Tag Archives: Contact Theatre

Who is Keisha Thompson a.k.a. SheBeKeke?

Alex talks to Keisha Thompson about what inspires her writing, what Young Identity hopes to achieve and the Manchester literature scene in general

Have you heard SheBeKeke? With an already more-than-impressive portfolio, Keisha Thompson is a valuable member of Manchester’s poetry circuit. As well as being a key member of Inna Voice, another creative group within Young Identity, she recently released her own EP, Abecedarian, and has been published in numerous anthologies.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing Keisha perform a number of times. At each performance, I’ve been struck by how she manages to bring new character and life to the poems (even the ones I’ve heard before), whilst at the same time retaining something undeniably “Keisha-y”. This combination of constant reinvention and a strong creative signature is something she shares with a lot of her fellow Young Identity talent: they all excel in showing one piece in many different lights whilst still putting a personal stamp on their work.

And this personal touch is present throughout the whole creative process: Keisha’s work, for the most part, is based on her own experiences of the world, her family and responses to the political/social landscape around us. Discussing inspiration, she brought up the powerful connection between her identity and her family heritage. In ‘Fickle’, a piece on her EP, Thompson examines her relationship with her father, and how it in turn facilitates her understanding of her own heritage.

Being British with a Jamaican father and Guyanese mother, the identification process is not simple: she does not feel as though any of these three identities/nationalities is wholly her. When she was younger, she never felt particularly British because her household held a lot of Guyanese traditions – but when she was five and visited Guyana, she was no longer so sure she felt so Guyanese. Describing it as a “weird one”, she concluded that she is always somewhere in the middle of being Guyanese, British and Jamaican – though all three identities certainly inspire her.

“Once I’ve processed it, I can write about it”

And Keisha’s own heritage isn’t the only thing from across the world that gets her writing. In terms of the social and political inspirations for her work, tragedies like those that took place in Ferguson last summer, when unarmed black teenager Mike Brown was murdered by white cop Darren Wilson, are important creative sources. But with heavy issues like racism and violence, getting pen to paper can take longer. “I get angry about these things but it takes me a while to process it; I need to process it. Once I’ve processed it, I can write about it,” explained Keisha. Indeed for many writers, taking a step back from material is necessary in order to walk the difficult ground between raw, blunt emotions and tailoring language to suit a creative purpose.

Relating to the Mike Brown case, as well as countless other crimes against people of colour, we discussed Keisha’s views on the need for – and lack of – white voices in race debates. Thompson argued that white voices are necessary when violence happens, because racism is not just ‘a black issue’ – “all races need to acknowledge that racism exists and move forward with that.” Here referencing social theorist Dr Joy DeGruy,  she highlighted the key differences between American and English politics: Keisha sees it that voices from all corners of American society can contribute to discussions about the rights and experiences of those from minority groups, even with only a basic understanding of the issues at hand. But in England, she argued, there is a hostility towards approaching an issue if you are not a member of the group being discussed. This was something I could definitely relate to: in my experience, England is more focused on drawing the lines round “who can say what about what” than on actually getting problems heard and discussed.

“They aren’t just playing with words, they also want to be the voice behind them”

Talk turned to focus on poetry as a vehicle for political speech in general. Is spoken word/rap/poetry more powerful than conventional speech when it comes to communicating ideas to people? Again, the differences between the US and the UK came up. “In America, it is way more powerful than here. When I go to places in New York they aren’t just playing with words, they also want to be the voice behind them” said the performer, noting that in Britain it is much easier to go to an event and not stumble across any political ideas. For various reasons, she felt that the spoken word scene in America was a lot more lively – but she takes inspiration from the fact that it is beginning to stand on its own as a viable platform for creative expression separate from the written/literary scene.

Young Identity, the group of young writers based out of Contact Theatre, are a group changing the narrative on what spoken word is, and can do, here in the UK. As we’ve seen from their constantly growing body of work, which brilliantly fuses the political, the everyday and the creative, they aim to change the game of Manchester’s poetry scene by trying to get people talking about current topics, focusing on politics and thinking actively about their own lives. As evidences this, Keisha noted that in the last One Mic Stand “everyone was doing politics and everyone was brilliant; the quality was outstanding”. Having gone to a previous One Mic Stand, Young Identity’s regular poetry slam, I can vouch for this. At the night I performed at, thoughts on equal rights, sexism and abuse were interwoven boldly and seamlessly with powerful, emotive language, bringing the room alive with the honesty of the work.

As with many Young Identity members, Keisha also works with Inna Voice. Helpfully, she explained the difference between the two groups: “When it first started, Young Identity was the writing group, and then as we started to slam we had Inna Voice. Not everyone was willing or ready to perform from Young Identity so it was easy to make Inna Voice the focus of performance”. Since then, Inna Voice has progressed and it is now its own company, a selective group that are hoping to put on a show next year.

Finally, who would Keisha recommend checking out? In Manchester, Ben Miller, Elmi Ali and Shirley May (one of the driving forces behind Young Identity’s One Mic Stand) are some of her must-sees, as well as Isaiah Hull, the phenomenal winner of June 2014’s One Mic Stand, and Yusra Warsama. Outside of Manchester, Keisha Thompson said she was reading Malika Booker’s Pepper Seed at the moment and could not recommend her enough, as well as loving the works of Warsan Shire and Tanya Shirley. If you want some great inspirational material definitely check out these artists, especially Booker’s latest release (which I am already delving into and loving!).

Going forward from Abecedarian, what can we expect from this talented artist in the future? “Abecedarian means learning your alphabet and it seemed fitting for the title of my first release because I was just trying it out,” explained Thompson. “But now I am ready to focus in on a theme and be more specific with something I can develop”. Performance-wise, she’s also bringing her live show I Wish I Had A Moustache to Manchester’s Contact Theatre this year and it is not something you want to miss out on! Whatever Thompson does in the future, it is going to be entertaining, fun and most of all, inspiring. I’m looking forward to seeing where her talent can, and will, take her.


Follow Keisha Thompson on Twitter and on Facebook

Give her bandcamp a follow and download Abecedarian, her EP (you decide the price!): https://bandcamp.com/shebekeke

Check out Young Identity for more information about One Mic Stand: http://www.youngidentity.org/

Watch a performance here



The Week in Words: Top 5 Manchester Spoken Word Events

Manchester is a hotbed of artistic opportunity and this includes the spoken word. Whether you want to perform or just sit back and listen, here is my list of the top 5 regular spoken word nights, from my experience, around the M20 area:


  1. One Mic Stand – Contact Theatre, Oxford Road

onemicstand_2_jpg_710x400_crop_q85One Mic Stand, run by writers’ collective Young Identity, is one of the most professional and enjoyable events I’ve been to in a long time. An energetic blend of spoken word and music, hip hop is the flavour of the night. But it’s really inclusive – all styles of performance are present, and made to feel welcome. The main event of One Mic Stand is a poetry slam where 8 poets are pitted against each other in the hopes of winning a £50 cash prize. If a slam is not for you, this night still hosts a 20-30 minute improv session where anyone can show their skills. One Mic Stand are sure to give you a night to remember and have by far the most welcoming and interested crowd I’ve seen in any Manchester spoken word event.

Admission: £3 Conc. £6 Full.

Sign up for a spot at the next One Mic Stand by emailing them at: onemicstandmcr@googlemail.com (date for the next event is yet to be announced).

For a taster of what the night has to offer check out their Youtube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/youngidentity


  1. Young Identity – All over Manchester!

1f39ab4c-4b0d-412f-954e-35ba317b59f8_jpg_450x300_crop_q85Every week, Young Identity hold workshops to help refine young people’s word skills. Open to anyone aged 13-25 with workshops in Rusholme and Longsight on Tuesdays, Cheetham Hill on Wednesdays and every other Saturday at Old Trafford this is one of the best opportunities to keep on improving. Young Identity are some of the most enthusiastic people I’ve had the pleasure to meet and if you’re looking for ways to add something new to your performance-style then here is the place to go! Next up: Tuesday 22nd July, 7pm at Contact Theatre

Admission: Free!

For more information visit Young Identity’s website at: www.youngidentity.org


  1. Verbose – Fallow Café, Fallowfield

Verbose-Blue-BG-Blue-Woman-460x420Verbose is my regular night on the spoken word scene, attracting a relatively small but very interested (and interesting!) crowd. Run by Helen Isserlis this night allows those who are just starting out to find their feet in the spoken word scene. The conversation stays lively throughout the night centered on the performances that switch from emotional engagement, to something as serious as abuse, and then to a hilarious narrative on why exams are so shit. Unfortunately this night is taking a break until September when it will be on every 1st and 3rd Monday of the month from 8pm onwards.

Admission: Free!

For more information about the event check out the regularly updated page: https://www.facebook.com/events/385522188257735/


  1. Manky Poets – Chorlton Library, Chorlton

img_25441Manky Poets is a monthly open mic night hosted in Chorlton offering a nice variety of talent. What I valued most about Manky Poets was that on top of the open mic the audience is treated to a special guest performer. This provides a nice contrast between those just starting out in the scene and those who are seasoned performers. At Manky Poets you experience a huge variety of spoken word in one night. Held at Chorlton Library with the next two events planned for the 18th July and 15th August, make sure you get down to this massively creative night (usually held on the 3rd Friday of every month).

Admission: £1 Conc., £2 Full.

Learn more about this event here: http://www.writeoutloud.net/public/eventview.php?day=18&month=07&year=2014&eventID=59


  1. The Other Room – Castle Hotel, Northern Quarter

aug14The Other Room is a brilliant experimental poetry night. Whilst it doesn’t give you an opportunity toperform many of my friends liked the fact you could just sit back and enjoy the wide variety of performers on offer. On my first visit I enjoyed the poetry of Chris Stephenson among others. It opened my eyes as to just how varied poetry can be. If you’re looking to broaden your poetry-know-how without feeling like you have to perform The Other Room is for you! The next event is set for 13th August.

Admission: Free!

To find out information about the next The Other Room look no further: http://otherroom.org/


For other Manchester literature events check out Write Out Loud’s calendar updated regularly: http://www.writeoutloud.net/events/


– Alex Webb