. In medieval times nuns would deposit food and gifts on the doorsteps of the homeless or impoverished on his feast day, 6th December. That’s right. If you want celebrate Santa then do it on the 6th of December. If you want to be an orthodox and wait until the Wisemen actually got to Bethlehem to drop off their Gold, Myrrh and Frankincense, then do it on the 6th January, which is known as Epiphany. If you want to be a pagan and celebrate the darkest time of the year with a celebration of light, do it on the 25th. If you want to celebrate Christ, do it all year round. 

a true light has a constant supply.

24hours are only so long. You eat, you sleep, it’s Boxing day and half the world is at the Sales. Like I mentioned in Post 2, what we view as Christmas Day today is a celebration of Christ, the Messiah and Saviour of the World, who loves every individual whether it’s the people who believe in Santa or the people who just want to make money – they’re all precious in his sight. The 25th of December is an arbitrary day. What’s important it what it means for you. If you believe it’s a time to remember to be a light in the extremely dark world where warfare, rape, violence, depression, isolation and anger are clamouring for a space, then be that light in the best way you know how. Show love, be love, be joy, happiness, peace and patience. Show good will to all mankind. Be hopeful for something better to come along. Do. But don’t just acknowledge the street sweeper on Christmas. Acknowledge him always as a fellow human who deserves to be loved. Don’t just be gracious to your sister on Christmas. Be gracious to her always as she’s a beautiful woman/girl who deserves to be loved and treated with respect. Don’t just tolerate or be grateful to your parents on Christmas. Show it always. Because a true light never goes out, ever. It keeps burning. Why? Because a true light has a constant supply.

whether you’re a believer of my faith or your own, shine brightly.

There is so much I love about Christmas. I even love the fact that people of other faiths (and atheism my friends is a faith, it’s a faith that believes there is no higher power, it’s a religion of its own so there), i love that they take time out to show love to those they care about. As a Christian I do believe that Christ exits, and that in showing love, we reflect God’s character and his goodness. But I don’t believe we should confine that light to 24 hours. We use up so much electricity just watching that banal Christmas movie, i’m sure we could light many more bulbs instead. So do. Go, whether you’re a believer of my faith or your own, shine brightly. Burn with a passion to see Justice birthed in this world. Burn with a hunger to see Peace made manifest in this world. Burn with a desire to see Love take on a deeper meaning than the scrawl on the tag of a present. Shine Brightly. Shine like the Sun/Son. Shine and be light and life in this world that asks for death.

If I ruled the world i’d banish the 25th of December. Because in reality, Christmas should be every day.

So Shine. 

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#320 ~ Abimaro & The Free


ABZ2

Very rarely does one hear a piece of music that isn’t just a beautiful concoction of perfectly placed chords, mellifluous vocals with just enough air to make the notes sigh through your speakers, and a subtle but groovy bass line to make you smile, that, on top of all that, also has exquisitely worded and humorously constructed lyrics as Abimaro & the Free. Using conceits such as tea making, in the refreshingly honest and sincerely poignant track Ginger Tea, the three-piece band manage to take the Christian faith and present it in an accessible and stripped down recounting of the heart. The mundane is the simple basis of their lyrics. Tear drenched eyes are described as being like earl grey tea, the process of being refined and purified synonymous to frying lemon till it’s just the right gold to add a zesty flavour to the ultimate brewing of the human spirit. Abimaro & the Free have a solemnity in their compilation of four tracks, Books, which echoes within one’s heart long after the haunting trill of Matthew’s ‘Jerusalem’ hook has faded. The temptations of life are uncompromisingly placed as idols which decorate our rooms reflecting our faces, a reality which most of us can attest to, but can’t quite express. Words don’t quite capture the essence of their music which deserves to be aired on the air waves, or played in cafe’s. There is an intimacy in their music which the pop charts have reduced to sexual antics, and which religious music hasn’t quite been able to express. Instead of lifting lines from the Word, Abimaro & the Free have delicately reinterpreted and represented the Word as a living, breathing and evocative presence in the lives of very real, very normal humans and how they relate to the mystery of God in today’s world. Whether you believe in a benign creator, or just want to hear something fresh, humorous and which makes the grey tinge of the world, if only for a second, flicker into Technicolor, listen to Abimaro & the Free (check out the video below and follow the link to band camp for a free download of their album Books) and remind yourself that honesty and vulnerability can be beautifully captured in today’s music, and wait for the echo of the music speaking back to you.

Abimaro and the Free: Website

//abimaroandthefree.bandcamp.com/:

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#281 ~ Mixing Water with the Wine

When one becomes famous, journalists rarely like to ask them the well trodden questions. You should know your artiste’s biography down to the nursery school they went to, the city in which their parents met, the ward they were born in, and the name of the Doctor who brought them screaming and covered in blood into this harshly lit world.

Niche, inquisitive, ‘avant-garde’ questions are preferred. This desire to be innovative has spawned a new set of well trodden ‘quirky’ openers, such as the frequently asked: what was the first album you bought? My issue with a question such as exhibit A, is that it assumes when you were growing up you had money to buy an album. It assumes you personally, owned a CD player, or had the right to place a shiny disk into the Home System. I did not have these rights. I acquired a shared CD player on my 13th birthday, and all the acquired CD’s were birthday gifts and therefore predominantly consisted of P!nk (my sisters choice), or me borrowing (for extended periods of time, with no definite end) my mum’s albums.

These questions undermined my notion of what it meant to be a young teenage adult. I would hear young celebrities talking about the first concert they went to when they were 16, or the first music festivals they attended before they’d completed their GCSE’s. I saw friends flocking to watch Fall Out boy before their year9 SATS were over, whilst I sat home and watched Children in Need – the closest we came to a live concert.

So, when I imagined myself a Rising Star of tomorrow, being interviewed because I now had enough fame to not have to be the interviewer, I was nervous. I didn’t have a niche answer to give. I didn’t buy records or mix tapes, I didn’t even own my own MP3/CD player till I won a Public Speaking Competition at 15 (and even then didn’t use the free iPod for a whole year). What could I do? The Spice Girls tape that hinted my mum and had children had not been bought with my pocket-money – why pocket-money was almost a foreign word in our house!

However, tonight, tonight, i truly became a young, ‘hip’, adult. I took myself, on my jack jones, to watch the legendary Joan Armatrading in concert – and I felt grown! Yes, sitting with 2 empty seats next to me, in an audience predominantly swaying with white middle-aged people (the ethnic demographic more about location than artist), I suddenly knew what is was like to be ‘a la mode.’

Joan captured my heart at the ripe old age of 9. Having listened to Down to Zero one too many times, I decided if I couldn’t beat my mum’s musical tastes, I’d join them, and I’ve never looked back.

Approaching her mid-50’s and still a better guitarist than most, her licks were on fire, she had the mummy shake down pat, and her voice had barely changed, I screamed like a girl. No, I am a girl. I screamed like a boy when he screams like a girl and get’s embarrassed. I did a weird hyper-oh-my-days-she’s-singng-LIVE!- shake for the good part of Down to Zero, which turned into a dreamy smile of complicit love when All the Way from America oozed over the speakers. I could and couldn’t believe my eyes. Joan Armatrading. The first woman, before I’d even heard of Lauryn Hill, Angela Davis, Tracy Chapman or Ms E. Badu who wore a ‘fro and played a nasty guitar, with much funk and Paul Simonesque lyrics, was standing under 100m’s away from me – singing songs that have been looped so often my sister even, unfortunately, knows the lyrics.

I can only say in conclusion to this ecstatic experience that I’m so glad that now, I can tell the world, my first concert was a Joan Armatrading concert at the ripe ol’ age of 19. I went with just Me Myself and I, and it was darn good!

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