So last week the EVENING STANDARD newspaper picked up on the LONDON360 news story about literacy in London featuring celebrity chef Marco Pierre White that my team made. People don’t read as much now as in the past and as a testament to this libraries are shutting down and we care raising a generation of people that can’t spell or enjoy reading. People send me letters and application forms with CV’s that contain practically illegible grammar. They attend interviews and they can’t speak coherently. They want to be musicians and presenters but they can’t write? Every Tuesday afternoon after school my mum used to turn my library trip into an adventure that I looked forwards to. I felt independent choosing my own books from the bookshelves and exploring loads of different topics that I had not encountered before. I loved Nancy Drew and hardy boy’s child sleuth novels as well as Enid Blytons secret 7 and famous five fun gang stories. I learnt how to escape the streets of Southall and Harlesden for a couple of hours a day into fantasy worlds that helped me dream big and learn how to be articulate. In fact young people aspire to be like their hip-hop heroes but every time I ever worked with Pharrell and Kanye west we would discuss which books we were reading and in fact it was Pharel who first had me hooked on the Dan brown books before they became very commercial. For people that tell me they don’t need libraries as they will buy their kids books or let them read them online they are being very tunnel vision-ed and ignorant. The child cannot experience the wonderful experience of browsing through hundreds of books and picking any outside of their usual interest to broaden their horizons. The joy of carrying the book, seeing how far into it you are, the anticipation of nearing the end conclusion. All these things are fascinating for kids and I as an adult STILL use my local west London library. The number of biographies I read I couldn’t afford to buy them all or would want them cluttering up my home after reading. My bookshelves are full to the brim of my favourite reads which I re read (piers Morgan’s books) or flick through (my HIP HOP IMMORTALS COFFEE TABLE art book). In fact if ever asked the proverbial question ‘’if your house were on fire what would you save-it would be one of my favourite signed books!). I urge you to encourage literacy amongst those around you- it’s the first step towards greatness!
I was invited by Saddler’s Wells theatre to go and see the amazing production of Fela, which has already captivated audiences worldwide. About the Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Kuti the show focus’ on Fela’s final gig at Lagos nightclub-the Shrine and was a wonderful night of great music, mesmerising dancers and an intriguing storyline that focused on Fela’s relationship with his mother, the fact that he came to London to study medicine then was drawn towards jazz music and his relationship with many women simultaneously.
Fela was the pioneer of Afrobeat, a genre of music that’s going to blow up in the UK soon-there’s already a huge afrobeat show happening this month in London and DJ Abrantee has an afrobeat show on CHOICEFM. Even Kanye west has signed 2 African acts recently-perhaps America is slightly ahead of our game with this one.
The audience were encouraged (forced!) to participate through out the show with dancing in our seats and in the aisles, which could have been a little cringe worthy but was taken well even by the conservative half of the audience. The ‘’clock dance’’ where our hips were encouraged to move around the clock was hilarious. Even sir Andrew Lloyd Webber was sitting with us!.
The cast made humorous references to ‘’ethnic folks’’ reputations by asking ‘’how kind of you all to come especially considering how dangerous this area and how dangerous we are-as Reuters will tell you’’.
They mocked the ’white people coming Africa to steal our soaps, dressing gowns and ashtrays from hotels, steal our diamonds, steal our people but left us with’ gonorrhoea’’. There was a massive cheer when they talked about multi national corporations like BP and News Corp and raised eyebrows as to whom were the corrupt in society’’. I thought it was a great show but would’ve liked more of Fela’s real story and fighting the brutality of the African regime and less booty shaking. My friend agreed and wished that all black musical shows didn’t focus on stereotypes of blacks. I knew fela is lauded by many of my American friends and looked upon as a hero and I was a bit disappointed not to learn more about why this was.
On Saturday morning I drove down to Clapham common to see my girl Lisa Maffia (former So Solid Crew first lady) run the 5k RACE FOR LIFE-one of 28 races that have happened around London this summer. It was nice to attend in South London as Race for life started in 1994 in Battersea Park and since then millions of women have taken part Lisa’s mother was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year and so Lisa has been positively putting on a brave face and generating positive energy around her determined to make a difference. She put together TEAM MAFFIA to run with her and the group included one of her best mates Su-Elise (former Mis-Teeq member). We arrived early to film the event with the LONDON360 TV crew and found 4,500 women in pink t-shirts warming up in front of stage where an aerobics instructor was doing her thing. Each runner had a square card pinned to their backs with their personal dedication to whom they were running for. Many were running to remember parents and family members that had passed away. Just as many were running for people in their lives that were dealing with cancer presently. It was emotional and heart breaking to read them all. Runners ran alone, in pairs, in groups, even with their prams with babies and dogs running alongside them. The feeling of unity in the air was humbling and strong.
It’s easy to feel it doesn’t affect you until it does. The facts are that in London alone one person every hour is diagnosed with cancer in and one in three of us are affected by cancer.
I hated sponsored events as a school child. The endless begging people holding a paper and trying to collect cash. Nowadays the rest is out there in a click with e-mails and facebook/twitter and with justgiving sites you don’t even need to collect money! The last time I ran this race I ran for the ACLT and raised £3000-it literally was a doddle. The organisers told me ‘’Its brilliant when celebs get on board as the amount of celebrities that are getting involved in race for life, not only that they are taking part but its special for the other participants to see them taking part and they tweet, they go on Facebook and they really raise awareness for race for life and cancer research UK in the public’’.
Lisa told me just before the race began ‘’ I’m feeling very emotional that these girls turned up for me, my mum was diagnosed with cancer in April and I asked the girls to all come and take part with me and they have and its going to be a great day. I’ve been training for about two weeks, I’m feeling confident I just want to get it done I want to make my mum proud, I think that’s what’s going to drive me round this course today. The cancer research does unite women in London because woman can be affected as well as men by cancer and you never know when its going to happen, I didn’t know it was going to happen to my mum, so its just so important that every penny raised can buy telescopes, doctors coats, it can do all sorts of things and every penny counts it really is so important, and women are together. I plan to crawl around the track, I’m running, I’m running the whole way, I’m going to try and run’’.
Lisa Mafia and Su-Elise weren’t the only music ladies running. The original female UK hip hop collective- Cookie Crew were there (MC Remedee -real name Debbie Pryce and Susie Q (born Susan Banfield) ,and informed me ‘’ we’re running the race for my cousin Paula and for DJ Swing (RIP) and for everyone we know who’s suffering. everybody has been affected in some way by cancer we all just feel that we’re compelled to do something because it’s a disease that you feel you cant do anything about so you feel that you have to do something and we’ve all been affected by cancer and we did make a decision that we will do more things for charity, that was our new years resolution last year. the best thing is that its on Clapham Common this is literally our back garden and its where we grew up and this is where hip hop started’’.
The stage host asked team mafia to get onstage pre-race and do a mini press conference. He asked Lisa about why she was taking part. Lisa replied ‘’ my mum was diagnosed with cancer in April and I just realised how important something like this…’’ before becoming overcome with emotion and teary. In true best friend mode without missing a beat Su-Elise hugged Lisa, took the microphone from Lisa and saved the day stating ‘’She’s doing it for her mum today and she wants to finish the whole race, make her mum proud and thanks you guys for joining in with us. You all look absolutely fabulous by the way’’. I was impressed by their tight friendship bond and it was a heart wrenching moment. It was also a proud moment highlighting the unity that life-changing moments like this can bring. We caught up with Lisa as she sprinted past the finish line who explained ‘’ I’m a person that likes to help when I’m in a bad situation and doing this is just… I think it’s given my mum another hope, as it is a hard thing to go through. I’ve never seen my mum in such a vulnerable situation and watching her daily and doing something like this I just know it gives her a new hope and I think it does it for everyone who has either lost somebody or some who’s going through dealing with cancer’’.
The runners just that day raised £600,000 for cancer research UK-an amazing feat! I salute all of you dealing with this-may your unity and courage gives you strength to take each day as it comes, comes what may.
The very next day it was off to Wembley arena for the ONE LOVE PEACE FESTIVAL. I’ll be honest. I didn’t expect much. Much of the time urban events on a big scale in the UK aren’t great for turnout or organisation. So imagine my happy surprise on arriving to find thousands of people queuing around the arena in their most summery outfits in the scorching sunshine. Wembley hill was a roadblock! So THIS is where all the true diehard reggae and dancehall fans have been going instead of carnival! It was like being at Sumfest! The arena was full, the vibe was great, flags were being waved and whistles blown, the acts who included John Holt, Aswd, Horace Andy, Etana, Trevor Hartley, Sandra Cross, Gyptian, Busta Rhymes, Sean Paul and Shaggy, were onstage from early afternoon until 11pm. There was a real positive energy and no bad vibes anywhere, just like a summery all-dayer in the city should be!.
My criticisms would be that the backstage media room wasn’t the best organised machine with random people crowding around interviews, photographers actually flashing cameras which render TV footage being filmed unusable and at one point we were all moved from the hot room to a freezing room next door-all day media were kindly provided beverages in the form of Levi Roots latest ginger beer offering and also ‘’Marley’s mellow mood juice’’ which provided much mirth.
Hilariously Levi Roots performed a set about ‘’reggae reggae sauce’’ and wasn’t as bad as it could have been(is there anything this man cant do?). Ray Lewis who works for the mayor’s office and is pals with Boris Johnson spoke onstage a few times and was promptly booed every time he mentioned Boris. Don’t know why-I think Boris is realer than any past mayor we’ve seen and unlike most politicians sticks to his word with his promises. Ray gave messages of anti gun crime throughout the day alongside community groups and this reminded the audience why we were there which I was pleased about as when my TV crew vox popped the crowd entering early in the day-hardly anyone was aware it was an anti gun crime themed event.
I also question whether an event like this is really making a different with those young gang members that are caught up anyway. Surely most of the crowd here were present as they were music lovers and already unified in their positive outlook on life. The ones that are still wasting their lives with street nonsense probably aren’t here anyway? And at £50 quid a ticket how many young desperate youth could afford it anyway?
Gyptian told me ‘’ “The one thing I’m glad about is that I’m not part of the artists that sing derogatory lyrics, ya know,.”
Princess Nyah disagreed ‘’ Regards musicians that talk about gun crime and glamorize violence she stated “With every artist, everyone’s got their own story to tell, and I can’t penalize somebody else for talking about what they’ve been through. Regardless of all the negative press, if someone’s got a story to tell and they want to share it and people can relate to it, then who is the media or anyone else to say any different.I was really keen on taking part in the event because I was born and raised in north west London, and there’s a lot of crime that happens all the time but amongst all of that there are really good young people out there.”
Etana told me her thoughts on women helping the cause “I always feel for about representing women, my name Etanna, means the strong one, so its for every woman to know when they hear the name Etana it represents you. “Women play a major role in keeping the peace. In a household, when a woman is upset the whole household is upset. Fathers upset, kids are miserable, everybody’s screaming and running around, that’s because the queen bee is upset, you know, she’s buzzin. So the best thing we can do as women is start with ourselves and remember we cant take our stress out on the kids.”
Father and son music duo PRB told us ‘(son) “It is basically bringing youths and adults together, so knowing that all multicultural people can come as one like Martin Luther once said and try and spread the love and peace and forget about gun and knife crime and end this.“When we are listening to music we listen and think, ah yeah this song may be catchy but what is it actually really portraying?’’ father Ruben added ‘“It’s about the mentoring skills as well and showing that care and concern so the kids don’t feel distant away from us“It’s a lot to do with the system, everyone has a standard in their home. A standard of how they behave themselves.”
Some acts that were mentioned on the flyer like Ky-mani Marley, Third World and Bashy didn’t show so many complained about that. (I know Bashy was filming his movie so clearly some miscommunication there by the organisers!) Also many young audience members were there to see team UK acts like Donaeo and Skepta-and you could tell the event was organised by the older generation, as when sh@* hit the fan and the show was running late Skepta was finally allowed a really short set as was Princess Nyah but ‘’party hard’’ star Donaeo was cut out of the show totally-much to his and the hundreds of young audience in attendance! They even had Skepta’s name flashing on stage whilst Sean Paul was performing. Oh dear. Elsewhere, Etena name checked Amy Winehouse, Busta and his co-hort Spliff Star are one of the top 5 live hip-hop acts in the world and killed the stage-the crowd were in a total frenzy by the time Mohawk haired Sean Paul came on to relax their vibe a bit with some gyrating, sexy tunes. The headline act Shaggy only got to play for 10 minutes, as they were running late- typical. Sean Paul and Shaggy had a tough time onstage-I’d love to print their thoughts here but alas it’s a family newspaper.
If any lessons were learnt from this show its that an outdoor arena with 2 stages so band set up times could be swift not making the audience wait ages for the next act could be beneficial.
Overall a brilliantly put together front of house show for the reggae community in the UK-one that hasn’t existed for a very long time! Organiser hugh summed it up nicely ‘’ “What happens here today is an a culmination of what has been happening over the past month. On the first of July we went into the schools, the colleges, the youth clubs, into the playgrounds and we say youngsters look, we going to try and create a more equipped community able to negotiate a successful stake in the UK.”