50 Voices for Malcolm X : Movement for Change

Giving it the full title here, 50 Voices for Malcolm X : Movement for Change was a civil rights event staged over three nights in the Studio at Bristol Old Vic. The show was staged by Ujima Radio to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Malcolm X. We note with pride that Bristol is the only city in Europe to be home to a community center named after the legendary civil rights leader.

The structure of the show was 5-minute performances by a variety of artists, each with a different take on civil rights issues. The performances included spoken word, music, dance and film.

I was unable to be there for the Thursday and Friday shows as I was in Brighton, but the idea was to have different people on different nights. Some of the audience came to all three events.

The Saturday show was topped and tailed by Ujima director, Roger Griffith, reading from the speeches of Malcolm X. In between we had a range of performers, several of whom we have had the pleasure of interviewing on Women’s Outlook.

The first session included material from Shawn Sobers from the Haile Selassie House in Bath. Shawn spoke eloquently about the issue of names. Many Caribbean and African-American people bear last names derived from the slaver families who owned their ancestors, which is clearly problematic for them. I was pleased to hear Shawn talk about how the name “Sobers” is no longer associated with slavery, but rather with the finest player ever to grace a cricket pitch.

Also up in the first session was Joseph Langdon reading a powerful piece written by the brilliant Jamaican/British playwright, Alfred Fagon. Those of you who follow Women’s Outlook may remember my talking to James Peries of the Old Vic about Fagon back in 2013. James was the director for the 50 Voices show and he did a fabulous job of putting me at ease and giving me advice on my performance.

Next up was Michael Jenkins from 8th Sense Media. He’s making a film called Black Soldier, White Army, about Patrick Cyrus, a black British soldier who served in Northern Ireland. From the clips we saw it looks like being a very powerful film.

I was up about half way through the first session, and it seemed to go quite well. I managed to remember almost all of the poem, just needing a couple of surreptitious glances at my notes along the way. The acoustics in the Studio are amazing. Those of you who have seen me on panels know that I don’t have a very loud voice and generally need a microphone even in small rooms. I was able to perform in the Studio without a mic. I’m sure that helped a lot. Anyway, people were very nice about my performance afterwards, so I guess I did OK. Can I call myself a performance poet now?

I was followed by Paulette, Frances & Christine from Women’s Outlook, and a few other people, talking about various campaigns centered around refugees rights.

Next up were two amazing performers: Glen Cook, known as The Singing Chef, and poet Miles Chambers. I guess Glenn could be described as signing Gospel, but really it was far more innovative than you would imagine from that description. I was really impressed with how well Miles had worked various key quotes from Malcolm X’s speeches into his poetry, and with the power of his delivery.

The second session featured performance poet Shagufta Iqbal with a great poem about being a Mother of Color. She was followed by photographer Benny Benn with a lovely montage of images (including pictures of Janelle Monae, and of T’Challa & Ororo). Then there was John Dior from a community youth group.

We also had Jay Kallias who is a Krump dancer. I had never seen Krump performed live before, and was seriously impressed. It is very different, and perhaps not that graceful, but very powerful.

My friend Adam Murray, who was part of the Afrofuturism project at Watershed, talked a bit about the current film series he has been involved in there. It is called Come the Revolution and features a number of fine films about black history.

A couple of ladies from the RISE community action group came and talked about their work. Once they were done, one of them, Nia Bimkubwa, treated us to a fine performance of “Love Will Save the Day”. This was essentially karaoke, in that she was signing with a backing track, but it was way better than what you’ll hear in clubs.

Also on the music side, we had Kizzy Morrell, whose show you may remember I was a guest on last year. Kizzy is also a professional signer, and she treated us to a wonderful rendition of “Georgia on My Mind”, again just accompanied by a music track.

My thanks are due to Roger for making the whole thing happen; the James, Sharon and the crew from Bristol Old Vic; to Julz for compering the evening with style; to DJ Style for the music; to the young lady who announced the performances (her name’s not on the program, Roger!) and of course to all of my fellow performers. It was a wonderful evening and I’m delighted to have been part of it.

A couple of people asked whether my poem was available online anywhere. I’ve sent Roger a few suggestions about doing a book. I also know that the whole thing was filmed. When I know a bit more about what is going to happen I’ll let you know.