Tag Archives: M20

Catching up with Johnny Sly

Johnny Sly are one of the bands we (M20) have seen emerge and develop over the last two years – and not to sound biased, but we’re very fond of them! We worked with them in their earlier days when M20 were doing regular Solomon Grundy events and local gigs, and they just keep moving onwards, upwards and side ways (quite literally as they get bigger and bigger as an outfit)! It was great to catch up with them on their movements of the last year or so and the Sly journey, thus far.

Tell everyone a bit about yourselves, the story till now…

Jonny: I think the band grew like a plant in that it started with one seed and each new element was a natural progression but also an evolution, so it was organic and no-one feels responsible.

Jack: Jonny started playing and writing music in Brighton when he was lil, and then when he came up here he started playing open mics on his own. Me and Aeve joined three years ago – we used to practice in this little basement room in some upmarket uni halls we sneaked into. It was really echoey and we’d go there at night and get weird. We were a funny lil’ threesome, not quite sure what we were doing, but we managed to get some gigs like Antwerp mansion and open mics.

Aeve: We recorded a video for Mosaic Sessions on this really nice sunny, autumn weekend on Salford Quays. These guys on pit bikes kept appearing on the horizon every time we’d start a take and steadily get closer and louder until all you could hear was engine revs, and we’d have to start all over again. We all look really sad in the video because we were trying to look like serious musicians. But we loved it! Some people in a high rise flat clapped out of their window at the end.

Johnny: Although there are nine of us now it doesn’t feel like an ensemble – it still feels like a family – and that’s because we’ve never really sought out new members, they just seem to come along and it fits.

johnny sly2

 

You performed on BBC Radio 4, how was that?

Aeve: It was great because they gave us breakfast and I got to play a Steinway. We all got really pissed afterwards in the BBC bar and Jack was flirting with Joan Bakewell for ages. And we gave Jennifer Saunders a CD as a christmas present! It was all very surreal and giddy.

Jack: And we met duke from Tracy Beaker! He was a very flamboyant man, I never knew. I remember we watched back some footage that our friend Arthur had video’d from the sound booth and having this realisation that we sounded so much better than we’d heard ourselves before, recorded really clearly, and together and live. That was where the idea for our new EP came from.

What’s been your favourite gig to date, anywhere?

Jonny: We loved Berlin this summer because we were introduced to lots of interesting, creative people who showed us an inside view of the city. We were lucky enough to stay in a beautiful apartment and played a really nice set to an audience of mostly horizontal people. There’s a sense of freedom in Berlin which is inspiring musically. You can drink beer in the street and then put your bottles by the side of the road and people looking for pennies pick them up and recycle them for you. It’s better than some uniformed bruiser tipping your bottle down the drain just because you’re too poor to go to a pub. We saw a rainbow there in the sky with no clouds around it and it looked like the sky was smiling. I have no idea how it did that.

Jack: Also Amsterdam – we felt like we’d dropped into the coolest place to be with these great people that were all creative and cool and way more organised than us. It was inspiring. And sunny. It seems a long way away right now…..

Aeve: Special mention needs to go to Mischief Festival, who booked us way back when we were a three. It was a very strange vibe, really small and everyone looked like gangsters or pirates. At one point we played Deja Vu and the bass from the main stage was bouncing perfectly in time with us. It was a little adventure.

What about in Manchester?

Aeve: We’ve had some really special gigs in the last year or so, it’s so hard to pick a favourite! But one that really stands out is the gig we did at the Roadhouse [R.I.P] before it closed down last January. We put a lot of energy into promoting it, and had two of our favourite Manchester bands supporting us: Kolo Tamam and Oh Man, The Mountain. Loads of people came down and there was a really great vibe, and we all wore wacky hats on stage which is always a winner! We were all on a massive high after that gig, it was loads of fun.

Tell us about the New EP then

Jack: The EP we released last year, Lost Thoughts, was all recorded in my bedroom, with all the parts laid down one by one. It was a cool process, and one I’m really proud of in retrospect, but at the time it felt frustrating. Sometimes the parts just didn’t move together and mixing it all felt like tricks. That’s why we wanted to do this new one live. For me it’s a mystical thing – I just think you can feel the magic of it all being played together, in the pauses and the lifts. And this way we didn’t spend hours getting each take perfect, we had the weekend, and at the end of that weekend the product (and then Andrew Glassford spent two months mixing it… Thanks Andrew!)

johnny sly lost thoughts.jpg

(Artwork for the Lost Thoughts EP released Nov.2014)

https://johnnysly.bandcamp.com/album/lost-thoughts-ep

Jonny: We recorded videos of the live tracks, which we’re releasing one by one. They were stressful at the time but there was a real sense of focus and emotional energy, and although we were all worrying about the little details, I think we took for granted that we were playing a set that had been honed over many months of consistent gigging in Manchester. Our bodies knew what they were doing and the pressure just added to the ‘pizazz’….

Do you have a favourite Johnny Sly tune?

Aeve: I am really in love with White Light, White Lies from the new EP. It’s just got such a lovely groove and makes me go ‘mmmmm’ inside. I’ve always been drawn to chilled music though so I think the feeling of this one just connects with me more than some of the others.

Phil: Totally agree with Aeve. Also really digging our latest song ‘Tryer’ but it’s not yet on record, so you’ll have to join us for a gig to hear that.

Oli: My fav is probably Remember, from the new EP, cuz it’s f****** epic and ends with a bang and I like bangs because I’m a drummer!

How do you guys write your music?

Aeve: Jonny has always been the songwriter, because of the way the band has grown from his solo project. Essentially, he writes his guitar parts and vocals, and then we all mainly write our own parts. But there is always lots of collaboration and discussion: someone will have an idea for how I could play a part on the keyboard, or one of us will find a harmony for someone else, or Jonny will already have an idea of what he wants someone to do in a certain part of a song. So it starts with Jonny’s parts, then is just a process of trying out different things and sharing ideas for the rest of us!

Who are the biggest influences of the band?

Rosalie: Each other! We all have such varied influences and we share them all.

Any local inspirations, bands killing it in the scene (or off the scene)?

Jack: We’ve already mentioned our band brothers / sisters Kolo Tamam and Oh Man, The Mountain, they are both great in different ways. Pareidolia – they’re a bit like us if we were cooler and less weird. John Ainsworth and Rosalie 23 are honestly two of the best and most original musicians I’ve ever seen. And honey feet. I saw Honey Feet play after us at The Hotspur Press once and they were amazing, upbeat fun, with a mama-jama, diva of a front woman with an insane voice. Further afield Cousin Kula are releasing some insane live videos of their new material at the moment – its Snarky Puppy meet Syd Arthur meets Riot Jazz. And The Mouse Outfit, they have some freshhhhh hip hop sounds that I can’t quite believe are from where I’m from. Gigging and attending gigs can be exhausting and sometimes I forget how lucky I am to have seen and heard musicians like these guys. And Arctic Turn, our bassist Phil’s solo project. I feature on a track of his called Bait and he’s got it on the Tom Robinson playlist on 6 music. Great work Phil. We’re going to record a music video where we throw gross stuff at him in slo-mo and he plays the song. I’ve got a cameo in it but I don’t know what to wear… (video now released see below).

If you could describe Johnny sly as an animal what would you say?
Phil: Some kind of flying iguana mongoose. Next question.

See and hear more of Johnny sly on any of these below links

http://www.facebook.com/johnnyslymusic
BUY their new EP here: https://johnnysly.bandcamp.com/

 

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Artist call-out: PARADISE NOW

Attention ARTISTS, PERFORMERS, PHOTOGRAPHERS, FILM MAKERS, WRITERS, THINKERS, ILLUSTRATORS! M20 Collective and Rachel Ferguson have joined forces to curate an exhibition to take place this summer. AND WE NEED YOU!
the brief

The exhibition is titled Paradise Now. We are looking for creators who question/agree with the following statement:

Daily we live and abide by a set of rules. Rules of law, rules set in place by those who govern us. Rules set in place by each other and society. Rules that go unnoticed, sometimes un-governed and sometimes un-questioned. However what happens when we begin to truly break down these rules? Can we achieve our sense of being in today’s society?
Don’t eat on the bus
Say please and thank you
Don’t take off your clothes in public
Why isn’t that person allowed to stay here?

Are we living to achieve social acceptance? Has our basic mammal instinct for curiosity been flattened by being told not to touch the wet paint? Or hasn’t it?

In the 1960s radical theatre group ‘The Living Theatre’ ran a show called ‘Paradise Now’. During the performance they shouted a series of questions at the audience: ‘Why can’t I travel without my passport?’ ‘Why cant I smoke marijuana?’ ‘Why can’t I take off my clothes?’ The performances took place in Manhattan. The performance would always be shut down by the police at the point of removal of clothes. They threw simple questions at the audience, which aimed to set in motion in the ‘common man’ a thought process: ‘wait? Why am I doing this? This is my world. This is my reality’.

THIS IS AN OPEN CALL. We would like to curate an exhibition finding creators which deal, question, and are inspired by any of the above or further afield. All neo-liberal, political, social commentary and documentation, any and all art which poses a question, which makes us question how we exist. Which makes us ask how we create our own ‘paradise’ how we create our own reality. QUESTION EVERYTHING.

DEADLINE: 24TH JULY FOR ALL SUBMISSIONS

PLEASE INCLUDE: Tech Spec for your work in your submission.

NB: M20 Collective will be providing you with the space to exhibit, unfortunately we do not have public funding for this project and therefore no budget for artists, but will facilitate the sourcing of resources that we can get for free and support all collaborators as best as possible in the run up to the show including any hospitality for the vent itself and general planning support and liaison.

Please send all submissions to the following email address;
curation.rachel@gmail.com and cc: m20collective@gmail.com

Manchester’s Fight for Free Education: Saturday 25 April

Alex chats to campaigner and Manchester University’s Education Officer Harriet about the Free Education MCR movement – what free education means, why it affects us all, and their debut event with Akala and others on Saturday 25 April

The phrase ‘Free Education’ has become solely associated with the campaign for government-subsidised university places since the introduction of fees in Higher Education. But it’s not just finances – there are other ways that our learning is restricted in all parts of the education system from schools to community projects. It is these, alongside the fight to scrap student fees, that Free Education MCR are looking to tackle.

What telltale signs can you think of that show us our education isn’t free? The introduction of fees, which transform education into a product that we buy and sell, rather than skills development that allows us to think critically, creatively and practically about how we want the world to be? Or the lesser-talked about colonized education system (for which the Black Minority & Ethnic [BME] students’ attainment gap, explained below, is just one piece of hard evidence)? How about the systematic neglect of arts and humanities education in favour of subjects deemed more “economically efficient”? I sat down with Harriet, one of the key members in Free Education MCR, to find out more about the organisation and their hopes for next week’s all-day community event, Free Education MCR ft. Akala.

“Making education cost has changed the shape of knowledge”

Harriet has spent her recent years as a campaigner and as Education Officer at the University of Manchester Students’ Union, fighting for free education because privatising university learning (asking people to pay fees as opposed to the government subsidising it) has changed both what education is and what it means. Today, education has become a commodity, a product we consume to get a job and fit into society’s plans for us – but this was not always the situation with our education system. Tuition fees were first introduced across all UK universities in 1998 and since then, steadily rising fees have gone hand-in-hand with the transformation of the purpose of education. “Making education cost has changed the shape of knowledge: it has gone from being a tool for collective liberation and reducing inequality to being something people feel they need to buy into in order to secure employment as a ‘valued’ white-collar worker, just because it’s what the perceived majority (white, middle classes) are doing.”

But many aspects of the Free Education MCR campaign are not exclusive to Higher Education, with privatisation affecting all parts of the education sector. Notably, youth and community projects who rely on government support are suffering as they cannot afford to continue without sourcing funding from other private sources. Without steady funding, youth projects all over Manchester are forced to refocus their efforts on securing funding rather than delivering quality youth work. The solution to this so far has been for youth centres to apply for funding from private companies, meaning that community identity is often compromised in order to meet the requirements for the much-needed support. The companies are motivated to fund these centres because of their needs to meet their Social Responsibility targets.

Whilst it is great that youth groups are able to exist at all, these larger organisations mean that long-founded youth centres with a strong community are being threatened because they cannot support themselves whilst offering a free service. These closures are especially harmful because initiatives like youth and community centres are so often set up to support those who are continually failed by the formal education system. Not only do youth and community projects provide alternative creative and practical approaches to learning that are better for certain people’s development, they also deliver the kinds of pastoral support that are not available in schools where students are taught to obey rather than question; taught who to be at the expense of who they are.

Akala, one of the big names speaking at Free Education MCR’s debut event, looks to address this with a discussion about the ban of words like ‘bare’ and ‘innit’ in schools, which he argues is both classist and racist. The idea that there is only one correct way to speak the English language is elitist and, as Harriet (quoting Akala) pointed out, actually counter-creative and -critical. To limit how the language should be spoken to one particular dialect misrepresents what it means to be English and crams it into the American stereotype of British people sipping tea and saying please and thank you after everything. As I am sure anyone who has lived in the UK could account for this is not the reality. The question that arises from this is how can it be justifiable for the education system to value one dialect over another? As Harriet explains this line of critical thinking can be applied to many more aspects of the education system and to the conclusion that the system functions to engender white middle-class, male-stream, able-bodied norms and values. The issue identified here is that those who do not comply to these norms and values are automatically devalued by the education system.

What many like Harriet involved in the Free Education MCR believe is that this devaluation contributes to issues such as the BME attainment gap. However, issues like the BME attainment gap do not have one singular cause. Instead such issues occur due to the existence of a number of inter relating factors. As Harriet went on to discuss currently BME students who achieve the same grades as their white counterparts at school-level are 11% less likely to get a first or 2:1 at the University of Manchester, and as much as 26% in the Faculty of Life Sciences. While devaluation is one factor to consider as research conducted by the NUS Black Students Campaign suggests the gap can also be attributed to the existence of a colonised education system, lacking especially black, but also women academics.

During our conversation Harriet evidenced the abysmal representation of Black people in academia. According to research recently conducted by HESA there are currently 18,000 academics in the UK and only 85 are black . To put it into context that is just over 0.5%. Women’s representation is also concerning. In the University of Manchester only 20% of professors are women and this is not at all a deviation of the norm. Due to the absence of legislation Higher Education institutions have the academic freedom to hire who they want. One of the unfortunate results of this is that the education system remains dominated by white middle class males.

“There needs to be pressure to employ a representative staff and take on a quota of people to ensure that a) we are given equal opportunities and b) all groups have the chance to influence what and how we learn, so that the formal education system reflects the needs of society and not just one group within it.”

Free Education MCR are campaigning for a representative curriculum and support efforts to make history more inclusive in schools. The community event will also feature speakers from Curriculum Enrichment for the Future and The Foundation for Science, Technology & Civilisation who, among other things, teach Indian and Persian histories to supplement Eurocentric schemes of learning. The thinking behind a representative history is that a liberated education is one where everyone can see, learn and live in the ways with which they identify. Your opportunity to hear these groups speak about the issues surrounding a colonised education and any issues discussed here is on Saturday 25th April at Manchester Academy for Free Education MCR’s launch event.

“What Free Education MCR are fighting for is a reinvention of education,” says Harriet. “This involves changing the economic, social and political aspects of education in order that it benefits all of society and enables us to tackle huge social problems like inequality.” Citizens will benefit from free education because it would involve broadening out education to represent and legitimize the learning styles and skills of all people. Free education is not about glorifying academic education and forcing everyone to go to university. It’s about funding a multitude of practical, technical, vocational, creative and critical projects, so that everyone can find something for them. This would also reduce the fear amongst small organisations like community centres that they will have to close, as well as providing thousands of education providers with a steady and secure livelihood.

On top of this, Harriet pointed out that with the reduction of government funds in the education system comes the loss of democratic power for citizens: if you don’t pay, you don’t get a say. This inevitably and disproportionately affects and disempowers poorer communities. “Living in a democracy, something as central to our society as education should be as democratic as possible and with the introduction of fees and privatisation, our ability to have a say that means something gets reduced. This means that those in power are getting more powerful and those who are meant to be catered for in education systems are actually getting less say in matters that directly relate to them.” This is not the way education should be and Free Education MCR are looking to change this for the better by reinstating the power over education to local communities. I am hopeful and excited to see what campaigns and events this group have to offer in the future. They are an important force in changing Manchester’s (and perhaps even the rest of the UK’s) education system for the better.

-Alex Webb and Harriet Pugh

To learn more about Free Education MCR check out their sites:
www.facebook.com/freeeducationmcr
www.twitter.com/freeedmcr

Check out the event and register for your free ticket:
https://www.facebook.com/events/1395395447444900/
(Tickets available at: www.freeeducationmcr.eventbrite.hk)

Future Sounds of Mzansi: Friday 13th March

Theo Kotz previews the Manchester screening of Future Sounds of Mzansi, a journey through the music of the townships, the cape and more

This Friday Oh Bacchanal! is bringing a Manchester first screening Future Sound of Mzansi at Islington Mill. After which the party is on with the man himself, Spoek Mathambo spinning tunes from the townships.

Oh Bacchanal! have been making waves in recent months with their regular shows at The Zombie Shack and Overproof and alongside Spoek, resident Bachannal Ronin brings  his selection of Tropical
bangers into the melting pot. Have a listen to this mix for a little taste:

The Film itself is an in-depth look at the musical landscape of South Africa, chock-full of inspirational tales and words of wisdom and insight from some of the country’s most renowned artists, as well as some exciting newcomers. These span from the township grooves of DJ Spoko and DJ Mustava (who as a pair are responsible for Township Funk – A monumental tune and the scene’s largest global hit to date) and the heart and soul of House in SA – Black Coffee, to the ethereal soundscapes of Felix Laband and the fun-loving experimentation of John Wizards.

Lebogang Rasethaba and Spoek Mathambo - Photographer credit Justice Mukheli 2

The film does much to celebrate and spread the staggering wealth of undeniable talent from this most beautiful and diverse of countries – all through the lens of Nthato Mokagata. Spoek Mathambo, as he’s more widely known, is SA’s own renaissance man, a truly singular talent who’s Midas Touch it would seem knows no bounds.

Spoek is an Artist, Producer, DJ, Songwriter, Rapper and, latterly, filmmaker. His latest solo album Father Creeper was released in 2012. More recently he, Andrew Geldenhuys, Bhekisenzo Cele, Michael Buchanan formed Fantasma along with another titan of South African electronic music: DJ Spoko. Their recent show in London (5th march) was a triumph despite the absence of Spoko and Geldenhuys due to problems with Visas. Their debut full-length Free Love was released Monday 9th March. It’s a stormer and you can stream on YouTube below.

There will be a Q&A with Spoek Mathambo after the screening.

details

When: Friday 13 March 2015, 7.30pm

Where: Islington Mill

How much: £16

Buy tickets here

 

Free Education MCR Fundraiser: Friday 20th March

Join M20 Collective back in the postcode where it all began for a collaboration with the FREE EDUCATION MCR campaign. All proceeds will go towards supporting their mission to raise awareness about and encourage the movement away from a fee-based system and towards universal free higher education – just like they have in Germany and Denmark. There will be live acoustic acts and vinyl spinning from:

on the stage

Congo Tuff B2B Cutwerk

Expect roots, hip hop, jazz, reggae, beats, world and more

Treedrum

Happy rhythms and positive thinking from drum maestro and vocalist Craig Winterburn

The Shaded Arrows

Kid Katharsis

Tacit

statement from FREE EDUCATION MCR

At FREE EDUCATION MANCHESTER we believe that education is a tool for building a fairer society. Education should be funded socially so that it can be managed democratically in order to empower people from all backgrounds to define what our education system looks like and learn in ways that best suit them. Free education would facilitate more creative, critical and practical approaches to learning that reflect the diverse needs of all people.This means funding schools, further education, youth centres, technical colleges, art colleges, community projects, universities and postgraduate study so that everyone has access to life-long learning.

details

When? Friday 20th March 2015, 8pm til late

Where? Fuel, Withington High Street

How much? £3 OTD

On facebook

Have a look at what Harriet, Manchester University’s Education Officer, says on the case for free education

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Verbose’s Relaunch

Fallow Café’s Verbose was my regular spoken word night in 2014 and I was gutted to see it go on hiatus in June. Fortunately, under Sarah-Clare Conlon’s new supervision, Verbose is back and bigger than ever! Whilst I have fond memories of 2014’s Verbose and how Helen Isserlis ran it, it would be misleading to say that this new iteration of the night continues in the same vein as before. Verbose is reincarnated in Conlon’s hands with monthly headliners guaranteed and a huge variety of open mic acts as well as publications from some of Manchester’s newest authors. For January’s Verbose, we were treated to performances from Conlon herself and the publishing collective, Inklings. These performers are well-established Manchester acts with several publications between them. This proved to be a good thing as I was drawn in by their performances and ended up leaving the night with two new collections to check out! The key standouts from Inklings, for me, were David Gaffney (via video as he could not make it) and Sian Cummins who presented new interpretations of what it means to write and be a writer. I was shocked and ecstatic to see just how many people turned up to this event! This was all thanks to Conlon’s advertising of the night, drawing in a huge crowd with people standing on the stairs just so they could listen. It was a success in all senses. However, it would have been nothing if not for the open mic-ers. I often think that it is the open mic slots that make, or break, a night because you see a range of artists from first-timers to professionals and seeing different styles filter through their writing is inspirational. It is in the open mic that you see people practice new material and if you are lucky you’ll see people have realisations and perform a piece in an entirely different way. I know Verbose has done that for me in the past. What Verbose focuses on is the variety of writing and spoken word: from prose to poetry to improv, you can find anything you can imagine at this night. My favourite performance of the night was done by an adorable open mic-er who offered us a piece about Bic pens and sexism (it has to be seen for full impact) to huge rounds of applause. Another stand-out performer was Andrew Georgeson, a hilarious act who discussed his conversation with a moth ending with roars of laughter. He is an act I am eager to see more of and, if this performance was anything to go by, anyone who has the opportunity to see Georgeson in his element would be foolish not to take it up. Doors open at 7.30pm for Verbose, every final Monday of the month, and I would recommend getting there early if only to get a seat. Although, you should treat yourself to some of Fallow’s delicious food (even if it is a bit pricey) and their amazing drinks and cocktails whilst you are waiting! The next event is Monday 23 February where Curious Tales will bring their exciting entries to the Manchester literature scene. It is going to be a fantastic night for sure and I look forward to seeing just as many people as last time in February. Treat yourself during this month of love and hear some heartbroken poets lament, it’ll be a highlight of your month for sure. Alex Webb

February’s Verbose – attend on Facebook

Check out the new Verbose website here for updates and news

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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

 

-A.Webb