Monday, 31 March 2008

The Kids Are Alright

Last night I had the pleasure of attending an event called UK Unsigned, an annual talent contest where youngsters compete in the fields of music, spoken word poetry and dance for cash prizes. The show took place at the Hackney Empire in East London. When I arrived one of the first things that I noticed was that adults were severely misrepresented, outnumbered easily by teens. Now ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem. But in light of all the countless articles published daily detailing the rise in teen violence, I must admit I was slightly nervous. Time magazine damnit, even felt it necessary to use their lead story as a sound board to voice the concerns of observers noting a young Britain on the brink of destruction, fuelled by an epidemic of violent crime, teen pregnancy, heavy drinking and drug abuse. But are things really as bad as they would have us believe? Now don't get me wrong, the statistics are far from pretty. We are barely four months into the year and already, 11 teenagers have been murdered in the capital. But yesterday renewed my faith in the next generation, leading me to believe that they are actually okay. Sitting in among the throngs of 15, 16 and 17 year olds yesterday felt like a huge quantum leap back into the early 90's to a time when I was a teen. And you know what? Not much has changed. Girls dressed in white school shirts bearing their 'tags' shrieking excitedly at the arrival of 3 male dancer friends on stage. Check. Over zealous laughter and commentary from the crowd on everything from the mundane to the insane i.e. the Shakira wannabe who wriggled her hips a little too enthusiastically, or the 3 choir boy types who looked like the proverbial rabbits to headlights? You betcha. The atmosphere was one electrifying, fever pitched, uncontrolled mess No doubt every fine detail will be discussed and dissected the moment they hit the school gates today. Because in truth, no matter how bad things appear to the outsiders (us), they won't be computed with the same sense of doom by the receivers (them). And that's the beauty of teen years AKA The Golden Age. I can recall my mum frequently taking pity on me and my brother because according to her, we weren't able to at random go for swims, walk up hills or climb trees like she was as a child growing up in a rural parish in Jamaica. As if? The thought alone filled me with dread. Not while there was at least 27 volumes of Sweet Valley High books to read or The Kids From Fame to watch. So my only hope is the enduring memories for the next generation will be nights like last night. And not the constant reinforcement of the idea that they are a endangered species.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Estelle Gives Em' A Strong Dose of Truth

Estelle has landed herself in hot water by talking candidly to the Guardian about institutionalised racism in the music industry. That's why I love this girl. There aren't many black artists who would dare try to rock the boat after landing themselves at No.1. And who can blame them? Black artists are forced to tread on egg-shells, and play the game, because they are all too aware that the repercussions of speaking out on issues related to race means being vilified by the press and being painted as some sort of angry Black militant. The article also touches on the fact that Black British artists who release authentic soul music tend to have to go Stateside to receive mainstream recognition such as Floetry, Soul II Soul and even Mica Paris to some degree. See the full article here.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Pride's 'Confessions' issue

Hi guys, Pride's April issue hits the stands tomorrow. I took a quick peek when the sample batch arrived in the office and it looks fab. This month's cover girl is the queen of 'sauce', Janet Jackson and theme is 'Confessions'. Articles include my real-life feature on the bulimic music video model, and another real-life feature on Andrew Pritchard, a young wide-boy type who smuggled counterfit goods through customs and escaped 25 years in prison. There's also a great feature about women who only date married men, and a confessional piece featuring black men who sell their bodies for sex. The fashion this month is sensational (well done Shevvie)! It's called 'Holy Confessions', so you can just imagine what that's about, I won't spoil the surprise. Please go out and support, it's a mere £2.80 - bargain!

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Diva Tribute

Guess who turned 63 today? None other than the woman who put the D in DIVA herself – Miss Diana Ross. Now I've got to admit, I'm a bit of a closet Diana fan. Wait a minute... before you roll your eyes, stay with me on this one. I know many people consider her to be shrewd, stuck up, ruthless or whatever, but I grew up in the 80's when the only two visible black women on British TV was Miss Ross or Rustie Lee, so go figure! To me she embodied ambition and glamour, and then of course there was the hair *sigh*. I would frequently dream of having a long black sweeping mane like hers, which my na├»ve 8 year-old self was convinced was the real deal. And although she has remained in a jewel encrusted gown time-warp for the best part of 30 years, she was once the epitomy of black 70's boho-chic. Don't believe me? See below for my photo homage.

Round-up of In Celebration of My Sisters

So instead of shaking a leg with the young 'uns down in Coventry, I opted for the more mature option. In Celebration of My Sisters returned to the Royal Festival Hall this year, and turned out to be quite a nice affair. The show was hosted by Brenda Emmanus, who looked stunning in a beige Gavin Pierre Medford dress, and Curtis Walker, who I haven't seen in years and had actually forgotten how funny he is. Highlights for me included Yolanda Brown, the young saxophonist who seems to be improving with every performance. She performed two R&B tracks before closing her set with a lively percussion-heavy Fela Kuti song -  great sfuff! Yolanda was followed by the battle of the Lovers Rock vocalists, comprising of veteran reggae vocalist, Winston Reedy of 'Dim the Lights' fame, and another singer whose name escapes me. This surprisingly turned out to be the high point of the night for me. Decked in crisp white suits and bearing red roses, they sent the female members of the audience into a frenzy with their dulcet tones. Alexander O Neal was the headline act, but I'm sorry to report after my previous big-ups that his performance was really bizarre. First of all, he didn't have a band, and considering all the other performers had a backing band, this came across as really shoddy and unprofessional. And then it all went downhill from there really. He stumbled and mumbled through every song looking twitchy and unfocused. At one point he even left the stage altogether mid-song, leaving a shocked and confused looking audience. Very strange, let's hope that maybe he just had a little too much errr... cough medication that day, and will be right as rain ASAP.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

1-Xtra goes to Coventry

The biggest Black music event in the UK went down last weekend and I missed it. Call it a combination of too many things to do, too little time, or maybe the truth of the matter is the London snob in me felt it fruitless to go all the way to Coventry just to check out a few R&B acts. But this proved to be a big mistake, huge mistake, as Julia Roberts would say because my sources tell me that I missed a fantastic night. The line-up included Estelle, Kelly Rowland, Akon, Kano, Jay Sean and Craig David to name but a few. Highlights apparently included Estelle teaming up with Kano on 'American Boy' and Akon diving into the audience rock star style-ee, only to lose his shoe (the silly moo). The Senegalese supestar also announced that he will be signing Sway to his record label, Konvict Music label, which is a huge milestone for not only Sway, but he whole of the Grime movement. Here are some pictures from the night.

Kelly Rowland
Chris Brown


Monday, 24 March 2008

Choccie Bits

Corinne Bailey Rae's husband was found dead in his Leeds flat yesterday. Read full story here.

Angela Bassett receives a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. See attached.

Estelle storms to the top of the charts with her latest release 'American Boy'. Read here

Friday, 21 March 2008

In Celebration of My Sisters

In Celebration of My Sisters blows out it's twelth year birthday candles this Saturday. I'll be attending and I am quite looking forward to it. It's always great to see the different generations of women - mothers who come along with their own mums, as well as their daughters too. It's also a nice opportunity to see the greats from the Lovers Rock era and this year's line up includes Janet Kay, Caroll Thompson and Paulette Tajah. Eighties soul crooner, Alexander O'Neal will be the headline act. I went to see him at the Broadway theatre in Catford recently and had a fantastic night. You can say what you want to say about that man but he has a phenomonal voice. Mmm, even now I'm conjuring images of swaying along with the blue rinse crew, eyes shut tight, singing along to 'If You Were Here Tonight'. I'll post an update on how it went on Saturday night. But in the meantime, here's one from the vault.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Ghanaian cancer sufferer dies

Ama Sumani, the Ghanaian women who was removed from a Cardiff hospital and refused further treatment for cancer has passed away in Accra. Read the full story here.

Make way for Precious

On Easter Sunday do ensure you check out The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency showing on BBC1 at 9pm (do check listings to confirm the time). The film stars Jill Scott as the fiesty independent Mma Precious Ramotswe - Botswana's finest lady detective. Based on the bestselling books by Alexander McCall Smith, the narrative centres around the escapades of Precious as she tries to solve various mysteries often to hilarious consequence. I personally adore these little books. I've only read the first three, but there are at least 8 in total. I loved the way McCall Smith picked up on the tone and all the nuances associated with the the Botswanan community.I can remember laughing out loud several times while reading 'Ladies Detective' which is quite a rarity for me. McCall has faced a fair bit of criticism from some members of the black community who take issue with the fact that Africa is only of interest to the mainstream when presented or seen through the eyes of a white person. To some extent I do agree with this theory. There are some fantastic African writers who present a deeper and more multi-layered portrayal of the African experience such as Chinua Achebe or Buchi Emecheta, but yet they are still only really celebrated in literary circles. And I personally would love to see Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamda Ngozi Adichiethe turned into a film (and the optimist in me believes that some day it will). But for now, I'll take Precious sorting out an unscrupulous lover, over yet another Beeb period drama any day. And just to mention, the film was directed by the late Anthony Minghella and was the last film he ever directed, making it even more poignant.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Leona Does Oprah

Thought bubble: "Thankfully no more bleedin' bleedin' queueing up in Sainsburys"

Well knock me down with a feather, our Leona recently appeared on none other than Queen Oprah's talk-show. The rumours were buzzing around for weeks which were confirmed when clips surfaced on the Internet yesterday showing the Hackney born songstress sitting on the hallowed O throne. I've kind of come full-circle with regards to my feelings on Leona. When she first appeared on the X-Factor I adored her voice and found her shy and unassuming persona endearing. But as the weeks emerged and Simon's over-enthusiasm reached unbearable levels I began to nit-pick. 'She's too nice', I'd say. Or 'Her speaking voice is really annoying, she sounds like a Essex bred WAG in training'. Just general hatin' I suppose. But when you scratch the surface (as I often do) I began to acknowledge that my feelings had less to do with Simon's school boy crush and more to do with deep seated feelings of envy. Here's why. My girl at the ripe old age of 20 had been plucked from obscurity and in less than 2 years has produced both a N0.1 album and single in the UK and looks set to do the same across the Atlantic. This evening I was discussing with my friend the recent findings which suggested that a high percentage of primary school age kids believe that education was of no value, and it would be far more beneficial to forsake further education to become a singer, model or footballer instead. And who can blame them for thinking that? If you could do it all again can you really hand-on-heart say you'd prefer to endure years of studying, existing in the Rat Race and living from paycheque to paycheque (as the situation stands for the majority of us) as opposed to dossing around in the Big Brother House for six weeks and coming out to lucrative magazine deals ? Mmm, I know what my answer to that would be although you won't see me cosying up to Davina at any time soon. It's scary to think that the next generation is likely to be dominated by all singing, all dancing, leotard wearing X-Factor audtion types. Simon you've got a lot to answer for.

See a clip from the show below

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Do we really want to look like this?

A few weeks ago I interviewed a young lady who is recovering from bulimia and anorexia nervosa. The aim of the article was to highlight the rise in eating disorders within the black community. There is strong data to support that there has been an increase in the amount of black women being seduced by the dominant images of skinny women in the media, particularly on television and in women's magazines. When I met Susan (the girl I interviewed for the piece), what struck me is just how normal she was. In truth I don't know what I was expecting. Maybe I thought she'd be clueless or suffering from the 'black girl lost' syndrome in the sense of not being fully engaged in her community. But on the contrary I found her to be a really intelligent and articulate woman. And boy has she been through a lot. In short, she was working as a model doing music videos and promtional work when she began to feel insecure about her weight. As a curvy size 12-14, she felt, like many women, that she could do with losing a couple of pounds. And hence began a slippery slope of self destruction through an eating disorder. At her worse, Susan had a BMI of just 17.5 and was surviving on just grapes, with the odd bowl of soup for a treat. The extreme diet took such a toll on her body that a lot of her organs were damaged. Eventually she was was dragged to a doctor who took one look at her and insisted she be hospitalised or she simply wouldn't survive. In the end this marked a turning point in her rehabilitation, and she's now fully on the road to recovery. But Susan and other medical professionals believe that the rise in eating disorders among black women could be a potential ticking time-bomb because it's generally assumed that black women have a more positive attitude to curvaceous body types, and thus are excluded from targeted awareness campaigns. Let's hope that with the likes of Susan all this is set to change.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Third Time Lucky?

This is my third attempt at creating and maintaining a blog. As someone that is hugely fond of diaries, and has kept one since the age of around 13 the idea of a weblog has always appealed to me. But somehow between the first and second week of my subscription my interest nose-dives rapidly. Considering how much time I spend devoted to other people's blogs you'd think I'd be more than eager to jump in. But until now, I've always preferred being an observer rather than a participant...
That's it, my eyelids are drooping already. Yikes could this signal another failed attempt into Blogosphere? Stay tuned to find out what happens next in The Cocoa Diaries

About Me

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I am a thirty-something African Caribbean female from South East London. My blog will shine a light on Black British culture offering the best in entertainment, fashion, beauty, community, film & music, with the occasional personal musing thrown in from yours truly. Thank you for taking out the time to peek into the pages of my diary. Now grab a cup of cocoa, relax and enjoy.