Top 10 favourite albums of 2017

2017 has been a very eventful year for music. Kendrick Lamar continued his dominance of the rap game releasing another critically acclaimed and commercially successful album, DAMN., and taking the charts by storm. Drake released a “playlist” called More Life which introduced the world to UK rap legend Giggs and further confused those with his ever changing accent. UK actor and comedian, Michael Dapaah in character as Big Shaq became one of the biggest memes of 2017 and released the biggest UK rap song ever “Man’s Not Hot” after the success of his viral Fire in the Booth freestyle with Charlie Sloth. Sampha finally released his debut album Process, which won the Mercury Prize, and captured the world with his beautiful soulful voice. SZA, Syd, Kelela, Daniel Caesar, Brent Faiyaz and more released some of the smoothest alternative R&B albums in a while. JAY-Z got everyone talking when he admitted he cheated on Beyonce (stupid) and released some of his best music in a while and some incredible music videos. And throughout the year, there was so much amazing black British music. J Hus, Stormzy, Skepta, Dave, Little Simz, Krept & Konan, MoStack, Giggs, AJ Tracey, Kojey Radical, Wiley, Not3s, Nadia Rose, Chip, 67, Kojo Funds and more all released amazing projects and songs this year. So let’s get into it. These are my top 10 favourite albums released in 2017 from favourite to slightly less favourite.

10.

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Moses Sumney — Aromanticism

One might be tempted to label Moses Sumney as an R&B or alternative R&B artist because he’s a black singer but he’s much more similar to an Elliot Smith than say Chris Brown. On his debut album Aromanticism, Sumney softly coos in his falsetto about loneliness and isolation backed by ambient and indie folk instrumentation. Think Dirty Projectors or Arca. His voice is often a quiet whisper a perfect vessel for delivering his beautifully written poetic lyrics. Sumney joins other current soulful black singers like Sampha and Benjamin Clementine who are creating some of the most unique music melding the genres of electronic, indie, soul, baroque, folk and R&B music in a distinctly black style.

9.

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LCD Soundsystem — American Dream

In February 2011 LCD Soundsystem disbanded and it was made official following a large farewell concert at Madison Square Garden. The farewell concert was chronicled in the documentary film Shut Up and Play the Hits. So it came as surprise when in January 2016 the band announced their reunion and a day later their fourth studio album American Dream. LCD Soundsystem return without a hitch with American Dream, still sounding like quintessential LCD but with some bells and whistles. They return with their distinct dance-punk and new wave sound but updated and refreshed for 2017. Frontman James Murphy muses on the current turbulent political climate with his unique brand of lyricism. It’s a great return to form and shows that no one does dance-punk/rock better than LCD Soundsystem but nice try Arcade Fire.

8.

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Slowdive — Slowdive

Legendary English shoegazing and dream pop band reunited in 2017 for the first time in 22 years since the release of their last album Pygmalion in 1995. Along with My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive are regarded as one of the best and most influential dream pop and shoegazing bands ever. Their latest, self-titled, album after more than two decades proves why they’re so critically acclaimed. When an album is self-titled it sets very high expectations and Slowdive definitely exceeded them on this album. They sound as dreamy as ever but their new songs are even more vibrant and fresh, the wash of guitars and reverb entrancing you in bittersweet memories and nostalgia.

7.

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Jay-Z — 4:44

After the disappointments that were Magna Carta Holy Grail and The Blueprint 3 Jay-Z is back to prove why he’s still considered one of the greatest rappers of all time. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Jay-Z, I got into hip-hop when I was around 13/14 so the first Jay-Z album I remember coming out and listening to was Magna Carta Holy Grail which massively disappointed me. I always preferred Nas and Biggie to Jay. 4:44 is Hov going back to basics, leaving behind the braggadocio and ego and being more vulnerable and honest than he’s ever been. The album is brief and the production is stripped back solely handled by long-time collaborator, No I.D. and Jay-Z himself. The album succeeds immensely with tracks like “The Story of O.J.” being among the best this year.

6.

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SZA — Ctrl

SZA’s debut album could have come a few years earlier but because of issues with her confidence and lack of control it didn’t. But it came this year which was the perfect time because this has been SZA’s year. Almost every black woman I know has loved SZA’s album and related to it in some way. As the sole female member of indepedent hip-hop label TDE, which has produced some of the biggest artists in hip-hop including Kendrick Lamar, she’s an odd fit. But like most members of TDE she’s incredibly talented. The production on Ctrl is very smooth and reminiscent of 90s neo-soul yet simultaneously contemporary and unique. The album also has an indie spirit with dreamy guitar riffs such as the one on “Drew Barrymore” the anthem for misfit girls everywhere. Her voice is expressive and her lyrics are poignant as they are relatable for weird, awkward black girls.

5.

Vince Staples — Big Fish Theory

After the critical acclaim of his debut album Summertime ’06 Vince Staples could have easily played it safe with his sophomore album and repeated the success. However, Vince does the opposite on Big Fish TheoryBig Fish Theory is one of the most unique hip-hop albums in recent years and as experimental as a relatively mainstream hip-hop artist gets. Of course Vince is not going to be topping charts any time soon but with his infamous interviews and hilarious Twitter account he’s increasingly popular. Big Fish Theory is a very unique album, it’s production is totally electronic there isn’t a single beat I could call traditional hip-hop. The album has a mix of different electronic genres including UK garage, house, techno and EDM. Vince flows incredibly well on these unconventional beats and enlists Kendrick Lamar on “Yeah Right” one of the best bangers of the year.

4.

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Tyler, the Creator — Flower Boy

Flower Boy also known as Scum Fuck Flower Boy is I wanted Tyler to make after Cherry Bomb. While Cherry Bomb wasn’t a bad album, Tyler’s experimentation with production meant it was often a difficult listen and he didn’t always pull it off. But he showed glimpses of the greatness that appears on Flower Boy. When Flower Boy leaked it started a lot of speculations about Tyler’s sexuality referring to some not so subtle lyrics on the album. Tyler has still not confirmed these rumours despite some who point to tweets he’s made in the past. The thing about Tyler is that no one takes him seriously because he’s sometimes too much of a joker. But I think Tyler wants us to take him seriously  on Flower Boy and let the music speak for itself because he doesn’t use the persona of Wolf Haley on this album it’s just Tyler Okonma. And Tyler Okonma is very talented. Flower Boy has some of the most beautiful production, soulful singing and honest poignant lyrics on any album this year. It’s been great watching Tyler grow into a mature artist and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

3.

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J Hus — Common Sense

2017 has been an incredible year for black British music as I mentioned in my introduction and J Hus’ Common Sense is a stand out. J Hus has been making massive waves since he broke out in 2015 and it’s great to see that he’s been able to turn that talent into a great album. Common Sense is the perfect encapsulation of young black Britain in 2017, it captures the mad raves, the dance-hall and afrobeats hall parties, the roads; the essence of young black British African and Caribbean life. The production on Common Sense (most of which is handled by JAE5) is fantastic, from the jazzy title track “Common Sense” to a grime rave banger “Clartin” and UK garage tunes like “Plottin.” J Hus is undeniably one of the most talented artists in the UK and I’m so excited to see what he does next.

2.

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Sampha — Process

I’m so glad to have another black British artist not just in my top 10 but in the top 3. Not to go on about it but it really has been an incredible for black British music. In any other year, Process could be my number one but a certain someone had to release another masterpiece. But what an incredible album Process is and well worth the wait. Sampha has caught people’s attention since appearing throughout SBTRKT’s self-titled debut album in 2011 stunning everyone with his angelic soulful voice. I’ve seen Sampha live and honestly he sounds even more incredible live like that’s even possible. By having literally one of the most beautiful voices ever Process could have had average production and I would have loved listening to it. Thankfully that’s not the case as the production is also great handled by Sampha himself and Rodaidh McDonald. It’s production is electronic similar to James Blake but it’s also very soulful. He bares his soul on this album singing about his anxiety, fear, loneliness and grief. A standout track is the piano ballad “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” dedicated to his late mother it’s the most emotional, touching song in an album full of heartwarming moments.

1.

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Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.

And it’s no surprise that my number one album of 2017 is a Kendrick Lamar album. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a Kendrick Stan but this pick is only slightly biased because I genuinely think DAMN. is the best album of 2017. It had some fierce competition and I’ve had Process over it a few times but in the end I think I made the best decision. No other album in 2017 affected me as much as DAMN. After To Pimp a Butterfly which is my favourite album ever I eagerly anticipated what Kendrick would do next. I don’t think  he will ever top To Pimp a Butterfly, at least for me but he came pretty DAMN. close. On DAMN. whose concept I still haven’t fully begun to unpack yet, Kendrick goes internal examining his now messianic status, his fears and anxieties and the state of the world we’re living in with excellent results. “FEAR.” the album’s centrepiece is one of the best Kendrick Lamar songs ever, a 7-minute epic detailing his life from the age of 7 to now. “HUMBLE.” proves that he’s capable of making of chart-topping bangers without sacrificing lyricism. On “DNA.” he goes in on his critics and does lyrical acrobatics. The album is full of highlights and while there are some more poppy songs like “LOYALTY.” and “LOVE.” Kendrick continues to prove that he’s the greatest active living hip-hop artist. After To Pimp a Butterfly was released there was not doubt Kendrick Lamar was one of the greatest rappers of all time (and my personal number one) there’s no absolutely reason why anyone should think otherwise after DAMN.

Top 10 podcasts of 2017

2017 has been a great year for podcasts. My old favourites has continued to release great episodes and I’ve discovered a lot of interesting new ones especially Black British ones. This list is my top ten favourite podcasts I’ve enjoyed listening to in 2017. Whether they debuted in 2017 or not, as long as they released new episodes in 2017 they count. They’re ranked in alphabetical order only.

BLANGUAGE PODCAST Free Listening on SoundCloud

Blanguage: Co-hosts, Janelle and Daniel are best friends and Black Londoners who discuss music and Black British culture. They’re so fun to listen to because of their friendship and their Black British perspective is in much needed in the podcast landscape.

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The Bugle: The Bugle was created 10 years and was originally hosted by Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver. John Oliver left The Bugle in 2016 with the success of HBO news/satire show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Since its relaunch in 2016, The Bugle has remained one of the most essential political satire podcasts, still hosted by Zaltzman with a rotating set of co-hosts. It’s very hilarious and frequent co-hosts include Nish Kumar, Hari Kondabolu and Alice Fraser.

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Code Switch: Another NPR podcast is Code Switch co-hosted by Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji. It’s a podcast on race and ways of navigating race, although focused on America, it’s often relatable and applicable to other countries. Typical of NPR the production quality is incredible and the level of reporting and research is outstanding.

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The Friend Zone: The Friend Zone is made great by the close friendships of the co-hosts. Fran, Dustin and Assante discuss their personal lives and wellbeing and give great advice to help you get through the week.

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If I Were You: If I were You is co-hosted by comedy duo, Jake and Amir, who played comedic versions of themselves in a long running series on web comedy website/YouTube channel Collegehumor. The pair humorously answer listener questions often asking for relationship advice and the banter is always hilarious. There are catchphrases, running jokes and off-kilter humour. It’s seriously funny stuff.

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Mostly Lit: Mostly Lit is honestly one of my favourite podcasts ever. Black Londoners, Alex Reads, Rai and Derek Owusu discuss literature, pop culture and wellness. They make talking about books so interesting and have encouraged me to read a lot more and always have the best recommendations. I love their banter and friendship and their Black British perspectives.

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The Nod: After ending their podcast, For Colored Nerds, co-hosts Eric and Brittany started The Nod, a podcast about all things black. Self-described as blackness biggest fans they discuss things about being black that are not so obvious. It always makes for an interesting listen.

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Pop Culture Happy Hour: NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour is a long term favourite of mine and as someone who really enjoys all things pop culture. Linda Holmes hosts with a panel of guests which often includes Stephen Thompson and Glen Weldon. This year they’ve released some shorter episodes on a more regular schedule. It’s recommended listening for anyone interested in pop culture.

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Still Processing: The hosts of Still Processing describe their podcast in their intro so I’ll just paraphrase that. Wesley Morris writes about how pop culture relates to humans and Jenna Wortham writes about how humans relate to technology. They talk about many different things often to do with pop culture and race. It’s always interesting to hear their perspectives on things.

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Tag Me in Podcast: Based in Bristol, Anton and Ola are another pair of Black Londoners who bring more Black British voices to podcasting. They discuss and give good advice on personal and professional lives.

Nervous Conditions review: Almost 30 years later this seminal novel is just as relevant and important as it was upon release

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It’s been almost 30 years since the novel Nervous Conditions was published in 1988. Written by Zimbabwean author, Tsitsi Dangarembga, it was her third novel and to date is one of only four novels the author has published (a sequel to Nervous Conditions was published in 2006). Set in late 1960s and 70s Rhodesia, an unrecognised state from 1965 to 1979, now Zimbabwe, the novel is especially relevant considering the recent events. The recent coup of the national party, Zanu PF and the forced resignation of revolutionary turned dictator, Robert Mugabe who ruled the country for 37 years prompt a look back at this novel. The interesting thing about the novel is not it is not overtly political. Set in the 60s and 70s this was before Zimbabwe began independent from British rule and before Mugabe became president. The novel follows its protagonist, a little girl named Tambudzai, as she navigates the oppressive patriarchal domination in her home. After her older brother, Nhamo, dies Tambu is sent to the missionary school, where Nhamo studied, away from home with her wealthy middle-class uncle Babamukuru and his family. She finds it difficult to assimilate into the culture of the missionary school and is alienated from the white British missionaries and their children who speak Shona rather than English. Her cousin, Nyasha, after arriving back in Rhodesia from England where she had spent a significant portion of her childhood struggles to fit back into the oppressive patriarchal landscape of Rhodesia. The novel highlights the way in which assimilation is not necessarily a positive thing but can be a difficult and traumatic experience. It also points to the way women experience assimilation might be different from men. Both female characters experience this change in very different ways. The politics of the novel is not explicit or overt but is represented in the mental states of the characters and what colonialism has done to the natives of the countries it’s affected. It’s certainly not the first but is an important representation of African feminism and the struggles which black (especially African) women go through. The novel however does not wallow in despair it’s certainly dark at times but it’s ultimately uplifting and recommended reading for everyone especially young black girls.

Nathan For You season 4 finale review: a beautifully poignant portrayal of regret and loss

Two weeks ago on November 9th 2017 the season finale of the fourth season of Nathan For You aired. The feature length episode (an hour and 24 minutes) had been hyped by the promotional material for the series and expectations were high after the spectacular season finale for the third season. If you’ve never seen an episode of Nathan For You the premise might sound insane but it totally works. It is a docu-reality comedy series co-created by comedian Nathan Fielder and airs on Comedy Central. The premise is Fielder plays an off-kilter slightly exaggerated version of himself who tries to use his business background and life experiences to help struggling companies and people. He frequently offers them outlandish and ridiculous strategies and despite the reluctance of the business owners they often go through it. The lines between reality and fiction are tricky. None of the contributors and business owners are actors but Fielder and his team have an eye for finding the weirdest, most interesting and sometimes delusional people.  He also has a large production team who are able to orchestrate and are able to put the ridiculous plans into action. Despite not being scripted the series often gets into the most extreme and farcical situations imaginable.

In a season two episode titled “Souvenir Shop / E.L.A.I.F.F.” Nathan helps a Hollywood souvenir shop and during the episode meets a Bill Gates impersonator. The season four finale begins by looking back to when Nathan and a so-called Bill Gates impersonator, Bill Heath, recorded commentary for a DVD release. Bill comes to their office regularly to drop gifts and chat with the team. But he is preoccupied by a long-lost love, a woman named Frances Gaddy who he regrets not marrying. As a lonely 78 year old he doesn’t have much in his life and still clings on to the glory days of playing (American) football in high school. Nathan decides to take on the mission of finding Frances. It’s an ambitious task as there are over 600, 000 women in the U.S. named Frances and she’s likely to have a different surname if she married, nevertheless Nathan goes through with it. Throughout the four seasons of this show Nathan has gone through a lot of ambitious tasks and while this might not be overall the most difficult one it’s the most emotionally-affecting one making this the best episode of Nathan For You ever. Nathan and Bill go back his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. Frances went to another high school to Bill, in a town called Dumas a couple of hours from Little Rock. They have difficult gaining access to the school but as usual Nathan comes up with a ridiculous plan which somehow works. Nathan and his team pretend they’re shooting a sequel to the 2012 film Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey, called Mud 2: Never Clean. They find a random extra in the background of the film and gain access to Dumas High School. This is all so they can find a yearbook with a picture of Frances and use it as a lead to find her.

While this episode is about Bill’s desire to find Frances and declare his love for her, it contains some surprisingly vulnerable moments from Nathan. It’s difficult to tell where the real Nathan begins and the persona ends but they seem close as Nathan comes across as a naturally shy and awkward individual in interviews. When he finds out that Bill wasn’t the best boyfriend to Frances, Nathan hires an escort to see how he treats women. Bill refuses to talk to the escort but since Nathan has already paid for the services he goes on a number of dates with the escort. Although it’s difficult to tell the escort seems to like him. The episode concludes with Nathan and Bill finding Frances through a newspaper clipping and looking her up on Facebook. They discover that Frances is married but Bill still wants to go see her in person. Nathan sets up rehearsals with an actress who looks somewhat like Frances so Bill can practise what he’s going to say. When they drive up to where Frances lives Bill is so nervous after all the anticipation he calls her and decides not to see her in person after realising she’s happy in her marriage. In the end, Bill asks Nathan how to get into contact with the actress and when they meet it seems she genuinely likes him. This feature-length episode is one of the best episodes of television I’ve ever watched. It’s a sad but honest and poignant portrayal of regret and how we as humans want to be loved. Nathan For You has been renewed for a fifth season but this is likely to be the best episode the show’s ever done.

J Hus O2 Brixton Academy review: the Stratford rapper celebrated his London homecoming with extravagance

J Hus has had an incredible year and as 2017 starts to round off he’s topped it off with an incredible first headline show at the O2 Brixton Academy in Brixton, South London. At the end of last week, it was announced that “Form 696” was being scrapped after newly elected London Mayor Sadiq Khan had called for a review of the form’s use earlier this year. Since 2005 promoters and licensees have been asked to complete a “Form 696” as a risk assessment for hosting music events with DJs and MCs. Many in the grime and UK rap scene have accused the form of being a racist way to target black youth. It’s no coincidence that the form was introduced in 2005 just after grime music began to break into the mainstream. And grime music is primarily produced by black artists and at least in 2005 its main consumers were black. 12 years later, the grime scene is healthy after a resurgence in 2014. With perfect timing comes J Hus who just had an extravagant and successful first headline show in London. J Hus is a truly unique artist who is very difficult to categorise. Though there is some grime influence very little of his music can be classified as grime at all. He sounds like no one else. His music is a cocktail of UK afrobeats, dancehall, trap, UK garage, grime and hip-hop. He began his musical career in 2015 and after a series of freestyles released the infectious hit single “”Lean & Bop.” Earlier this year, he released Common Sense, the Mercury-nominated album which is one of the best albums to come out of the UK in a while and a future classic. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the sound of Black Britain. Stratford born and raised with a Gambian mother, his influences are as Black British as they are by their origin in West Africa, the Caribbean and the diaspora.

I was particularly excited for this show, J Hus being one of my favourite artists and having booked my tickets several months ago I eagerly anticipated the gig. To my disappointment, in my excitement in buying tickets I must have accidentally bought the wrong tickets which meant I was in the “circle” the balcony in the venue. Despite not being able to be in the moshpits which are some of the best parts of seeing live music, I was still excited to see the show. The supporting acts were Young T and Bugsey, NSG and DC and while they all brought energy to the eager young crowd they couldn’t match up to the legendary show J Hus was about to put on. On stage, there were four Mercedes-Benzs and a giant rotating fisherman’s hat (in reference to the song “Fisherman”). The fisherman’s hat rotated to reveal a full live band and J Hus came out and performed the title track “Common Sense.” Audience members were given a plastic band which I didn’t think much of until J Hus performed “Closed Doors” and simultaneously everyone’s bands lit up in fluorescent blue. On stage was a large screen which had visuals related to each song, the lights flashed and flames flew on stage (literally lit) making it a visually stunning show. When he began to perform “Mash Up”, MoStack the featured artist came on the stage to perform his verse. Krept and Konan then came on to perform MoStack’s track “Liar Liar (Remix)” which also featured J Hus. And as if the audience could not be embarrassed with enough riches later Dave come on to perform his track “Samantha” featuring J Hus. I wish I didn’t have to imagine what it was like to be in those moshpits but they looked incredible. I was just glad to be there. When he performed the track “Clartin” he encouraged the biggest moshpits and from what I saw they were mad. He ended the show with his biggest hit yet, “Did You See.” And what an apt song, he left myself and the 5000 plus crowd marvelling at what he’d just done.

The importance of celebrating Black History Month in the UK

This year marks the 30th anniversary that Black History Month has been celebrated in the UK. Black History Month began as Negro History Week in 1926 in the United States when it was proposed by African-American historian Carter G. Woodson. It became Black History Month in 1969 when it was first proposed by black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University (big up American Kent) and began to be celebrated across the United States in 1976. Black History Month was first celebrated in the United Kingdom in 1987 when it was organised through the leadership of Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo.

Black Americans and Black British people have a close but difficult relationship. Black British people are like the younger siblings of Black Americans. We always have love for each other in our collective struggle against white supremacy, systemic racism and oppression but there’s always a little bit of tension between us. Most black people in the United States are descendants of West and Central African slaves who were kidnapped and enslaved for hundreds of years. Black people have been slaves in the United States from 1619 to 1865, that’s almost 250 years that black people, humans, were the chattel of white people. They were tortured, killed, lynched, drowned, dehumanised. So though slavery in the United States officially ended just over 150 years ago we need to realise it’s not that long ago and we are still seeing the effects of that oppression today. Most African-Americans suffer from generational trauma as a result of slavery.

Let’s bring things home, we often forget that the transatlantic slave trade had a triangular route. Millions of Africans were captured from West and Central Africa, transported through Britain’s port cities such as Bristol, Liverpool and London between the 16th and 19th centuries. British ships carried an estimated 2,600,000 enslaved Africans in the 18th century to the Caribbean and the Americas. I remember learning briefly about the slave trade in secondary school in a single lesson yet we had several lessons on the Battle of Hastings, Henry VIII and World War II. I’m not undermining the importance of learning about the holocaust but at least 3 million Africans, likely much more, died as a result of slavery. Is that not genocide? In some ways I can’t blame the ignorance of most British people to the atrocities of the British Empire but that is really not an excuse in 2017. Schools have a moral responsibility to not skim over the atrocities of the British Empire but to address them soberly without whitewashing history. White guilt is not an excuse for the majority of British people to not know how 3% of their population got here. It’s a common misconception that the first black people to arrive in the Britain arrived in 1948 when the MV Empire Windrush landed in Britain carrying 492 passengers, the majority of which were from the West Indies (or Caribbean). Of course we recognise that was the beginning of large scale immigration of black people to the UK but it is now known that black people have had a presence in the UK since the Roman era. It should also be acknowledged that black people were also enslaved in the UK, of course not to the extent they were in the Americas and Caribbean but it isn’t to be ignored. Ignatius Sancho was the first known Black Briton to vote in a British election, he gained fame in his time as “the extraordinary Negro.” Olaudah Equiano was a freed slave of Igbo extraction from the eastern part of present-day Nigeria who supported the British movement to end the slave trade. I did not learn about these important figures until I came to university to study English Literature (and Film).

An article by Yomi Adegoke was recently published in The Guardian about Black History Month, its first line was “Black British” is often seen as oxymoronic.” And this couldn’t be truer. Speaking as someone who is a British citizen but was born in Nigeria, moved to the UK as a child and had to assimilate I consider myself Black British, British-Nigerian and a Nigerian-born British person all at once. It makes things difficult when I face resistance when I identify with a particular identity. Speaking to a black person about where they’re from is often very different to speaking to a white person. While most black people in the UK are descendants of African and Caribbean immigrants (or immigrants ourselves) who have been arriving in huge numbers since the late 40s. We’ve been here for centuries, we’ve contributed so much to this country and it’s time the rest of the country acknowledges this. Black History Month at University of Kent this year has been much better due to the passion and organisation of Kent Union BME Black Officer, Omolade Adedapo, the African-Caribbean society (ACS) and Student Success. I’m looking forward to an even better year, next year!

Emmys 2017 recap: women and minorities celebrated during politically-charged ceremony as Big Little Lies, The Handmaid’s Tale and SNL dominate

The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, which took place this past Sunday, were unsurprisingly politically-charged. Stephen Colbert made several jokes at Trump’s expense during the monologue and it was a solid funny monologue. It was certainly an improvement from Jimmy Kimmel’s last year and it almost goes off without a hitch. That was until Colbert introduced a surprise guest — former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. In a reference to Melissa McCarthy’s popular SNL parody of him, Spicer wheeled a podium onstage and Colbert then set Spicer up for a gag about the Emmy ratings. It received a big reaction from the audience, notably Anna Chlumsky, an actor on the political satire Veep, who was caught on camera with her mouth agape in disbelief. However it weakens how seemingly progressive the Emmys were this year and highlights the hypocrisy of the industry.

The two big winners of the night were HBO’s Big Little Lies which took the award for best limited series and Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale which won for best drama series, with both series winning five awards each in total that night. While The Night Of would have personally been my pick for best limited series, I have yet to see Big Little Lies and it’s good it won because it’s led by an ensemble cast of talented women. Similarly is the case for The Handmaid’s Tale which I have not seen either was an inspired choice considering its feminist politics and the parallels it has with the real world. However, it was a shame to see The Americans one of the most critically acclaimed series currently in the era of peak TV, snubbed again after it was finally recognised with a nod last year.

Emmy veteran, Veep, won for its six consecutive year and while I still enjoy the show, the latest two seasons have lacked the edge it once had especially considering how insane real world politics are. I personally felt Donald Glover’s Atlanta in its freshman season was far more deserving and was the best season of television I’ve seen in a long while. However Glover made history becoming the first African-American to win Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series and the second to win the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. It was one of many firsts as other minorities won and achieved milestones on the night. Sterling K. Brown won an Emmy for his Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, the first in 19 years when Andre Braugher won for Homicide. However, he was one of the only winners to be cut off by the music while Nicole Kidman and Elizabeth Moss who gave longer speeches were not. Riz Ahmed became the first Asian man and the first Muslim to win an acting award. Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe won Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, with Waithe becoming the first African-American woman to win that award. She gave one of the best speeches of the night in support of the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. community saying “the things that make us different, those are our superpowers.” As with the Oscars, let’s hope diversity is not simply a trend but change continues to happen. Until next year, Emmys.

Reflections on a summer

Summer’s nearly over. I’m writing this blog post a couple of hours before it becomes September in the UK. I’ve recovering from a very fun but exhausting past couple of days. I just thought I’d reflect on my summer this year, my experiences and things I’ve learned. Thinking back I haven’t done everything I wanted to this summer and it was a little disappointing but it was still a lot of fun and I’ve had some great times. I went to the Field Day festival in London in June. I had gone last year and I really enjoyed it so when I saw how good the line-up looked this year I had to go again. It was a really great festival, all the acts I saw performed well and delivered good sets. Flying Lotus was a highlight of the festival and one of the best acts I’ve ever seen live, I caught him a second time a week later at Parklife festival in Manchester. I also saw Forest Swords, Gaika, Nicolas Jaar, Run the Jewels and Sinkane. The only act I was gutted I missed was Death Grips but I got to see Sinkane instead who brought some good vibes. I’ve loved going to festivals since I went to my first festival in 2015 to see Kendrick Lamar headline. Sure they can be very crowded, dirty, expensive but I just love music and seeing live music never gets old for me. Being part of a crowd of like-minded fans all repeating the words and moshing is always fun to me. I was going back home the next day but I went to a house party my friend was throwing. I was exhausted from the journey back from the festival but I got off the coach and went straight to my mate’s house and socialised with friends, acquaintances and strangers. House parties were one of the best things about my second year of uni haha of course I really enjoy my degree but the house parties throughout the year were a lot of fun. I had made a lot of friends from being part of my uni’s hip-hop society since my first year and going to most of the events. A lot of these friends were in their third year and have now graduated this summer so that was the last I would see most of them for a while and some of them ever again so it was a bittersweet time. I stayed as long as I could which was until the sun came up at like 5am. I was probably the most sober person at the party because I had to be up in a few hours to be ready to pack up and my parents were coming to pick me up.

A week later I’m back home in Leeds. I took a few days to unpack all my luggage even though it wasn’t that much because I’m not a hoarder. After I had settled I spent most of the week at home before going to Manchester for another festival, Parklife. I saw Bonzai, Mura Masa, NAO, Sampha, Stormzy and FRANK FUCKING OCEAN!! Of course it was amazing finally seeing Frank Ocean, one of my favourite artists live, and trust me he was amazing. But all the other acts were really great as well. Bonzai I had never heard of before but she delivered a great set, NAO serenaded the entire crowd with her beautiful voice, Sampha was just absolutely incredible I literally cried and the moshpits at Stormzy were mad. After those two festivals I spent how I’ve spent most of this summer to be honest: catching up on TV, watching films and playing video-games. I also read more than I usually do. I was still applying for internships in those last couple of weeks of June but I wasn’t confident I would get anything. This continued for most of the summer lowering my self-esteem and making me feeling worthless until I decided to stop and just go onto my final year of uni. Oh and I also received my uni results which were disappointing. I did well but not quite as well I wanted to on a module I really enjoyed and totally bombed the other and got the lowest grade I’ve ever gotten in uni. Overall, across my modules I got a decent 2:1 which is 40% of my degree which I’m happy with and I can still graduate with a first if I do better this year.

Anyway July was a little better. I started off the month by going to a Kamasi Washington gig in Leeds. Kamasi Washington and his band was jaw-droppingly great, they really killed that shit. The crowd was loving it and they performed for a long set which was very impressive considering how difficult and exhausting it is to play jazz. I started to play pick-up basketball again with my long-time friend I’ve known since secondary school. I’m still not that good but I love playing basketball and the more I play and practise the better I’ll get. I strongly doubt I’ll be good enough to make the first team but might possibly make the second team if I keep practising with these last few weeks I have before to going back to uni. Since going to uni I’ve loved coming back to Leeds and seeing familiar faces again, hearing Leeds accents and enjoying the beautiful city that is Leeds. I consider Leeds to be my hometown even though I wasn’t born in Leeds and I don’t have a Leeds accent, at least not noticeable, my accent tends to get more Northern when I’m speaking to another Northerner. I was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria which I have no memory of because my parents moved to Lagos a few days later but I’m glad I was born in the same city as Fela Kuti and Wole Soyinka. I lived in Lagos for 9 years but those 9 years weren’t formative for me. I have some clear memories but not that many and I think I would struggle to adjust if I went to live there permanently. But I definitely intend to visit Nigeria especially Lagos in the next couple of years I’m sure some buried memories would resurface but I’m far too comfortable with British life right now even though there’s a lot of fuckery going on.

This summer wasn’t just a couple of festivals, a gig, a few games of pick-up basketball and staying in though. I did turn up at a few Nigerian parties. One of them was a church fellowship couple’s 25th anniversary party. As with most Nigerian parties I’ve been to it was pretty lit there were some drunk uncles misbehaving, afrobeats playing and people dancing. Another time, it was female friend’s 21st birthday party which was even more lit because it was a young people’s ting. The DJ who I knew played a lot of great afrobeats tracks. When the party ended at 10 I was a little surprised to be invited to an afterparty by the female friend. While I consider her more than an acquaintance we’re not exactly close or we don’t hang out so I wasn’t expecting her to invite me to an afterparty. It was one of the best nights of the summer because while I’ve known a lot of the people at the party for some years I wasn’t close with many people but I felt included. We were all first generation, some who were born in the UK and some who were born in Nigeria but grew up in the UK. We all shared similar childhoods, cultural experiences and had immigrant parents or assimilated in our early childhood or adolescent years. I felt happy to know that even though as a black person I’m a small minority in the UK I’m part of a large community. I had a similar feeling when I took my parents to see the play, Barbershop Chronicles which you can read my review of here.

Which brings me to August which ends in less than an hour. In August I decided I was done with the stress and headache of constant rejection and stopped applying for internships. I felt bad because one of my friends was in London working as an intern for Disney, an internship I applied but was rejected for, and I had other friends away in America on their year abroad. I feel better now that I’m going to my final year of university without having studied abroad or worked in the industry. I will make the most of my final year and will likely go on to a do a masters right after I’ve graduated. That way I will still get at least another year to see my friends who will be away this academic year. Last Saturday, I went to the Leeds West Indian Carnival for the first time and had a great time. I went with a friend and his brother and had the best time. It was great seeing so many beautiful black people, eating curry goat and jerk chicken for the first time, reggae, soca, dancehall and afrobeats music playing in the streets and watching local grime acts perform to huge crowds. I drank a lot of rum that day and at night we went out again to the after parties where the DJs played afrobeats and dancehall and of course I secured a few whines. It was funny seeing the ridiculous over-reaction from a few blogs over John Boyega catching a couple of whines at Carnival on his insta story. It was just making a big fuss out of a few dumb comments he received from people who don’t know about the culture. He actually replied to me which I was so gassed about.

And finally last night, I saw Vince Staples (finally!) and he was just incredible!! The supporting act was DJ Semtex who played banger after banger so that by the time Vince come on I was already tired but I immediately got my energy back up when the thumping bass pounded. He was a silhouette a lot of the time but I was often close enough to the stage that I could see his face clearly. The moshpits for a lot of the songs were intense, people got in a circle for a moshpit for songs that weren’t even hype. He performed so many of my favourite songs by him and the bass was so heavy. So yeah while it’s not been a particularly busy summer for me but I’ve definitely had a lot of fun and been more productive than I thought I would be. Now I’m tired of being at home and am so excited to go back to my final year of uni. Bring it on!

Tyler, The Creator: Flower Boy review – still with boyish charm Tyler matures on this beautiful poignant coming out record

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Less than a week after Tyler, The Creator announced his fourth studio album Flower Boy (promoted as Scum Fuck Flower Boy) it was leaked. Shortly after there was a lot of online discussion and speculation about his sexuality with many suggesting that he was gay and citing lyrics from the tracks “Foreword”, “Garden Shed”, and “I Ain’t Got Time!” This was equally met with immediate distrust and scorn, some from long-time fans dismissing these lyrics as simply provocative as his lyrics on previous albums and some LGBT and ally music critics condemning them as “queer-baiting” and a lie. I’m not going to speculate about Tyler’s sexuality in this review but it is clear from evidence over the years that Tyler, The Creator is definitely not straight. He has yet to address the rumours and I don’t think he should. Like Frank Ocean (who is featured twice on the album) who came out just over five years ago in a letter posted on Tumblr, it seems Tyler is refusing to label his sexuality. People still speculate over whether Frank Ocean is gay, bi and he’s often labelled as queer but Frank has never explicitly labelled himself as any of these. It is only clear that he isn’t straight but other than that unless he says what he identifies as we can only speculate. In the still on-going discussions and speculations about Tyler’s sexuality I rarely saw anyone consider if he might be bisexual or identify as something else or is still figuring things out. In an interview with Larry King three years ago Tyler said “I hate people who’s not comfortable with themselves” when King prompted “do you think we’ll ever have an openly gay rap artist?” Tyler responded “why does that shit matter, why do we care.” Three years later, if we’re to take the lyrics on this album at face value, and we should, these words are much more revealing. Flower Boy is by far Tyler, The Creator’s best project yet. It’s his most honest and earnest, beautifully self-produced with his most poignant and best written lyrics ever.

Before getting into the review it’s important to provide a little context on Tyler’s background. It has been seven years since L.A. rap collective, Odd Future, first broke out into mainstream popularity. Formed in 2007 by leader, Tyler, The Creator, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (abbreviated to OFWGKTA) were the most exciting thing in hip-hop and music at the time. They were a bunch of teenagers saying extremely vulgar, distasteful and controversial shit on record, jokingly advocating kids to “kill people, burn shit, fuck school” and inspiring suburban white kids and weirdo black kids across the States and the world. Although I wasn’t following blogs at the time, I was keenly aware of how demonised they were in the blogosphere and by the media. Odd Future were no Wu-Tang Clan, they weren’t a bunch of hardcore gangsters from the cold, gritty streets of New York City, they were a bunch of weirdo black skater kids from L.A. who had nothing else to do. I remember when the video for “Yonkers” came out, I was 14 in secondary school and I remember all of sudden hearing about this video where a black guy eats a cockroach. I think I took a while to watch it because as a shy, anxious kid it sounded scary to me but I did watch it a little later. Odd Future was’t big in my British secondary school but I remembered that soon after a few people in my year started wearing Odd Future merch and talking about Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. I’ve liked Tyler since then, I find him really funny, his music has been pretty good and he was really creative, producing most of his own music, cover art, fashion, TV shows and directing his own music videos. He was also half-Nigerian and as a full Nigerian I feel a kinship with anyone of Nigerian heritage 🇳🇬. But I preferred Earl Sweatshirt as a rapper, technically Earl was and still is better rapper, and Frank Ocean was a much better singer though I didn’t judge Tyler on his singing. I’ve liked all of Tyler’s music though Cherry Bomb was slightly disappointing but I hadn’t been blown away until Flower Boy really impressed me.

First thing to say is that Flower Boy is immaculately well-produced. It was entirely self-produced by Tyler and shows his growth as a producer and his influences including Pharell Williams who appears on the album and has appeared on his other albums and Kanye West who was featured on the Cherry Bomb track “Smuckers.”  The first track “Foreword” has a ticking sound throughout and features guest vocals from English singer, Rex Orange County. Tyler also shows his eclectic taste in music sampling “Spoon (Sonic Youth Remix)”, a remix by American noise/alternative-rock band Sonic Youth of the song “Spoon” by German krautrock band Can. The lyrics are also revealing: “shout out to the girls that I lead on / For occasional head and always keeping my bed warm /And trying their hardest to keep my head on straight” clearly suggests he isn’t straight I mean how ambiguous could those lines be. The dismissal of Tyler’s coming out is not surprising but has been really disgusting. It’s unsurprising because Tyler has made some homophobic remarks in the past and while those deserved to be criticised it is ridiculous that people cannot see how honest he’s being on this album. Tyler doesn’t (hardly) pitches his voice lower or use an alter ego on this album, he is wholly himself. He is just Tyler Okonma. While, those remarks in the past should still be condemned but they can be seen as a kind of self-hatred. The demonisation of Odd Future especially Tyler is really revealing because it represents the demonisation of black boys. Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice were two young black boys who were shot by police because they looked older than their age and were seen as more intimidating. Tyler, The Creator was a tall, lanky and edgy teenager with an overactive imagination and a deep voice but effectively harmless yet he was demonised by the press because he was black and therefore seen as intimidating. As Moonlight so poignantly showed, hyper-masculinity is often used as a protective armour by queer black boys and men.

Flower Boy is chock-full of beautiful guest singer spots. Frank Ocean croons on the chorus of “Where This Flower Blooms”, “I ride to California / These frog oval goggles.” Tyler also delivers some clever, important lines “Tell these black kids they could be who they are / Dye your hair blue, shit, I’ll do it too / Look, I smell like Chanel” makes some references to Frank Ocean. Frank Ocean dyed his hair for the promo of Blonde, Frank has embraced who he is and helped other queer black kids be who they are and “Chanel” refers to a single Frank Ocean released earlier this year alluding to bisexuality or the fluidity of his masculinity and femininity. “See You Again” is a highlight in an album full of highlights. Tyler does some singing on the chorus and while it isn’t great it’s really endearing and Kali Uchis delivers some killer vocals. “Can I get a kiss? / And can you make it last forever? / I said I’m ’bout to go to war / And I don’t know if I’ma see you again.” The album is just full of so many beautiful catchy vocals which I haven’t been able to stop singing since. Despite being alternatively titled Scum Fuck Flower Boy the only indications we get of “scum fuck” are “Who Day Boy” and “I Ain’t Got Time!” Tyler just revealed that he wanted to give ScHoolboy Q a verse on “Who Dat Boy” but he totally bodies this beat. The beat is such a banger it’s ridiculous, the horror movie synths, the build-up and the way Tyler and A$ap Rocky flow on this beat works so damn well.

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“I Ain’t Got Time!” is not as hard but the chorus is really infectious “I ain’t got time for these niggas / Better throw a watch at the boy” and the one of the lines which has had many speculating about his sexuality “Next line will have ’em like “Woah” / I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004.”

Throughout the album Tyler proves he is equally a great rapper and producer. His voice and flow perfectly match the jazzy, funky smooth beats extremely well. On “Pothole” he enlists Jaden Smith for the chorus and Smith is another carefree black boy who flouts conventional models of black masculinity – as weird as he might be. “Garden Shed” is a stand out track, perhaps the most revealing and one of the most beautifully produced tracks I’ve heard all year. It begins with some smooth guitar riffs, synths, jazzy drums and Estelle comes in with beautifully sung vocals (Estelle is low-key underrated). The title of the track likely serves a metaphor for the metaphorical closet non-straight people come out of. “Garden shed, garden shed, garden shed, garden shed / For the garden
That is where I was hidin’ / That was real love I was in / Ain’t no reason to pretend,” although these lyrics use imagery and are poetic it is pretty unambiguous what they could be referring to. More unambiguous lines: “Truth is, since a youth kid, thought it was a phase / Thought it’d be like the phrase; “poof,” gone / But, it’s still goin’ on.” What a way to do it and I applaud Tyler for his courage and am really happy for him. “Boredom” is a smooth jam about being bored and really speaks to me in this long boring summer where I expected to do much more. It features a lot of sweet guest vocals from Anna of the North, Corinne Bailey Rae & Rex Orange County. “911 / Mr. Lonely” is a two-part track, the first track is a smooth jazz-funk track with guest vocals from Steve Lacy, who was also featured on Kendrick Lamar’s “PRIDE.”, and Frank Ocean again.

Flower Boy never drops in quality throughout but it does drop seeds on “Droppin’ Seeds”, Lil Wayne’s verse in his idiosyncratic delivery sounds perfect on Tyler’s idiosyncratic jazzy production. “November” is a track with a really good drum loop and some bells, Tyler reminisces about the past using “November” as a metaphor for a time he misses “Take me back to November / Take me back to November / Hawaiian shirts in the winter, cold water, cold water.” The track switches up at one point before going right back into the drum loop and it just shows how well produced this entire album is. The only noticeable time Tyler does change his pitch on this album is on “Glitter” but for a totally different effect. He pitches his voice up and down on and it is a love song where he sings. I’ve listened to this album quite a few times and assumed it was another guest vocal but it appears not. The album ends with a funky instrumental which samples baby noises showcasing his producing chops. With this final track he doesn’t need to make a grand statement he’s already made them throughout the album. Flower Boy shows Tyler, The Creator fully maturing as an artist but still having his boyish charm. It is an extraordinarily well-produced album full of excellent guest vocals, honest, poignant lyrics and really gives the world its first true glimpse into Tyler Okonma. Indeed, a world of glitter and flowers.

 

Barber Shop Chronicles review – a razor-sharp exploration of black masculinity across the diaspora

I’m not a big fan of theatre. At least I wasn’t until I went to see Barber Shop Chronicles with my Nigerian parents at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds last Saturday. Before going to see this play, I had only ever been to see two other plays in my life. A production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was about 11 in primary school and a production of The Crucible during sixth form (both of these times at the West Yorkshire Playhouse). I enjoyed seeing these plays but I was always much more interested in films and television than theatre. I learnt about Barber Shop Chronicles after attending a poetry event called An Evening with an Immigrant while at university several months ago. It was a one-man spoken-word poetry show performed by Nigerian spoken-word artist, poet and playwright, Inua Ellams. I was very moved by his story: he was born in Jos, Nigeria but his family fled Nigeria to the UK when they faced persecution. He arrived in London when he was 12 years old but because of their uncertain legal immigration status his family moved to Ireland for 3 years before he could move back to London. Even today after 20 years of living in the UK and Ireland, Ellams still has to renew his passport every three years and Theresa May’s tory government is threatening to pass a bill which might make it even more difficult. If you want to read more about the ridiculous immigration system in the UK I would recommend Omolade’s blog post on her situation. I relate to both Ellams’ and Omolade’s situations in many ways but I’m so lucky in that I got my British citizenship in 2013 after seven years of living in the UK. In just under two weeks it will have been 11 years since I moved to the UK with my mum and my younger siblings to meet my dad and for us to start our new life in the UK. I will write more about my early experiences here in other blog posts but for now I want to talk about Barber Shop Chronicles!

The barber shop is the place of conversation and to convene for black men. I’ve experienced it all my life and it’s the one of the many fascinating things about black people that I’ve noticed. Saying that makes it sound like I’m not black when I am, I’m black and proud but black people are so multi-faceted and unique, we’re both envied and hated all over the world but let’s not get into that. To prepare to see this play I went for this ritual I had done many times before but this time I was made myself aware of the conversations going on around me. I walked into a black barber shop in a primarily South Asian and black working-class area of Leeds called Harehills. I didn’t have to wait long because the shop wasn’t very busy (it was a Thursday evening) and I sat down within 5 minutes of entering the shop.  I was called up to the chair and a barber asked me what I wanted, I said fade on the sides and back and take [pointing to my hair] this much off the top. As I was getting my hair cut a black woman walked into the shop, she seemed pissed off complaining to the owner about her daughter getting into trouble. The shop was a black male barber shop so she wasn’t there for a hairdo and it didn’t look like she was waiting for someone. The owner indulged the woman who may have had some personal issues then later a guy with West African accent I can’t place entered the shop and spoken in pidgin English to the owner who was West Indian. My hair cut didn’t last long and it was 🔥 so I paid the barber and walked out feeling great. Two days later I was watching Barber Shop Chronicles with my Nigerian parents and the characters in the South London barber shop, Three Kings are discussing the use and merits of Pidgin English. A Nigerian character says, hundreds of languages only one unites us: Pidgin. The fact that a conversation which is immediately familiar to many black people was being shown to a predominately white audience was amazing to me as was the fact myself and my parents could see ourselves on stage was even more amazing.

Barber Shop Chronicles was actually inspired by an experience the writer, Inua Ellams had visiting a black barber shop in a Chapeltown (a primarily black working-class area) in Leeds so my experience was likely similar to his. Written by Ellams and directed by Bijan Sheibani, Barber Shop Chronicles is a stellar production which weaves several stories taking place in barber shops across Africa – Lagos, Accra, Harare, Johannesburg, Kampala – and (south) London. It was hilarious, relatable, touching, well-written, well-acted, well-directed and produced, just an all round incredible production. Before the play started the actors pretended to cut members’ of the audience’s hair, went around chatting to audience members while a DJ played afrobeats and afro bashment music. They all seemlessly transitioned into the beginning of the play as they crowded around to watch a football game. Each scene and location transitioned perfectly into another. The actors chanted, sung and danced each time the play transitioned into a new location. The set design was also extremely well done, authentic and strangely familiar.  When the actors transitioned from the South London barber shop to one in Lagos, I was transposed into forgotten childhood memories. My memories of Nigeria from birth until I moved when I was 9 are few, I have a few vivid ones such as my dad telling me he was moving to the UK when I was 7 but I can’t really sketch out a lot from my early childhood in Nigeria. That scene in Lagos triggered some of those repressed memories, I tried to vaguely remember my parents taking me to barber shops in Lagos and the set design seemed somewhat familiar. The dialogue was hilarious and authentic and the actors did an incredible job speaking a mixture of London English, various Pidgin English languages and other native languages such as Yoruba and Twi. It was really great to see my parents laugh and smile knowingly at the jokes about Nigeria and the use of Yoruba.

Although, the audience I saw it in was mostly white it was great to see a decent amount of other black people there as well especially considering Leeds is not nearly as diverse as London. The audience laughed throughout the play and I was so glad to see how much other black people enjoyed. I think we should support each other as much as we can especially in the arts. As well as being funny, Barber Shop Chronicles was really touching. It explored many difficult topics that aren’t discussed as much in black communities such as sexuality, identity and mental health. It showed black masculinity in all its complexities and different beautiful forms across different generations. Everyone involved did an absolutely amazing job. Barber Shop Chronicles is being performed for another run at the National Theatre from 29th of November 2017 to the 9th of January 2018. It is extremely popular so be sure to book tickets soon! https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/barber-shop-chronicles-performances. Also check out Inua Ellams’ website: inuaellams.com.