Dancing in the Moonlight

The thing about film is it’s revelatory; it unveils the human experience, annotates humanity. Something I was reminded of when attending the previews for Barry Jenkins’ mercurial debut feature, Moonlight, in Manchester these past few weeks.

I was there to film vox pops for the distribution company, capturing audience responses immediately as they came out of the screening, which, let me tell you, was itself a hugely fascinating experience. You can check out one of the aforementioned videos below.

As you’ll no doubt be able to tell from the reactions above, the film was a dazzling kaleidoscope of narrative – dense yet nuanced, melancholic yet vibrant, dark yet colourful, kinetic yet still.

Everything about it, from the saturated technicolour aesthetic (almost every shot feels laced in dreamlike neon hues) to the bold cinematography and storytelling, seemed suffused with a dizzying assortment of contrasts.

Childhood – beautiful, terrifying, defiant. Adolescence – magical, brutal, lonely. Masculinity – vulnerable, powerful, tender.

The way the film manages to draw all these seemingly disparate themes into a cohesive whole to tell what is, in Jenkins’ words, a ‘coming-of-age story,’ is simply stunning.

I think I will, at some point, attempt to write about the movie in a little more detail.

Until then, the responses of the audience members that I got to film (above) will provide a far more compelling expression of what the viewing experience was like than anything I might manage to put into words.

What An Evening With Yaa Gyasi Taught Me About Inspiration

I first came across the incredible stillness and power of Yaa Gyasi’s writing early last year when reading a short story penned by the Ghanaian-born author in Guernica Magazine.

Inscape, narrated from a daughter’s perspective, told the tale of a woman and her Ghanaian mother, weaving between themes of religion, culture and mental illness with an unerring lullaby-like quietude that somehow made the story all the more arresting, not to mention, well… disturbing. The reading experience was like being electrocuted with a feather.

And so, offered the opportunity to be in the audience this past Tuesday night at Manchester’s Waterstones bookstore as Gyasi discussed her debut novel, Homegoing, I was excited to hear, from the woman herself, where that savage stillness to her writing originated.

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I ain’t gonna front. I was pretty stoked to have her sign my copy.

However, although she shared plenty of interesting insights about her creative process and the seven year journey that led to the completion of her book, the thing that stood out the most was a comment she made whilst describing a trip to a slave dungeon on the coast of Ghana as part of a fellowship grant she’d received to research her novel.

“It’s the one time I’ve truly felt inspired to write something.”

And by inspired she meant a sense of conviction – compulsion even – that she would give form to the emotions she felt as she stood in that dank, dim space where centuries before hundreds of men, women and children had been manacled and imprisoned whilst waiting to be shipped to an even worse fate on the other side of the Atlantic.

It’s a sentiment that got me thinking…

Here is an incredibly talented writer, an author who’s debut novel was reportedly secured via a seven-figure advance, and yet she is able to name only one moment in her recent past – and a pretty emotionally loaded one at that – where she can claim with certainty she felt inspired to write.

The implication?

She works whether she feels inspired to do so or not.

Which reminds me of the words of one Pyotr Tchaikovsky…

“Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.”

You see, Tchaikovksy believed that inspiration, although not an illusion, was overrated. And that work, even creative work, should not hang on its breath. Here’s how he described it.

“There is no doubt that even the greatest musical geniuses have sometimes worked without inspiration. This guest (inspiration) does not always respond to the first invitation. We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood. If we wait for the mood, without endeavouring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.”

Eloquently put isn’t it. And the kind of truth you could apply to all sorts of things — relationships, career, whatever. But the reason I find myself thinking about it now is something I’m beginning to observe with my own attitude to writing.

With most walks in life we take Tchaikovsky’s advice as given. We get the whole there-are-just-some-things-you’ve-gotta-do rhetoric. It’s just part of being an adult. The paying of bills or keeping of appointments are not the kinds of thing we can leave to whim or claim to be subject to inspiration. Obligations aren’t like that. That’s why they’re obligations.

But when thinking about things involving creativity — writing a song, or a story, or coming up with an invention, or innovation — you can’t (or at least I can’t) help picturing the Archimedean Eureka moments like Newton’s apple or Einstein’s clock tower.

And so the idea of just demanding for those things to happen, setting a deadline for them, seems akin to the king’s demand for the jester to make him laugh — a pressure that can’t help being counterproductive to the desired result (not unlike trying to improve learning by asking seven year olds to sit tests. But anyway, I digress).

The funny thing is recently I’ve been discovering the surprising gift of the deadline, of being obliged to be inspired. Something American author and artist, Bill Watterson, developed an ironic take on, saying

“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. What mood is that? Last minute panic.”

I’m beginning to feel he may be sort of right. The squeeze of a deadline brings about a certain focus, makes you surprise yourself and, as Stephen King once observed, separates ‘amateurs’ from those who might aspire to something more.

The question is, how do you know when that pressure is too much? Can the answer only be discovered through trial and error? Is there no other sure-fire way to discern good pressure — the kind that raises your game, and provokes productivity — from its more destructive counterpart (e.g. SATs for seven year olds)?

Is it possible to summon inspiration at will? And is inspiration, as Tchaikovsky, Gyasi and others suggest, overrated?

What do you think?

What inspires you?

Do you even need to be inspired?

Would love to hear your thoughts and any stories you might have of working with or without inspiration. Did it change the quality of the work, or just the experience of working?

Let me know below.

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Meeting RnB/Hip Hop Group, Blvck Diamond

I’ll admit it, I’ve been a busy bee the last few weeks – rewrites of a manuscript I’m working on that needed sending to my agent asap, photography and videography work at a live hip hop event the weekend before last, video editing work every evening since, not to mention the day job etc. – but a definite highlight of the hustle and bustle over the last 14 days has been meeting the Manchester-based collective of musicians, producers and recording artists known as Blvck Diamond.

I got the chance to hook up with these guys at their studio to film an interview with them for Mic Check TV, but was in no way expecting to encounter the level of vocal and musical talent that I ran into when I did. After the interview (which I filmed using a two camera set up, feel free to check out the results below), they treated us to a live rendition of one of their singles – The Vibe.

Suffice to say, I was impressed: the production quality, the vocals, the piano solo… Just incredible talent. But don’t take my word for it, you can check out the video I put together of their performance below. If you don’t mind a heady combo of stunning vocals and x-rated lyrics it’s well worth a watch.

You can also check out their interview (below). They share some pretty cool insights into their creative process, as well as their musical influences. I have a feeling they’ll be one to keep an eye on in the near future.

A Belated Interview With UK Soul Artist, Samm Henshaw

So you may recall that I’d mentioned interviewing Samm Henshaw a while back for The Nubian Times, which, on a personal level, was a very fun experience. I mean, the guy’s arguably the most talented soul artist to emerge from these shores in the last two decades.

Not only that, he was a seriously fascinating guy to talk to.

And so I’d planned, at the time, to share the video of our conversation here, once it had been uploaded to the paper’s YouTube channel.

But, as you may or may not have noticed, this never happened.

Due to technical issues I won’t even attempt to get into, the quality of the recording ended up so corrupted the paper couldn’t use it. Hence, I never shared the video with you.

Yeah, I know… Sorry.

But today – after unexpectedly coming across the remnants of the footage on my laptop – I’m making amends.

Yes, it’s grainy, it’s pixelated, and not to the standard of any respectable media publication. But the stuff Henshaw had to say about his journey into music and his songwriting was, to me, so interesting and cool I decided to edit up the recording and share it with you anyway, corrupted-resolution-warts and all. So, for your viewing pleasure…

Oh, and if you want to check out the man’s music – and you really should – you can do so by clicking right… here.

Does Manchester Have a Collaboration Problem?

“Here in Manchester… If we’d support each other, like London does, then we’d be up there. But [instead] it’s like every man for himself.”

Pretty startling comment isn’t it.

It belongs to JE, a member of Manchester-based rap group, TTS. I had the pleasure of filming an interview with them (see below) last night ahead of their performance at this month’s Mic Check, two weeks from now.

They had plenty of compelling stuff to say but what really grabbed my attention were the thoughts they expressed on Manchester’s burgeoning grime and hip-hop scenes – which are more or less summed up by the quote above.

Now, here’s the thing…

JE is a ridiculously talented MC, (we filmed a freestyle with him and fellow TTS member, Rebz, following the interview. See below), at 20, he’s still young – both literally as well as to the art itself – and yet what he had to say about the scene in Manchester was, to me, so familiar it’s become troubling.

For the last few months, whether speaking directly with artists or hearing from them via other means, this problem has been all I’ve heard about.

It seems grime music in this city – one of the most vibrant, creative and diverse cities in the world – has a serious problem when it comes to collaboration and unity.

Artists are reluctant to support one another’s music. Reluctant to promote and share the scene as a whole.

The question is why?

Ego? Competitiveness? Short-sightedness? Practicality?

And as importantly, might this reluctance to work together be hampering the progress and growth of the scene as a whole?

They’re questions I’m still trying to figure out, and ones I plan on writing about more in the future.

In the meantime, if you have an opinion on it, or the reasons behind why people sometimes fail to come together in general, regardless of the context, then please feel free to share it in the comments below. I’d love to hear your views.

On Writing: An Interview with… Myself?

The funny thing is I’m used to asking the questions, not answering them.

I mean, I’ve conducted a fair few interviews at this point, delving into the motivations and inspirations of artists, creatives, community leaders etc. – people who are passionate about what they do.

But I’ve never been on the other side of the conversation – the interviewee, rather than the interviewer… until now.

You see, having been nominated Cultureword‘s writer of the month – which I’m pretty stoked about – I was asked to answer a few questions about my work as a writer and journalist.

So, if you wanna check out my first ever time being interviewed, and gain a little insight into what makes me tick (a scary thought, I know), you can do so by clicking right… here.

The Future is Bright, The Future is… Social Media?

I’m told public speaking is consistently ranked as many people’s greatest fear… yeah, that’s right – above heights, spiders, snakes, clowns (I still don’t get why anyone likes clowns) etc. In fact, in many surveys public speaking is even ranked above the fear of death.

Which, in my opinion, is all the more reason for you to be very impressed with what I’m about to tell you…

You see, I had the privilege/challenge/trauma (delete as appropriate) of delivering a presentation on digital and social media last week at a Media and Marketing event (see video below) organised by The Nubian Times.

I’m not ashamed to say I was a little nervous beforehand, but by all accounts the talk went well.

Although I won’t go into the contents of it here, the presentation did allow me the chance to share some thoughts on what is, to me, a hugely exciting sector, one that has increasing influence in Manchester in particular.

You see, this city has the largest tech cluster in the UK outside of London, and that in an economy generating around £2bn annually, accounting for a significant part of the region’s overall economic output.

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That’s me being all professional and talky. Which does happen… occasionally.

All of which means the creative digital sector, of which social media is a major part, is a pretty big deal just now – financially, yes, but even more so culturally.

I mean, think about it. We keep up with current affairs via social media. We source job opportunities through it, decide which restaurants we’re going to visit with it. In fact, with some of the new features Facebook has recently introduced, the likelihood is we’ll soon be doing most of our shopping through it too.

Which gets you thinking…

With around a quarter of the world’s population now using social media, there are all sorts of questions about how this global society of ours is set to evolve.

So what do you think?

What’s been your experience of social media, professional or personal?

Do you see social media as largely a good or bad thing?

And what do you think may lie ahead for us, and it, in the future?

Feel free to comment below, would love to hear your thoughts.

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Elevator Fiction

elevator-fiction-frontYour mission, should you choose to accept it, is to give the reader a story worth reading in 500 words or less…

So said the email I received requesting I submit a piece of flash fiction for inclusion in an anthology to be published by Crocus Books. And so, never one to shirk a challenge, I complied. Happily.

The result of the project is, in my humble opinion, a pretty special collection of stories. It features 30 writers from Black and Asian Minority Ethnic backgrounds, with the tales told ranging from the weird and fantastical to the domestic and familiar – each one short enough to be read from start to finish in the time it takes to complete an elevator trip, hence the collection’s name.

I had the pleasure of attending the book launch this past weekend, which happened to be my first time attending any book launch. In fact, the event included a number of firsts for me.

img_1655-3My first time having my fiction published. My first time performing a reading of my work (see left). Suffice to say it’s a day I’ll remember, and fondly. Even more so for the chance to connect with so many other talented writers and creatives.

Anyway. Should you decide you want to pick up a copy, the book will be available on Amazon by the end of this week. I’ll be sure to share the link once it goes on sale.

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Grime, Hip Hop and the City

If American hip-hop – along with dancehall and garage music – are the parents, grime has since emerged from their shadow as the rebellious adolescent ready to forge its own path, becoming the voice of choice for British millenials tired of hearing tales of streetlife narrated from across the Atlantic.

It’s for this reason I’ve been eager for a while to get under the skin of Manchester’s grime scene and hear what artists have to say about the music and what it means to them.

And so below are a few interviews I conducted and filmed for The Nubian Times doing just that. Have a watch, some provocative insights on the scene’s evolution are shared by the artists in each.

 

 

 

 

There’s Nothing New About The News

Originally a rapper, and then a poet, for the last year Tom Bishop has been occupying that loose sliding space that lingers between the two, the stripped down art known as spoken word.

After connecting with him during one of his live performances last month at Sandbar’s grime and hip hop night, Mic Check, I had the pleasure of collaborating with him to film one of his pieces – ‘There’s Nothing New About The News’.

In simple terms: He provided the poetry and performance, I provided the videography. You can take a look at the results of our work below.