Monday, 29 September 2008

24 Hours from Stevie...



In approximately twenty four hours I'll be seeing the legend that is Stevie Wonder for the first time EVER in the flesh (*squeal*, sooooo can't wait). The singer hasn't performed in the UK in over ten years, but is currently embarking on successful sell out European tour which rolls back into the 02 Arena tomorrow, YAY! The set list so far has been pretty unpredictable, so hard to predict exactly which songs will make the cut. But I can guarantee that if he happens to perform this song, Rich be warned.... I won't be responsible for my dance moves. 

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Supermodels exhibition by Adelaide Damoah



I was never that great at art so have utter respect for those who have talent within the discipline. One such lady is Adelaide Damoah. See below for details of her forthcoming exhibtion centred around the theme of supermodels. 

The Artist Adelaide Damoah who is best known for her 2006 Exhibition, "Black Brits" will unveil her latest controversial collection entitled "Supermodels" in October 2008. The collection consists of a series of oil paintings in which Adelaide Damoah distorts our view of some major international supermodels and celebrity icons. Adelaide Damoah will attempt to change perceptions and spark debate using a striking 6ft wide piece of the Brazilian Supermodel Anna Carolina Reston as the centerpiece of the collection. Anna Carolina Reston was one of the models whose death in 2006 sparked a worldwide size zero debate, the piece is called "Ana" to represent both the first name of the young supermodel and to represent the popular phraseology often used by anorexics to refer to their condition.
Anna Carolina Reston

Size zero is a UK size 4 (23 inch waist) which is the average size of an 8 year old girl, Adelaide Damoah will present new paintings of some of the most talked about size zero icons from a different side of the spectrum.

The exhibition preview will take place on the 2nd October 2008 6 to 9pm, which will be the opening night and will run through to the 7th October 2008, at the Nolias Gallery in Southwark, South London. It will then move to the 24/7 art house on Clapham Common for 4 weeks.

Adelaide Damoah is a self-trained artist. Following a career in the pharmaceutical industry, she began by painting a series of emotion filled abstract paintings that reflected changes in her personal life and culminated in the opening of her first solo show in 2006 - Black Brits. 

Visit www.damoaharts.com for further details

New Sugarbabes video - 'Girls'


'Girls' is the latest single taken from the Sugarbabe's sixth studio album 'Catfights and Spotlights'. You may recognise the track from the Boots ads which ran last Christmas.  I'm really starting to adore this group. They are definitely at the cooler end of the spectrum in terms of Brit pop girl bands. I love the fact that they can all actually sing (shock, gasp) but yet they don't seem overly concerned about being papped at the hottest club, restaurant or bar. This greatly contrats with the overrated, minimally talented - Girls Aloud, who tend to hog most of the limelight. Maybe the Sugar ladies need to bag themselves a Premiership footballer, or starve themselves to oblivion to get a bit more attention. Yes indeedy, the entertainment biz is in a sad state of affairs right now.

Oh, and as a side-note,  if you haven't checked out the remix of Taio Cruz's 'Like A Star' featuring Busta Rhymes and the Sugarbabes, then try to do so. It's so refreshing to hear their soulful vocals over an R&B track. 

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Family, like a Giant Tree

Sunday night at 9pm. For two solid hours we laugh, we sing, and we dance and dance. Each song the DJ plays brings with it a deeper memory. Help Me Make it Through the Night by John Holt. The Harder they Come by Jimmy Cliff. Tears on My Pillow the reggae version. Sweet, sweet reggae music that formed the foundation of my youth...

The celebration (for an aunt and uncle who are moving back to JA ) was only a couple of hours long, but boy was I happy for those 120 minutes. My soul felt replenished. But then I arrived home instantly I hit the most bizarre low. Rich even had to ask me several times whether I was alright. I tried to fob him off at first but then conceded that I felt so sad. Felt as if I was mourning. But mourning what? The lost years, I have now come to realise. How it has all flown by in a whiz and I’ve barely had time to experience it with the people I don’t entirely understand, but love so so dearly – my family. When those beautiful melodies first caressed my ears all those years ago when I was a kid I thought life would be happy times forever. But how wrong was I? The disappointments I have experienced in my own personal life, the people I’ve lost, fallen out with, is just the tip of the iceberg. How about my family? Various members have suffered fall out of devastating proportions. Mental health issues, sickness, poverty, drug peddling, imprisonment, eating disorders, domestic violence – you name it, I’ve seen and heard it all. But I so didn’t see it coming when I was a kid - we all seemed so normal and well balanced then. Where did it all go wrong? Who knows. But I guess the most important thing is that we still laugh, we still dance, and we still come together when it matters most. I used to always joke with my older and wiser cousin that I’m sure God put me in this family for a reason. "Trust me" I'd say. "There are too many juiciy/intriguing/dysfunctional stories waiting to be unfolded on a page." And I’m really certain that one day I’ll give voice and meaning to our history if only so that I/we can make sense of it all. I’m not sure when it will happen, but I’m pretty sure that that’s what I’m supposed to do. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

New style book by Samata Angel


Style books are all the rage across the pond, but have yet to be fully exploited here in the UK. All this could be set to change this month when Black British fashion designer, Samata Angel, releases her uber stylish guide book 'Fashioning your life, A Clothing Designer's Guide. Volumes 1&2 are priced at £16.99 and can be purchased via www.samatasmuse  or lulu.com. The book is written to provide assistance to emerging fashion designers and features advice and tid bits from the likes of Nigel Barker from America's Next Top Model, Terry Mansfield, Chairman of Graduate Fashion Week, and celebrity stylist Nick Ede (Project Catwalk), as well as others.

So who exactly is Samata Angel? Born in Cambridge to Ghanaian parents, Samata set up her own clothing label in 2005 and has been capturing the attention of hard nosed fashion industry heads ever since. In 2006, she won 'Best Couture Line at the UK Urban Fashion Awards, followed by a nomination for the 'Exceptionally Creative Awards' at the British Female Inventors and Innovators Awards in 2007. Within the same year Samata made history by becoming the first black British female to display a collection during the Nolcha Fashion Week in New York. 

Angel is also an Ambassador for the Girls! Make your Mark, a national campaign which sets out to encourage young women to turn creative ideas into viable businesses AND she is currently nominated for Cosmopolitan's Fun, Fearless Female Awards 2008. Phew, what a woman, eh? All of this and she's a mere 25 years young... 

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

How do you like your genius?


By Sam Bleazard

British and European fans are currently getting the chance to spend a ‘Wonder summer’s night’ with one Steveland Morris nee Judkins, at various venues such as the O2 in London.

The Cocoa Diaries own Ms Quiche expressed her concern recently by saying ‘yeah mixed reviews, right?’ – which came as a genuine surprise to me having seen the first London show a few days back. I left feeling it had been a show befitting a great artist – so why the disparity?

We live in an age – as previously discussed – of 24 hour entertainment, where attention spans are short (do all critics stay for the second half of a live show?) and reviews are immediately posted online, not to prevent you having an opinion yourself but to help shape it and influence your decision whether or not to buy a ticket. The superstars of the 70s, 80s and 90s compete now, not only in a crowded live music scene (with concerts more popular than ever currently) but also in a fragmented mass media, one however which is still dominated by the sensibility of the rock critic looking for edgy alternatives to the mainstream.

Retrospectively I looked at a summary of reviews from various UK papers of the Stevie Wonder show I saw, and they talked not about the diversity of music played -which seemed a given, and ultimately forgotten - but of the ‘lack of pacing’ involved. How strange. Stevie Wonder appeals to an incredibly diverse audience lest we forget, but it seemed that in the main the only ones prepared to pay to see him at the O2 were white working professionals over 30 years of age. Ticket prices may have had something to do with this of course, but why the frustration with the performance? In a bar after the show one guy told me how much time he felt Stevie had wasted playing ‘Ribbon in the Sky’ for ten minutes when he could have squeezed in more from his back catalogue.

Without burdening ourselves too much with race it would seem that there is a clear difference between what a certain audience member might expect for their money and the cultural aesthetic of the artist. When you’re in Stevie’s house it’s a night on his terms, and not necessarily a top ten hit sing-along from start to finish as the nature of genius is a tendency towards the unpredictable. Is it too much to ask of the audience to consider that maybe those onstage aren’t quite like them, or perhaps have slightly differing expectations? You could almost sense the boredom and the impatience setting in while the majority waited for the ‘hits’, while I just felt grateful to have heard him play bursts of Miles Davis on the harmonica.

It reminded me of a similar experience several years previous, the only time I saw Whitney Houston perform live (at Wembley Arena), where she excitedly announced that the middle section of the show would be a nod to her Gospel roots. The crowd were under whelmed to say the least even though her singing was passionate and far more remarkable than on ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’. The audience ultimately hears what it wants to hear in many ways and greater writers than myself have written at length about the nature of black artists in America ‘crossing over’ to the mainstream, but also the difficulty they may have in crossing back. 

I’ve also been interested to note another trend, which is how often messers Simon Fuller, Cowell et al and their X-Factorisation of music is peddling and helping to maintain a certain set of guidelines in mainstream music (completely separate to, but equally as damaging as the dominance of the rock critic mentality in its own way). It’s particularly odd when series after series certain young hopefuls are told in the latter stages of the ‘competition’ that they have a Gospel sound, this is almost without exception the sound of the death knell for their chances. This is of course laughable considering that Gospel is one of the major touchstones and building blocks of popular music, while Simon Cowell’s CV name-checks such achievements and cultural heavyweights as Jive Bunny and Sinitta. 

Getting back to Stevie Wonder however, the reaction of audiences and critics to his show is almost confusing when considering the sheer number of hits that were played on the night – mainly from the 60s/70s and 80s – but still the complaints about the opportunity to play more from his back catalogue. Clearly the first sight of this genius for 10 years (or ever for some) wasn’t enough – which leads me to believe that it was the packaging or the presentation of the material on show that was also clearly an issue. I read the strapline ‘A Wonder Summer’s night’ as a one off chance to be in Stevie’s house and hear what he had to play, so why then did audience members feel short-changed when his 2.5 hour show wasn’t one continuous hit-laden medley? Maybe there’s been one too many greatest hits albums being packaged and put out there, which means that people don’t listen to the original albums in their car anymore, preferring MP3 compilations. 

In one sense the established artist in this case is damned if they do, and if they don’t. If they play nothing but hits they’re seen as trading on the past and having lost their edge, and having nothing left to offer. If they experiment or play music they themselves enjoy, audiences often reject them acting like spoilt children at a birthday party.

As Louis Armstrong said (and it’s fair to say that he would have been an authority on the subject), there are only two types of music – good and bad. In the case of Stevie Wonder, over 90% of that music is exceptional in my opinion, but don’t take my word for it, trust your own instincts and find out for yourself by catching his live show which returns to London later this month. 


Sunday, 7 September 2008

Keri Hilson covers Trace magazine


R&B girl of the moment, Keri Hilson, graces the cover of Trace magazine's annual Black Girls Rule issue. The special edition will be guest edited by director, Spike Lee, and also features Michelle Obama, Janelle Monae and Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child. I’m not really an avid reader of Trace because I find it a bit too left of centre for my personal taste, but I always buy the ‘Black Girls’ issue to find out about the new movers and shakers in music, fashion, film, politics, and business. For those who don’t know, the magazine started right here in London town by Claude Grunitzky who is still the owner. However, flagging sales forced Claude and his troops to up sticks and relocate to the Big Apple where the magazine has taken a life of its own. Check out www.trace212.com for further details.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Idris's brush with Denzel's ugly side


Actor Idris Elba recently appeared on Trevor Nelson’s breakfast show on BBC 1Xtra to promote his new film, the Guy Ritchie crime caper, Rocknrolla. The Hackney lad currently making huge waves in the States shared a few of anecdotes on his career as an in-demand actor, including his experience of working with Denzel Washington on last year’s hit film American Gangster. Whereas most rising actors would be hesitant to speak out against the hugely powerful Oscar winning actor, Elba spared no punches in admitting that he hated working with the actor on that particular film. Apparently during the scene where Denzel’s character (Frank Lucas) shoots his nemesis (Elba) at point blank range. Denzel probably in full method acting mode, decided to go against Ridley Scott's direction and pulled the trigger right up against Idris’s temple, much to the horror of everyone on set. The gun obviously wasn’t loaded but this didn’t stop the poor love in admitting to Trevor that when it happened he thought he was dead. This is not the first time I’ve heard stories of Denzel’s dubious actions all in the name of his craft. Surely there must come a point where you have to separate yourself from your character. I'm wondering if in some perverse sense using the old 'method acting' defence is just a underhanded way of carrying out your sinister side without being held accountable for your actions. Listen to the interview here and judge for yourselves. 

Hill St. Soul in Essence


I came across this interesting interview with Hilary Mwelwa of Hill St. Soul fame on Essence.com. In the piece she speaks quite candidly about the obstacles she encounters as a Black British female soul singer in the UK. Read below for full interview.

Hil St. Soul: A British Invasion 

Hilary Mwelwa, vocalist for the U.K. R&B duo, is ready for her spotlight in America’s musical landscape 

By Clay Cane 

The legacy of Black American singers dashing to Europe for artistic refuge and acceptance extends to Josephine Baker, Nina Simone and Tina Turner. However, it rarely seems to work in reverse: Black British singers crossing over to the States rarely receive the same warm welcome or recognition of their brand of soul. Hilary Mwelwa and her partner, Victor Redwood Sawyerr, of the R&B duo Hil St. Soul are hoping to change that. Their 2006 album, “SOULidified,” impacted the American charts, racking up two Top 20 Urban AC hits with "Goodbye" and "Hey Boy." Now, they’re back with "Black Rose," an intoxicating, eclectic mix of traditional Zambian music, pop, and soul, featuring the funky “Don’t Forget the Ghetto,” the emotional “We Were In Love” and the redemptive "Smile." Mwelwa makes time for ESSENCE.COM to speak about the new album, the plight of the United Kingdom's Black soulstresses, and why she will never conform. 

ESSENCE.COM: How does your new album "Black Rose" differ from your first two albums? 

HILARY MWELWA: I think there is a natural progression. Primarily, I feel like the subject matters I’ve touched upon with this project are a lot more diverse. I’ve evolved as a singer and songwriter and my vocals have definitely improved because of years of singing. 

ESSENCE.COM: Did you have the U.S. market in mind when making "Black Rose"? 

MWELWA: Not necessarily. Whatever project I'm working on, I first try to create music that is truthful to me and keep with the Hil St. Soul vibe. Foremost, it is really about the integrity of the songs and myself as an artist. 

ESSENCE.COM: The title track addresses women feeling comfortable and happy in their own skin. Do you ever feel pressure to conform?

MWELWA: I don’t. For me, what is more important is the material that I sing and the messages that I’m putting out there as opposed to what I look like. Different strokes for different folks—some people like to wear next to nothing—and I don’t have a problem with that. Personally, I believe it’s important to celebrate all shapes, sizes and colors. You guys have Jill Scott, an amazing artist and not your typical artist in terms of image, but it doesn’t mean that she is any less talented. I don’t think she has to be Ashanti and, for me, Jill Scott’s songs are more engaging. At the same time, Ashanti appeals to a different audience. I think there is room for everybody. So I don’t feel pressure at all to try and fit in. Variety is the spice of life; it would all be very boring if we all looked like Ashanti or whomever out there. 

ESSENCE.COM: Does the resurgence of White female soul singers in England, such as Amy Winehouse and Adele, have a positive or negative effect on a Black female soul artist from the U.K.? 

MWELWA: I think it has a negative effect. At the end of the day, if you’re talented at what you do then you’re entitled to have that kind of stage or shine, but what I’m noticing is that people like the Amy Winehouses and the Adeles get a bigger push from labels. There are not that many Black female artists actually getting signed in the U.K. It really is about the Adeles, Duffys and Amys. It does have a negative impact, and you question it. A Black female artist singing soul music versus a White artist singing soul or whatever you want to call it, we don’t seem to get the same kind of love that they do. Not to say that I don’t feel Amy Winehouse deserves to have that spotlight on her, but everybody should get the same opportunity and I don’t think [the U.K.’s Black female] artists do. 


ESSENCE.COM: How different do you think your career would be if you were an American R&B artist?

MWELWA: (Laughs) I wouldn’t say that my career would necessarily be different as an American artist. I think if I had a bigger budget, had a machine behind me, I would be in a different position. It’s really difficult to say because good music is good music regardless of where it is from. I actually get more love from you guys than I do over here, which speaks volumes in itself. I think if I spent more time in the U.S. I’d be able reach a wider audience, that’s the only thing I can think of that would further my career. 

ESSENCE.COM: Is there a musical formula that a British artist needs to adopt to appeal to American audiences?

MWELWA: I’m not sure. At the end of the day, music is a universal thing. Whether you are American or British, we all go through the same life experiences and it’s really about how you are able to convey that in your songs. I don’t necessarily think there is a specific formula, but I guess in general you try and stand out. You have to be a different flavor and that is the only formula you can ever really rely on. 

ESSENCE.COM: Many songs on the new album, such as “Broken Again,” are about the trials of relationships. Are you currently in a relationship now? 

MWELWA: Actually, I’m not. That song is about falling into the same trap as you did before, falling for that same person again. 

ESSENCE.COM: A friend of mine is going through a breakup now and she told me, “I can’t be happy alone.” What would be your advice to someone who feels that way?

MWELWA: When you’re in that headspace, you do feel like you can’t get over that person because you are unhappy. But try and hold out; there is always light at the end of the tunnel. I believe that if someone doesn’t love you unconditionally, you’ll never be happy. A friend of mine says, “You were who you were before you met that person. That person doesn’t make you who you are.” You really have to try and take things like that on board.

“Black Rose” (Shanachie) is in stores now. For more information, visit MySpace.com/hilstsoul.

Back to UK Blak: Brand New Heavies


I woke up this morning with this song in my heart. I went to the Indigo2 last night to see Kook & the Gang (another oldie but goodie) and came across a flyer advertising a forthcoming Brand New Heavies gig scheduled to take place at the same venue next month. Talk about instantly taking me back. Gosh, how amazing was/is this band? As my friend Sam rightly says, fellow Acid-jazzers Jamiroquai took a lot of their shine, probably due to the weird charisma of Jay Kay, but for me the BNH were always the real deal. Since locating ‘Stay This Way’ on You Tube I’m on my forth rewind. I forbid you to have a listen and not be overcome with a sheer sense of ebullience – it’s such a joyous song. And what of lead singer N’Dea Davenport? Isn’t she a hottie?And what a syrupy sweet songbird tone.  Sorry Siedah I know you're a great artist and all, but I was so mad when you replaced her. However, N'Dea fans rest assured, she's back in the fold and will be appearing at the Indig02 show. Anyway, back to the track, I can’t remember it doing major things on the charts upon release but it remains a firm favourite of mine. And in case you were wondering - UK Blak? Admittedly the BNH don't necessarily fit the criteria considering they are fronted by an African American woman and backed by a mostly English band mates. But to me they represent the true essence of multi-culturalism, you know, one nation under a groove and all of that good stuff. So do like we did back in the day and pump up the volume! 

The concert is scheduled for Thurs 16th October, for further info visit www.theindigo2.co.uk

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.