Monday, 27 October 2008

New to Cocoa Diaries: Pieces of a Dream Job

It recently occurred to me that I've met some amazing women over the years with interesting, glamorous, and much sought after jobs. When I first ventured into magazine journalism many moons ago it immediately became apparent that the career manuals and books that I had devoured at the library were out of touch and had no bearing in the real world. The media isn’t like traditional industries where you gain the qualifications, start applying for work, and sooner or later you’ll get snapped up by an employer. No siree. Contacts, flexibility, and the ability to keep abreast of ever-changing work trends are the real qualities needed to survive in this hyper competitive and often cut-throat industry. I've also realised that the media is an extremely closed community, and those involved aren't particularly forthcoming in imparting their knowledge on how they got to where they are.

With these thoughts in mind I've been long procrastinating the idea of an additional feature on this blog where I regularly interview movers and shakers within not only the media, but other industries that are hard to penetrate. My first interviewee is celebrity stylist, Ruki Garuba. Ruki is currently leading an enviable life as the stylist to US superstar, Kelly Rowland. She is also a designer in her own right and the CEO/Creator of her own clothing label – Ruki Garuba. Read below for Ruki's journey. And if you wish to ask her any further questions you can catch her over on her own blog www.rukigaruba.blogspot.com

I earn a living by styling celebrities and designing clothes. Occasionally I do campaigns for companies (ASOS.com, Rimmel and Ford) and magazines (5 year stint as Fashion and Beauty Editor at Pride magazine).

The moment I knew I wanted to be a stylist was when I did my first shoot by accident. I Originally wanted to work in entertainment but Sherry Dixon (the then Beauty Editor at Pride) took a shine to me and took me under her wing and introduced me to a wonderful new world. I've never looked back since. But the moment I felt like a 'real stylist' wasn't during my time in the world of monthly editorials but when I saw Kelly Rowland's Ms Kelly album cover and sleeve with name on the credits.

My typical day consists of waking up in a hotel room, getting dressed and having breakfast in speedy time before going to prepare and help my client dress. This sometimes can be before 7 am. Then it's a full day of press, interviews, photo shoots and then a show in the evening. I'm on hand to select outfits, make sure the outfits look good on camera and then prep all the costumes for the main concert including doing the quick changes and then have them packed up after the show.

The highlight of my career thus far is ever changing as I do new projects. One has to be working on Kelly's album shoot, another touring with Keyshia Cole and thirdly being a Fashion and Beauty Editor of such a respected black women's magazine by the age of 22.

My toughest challenge was when touring in the States for three months with a whole team of people I never met until 24 hours before we started the tour. I also hadn't before then spent that much time away from loved ones and friends. Having to live, breathe, sleep and work with strangers and your boss (the artist) with only the occasional day off is HARD. Being on a tour bus is difficult as you are thrown into a very small living space with colleagues (12 per bus) for 24 hours at a time with nowhere to escape. We even did a 72 hours stretch from Memphis to Vegas. You then have to get into a stadium to work and pull together a show each night which can be stressful enough on it's own. This was the time when I felt I grew the most, I learned how to be diplomatic, how to fend for myself in a dog eat dog environment and mostly just how to be tough on the outside even when you feel like you're cracking on the inside. For example finding a trustworthy dry cleaner in every city that could clean 12 outfits which consist of 4 parts each in roughly 9 hours was testing to say the least, not to mention I was in a foreign land and the only English person on the team. But I did it and did it well every night.

I commute to work by plane/train/car depending on where the shoot or show is taking place. Sometimes on a rare day I throw on my favourite hoodie (an over sized black Keyshia Cole one I got when I toured with her) and prepare myself for the 30 second walk from my bed to my desk at home. On the way I take in the sights whilst collecting my laptop from my bedside table, pick up the post by the door and grab a coffee from the kitchen

The first thing I do when I get to work is turn my computer, crank up the music and start by responding to emails that I haven't already seen on my Blackberry.

For breakfast I have a cup of coffee and three bowls of Cherrios. Followed by a glass of water and Berocca for energy.

The advice I would give to others trying to break into the industry is firstly do your research and find out which area you want to work in - is it editorial and fashion shoots, is it celebrity, films or theater? Then find out who the main stylists are in this area and contact
them for work experience. I can't stress how important work experience is. It gives you a great insight to what the reality of the job is, and also puts you in a great position to find out about up and coming vacancies. To be a successful stylist I think you need to really be able to put your personal tastes and styles aside, your clients aren't an extension of you, so you have to be able to create an individual look that is true to who they are. Be diplomatic and calm in your approach to clients, fashion houses, colleagues etc. It's a stressful environment and no one wants to work with someone who cracks under pressure. Also very importantly - always work at growing your skill. I critique everything I do and look at how I could have done it better. I read magazines all the time. Get a subscription to the main fashion magazines, I personally like Marie Claire and Grazia and I'm on style.com everyday, keeping abreast of what's happening. I also make sure I visit shops and department stores as often as possible. All this helps you to grow each day. Most importantly - never leave home without a notebook and pen. Jot all your ideas down and stick in pictures the inspire you.

My future ambitions includes growing my celebrity clientele, having my collections stocked in boutiques internationally and being a good wife and mother - one day!

Kelly Rowland as styled by Ruki

Kelly wearing a dress from Ruki's collection

Estelle's new video - Come Over


'Come Over' is the fifth single to be taken from Estelle's Mercury nominated album 'Shine'. Featuring the prolific Sean 'Shagga' Paul, the track has that hazy, sunshiny reggae vibe to it that takes me back to the beachfront live reggae jams that I often stumble upon during my travels to the hotel resorts in Negril. The video was directed by Lil X and features the styled to perfection Ms Swaray getting her ‘whine on’ with Mr Dutty Eh. Enjoy! 

2nd 'Black Girls' trailer

Black Girls is a new documentary by Chris Scott. Refer to my previous post for further info

Sunday, 26 October 2008

16 Candles...


Ahem, well okay, maybe sixteen plus a few extra couple of years or so...

"Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me". Today is my born day ladies and gents, YAY! So over the last few years in particular, I've had absolute disastrous birthdays, ranging from being cussed out and called a bitch by a friend who shares the same birthday as me (okay, so ever so slightly in her defence, she was blindingly drunk). Or as was the case last year, ending up in a dusty, South London shebeen, you know the type: dark and dingy, filled with the pungent scent of weed & cheap wine, ladies dressed in white lyrca and lace, topped off with a Ghetto Superstar DJ with verbal diarrhoea whose every record spin is predicable and unimaginative. Mmm, not good. So last year I vowed that I would spend the following birthday abroad, or at least out of London, and just do something a little different. As you've probably gathered - my plans didn't come into fruition. 

I'm pretty certain it's because I'm a winter-baby why I struggle to have a good time on my birthday. All my summer-baby friends have great birthdays, with the summer season practically ensuring that everyone is in a positive mood, and up for a night on the razz. With my birthday on the other hand, the grey and wet weather, combined with the fact that the clocks turn back signalling the start of winter means that a) I'm always presented with a string of last minute cancellations "Sorry Keysh, I would love to come out tonight, but..." or b) the friends who do turn up out of obligation look as if they'd rather be snuggled up under their duvets watching the News at Ten. This indeed was the case last night. As per usual I was struggling with ideas on what to do, and then during the week I got an invite to ex-Misteeq member, Sabrina Washington's, surprise birthday party, and thought it should be would be fun, you know, nothing too strenuous: I could grab a couple of my friends and go out to shake a leg for a couple of hours. We were told that she would be arriving at 10pm, but we got there around 11ish to find a half empty venue and no Sabrina. After answering to a series of "Are you sure this is her party?" "Yes". "Do you think then that maybe she's not going to turn up?" "Of course she's going to turn up". A few hours later the lovely lady in question arrived looking gorge’ in a stunning fuchsia pink & black mini dress. But I suppose due to the endless waiting around, and not much happening beforehand, it was somewhat of an anti-climax, and before you know it my friends were sitting down complaining of achy feet and all sorts. Deciding to put everyone out of their misery I suggested we grab our coats and just knock the night on the end. Typically just as we were leaving, things began to liven up.  

Today I'm going to be taking it easy. Rich is going to cook a roast dinner and his famous apple and plum pie, and then we’re going to settle down and watch Arsenal hopefully slaughter West Ham this afternoon. I think I’m gonna celebrate my next birthday in July. 

Me & my fella (Rich was the photographer for the night)

Scorpio ladies in full effect -  Yours Truly with Sabrina


Me and the girls nursing sore feet, gosh anyone would think we're in our sixties. 





Friday, 24 October 2008

X-Factor: So how do you think they're doing?




A few weeks back I endorsed X-Factor contestants Alexandra Burke and Rachel Hylton as the forerunners of the competition. We're now two weeks into the live shows and getting somewhat of an indication as to who is likely to go the distance. Last week it was Michael Jackson Week and Alexandra took to the stage and gave a rousing performance of The Jackson's 'I'll Be There' (although as Simon pointed out, it was obviously inspired by Mariah's version as the ad libs were sung verbatim). Looking every inch the superstar, it was almost a certainty that she'd sail through to the next round. And she did. Rachel on the other hand surprised most by opting for what in my opinion is one of Jacko's weakest songs, like ever, - Dirty Diana. Decked in an ill-fitting gold lame jacket and backed by an over the top stage production befittng a West End musical, Rachel's performance appeared clumsy, contrived and uninspiring. Not surprisingly, Simon slaughtered her. In all honesty I was shocked that she wasn't in the bottom two, proving that she's obviously got a few supporters out there. I understand her need to break free from the "generic R&B girl" tag but she needs to find a way to marry her need for experimentation with song choices and a personal style that comes from a place of sincerity. Watching her on stage last Saturday, it was clearly evident that she wasn't at all comfortable, and I found it near impossible to connect with her like I did in the audition stages. I sincerely believe it will be last chance saloon if she doesn't come correct tomorrow. Check out the performances above and tell me what you think. 

New novel: 'Love Me' By Gemma Weekes


You know you've discovered a great book when you mourn the day you finish reading it. I had this very experience recently after completing Gemma Weekes's awesome debut novel, 'Love Me'. Set between London and New York the book introduces us to a spunky young protagonist named Eden who fancies the pants off a childhood friend, but has to contend with him getting it on with her former work mate, who just so happens to be a professional model. After trying in vain to to make said male friend see the error of his ways, she flees to NYC downtrodden and broken hearted. When she arrives she discovers that her crush has also taken a sabbatical to the Big Apple, and is living under the same roof. Together they are forced to  deal with their issues of the past and decide once and for all on the course of their relationship. 

Although it all sounds a little 'chick lit' in description, 'Love Me' delves a whole lot deeper. What starts off as a traditional romance novel slowly changes course as we learn about the source of  Eden's obsessive nature: a by-product of the unrequited love she experienced from her mother during her childhood. Author, Gemma Weekes is from a poetry background so her writing style is very emotive and lyrical. But it's not all doom and gloom. There are more than a few 'laugh out loud' moments, and Eden is a worthy heroine who is bold, brave, feisty and outspoken. The book is out in January 2009 but you can pre-order a copy at www.amazon.co.uk 

Love Me, Gemma Weekes, published by Chatto & Windus (Random House Group) 

Monday, 20 October 2008

Claudia Jones honoured on postage stamp


Civil Rights activist Claudia Jones is being honoured via a series of stamps produced by the Royal Mail. As part of the Women of Distinction series, Claudia along with five other women is being recognised for her lifetime achievements.

Claudia is one of our pre-eminent black sheroes in this country. Born in Trinidad, she was raised in Harlem, NY before moving to the UK in 1955. From her base in Notting Hill she fought tirelessly for the rights of the black community and is also responsible for organising the first ever Notting Hill Carnival. In addition, the industrious activist also created the first-ever black newspaper in Britain, The West Indian Gazette. The stamps are on sale now.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Back to UK Blak - Neneh Cherry (Manchild)


Before there was a Kelis, MIA or any of those alternative types of chicks, there was Neneh Cherry. Bursting onto the scene in the late eighties sporting stretched lycra, thick gold rope chains, and a huge baby bump to boot, she shook up the British music industry up with her unique hybrid of soul, hip-hop and pop. I didn’t quite get Neneh at first. I hated Buffalo Stance, although I can probably recite the song lyric for lyric to this day. However, under my school mate Rachel’s insistence, I finally succumbed and bought the album Raw Like Sushi, and transformed overnight into a bonafide fan. Manchild is one of my favourites. Indeed the video was random and strange, but it was also inventive which was kinda fitting of her offbeat personality. I used to have the very same style leggings that she’s wearing in the clip, which I would rock with some battered Reebok trainers. On occasion I would attempt to do the whole figure hugging mini dress with trainers too but would get dissed severely, and being the sensitive soul I was back then, stopped immediately. 


P.S. Her son must be a big man now. 

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Do you know where you're going to?




Is it me or is Tyra going a bit cuckoo? Each season I watch America’s Next Top Model with quiet bemusement as her crazy ramblings, onscreen antics, and fashion choices all fight to outdo one another. When she posed as Michelle Obama in the Vanity Fair spread a few months ago I thought to myself ‘here we go again’. But it seems as if Miss Ty Ty was merely getting started. The mogul model recently channelled Diana Ross in her iconic seventies cult film ‘Mahogany’, in a series of images for fashion bible, V magazine. Now I’ve yet to see Mahogany, although I desperately wanted to as a youngster when I was a hardcore Diana Ross fan. The film was Diana’s follow up to her Oscar nominated role in Lady Sings the Blues, in which she portrayed a fashion model/designer from humble beginnings who buckles under the pressure of fame. Mmm, maybe Tyra is trying to tell us something. Read the story here.

How do we solve a problem like the Mobos?

Estelle hits the red carpet (sourced at www.popsugar.com) 

The Mobo Awards took place last night at Wembley Arena, and as per usual, made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Leona Lewis was booed severely for not being there to collect her two gongs. As were Lil’ Wayne and Dizzee Rascal. Tim Westwood also felt the wrath of the crowd even though he was there in the flesh to collect his gong (maybe that was the problem, lol). In fact, it seemed as if only Estelle and the nominated radio/club DJ’s could be bothered to turn up. I know it’s all too easy to fall into the familiar habit of dissing the Mobos, but I don’t think the organisers were to blame this year. Despite the no-shows, as a ceremony it certainly has upped it’s game. The stage set was great – all colourful and futuristic looking. Mel B and Rev Run ended up being quite a good hosting team, bouncing off one another, and appearing quite natural as opposed to those horrific, staged gags we witnessed from Shaggy and Jamelia last year *brrr, still shuddering at the memory as I write this*. The presenters were a good mix of singers, actors, and sports personalities. Estelle and the Sugarbabes put in some solid performances. Craig David & Stryder Man were also surprisingly entertaining, and I'm now pleading Craigee boy to return to his garage/emceeing roots. It was great to see Yolanda Brown receive the award for Best Jazz Artist because she’s certainly put in the work – yay, go girl! Okay, so admittedly there were a few boo boos along the way. I could barely watch Mary Wilson’s cringe inducing Supremes medley because I felt so bad for her. Talk about coming across like a drunken auntie at a Christening.

But while I can’t really find fault with the show as a production, it still managed to fall pretty flat simply because of the amount of absentees. I mean, would Leona Lewis not turn up to the Brits? I guess in all honesty we shouldn’t be too surprised by her absence. She is being marketed as a straight up pop artist, so chances are her management couldn’t give two hoots about a black music awards show. But what about Dizzee? He soooo should have been there (Estelle was on tour too, but still made it a point to show up). If the UK artists can’t be bothered to turn up, how can we expect the international acts to feel the need to get on a plane? Speaking of which,  it's such a shame the organisers didn't bring Mavado over, a live performance would've brought the house down, did you hear the reception he received when he won the Best Reggae Award? It's frustrating because the show has such potential, and without a doubt is still very much needed in this country. So come on, artists and audiences alike, let's show our support and help to re-inject some much needed credibility. If the Mobos were to be axed we’d be the first ones up in arms bemoaning the fact that there is lack of support for  black music/artists.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Michael X - as told by Vanessa Walters

If you are in London over the next few weeks you must support Vanessa Walter’s new play ‘Michael X’ based on the tumultuous life of Britain’s most notorious Black activist, Michael Freitas AKA Michael X. I recently wrote a piece about Michael in Pride magazine, and even after completing the article I was none the wiser about this enigmatic character. Hustler, activist, pimp, murder - are just some of the tags that Michael adorned. But with so much of his character left in the hands of unscrupulous tabloid hacks, I’m ever curious about discovering who he really was. Vanessa is a friend of mine so I’ll admit I’m slightly biased, but I’m pretty certain that she will produce a provocative, well-written and emotive piece of work. The play is showing between November 6 – 27 at the Tabernacle, Powis Square, W11. You can book tickets on www.carnivalvillage.org.uk 

Black Girls - a documentary


I can't recall ever seeing a film or documentary dedicated solely to the lives of Black British females, so it was with great excitement that I clicked onto this You Tube snippet which arrived in my Facebook inbox a few days ago. Directed by up and coming filmmaker, Chris Scott, I caught up him to find out the impetus behind such a unique piece. Chris explained, "The BLACK GIRLS documentary is an idea I have had for over 2 years and after a long work trip to Philadelphia earlier this year, I came back with the energy to realise this project. The idea of the documentary is to give Black Women a platform to discuss whatever they wish - to share thoughts and feelings with the world and each other. Whether it's to celebrate, commemorate or discuss. Personal, political or topical Issues of any kind. For the first time ever, a Black woman feels she is being taken seriously and is both the central source of the information and can be confident about the integrity of the information output." 

Sounds good. So far there are no details on screenings and so forth, but I will of course provide updates as and when they arrive. 

Sunday, 12 October 2008

A reflective week


My week started off pretty routine until I received a phonecall on Wednesday evening informing me that Daniel De Gale had passed away. Now I'm sure many are familiar with Daniel's story, but in case you aren't, see below for an overview (sourced from Janice at Mad News.)

Daniel was diagnosed with Leukaemia in 1993 at the age of six and was put on a 2 year course of chemotherapy which he completed in March 1995. But after being in remission for just 9 months, he relapsed in December 1995, when a routine blood test revealed leukaemia cells again. With no assurance that a second course of chemotherapy would be successful his mother, Beverley De Gale, sought a bone marrow transplant for Daniel.

Daniel’s chances of finding a match within the UK were as low as 1 in 250,000 as there were only 550 African, African Caribbean, and people of mixed parentage on the UK register. Beverley and her partner, Orin Lewis, set up the African-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust to raise awareness, and to support and assist Black and Mixed Parentage people suffering with Leukaemia and all other blood related cancers. The charity also became involved with recruiting potential donors from many influential organisations such as the Fire Brigade, the Black Police Association, colleges and universities.

In 1999, after six years of treatment, a matching donor was found (Doreene Carney from Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A), making Daniel the first black person in the UK to receive a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor.

Daniel died from an illness unrelated to cancer.

Now I've never met Daniel but his untimely demise rocked me to the core. The De Gale family through their African Caribbean Leukaemia trust  have worked tirelessly to increase the number of bone marrow donors as well raise the awareness of the disease to the masses. Daniel was our success story. He was a handsome, articulate and well mannered young man who had his whole future ahead of him. I know it's sounds childish of me, but his death just doesn't seem fair. Not when so many of his peers are walking around aimlessly, recklessly throwing away their lives and taking those of others, as if life were a pair of tatty old shoes that can easily be replaced. It can't. Daniel's death reminds us once again that it's a temporary gift that we will all have to return at some point. I never figured I'd ever have the need to quote Rihanna, but in the words of the Bajan beauty "So Live your Life".

R.I.P Daniel 

NOTE: The work of the ACLT still continues, so if you haven't registered to become a bone marrow donor please visit www.aclt.org for further information on how to do so. That would be the greatest gift you could give Daniel and the De Gale family right now. 

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Oxford Companion to Black British History out on paperback

In case you hadn't realised - it's Black History Month this month. In the past I seldom get round to checking the plethora of events taking place but will try and make an effort this year (for an official guide to what's happening across the country visit www.blackhistorymonthuk.co.uk). I came across The Oxford Companion to Black British History last year,  a fantastic reference book which details black British history from Victorian times to present day. It's now been released as a paperback and can be purchased from www.amazon.co.uk 

The Oxford Companion to Black British History, Edited by David Dabydeen, John Gilmore and Cecily Jones.

Adulthood released on DVD


Noel Clarke's Adulthood will be released on DVD on October the 13th. The gritty street drama is the sequel to Kidulthood and picks up with the main protagonist, Sam, being released from prison and  trying to redeem his actions of the past. I never did get round to seeing Kidulthood, but I managed to see Adulthood a couple of weeks ago and found it surprisingly compelling. Yes, it indeed panders to all the negative stereotypes of black, inner city youth, but if you can remove yourself from that for a moment and look at it in isolation, as a film it has all the right elements  - a well written script, drama & suspense, witty dialogue and convincing performances. What we need now is a more diverse offering of the black British experience on screen, following a succession of these so-called 'urban street dramas'.

But anyhoo, to celebrate the release of the DVD Noel Clarke and the Adulthood cast will meet fans and sign copies of the DVD at HMV, 150 Oxford Street, London on Monday 13 October at 6.00pm. The evening will be hosted by KISS FM's DJ Manny Norte and feature performances from Adam Deacon, Femi Oyeniran and MOBO Award nominee Bashy.

 

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Who will be crowned the black beauty of Britain?


Miss Black Britain is the brainchild of Aneka Johnson, a one woman powerhouse who wanted to provide a platform for black beauty hopefuls to gain much needed exposure in the fashion and beauty industry. The annual beauty competition is in its third year and in its short existence has garnered much mainstream press, helping to launch the modelling careers of Rachel Williams (winner of 2006) and Hannah Osunsina (winner of 2007) who is pictured above.  This year the young hopefuls will sashay their little hearts out at the Leicester Square Theatre on Saturday 22nd November. Heading the proceedings will be Rickie & Melvin from MTV and KISS FM. Expect special celebrity guest performances, guest judges and a whole lot of fun shenanigans. For further info and to take a peek at this year's contestants visit www.missblackbritain.co.uk 

Friday, 3 October 2008

Prince reminisces on London in '21 Nights' book




I know he's not everybody's cup of tea, but anyone who knows me knows that I loves me some Prince. The media shy singer has just released a coffee table book comprising of snaps taken during his record-breaking 21 nights tenure at the 02 Arena. Although I was hoping to see some real candid, behind the scenes snaps of him slouching around in his jeans, or doing something mundane like sitting on a couch flicking through TV channels, alas it certainly isn't that type of party. Instead we are treated to some really nice, but pretty safe, stylised shots of the Purple One in his hotel and around the streets of London. The photos were shot by renowned photographer, Randee St. Nicholas. 

21 Nights (Atria Books), by Randee St. Nicholas available at www.amazon.co.uk 

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Afro Saxons - new documenary about black hair competions


As most black women can testify - black hairdressing is serious business. A new documentary entitled 'Afro Saxons' lifts the lid on Afro-Caribbean hair competions in the UK. Sounds prety cool. See synopsis below:

Mark Currie and Rachel Wang, the young principals of London based Chocolate Films, have produced and directed a sharp and funny observational documentary that follows four hair salons as they prepare for the biggest Afro-hair competition in the UK. This exceptional and insightful film will be released in selected London cinemas in October.
 
The film features Angela, a braid stylist to the stars; Wayne and Cyndia, who are the leading junior stylists at the UK's biggest chain of Afro hair salons; George and Apple, a Thai husband and wife team obsessed with Afro hair; and Michael, Birmingham's leading Afro stylist who is out to beat the all-powerful London salons. Afro Saxons follows all of these stylists as they enter the Black Beauty and Hair awards - the most competitive Afro hair competition in the UK.
 
“Afro Saxons is a story set within the black British community which is not about guns, drugs, gangs or any of the regular filmic clich├ęs”, comment co-directors Mark Currie and Rachel Wang. “As filmmakers we are passionate about portraying a realistic vision of contemporary black British culture. The one place where all sectors of the black British community converge is in the Afro hair salon. We find the creativity and diversity of Afro hair-styles to be visually arresting and have shot a film that showcases the work, and pay respect to the effort and skill of the artists that create it.”
 
Afro Saxons, a warm, inspirational and touching film that delves into the professional and home lives of the stylists while they express them selves with mind-blowing gravity-defying hair designs. It will be showing at Rich Mix from Friday 17 – Thursday 23 October. For more information and to book tickets, call the Rich Mix Box Office on 020 7613 7498 or visit www.chocolatefilms.com 

 
Update: Just had word that the trailer is now up for Afro Saxons. Visit www.afro-saxons.com to view or see below for a slightly lower res version.


Who has the X-Factor this year?

Above: Rachel Hylton

Last year I swore off X-Factor after bearing witness to the diabolical brother and sister group that massacred George Michael’s ‘Wake me up Before You Go Go.’ Thankfully I switched over to watch Strictly just in time to see Alesha emerge as the Queen of the Ballroom. So with great reluctance I decided to give the Vex Factor another go this year (well, what else is there to watch on a Saturday night?) and so far have been pretty impressed by the pool of talent. Not surprisingly the two standout singers for me are Rachel Hlyton and Alexandra Burke.

Rachel, God bless her, has lead a colourful life to put it mildly. The mother of 5 kids at the age of 26, her deterioration into crack addiction resulted in 3 of her children being placed into foster care. But you know what? It takes a brave woman to come on national TV and speak so freely about her personal demons, so huge kudos for that. She could easily have chosen to sit on her arse lamenting what she's been through in life, but she’s put that all behind her now to focus on her ambitions of becoming a professional singer. Her actions will hopefully demonstrate to her kids that where you start in life does not necessarily indicate where you’ll end up. But hey, I digress. Back to the matter at hand - her voice. At first I wasn’t too keen to be honest as I thought her tone was too coarse and too unrefined. But after seeing her emotive performance on Saturday’s boot camp I think with a bit of tweaking and learning how to control those powerful pipes, we should hopefully see stronger performances in weeks to come (that’s assuming that she makes it through to the final stages.) I do worry for her though. She seems awfully fragile, and as you can see on the clip, that manifests itself into aggression and defensiveness. How will she handle being in the bottom 2? How will she fare against Simon’s criticism (unfortunately she’s not his mentee and we all know Simon’s game plan – tear down the competition no matter how good they are)? Will the British public embrace her? I soooo fear not. I’m scared that middle England will take one look at Rachel and have all their worst nightmares confirmed about what a young black woman from the inner city is like – an angry, agressive, single mother who feeds off state benefits. I just can’t see them endearing to her despite the redemption song. 

Below: Alexandra Burke

Now Alexandra is a totally different kettle of fish. Whereas Rachel is raw, candid and cocky even. Alexandra seems quite shy, reserved and not entirely confident of her talent. From what I know she’s the daughter of a professional singer so music is obviously in her blood. In my opinion she has the most amazing sweet, songbird singing voice I’ve heard in a long while, and she’s still only a tender 19 years young. When Louis failed to pick her the first time she auditioned three years ago I lost all manner of respect for that guy (now you know why I call it the Vex Factor). It’s as if unless you are a 5 piece boy band or a camp soul diva type singer, he just doesn’t get it. But never mind, like my folks always remind me – nothing comes before it’s time. Now she’s back and her voice has definitely matured within those couple of years. My money is definitely on Alex, but its early days yet. Let’s see how it all shapes up this Saturday. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Overjoyed!


So I finally got to see Stevie live in the flesh (although he looked like a little speckle of dust on a woolly jumper from where I was sitting). I guess you could say I am one satisfied customer. Despite being a few years shy from blowing out his 60th bday candles, Stevie performed a two hour set that would put most twenty-something wannabes to shame. Unfortunately he didn't sing 'my song', but I hardly noticed because he sang so many choons. 'Knocks me off my Feet', 'Ribbon in the Sky', 'Lately' 'Part Time Lover' (which was really fun due to a little playful sing-off between the boys and girls in the audience), 'All I Do,' 'As', 'Overjoyed' - the set list was simply incredible. During the middle of the show his sweet as pie daughter Aisha Morris sang a beautiful jazz number, and at one point he beckoned Joss Stone who was in the audience to join him on stage to sing 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered'. After waiting so long to see Stevie I left the arena on cloud 9 feeling blissfully happy, positive, and as if I really could hug a hoodie. And the 02 Arena is now officially my favourite venue in London, no scrap that, probably the world. Every time I drive up to the approach and see the spacecraft looking venue I feel like an excitable little kid again. In just over a year I've managed to see two of the top artists on my 'concerts to see before you die' list  - Prince and Stevie. Fingers crossed, I'll get to see Tina Turner next year. Oooh, and not to mention New Kids on the Block... Yeah I said it!  

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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.