Empower Poetry Eliminates Elitism With Soul-Revealing Spoken Word And Free Cupcakes

Writer Jasmine Khan / Photographer Enhance Creatives

Empower Poetry delivered a truly unique experience last Wednesday at Zumhof Biergarten, on Lower Trinity Street. One which provided a safe space for all attendees, and samosa for just a pound.

The upstairs of Zumhof is a bit of an enigma and I’m curious about how Empower Poetry is going to create intimacy in such a spacious venue. Curated, is the first word that comes to mind. Everything about the events set up is purposeful, the crew’s matching hoodies, the spotlights, the Instagram-inspired flower wall. The seats are cosy boasting several sofas and there’s chicken and dumplings with greens as well as free cupcakes.

Before the night kicks off, Empower’s Kohinoor states that the night’s purpose is to eliminate elitism and give power back to spoken word poetry. She’s piqued my interest already.

Keilah Rebekah, gives a brief trigger warning (a frequent occurrence throughout the night) before starting the evening off on a soulful note. Her dynamic vocals sing us through her childhood trauma. It’s great to have some creative variety from the offset, though I experience a sinking feeling and tears start streaming down my face as I helplessly reflect back Keilah’s vulnerability.

God, I wish she had a band behind her.

Next up is Destiny, who starts his first poem with ‘Dear future wife’ and all the fems in the room swoon. Destiny’s poetry is passionate and lustful, it’s humble and hilarious, and then it’s over because we swiftly move onto…

Ameena, who I adore instantly because she’s a loud-mouth brown girl, who talks about politics. ‘Why are we cancelling celebrities but not politicians?’ Ameena to-the-point flow questions. I’m clicking vigorously, while several ‘mhmms’ emanate from the crowd. Her clever rhymes and confidence definitely make Ameena one to watch.

Ade, must also get a mention. His use of an instrumental backing track matched to his spoken word is atmospheric, making him stand out from the other poets. Ade’s performance speaks on his blackness and spirituality, as he thanks his parents for their grace in raising him. It’s refreshing considering the parental focus so far has been, justifiably, negative.

Stephanie follows, and I indulge in a small sigh of relief as she appears on stage with a notebook in hand. Maybe it’s because I’m about to hit my quarter-life crisis, but there’s something about phones on stage that challenges my focus on the poetic ambiance.

Stephanie sultrily speaks of womanhood with its joys and fears. Her flow is relaxed and cool, but purposeful. Stephanie’s imagery is expressive, demanding more and sarcastically unpacking the notorious orgasm-gap. She pauses, letting the seriousness of her words land amongst the audience, as our giggles settle.

Stephanie knows that what she’s saying is the truth, her truth, our collective truth. So, she doesn’t need pace to prove a point.

There’s a 10 minute comfort break. So, I grab myself some water because the halal friendly vibes mean no one’s going to question why I’m not drinking, and take my seat again.

Straight on is Birmingham Review’s very own, Hassan, who passionately speaks about the confines of religion. Then, Irram, who speaks about curry for breakfast on Sunday mornings and the challenges she experiences as a hijabi who wears her culture and religion proudly on her face.

Next, we’re blessed by separate performances from organisers Ryan and Kohinoor, who are both clearly experienced poets. Then, introduced to Haroon and jodY from BYOB or Bring Your Own Bars, a London poetry collective who Ryan stresses have been hugely influential in his personal spoken-word journey.

jodY’s (BYOB) performance moves me in a different way, even though he’s the only poet on the night to ask for a restart.

jodY becomes his childhood self on stage as he performs his poetry without an aide, physically embodying all of the sadness and rage that his words express. Labelled a naughty child at school, jodY’s dyslexia suffocates him as he recounts choking up whilst being made to read at school. His flow and mannerisms perfectly synced, they are a scarily accurate representation of a child falling into crippling anxiety.

Too many children are made to feel stupid when they just need a different kind of support. I take the time to thank Jody for his performance before I head out. Wait, there’s one more spoken word artist left.

Jada, is a Birmingham based poet who is “Interested in the conversations we are not having and using poetry as a medium to provoke thinking about equality, empowerment and economics”.

In her spoken-word set, Jada’s flow is well-timed and cleverly critical, talking directly to the audience about Kim Kardashian beauty standards and how they impact modern day sex and intimacy. In her final poem Jada’s voice fortifies, calling out the horrific behaviour of our government throughout the pandemic, and sharing her personal loss at being unable to attend her uncle’s funeral.

Empower Poetry’s event leaves me simultaneously fulfilled and exhausted. There is a lot to process. It’s been real, looking forward to the next.

For more, including updates on their next event follow from Empower_Poetry and links to social media, click here.

Snapshots of Mumbai – by Ed King, featuring pictures from Paul Ward

Pics by Paul Ward – all photography in this article has taken from Snapshots of Mumbai

On Saturday 15th August, Birmingham born writer Ed King releases Snapshots of Mumbai – marking 75 years of India’s independence from British colonial rule.

Supporting the text are a series of original images from photographer Paul Ward, who recently won the ‘Fashion Photographer’ category at the British Photography Awards 2020.

Exploring the might and majesty of India, whilst following the roots of British imperialism, Snapshots of Mumbai is ‘a love letter’ to the modern day megacity – published by Review Publishing, owners of Birmingham Review.

The 204 page coffee table book is an anthology of essays and interviews from Mumbai – starting with ‘South City’, a walking tour through the history of this sprawling modern metropolis.

‘Places Behind’ goes deeper under the surface of prominent areas in Mumbai, such as Dhobi Ghats – the world’s largest outdoor laundromat, and Dharavi – Asia’s biggest slum where the film Slumdog Millionaire was set.

‘Modern Gods’ explores three major driving forces behind Mumbai, told through more extensive essays on religion, entertainment, and trade.

Whilst ‘Interviews’ sees Ed King talk directly to of people about their first-hand experiences of living and working in Mumbai.

Featured in the chapter are Saami – a street hawker who works and lives on the streets of Colaba, and Ashwin Merchant – Deputy Director of the Swiss Business Hub, who had to help Mumbai police identify bodies after the 2008 terror attacks, and Naresh Fernandes – a prominent Mumbai based journalist and writer, who was editor of Time Out Mumbai when interviewed.

‘The Gallery’, the final chapter in Snapshots of Mumbai, showcases a special series of twelve photographs from the project by Paul Ward – which have already been on display as standalone exhibitions at both Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Bilston Art Gallery.

Written for audiences who may or may not know the city, Snapshots of Mumbai is also ‘a reminder’ of Britain’s colonial legacy in South Asia – introducing today’s readers to the ‘forgotten history’ of the British Raj.

The first of five books that will follow Britain’s involvement with India – from the trade of the East India Company to the military occupation enforced by the British Crown – the Snapshots of… series will further cover Kochi, Chennai, Kolkata, and Kashmir.

Ed King was born in Birmingham, but has a longstanding relationship with India – having covered music events across the country for a number of UK titles.

Although it was his own ignorance of the history between the two countries that spurred him to write Snapshots of Mumbai.

“The term ‘Empire’ was never taught in my history lessons,” tells Ed King, “it was a left to fade behind tales of the League of Nations and other heroic feathers in caps.

“But the legacy of British India has shaped both countries, tied them together – and it’s becoming part of the world’s conveniently forgotten history.

“I wrote Snapshots of Mumbai because I wanted to learn about the relationship between Britain and India myself. Something I hoped to pass on in an engaging narrative surrounded by beautiful pictures – thank you Paul Ward. This book is not an accusation of ignorance; I want the book to be enjoyed. It is, quite simply, a love letter to the city – an exploration of Mumbai.

“But we should hold on to history and know how the world was formed by our grandparents, our great grandparent’s, and those that came before. It is a frightening and absurd chapter to forget. There’s still an audience for truth.”

Ed King interviewed about Snapshots of Mumbai – filmed at Oikos Café, Erdington

Snapshots of Mumbai is available in both hardback and paperback editions from Saturday, 15 August, release by Review Publishing. 

For more on Snapshots of Mumbai, including links to online sales, visit www.reviewpublishing.net/snapshots-of-mumbai

For more on Paul Ward, visit www.paulward.net

ALBUM: Warriors – REWS 07.08.20

Words by Ed King / Images courtesy of Marshall Records

That difficult second album was a little more challenging for REWS, aka the Belfast born London living rock songstress that is Shauna Tohill.

Not only did Tohill have her band spilt in two, following an absurdly strong debut album, but that pesky global pandemic severed the promo gigs for her follow up right down the middle as well – with concerns over coronavirus cutting short the aptly named Phoenix Tour in early March.

Now, on the red latter date that is 7th August 2020, finally something is going her way. REWS’s sophomore album, Warriors, has hit the shelves – or whatever lexicon describes our current online purchasing patterns. But sterilised, self-isolated, never before touched by human hands copies of this 11 track return to glory are now flinging themselves up and down the country. At least something can.

So, is it any good? Has the wait been worth it?

It is tempting to make similes about the name of the previously cancelled tour… but a mythical bird that is gloriously reborn from the flames and ash of its own demise is quite a fitting symbol. If I can find something in Greek mythology that symbolises a killer rock riff and soaring vocals, then the metaphor may be complete.

But to use the parlance of more modern times, Warriors is ‘a banger’ – start to finish, a wrecking ball of a rock album. Warriors is more mature, robust, and ultimately promising than its predecessor, showing a diversity and bravery in its approach that screams gold stars for Tohill and her team.

Opening with ‘Birdsong’, which is simply a corker of a tune, the album is peppered with chorus catching singles such as ‘Monster’ and ‘Heat on Fire’– standing tall as singles should.

Across the 11 tracks there are moments of wonderful restraint, held against Tohill’s powerful front person persona which has always made REWS such a confident and class act  – the album’s sorta/kinda title track ‘Today We’re Warriors’ is a great line in the sand for this, alongside the furiously addictive ‘Razorblade’.

And whilst Tohill has not lost her flair for melody, it’s the song writing that really shines across Warriors – this is development, and in that crazy good way that makes you believe you’ll be listening to this artist in your dotage.

‘Move On’ is a cracking raw edge, ‘Play Dead’ shows a confident grasp on the new ensemble, and the denouement, ‘Bad Habits’, is a wonderful surprise and goodbye. Or rather, see you later – we hope. And to this writer, lyrically Warriors is unrecognisable from what came before. I just love it.

REWS have often been referred to as a ‘powerhouse’ – and this declaration to not go quietly into the night is another stamp of their increasing authority on modern rock. Which, honestly, it might not have been – with all the hurdles that have been put in front of it, you’d be forgiven for making a few stumbles along the way.

Warriors if the start of something, not the end – with bright red plumes to send it on its way. And if you’ve ever seen Shauna Tohill strut her funky stuff on stage, you know this is going to ABSOLUTELY SLAY live – once the doors are open and the drinks are flowing again. Socially distanced mosh pit anyone?

‘Today We’re Warriors’

Warriors by REWS is out from Friday 7th August, released via Marshall Records. For online orders and other related REWS merchandise, visit www.transistormusic.com/rews_warriors_cd 

For more on REWS, visit www.rewsmusic.com

SINGLES: ‘Today We’re Warriors’ – REWS / ‘Do You Love Me Yet?’ – [SKETCH]

Ed’s note…

A long time ago in a music venue far, far away…

Like much of the entertainment industry, Birmingham Review has been ‘resting’ since the end of March – when we published our last article before all that pesky pandemic malarkey.

Although we were amongst the lucky ones; the venues were closing, the gigs weren’t happening, so a surprise holiday was about the darkest cloud on our horizon. And how many times had we cried out for the ‘life pause button’… Our hats are off and our hearts go out to all the artists and venues who have been much more adversely affected.

But there was one casualty in Camp Review, our gig with REWS – originally scheduled for 21st March at the O2 Institute 3, with local punk-rocksters [SKETCH] supporting – was postponed.

Until when, we didn’t know. No one knew. And there were a lot of questions before that one that people needed answering.

But on Friday 17th July, we can once again celebrate both of these bands – and whilst we desperately still want to see them share a stage, having the same single release day is a pretty good interim measure. So welcome back one and all – and however you’ve been hit by the coronaviris crisis, we wish you all the luck and love you need to make it through x

______________

Words by Ed King / Profile pic by Jude Palmer

‘Today We’re Warriors’ – REWS

Someone once challenged me to name a band, any band, that continuously gets better as they get older – single after single, album after album, tour after tour… still grabbing your attention in the way they first did. Try it. It’s not as easy as it sounds. And you can’t say The Beatles.

REWS, however, are one of these bands – it’s why Birmingham Review has thrown so much page space their way. When we first saw them, they were awesome. The next time they came to Brum, they were even better. The time after that, they had taken another step up. And the story continues…

But the sword of album two was always hanging over their heads, alongside a line up change that was so unfortunately timed it could have derailed any ensemble. Old or new. Pyro was a ferocious debut, a real monster of an album, which is great… but how the f*ck are you going to pull another one of those out the bag???

Kicking off, and we use the adjective/noun deliberately, with a Shauna Tohill signature foot stomping guitar riff, ‘Today We’re Warriors’ is immediately another REWS banger (official term). Add it to the list, pour another shandy, and scream with the windows rolled down – REWS keep getting bigger and bolder.

But with maturity comes confidence, and REWS pull back on the reigns of their new single – with a pause, rim tap, and tempered vocals taking over after about 10secs in. You know that question about ‘still grabbing your attention’… yeah, well, this is how you do that.

But the ferocity we know and love REWS for is not too far behind, with the dance between IN YOUR FACE ROCK and a stripped-back-strut-inducing sound keeping this track on its toes from start to finish. If this is the taste of Warriors – REWS’s sophomore album,  set for release on 7th August – then I might just have an answer to my original question…

“Today were warriors – the song exclaims exactly what the name suggests!” explains Shauna Tohill. “Every morning we wake up, we have a choice in what kind of journey we will lead.  There are dark days where our path is unclear and blocked (some more than others) and that’s when I want to encourage everyone to keep fighting forward, to gather together in the spirit of music with those who are good in your life, to support and respect each other! 

“TODAY, we got this, we will get through this and we will keep moving forward to see a better, positive, thriving and equal future for all women, men, children from all races and backgrounds. Today, we’re warriors!”

‘Today We’re Warriors’ – REWS

‘Today We’re Warriors’ by REWS is out from Friday 17th July, released via Marshall Records. REWS sophomore album, Warriors, is set for release on Friday 7th August – to pre-order a copy, visit  www.transistormusic.com/rews

For more on REWS, visit www.rewsmusic.com

______________

Words by Ed King / Profile pic courtesy of [SKETCH] 

‘Do You Love Me Yet?’ – [SKETCH] 

Infectious. If I was going to review the latest single from [SKETCH] in a word, that would be it. Give me two, and I’d stick ‘seriously’ in as a prefix.

But if this new track from Birmingham’s tartan clad pop punkrocksters doesn’t ignite-the-planet’s-musical-blue-touch-paper-and-shower-down-a-sparkling-rain-of-glorious-audio-technicolour-onto-the-ears-and-mosh-pits-across-the… perhaps two words is a good limit. Seriously infectious… yep, that about sums it up. 

A love song, of sorts, ‘Do You Love Me Yet?’ is “more of an attitude” than a dedication – with [SKETCH] never shying away from using personal experience as inspiration (check out ‘My Girlfriend’s a Vampire’ and keep bear that in mind).

With immediate swagger, the tracks starts off suitably high octane – there is no escape, so you might as well surrender. Front man Foley’s vocals have just the right amount of confidence and grit, slicing through a punchy pop punk masterclass and infectious lyrics. There’s that word again. But seriously (and that one) if you can make it to the end of the chorus with singing along, whether you know the right words or not, then you’re probably dead inside.

“We like to call this an absolute stomper,” tells Matt Robinson – [SKETCH] percussionist, lyricist, general manager, and all round ambassador of the local music scene. “It’s boyish ego mixed with massive vulnerability, and it represents a wider audience… it’s a statement to them.” 

Written by Robinson and Foley, ‘Do You Love Me Yet?’ was conceived “in the rain, in a shed” – then recorded by Gavin Monaghan at his Magic Garden Studios in Wolverhampton. But the contagious little number has already travelled a lot further than up the Birmingham Road, climbing to No10 on Banks Radio Australia Top 15 UK tracks chart.

But don’t fret pet, you don’t have to circumnavigate the world to see [SKETCH] as they have recently announced a rescheduled date for their Hands Off Gretel support slot – now coming to the O2 Academy on 6th December 2020. For more details and links to online ticket sales, click here.

But if December and the idea of standing in a room full of strangers seems too far away, you can always listen to ‘Do You Love Me Yet?’ a little closer to home…

‘Do You Love Me Yet?’ – [SKETCH]

‘Do You Love Me Yet?’ Warriors’ by [SKETCH] is out from Friday 17th July, released through the band’s social media and usual suspect online streaming platforms. For more on [SKETCH], visit www.sketchband.com

________

NOT NORMAL NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual aggression in the music industry and beyond – from dance floor to dressing room, everyone deserves a safe place to play.

To learn more about the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here. To sign up and join the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here.

If you have been affected by any issues surrounding sexual violence – or if you want to report an act of sexual aggression, abuse or assault – click here for information via the ‘Help & Support’ page on the NOT NORMAL NOT OK website.

OPINION: Love in the time of Coronavirus

Words by Ed King

Last week we were counting ‘reported cases’. This week we’re counting ‘deaths’.

I was in India, a country relatively (at that point) unaffected by Coronavirus – there were pockets of contagion in the far north and south, with quick containment, and neither the virus nor the fear had spread very far – the ‘reported cases’ were just tipping 30, whereas the UK was pushing 400.

My return flight was with Air China, including a four hour layover in Beijing. So, each day began with a pot of curd, several cups of chai, and a scan of online news reports to see what airlines were affected – my biggest fear was missing my transfer and getting stuck in China, having been held up coming into Beijing because a Swiss man had lost his jacket. Over 40 minutes on the tarmac, in December, with the bus doors open. I travelled through the UAE when SARS struck and we spent hours in Doha airport being questioned and swabbed – my faith in the Civil Aviation Authority of China, who present themselves like the Ministry of Love when there isn’t a global pandemic, was limited. I needed to readdress my route home.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, from Bangalore to London City. Booked, packed, and ready to go. But by then I was stuck in the daily news cycles (a wagon I’ve been falling in and out of since leaving the world of PR agencies in 2006) and followed the Coronavirus story from CBS to Al Jazeera. Where had the virus been found, who was responding in what way? What public statements of blame and tacit panic were coming from the podiums of what countries? Europe was infighting; North America were wearing slogans on caps. China was silent. The Daily Mail even found a way to blame it on immigration. It was fascial, in my mind, and I braced myself for the circus of panic buying and ignorance that would undoubtedly greet me once I landed in London.

On Tuesday my niece was sent home from school with a fever. An old friend of mine in London is seriously ill. My mum is too afraid to hug me and every handshake I’ve had comes with an air of suspicion. Professionally, I lost near £5,000 in 24 hours and I’m in a better position than most. Every day we huddle round our iPhones to hear Uncle Johnson’s latest fireside chat and watch the doors of our social outlets close until further notice. It’s not a circus; no one is laughing or cheering. There’s no grand finale. Not a fun one, anyway. And the hubris I carried around for the first few days has turned into embarrassment and shame.

Don’t get me wrong, I still see the cracks in the story – the quiet announcements that pave the way for privatisation of our front line services, where ‘strain’ will become ‘support’ from the private sector. The selfishness of consumers and the arrogance of a designer facemask. The special measures being passed through parliament whilst we’re distracted by body counts. The contracts waiting for Big Pharma, who will be painted as ‘pioneers’ and ‘saviours’ as they make billions from a global cough. I’m still skeptical. But, curiously, now, I’m hopeful too.

There’s something else that’s palpable, aside from Google led health concerns, armchair assessments, and crumbling economies; there are other waves washing over the country I both defend and despise. Compassion. Community. A sense of mature camaraderie, that regardless of whether you’re red, blue, yellow, green (or heaven forbid even purple) in your politics this is something beyond the ballot box. And I’m not talking about taking Whitty and Vallance verbatim, which is another conversation, but more the small decisions people are making to simply support one another.

Since Monday, I’ve had conversations in two supermarkets because the men beside me wanted to know “…are you already mate?” My housemate is currently downstairs batch cooking curries for our neighbours. Professional peers are paying my invoices early, where they can, and the largest tour operator in the country has told me I can settle up whenever. I have a WhatsApp group with my family, where we’re sending my sister jokes, gifs, and memes as her household stay under quarantine – I went to bed last night after sharing a video of goats jumping on a wobbly sheet of metal. We haven’t played like this since we were children.

I’m changing too. I’m swapping the self-import analysis of the public domain for community spirit. I’m not Gandhi (Gandhi wasn’t Gandhi) and I’ll start with my own love list first, but I’m going to pitch in. I’m going to do the right things at the right tie, to plagiarism our premier. I’ll probably still go to the pub, until I’m forced not to, but I’ve shut down all my events until August and I’m watching the briefings from Downing Street with a clearer sight. I’m listening. I’m not picking them apart. Well, not as much anyway.

And whilst I will hold onto my belief that there is manipulation in the media, because there is, I’m choosing not to fight that this time. My energy is can be better spent. Rightly or wrongly, people are scared. My friends are scared. My family are scared. Part of me is scared too. And there’s only one way and one emotion I know of to fight fear.

Ed King is Editor-in-Chief of Review Publishing – you can follow Ed King on Twitter at www.twitter.com/EdKing2210

For more on Review Publishing, visit www.reviewpublishing.net/

________

NOT NORMAL NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual aggression in the music industry and beyond – from dance floor to dressing room, everyone deserves a safe place to play.

To learn more about the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here. To sign up and join the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here.

If you have been affected by any issues surrounding sexual violence – or if you want to report an act of sexual aggression, abuse or assault – click here for information via the ‘Help & Support’ page on the NOT NORMAL NOT OK website.