Monday 7th May 2018
It is difficult to write about an existing cultural phenomenon as if it were brand new. On the one hand it renders the author clueless, prompting questions of relevance, identity and appropriation. Who is this person and why is s/he writing on this subject? Doesn’t s/he know that it (cultural phenomenon) has been going on for ages? On the other hand, the writing might arouse suspicions of opportunism and bandwagon-jumping. Why address this subject now?
Certainly, Afro-London should not be an alien or new concept, especially in a city as cosmopolitan as the British capital. Afro-London’s dark, urban skin has been anointed over the years with layers upon layers of African diaspora-led cultural initiatives: from dance to fashion, we have everything covered.
There also exists an underbelly. A world that is separated from the yearly, well-attended and -intended, African-themed festival many institutions favour these days. This world does not dwell by the banks of the Thames, on the Southbank, or within the walls of the V&A. This world occupies a different — perhaps, even higher — plane. One that is found in cramped exhibition spaces, or improvised performing halls. It is a bare world, proud in its nakedness. Outside, London carries on. Step inside this other frame, though, and you will come across a beautiful and unbroken realm.
All these thoughts were on my mind recently as I attended a couple of African-flavoured events over the Bank Holiday weekend. The first one was the Afro-Brazilian movement and music experience Bambas Festival at Core Clapton, in Hackney. Organised by Abieié’s Irineu Nogueira, both Saturday and Sunday sessions boasted the sort of dance experts, musicians and knowledgeable audience you would normally see at big, heavily-sponsored events in better-known venues.
Of particular interest to me was the maculele workshop led by Ponciano Almeida. This warrior dance, whose origins still cause much debate (does it come from Africa or from indigenous…