TBB Reflects on An Evening at ‘Back 2 Black’ Black History Month Event @BAFTA

back_2_black_bafta

So, the wait was finally over.

Fredi Kruga and colleagues organised a celebration at BAFTA HQ on Sunday October 5th, and we were the guest of honour. That’s ‘we’ as in you, me and every child of Africa living, learning, loving, adapting, surviving, contributing, assisting, working, wondering, bleeding, pondering… being in the UK today and always.

The inaugural Back 2 Black @BAFTA kicked off the UK Black History Month, and it was an unqualified success packed, as it was, with short films, performance poetry, musical interludes, inspirational talks, a raffle and the big ceremonial climax of the Inspirational Awards! We’d read and obeyed our invites, but still the room fizzed with anticipation.
A champagne reception provided unrushed opportunities for photos, interviews, lively conversation and catch-ups. The bubbles flowed and guests enthusiastically exchanged contact details. Everyone had observed the black tie dress code – the men looking tall and elegant in their tuxedoes, the women styled in everything from gowns to cocktail dresses, colour blocks to patterns, lace to silk. This was a warm-up act like no other.

Guests were directed to the member’s 227-seat private Princess Anne Theatre and, as the lights went down, Leah Charles King stepped up into the role of glamorous hostess in a floor-length green sequinned gown.
The first live act of the night was the remarkable sibling duo who perform as Lyrical Anomaly: Maverick, 19 – a startlingly good human beatboxer, and Malachi, just 15 – the rapping lyricist. Here were kids opening this untested event… and they earned a heartfelt standing ovation. You would have joined in too, had you heard , “Questions in my brain, Answers in my heart…”, “See what the freedom is worth…” and, “Belief is the petrol fuelling your mind…”
15 and 19!

The hypnotic songbird Andrea Arrendale took to the stage next, accompanied by a keyboard and one-piece percussionist to give us a cover of a Lana del Rey track. Suffice to say, Ms Arrendale treated us to soulful emotion, exhibiting a great range and excellent tonal control.
So far, so excellent!

Next, came entrepreneur Nathaniel Peat who 5th-danned his way through an inspirational talk of self-belief and actualisation. From his troubled beginnings in Tottenham to blagging his way onto a physics (yes, physics) A’ Level course and converting that into an engineering degree, a commercial pilot’s licence and the development of sustainable energy. Yes, through his company GeNNex,  Peat is literally bringing light for the children of Africa to study by – solar powered lanterns… in Africa. Simple, a no-brainer, even. But unique, and an intervention of generational importance! He also took the time to hail the inspiration of Bessie Coleman (1892-1926), the first African-American to gain an international pilot’s licence after moving to Chicago, teaching herself French, getting herself to Paris and into training and earning her title of Aviator in 1921.

If we suspected that the quality couldn’t last, which we didn’t even for a minute, we would have been mistaken.
Performance poet Shakeel Romero introduced his Legendary Legacies spoken word tribute to Madiba, the man, the inspiration, The Way. This innovatively produced short film ended with the words, “Ball your fist, Raise high and say with me… Nelson Mandela!” Guess what every single person in the audience did then? A great reaction to a début piece.

During a somewhat lengthy 45 minute interval, guests topped up their glasses and congratulated the first-half Artists. Personally, I took the opportunity to gain assurance that Poet of the People, Akala, had not been maliciously sent out of the country by men in Crooked Hats during the opening of the Barbican’s ill-fated Exhibit B. I was assured it had been a pre-arranged sojourn. But, if in doubt as to whether his heart and soul there on the day, just read his searing rebuttal to the accusations of censorship levelled at protesters. He was there.

First African-American pilot, Bessie Coleman

First African-American pilot, Bessie Coleman

The Deep Thoughts of Hip Hop poet JaJa Soze opened the second half. A performance selected from his forthcoming album Power, it eerily conjured the twilit colour of insomniac night thoughts. His words were filled with an emotional undertow which was difficult not to be pulled into, especially on the occasions they rose to the surface.
And so, MOBO award-winning Akala ascended the stage and took us all on a whistle-stop unfiltered history of Africa.

He dusted down forgotten manuscripts and blew the dense cobwebs from the first-hand written and drawn accounts of visiting travellers – medical innovation, advanced feats of engineering (running water, flushing toilets, boat-building), civil engineering and town planning, mathematics, lunar cycles, transatlantic exploration and trade, inferring a mastery of cartography (map-making) – all under the somewhat innocuous sub-title of The Mystery of the Missing Noses.

Yes, over the subsequent millenium, areas of Africa (especially North) were invaded from the East, North and West, rewriting history, starting with, of all things, erasing granite-sculpted noses. It wasn’t a downer, however, it was uplifting, edifying and wittily delivered. As the boss says, “He’s just got lyrics for days!”

Nadine Woodley and Dani Moseley of HiYPE Productions next gave us a duet of rhyme, cleverly interspersed with conversation in paying tribute to black women and dispelling the myth, “The first rule about black women’s hair is, you don’t talk about aback women’s hair (or touch, etc.)” – Peter Grant, fictional policeman and trainee wizard by novellist Ben Aaronovitch. It was funny and insightful and unifying, which is exactly what the acronym stands for Helping Inspire Young People (to) Evolve.

Christopher Ellis, son of legendary Alton Ellis, brought a little sweet reggae music into the hallowed HQ of BAFTA just then. He cut a dash on stage and managed to flavour his performance with that touch of Old School for a modern audience. Great Stuff!

A raffle and a few earnest words from Mr Kruga signified the ceremonial part of the evening – the Inspirational Awards themselves, which actually meant what it said on the tin. Tales of personal adversities overcome, selfless sharing the of experience to help others, selfless sharing of scarce resources, pioneering inventions and businesses. As Steve McQueen recently said, “I’m not surprised. Black people can do it all!”

The recipients were:

  • Warren Ryan
  • Sonia Meggie
  • Jenni Steele
  • Beverley De Gale
  • Shontia Naggie
  • Naomi Bennett
  • Maureen Elizabeth Worrell
  • Erika Brodnock
  • Marcia Brock

And, the recipient of the Founder’s Choice Inspiration Award was The Brixton Soup Kitchen’s co-founders, Mahamed Hashi and Solomon Smith, who have run the resource for 18 months with NO funding, and they’re not just limited to the Brixton area – of course not! These are people of colour, and that means character. The great news is, they have recently secured some financial assistance from ITV and will feature on a forthcoming episode of Surprise, Surprise!

The recipients said a few words, clutching their awards, and I was impressed by the total humility and lack of swagger of each. That they have not ventured down these roads for personal gain was clear, and this was a pretty wonderful way to say, “Thanks. We see you, we hear you, we feel you!”

And so the UK soul legend that is Michelle Escoffery took to the stage with an acoustic guitarist and closed the show. August was What Will Be Your Legacy? month and we are just beginning Black History Month. It was fitting, after such an evening as this, that a real-life, home-grown legacy launching her solo career as Maya Blue serenaded us so sweetly from our celebrations and home to dream good dreams with the lyrics “…Fly like an eagle…”, itself echoing Nathaniel Peat’s earlier words, now reverberating in our hearts.

I thank BAFTA , whatever their motivation, for listening to what must have been one hell of a pitch by Mr Kruga and chums. I thank the Guests and Sponsors for their great taste and foresight in bestowing their support. I thank the Participants for sharing their Art and Soul with us. I thank the nominees and recipients whose actions shaped the true meaning of these Inspiration Awards and I thank Fredi Kruga for giving his people what we sorely needed. May it be the first of many.

Cheers!

Back 2 Black founder, Fredi Kruga & Akala

Back 2 Black founder, Fredi Kruga & Akala

(far left & right) Hip Hop duo Lyrical Anomaly

(far left & right) Hip Hop duo Lyrical Anomaly

Back 2 Black hostess, Leah King-Charles

Back 2 Black hostess, Leah King-Charles

Founder of Beffta awards, Pauline Long

Founder of Beffta awards, Pauline Long

Entrepreneur, Nathaniel Peat

Entrepreneur, Nathaniel Peat

Back 2 Black guests

Back 2 Black guests

Actresses / Writers Nadine Woodley & Dani Moseley

Actresses / Writers Nadine Woodley & Dani Moseley

Founder of Inspirational You, and Back 2 Black 'Inspirational Award' winner, Sonia Meggie

Founder of Inspirational You, and Back 2 Black ‘Inspirational Award’ winner, Sonia Meggie

Back 2 Black Ambassador,  Sherry-Ann Dixon

Back 2 Black Ambassador, Sherry-Ann Dixon

review of Back 2 Black for the british blacklist by  @DescantDeb

all images credited to eLookphotography / @eelook 

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