by Jason Noghani
[London, LTTW] I completely underestimated how much I would enjoy Go Africa at the Ringcross Community Centre in Islington, London, on August 17th 2019. This is the second time this year I have had the pleasure of visiting the place, whereby I had previously attended Brendan Pickett’s brutally vibrant Truth and Power exhibition, where I both had a great time and met some wonderful local residents (check out Brendan Pickett’s review and interview for further reading). This time round, the experience was not only hugely inspiring and enrichening, but my experiences and interactions were also profoundly humbling.
The event took place throughout the course of the day, with several stalls exhibiting and selling a variety of merchandise during the daytime, followed by musical performances in the evening. I spent the first couple of hours casually exploring the environment and freely interacting with the people who were there. It was inspiring to see such a variety of cultures and an abundance of creativity inside a space not much larger than most people’s apartments. This atmosphere invigorated my enthusiasm allowing me to interact with many people who had contributed to the event as well as learning and experiencing as much as I could.
Some of us feel that we live in a day and age where culture in the West is dying; a notion of which underlies political upheavals in our time such as Brexit and Trump (or namely the reaction of a host culture to reassert its supremacy at a time when it has seemingly run out of ideas, and also feels threatened by minority cultures filling in gaps). Nonetheless, today demonstrated that culture is far from collapsing and if anything, is more alive and most welcomed by everyone! The common currency of culture is exchange whereby foreign influences serve as a foundation of renewal for the creation of new cultural innovations (two prominent historical examples include the introduction of spaghetti in Italy through Marco Polo’s expeditions in China, and the British cup of tea which would never had come into fruition had colonialists never exported tea plants from the far reaches of the British empire!). Most of the people who offered their services were British-born with African heritage which served as their impulse for creating new and innovative products and projects. Thus, consolidating culture within the present, drawing from past influences and creating for the purpose of a more enlightened future.
The first person I came into contact with was a wonderful lady called Shireen, who sold a variety of organic body care products such as lotions, soaps and deodorants. Like most of the people who were there, Shireen is a Londoner but the inspiration behind her products and most of the ingredients came from Gambia and Senegal. I had not initially intended on buying anything, as my shopping for toiletries is usually pretty dull and conventional, but I was so inspired by what she does, being drawn by her inviting and embracing personality that I ended up buying some toothpaste (it must be noted she has very good teeth which definitely encouraged my purchase!). The toothpaste is a concoction of charcoal and various plants and comes as a lotion which means not wetting the toothbrush before usage. At first it was a peculiar experience as I was unfamiliar with not having a minty mouth first thing in the morning, but one week later, my teeth feel amazing and my mouth feels fresher for longer than it would do otherwise! I think the best description of the taste is somewhere between soap and chocolate – weirdly tasty, at least for toothpaste! For anyone looking for alternative and vegan-friendly body care products, I highly recommend you check out the Shea Pureness website and support this unique, ethically-driven business – you won’t be disappointed!
The next encounter was with a brilliant young lady who gave a talk around the time I arrived named Kirsty Osei-Bempong, who was there to promote a magazine called Akadi (akadi being the Ghanaian-Ewe word for light). Akadi is a magazine which shares much in common with LTTW, as its underlying motive is the intention of sharing and interconnecting Ghanaian influences both within the homeland and throughout the rest of the world. Having read a bit about the upcoming publication, I know that it is going to be a fascinating read! I knew I had to talk to Kirsty when I first saw her and when I introduced myself, I felt that we both mutually knew that we had important things to say to each other. Kirsty has written a brilliant article discussing the influence Indonesian batik has had on Ghanaian and other West African textiles. Kirsty, if you are reading this, I truly hope Akadi and LTTW can build bridges in the not too distant future!
Another person who I had the pleasure of meeting was the hugely talented artist Shallman Quashie, who was selling and displaying his work outside. Shallman’s work is difficult to describe due to the sheer variety of what was on display, although his work is ecstatically colourful, clearly paying homage to his Ghanaian heritage whilst transcending the roots through a myriad of perspectives – traditional, modern, abstract, fusion etc. I was unable to purchase a painting on the day, but the next time I am able to, I will definitely try and get one (unless he gets too big in which case that may not be possible!)! I was struck by his humility and openness when we were talking as well as his warm, positive personality exemplified by the fact that you do not need to live a life of tragedy in order to produce great art! For anyone in London in October and November, Shallman will be exhibiting his work so I strongly encourage any art enthusiast to keep their eyes open and go and support this fantastic young artist.
After about an hour or so of being there, I became hungry so I bought some food that was being served. I am unsure of the names of the dishes, although I know they were Ghanaian recipes, and were extremely tasty! The intimacy of the event also corresponded to the homely taste of the food – the peanut-marinated chicken, rice and salad not only reminded me of Indonesian cuisine but was also strikingly similar to the Iranian food I would eat on a Sunday as a child with my grandparents. Nostalgia and novelty have never tasted so good!
I also briefly chatted to an aspiring entrepreneur called Sheila Poku-Dabanka whose business Love Pokudots manufactures customised jewellery with evident Ghanaian influence. Her creations clearly paying homage to her heritage similarly to Shireen’s at Shea Pureness. In this instance however, Sheila utilises materials from the UK to produce items that evoke the patterns and styles of traditional Ghanaian jewellery with a fresh 21st Century appeal. It was wonderful meeting Sheila, she is a lovely young lady and I hope that her business continues to grow.
Before I continue, I must apologise for not mentioning everyone else. I tried to engage with as many people as possible, so for those who were unmentioned you were certainly not forgotten!
The musical performances started around 7:30pm, commencing with the electrifying KeKeli drummers and dancers. The performance was exhilarating to say the very least, the contagious and raucous rhythmic pulsations engaging the audience without them having to even try and focus! I commented to Brendan, (who was next to me during the performance) that I would be quite happy to listen to this and nothing else. I feel that African drumming is almost like a medicine for humanity that uplifts spirits, delivering healing vibrations, expelling demons and unifying us to the universal vibrations and harmony of nature. There is still much to learn from this primordial music, but a learning that has to be experienced and shared rather than discussed – something of which anyone who experiences it will evidently know, even if they are uncertain of it.
Something that will always remain with me was the inclusivity of the performance. The audience were encouraged to dance and the performers asserted the notion that it was typical of Ghanaian culture to practice inclusivity in musical performance, whereby the audience were equally as much a part of the performance as the musicians and dancers. Not only did the drummers advocate this but it could be unanimously felt amongst the audience. The dancers also encompassed a diversity of ethnic groups which further accentuated the notion that today was a day of invitation and inclusivity rather than exclusivity – we all share deep-rooted African heritage after all, and oh my, could we feel it! For those who are interested, KeKeli also hold drumming and dance classes at the Andover Community Centre in London on Thursday’s from 7-9pm.
Halfway through KeKeli’s performance, 14-year old Avery Watson performed, and for the short time he appeared on stage he made a strong impression on all who were there to witness. The power expression and depth within his beautiful voice had a maturity far beyond his years and at this rate he must be destined for big things in the future. Avery, if you read this, I wish you all the best and encourage you to never stop singing!
The phenomenal performance from KeKeli was almost impossible to top, and the Guinean kora and griot performer Mosi Conde accompanied by the Senegalese drummer Diallo provided the perfect act to follow; counteracting the penetrative vibrations from the previous performance with delicate kora flourishes that serenely washed over the audience with celestial waterfalls of harmony. The music was entrancing and took the listener to a heavenly place that transcended terrestrial perceptions of space and time in a seductive hypnosis. As I felt with the previous performance, I would have been quite content if this is all I have ever listened to. The KeKeli drummers also performed at the side at times, although in a more delicate manner this time round, and the Sudanese jazz flautist Ghandi Adam also joined in, which nestled into the kora and percussion sonorities in a musically amorous manner. The jazz element of Ghandi’s flute naturally felt at home with the sounds of the kora which created a wholly authentic experience whilst simultaneously not disguising the link jazz music has with African roots music.
I had the privilege of meeting both musicians, Mosi Conde briefly, although the five minutes we met was filled with constant laughter – he is just as brilliant offstage as he is onstage! I spoke to Ghandi for quite a bit longer and actually spent much of the evening talking to him as his charisma and affability was impossible to ignore. Ghandi lives through music, it is naturally the extension of his soul as shown by his enchanting flute playing. To me he is a man in harmony perfect harmony with life. We engaged in a profoundly deep conversation, which touched upon God, the interconnectivity of life, eschatology, the problems of human nature, the divisiveness of politics and the power art has to unite people. I must add that he did most of the talking; he naturally had an audience given how much he had to share – I had much to learn from him, and am still comprehending the magnitude of what we spoke about. For anyone in London, Ghandi performs at Loop on Dering Street in Soho on Tuesday’s between 7-9:30pm. You are guaranteed to have an amazing time and hopefully will have the pleasure of meeting one of the most enigmatic and extraordinary personalities you will ever come across! Ghandi also told me about future incentives which include performing around Europe in the foreseeable future although I will not give anything else away as I hope it will encourage you to see him for yourself (I can guarantee, that if what he currently has in store comes into fruition, the outcomes will blow your minds!).
The final live performance consisted of the beautiful Eritrean-born Betty Alehayehu and her supporting band (including LTTW’s friend Brendan Pickett playing piano). I feel this was the perfect culmination of African and Western influences synergised into a unified entity. Acoustically this was the hardest performance to pull off as it required the largest number of resources, equipment and performers; something of which was difficult to manoeuvre in the confines of the performance space, but nonetheless the musical chemistry and brilliance of the performers could be felt, and overall provided a perfect end to such a fantastic day. Following on from this final performance, DJ James PB from South Africa played for the rest of the evening, and those in attendance ate, drank and socialised, sharing bouts of laughter right up until the very end.
Much of what I experienced on August 17th could not be solely expressed through words, given that much of the magic of the day was spiritually-driven through the essence of thousands of years of African wisdom, through the soul-enlivening music, and through the energy that arose through the interactions between all in attendance. Through all the inspiring conversations, transcendental musical experiences, and all the amazing people I met, this will be a day that I will never forget. I have long had a fondness and fascination of African culture, food, music and people; and this is a love that will only continue to grow!
For further reading, the late supervisor of LTTW and founding-father of Sacred Bridge Serrano “Rano” Sianturi wrote two highly valuable and insightful articles on African and Afro-American music, which I highly recommend if one has the appetite for some satisfyingly nourishing brain food!
Author: Jason Noghani
Jason Noghani is Listen to the World’s UK-based contributor. He is a composer, musician, cognitive psychologist, writer, illustrator, thinker, psychonaut and devout agnostic.