OPINION: Shouting in the dark

Words by Ed King

There is a side to me I don’t like. A small boy stomping his feet through the halls of men. It comes out in conversation first, then in the tone of my voice, and if we’re all really lucky I’ll stand up to underline my point. Adult churlishness born from a child in need and a lifelong trait that can be surmised in two words.

Hear me.

I was out drinking the other day, at a local pub with enough familiarity for me to know both the people in my peripheries as well as those at my table. It was a sunny afternoon, in every sense of the expression; the sky was clear and the beer garden alive, and I was happy. I am happy. And sitting with a relatively full pocket and belly I was better than happy, I was content. Then someone I don’t know mentions a man I’ve never met – a public figure prominent in certain circles – and my options cascade across the picnic bench with that-oh-so-tired rising inflection, like an acerbic stand up when they no longer care for their audience.

My point was valid and referenced, sure, as Bill Hicks said, “you can’t be this much of an asshole without the truth on your side.” But my delivery was tinged with the desperate cries from that bottomless pit where I assume no one is listening to me. So I didn’t stop, becoming more exasperated with each empty reply, when all anyone around me wanted to do was play nice. Sunny afternoon, pub, friends, you get the picture. I knew I was doing it too. I knew then and I know now, and I’ll know every time I do it again. But I’ll do it again.

Please, hear me.

I also know why I do this, which is the real kicker. Years of sober analysis had made this pretty clear to me. But that’s a different op-ed. This is about my frustration at myself, and that the only thing worse than putting your hand back in the flame is knowing it’ll hurt when you do. This is the side I really don’t like, my narcissistic self harm – a perpetual commitment to fucking it up, with an incredulous scorn as the earth doesn’t stop turning when I do. I’m being unfair to myself here, perhaps; I’d honestly hate to have that attention or focus. And it’s probably not as bad as it is in my head. Anymore. But I dislike myself intensely for still shouting in the dark and even more for wanting the whole world to listen. It’s my ego and it hurts me. It hurts others. It’s the child of my youth banging his small fists on the table. It’s the loss of security, and it’s a dark corner that I simply do not need to escape from anymore.

I need you to hear me.

It’s also why I write, my chosen form of expression from an early age and across both my adult and professional lives. I can play with words when I write; I can use them accordingly, or twist them for humour and simple pleasures. I can use them loudly or quietly. I can sharpen them to such a point that you won’t be aware of the attack until they’re impaled in your midriff. But with the written word you get stop, you get to edit, and there is no audible tone of voice. Things ‘work’ in a way that they don’t when I speak, which makes my time in the rest of the world often fraught and unnecessary. I like myself more when I write, and I sense other people like me more too. And greatest of all, for everyone, I don’t have to shout. I don’t have to steamroll a conversation. What I wanted to say will sit there, stoic and silent, until you arrive at it without me having to stand up or open my mouth. Joy, all round. And breathe out.

I read an interview with Anthony Hopkins a few days ago, hooked onto his performance as King Lear but delving a little further behind the curtain; Hopkins has a history of ill temper and aggression, one that cost him two marriages and a relationship with his daughter. And whilst I’m not sure I fully believe him, it sounds like something you practice saying because you need to, but I’ve been trying to keep the following words in my mind:

“I don’t get into arguments, I don’t offer opinions, and I think if you do that, then the anger finally begins to transform into drive.”

This is what I would like you to hear.

The man across from us, the one with steroid stained muscles and strained eyes, has taken his shirt off. His friends are still arguing with the bouncer, a curiously small man, and have begun rolling both their shoulders and the bottles in their hands. I can hear the voices raise but I don’t think anything will happen, there are too many families around and it’s not that kind of afternoon. It would be too unpleasant. And I don’t get the sense that any of them, not even the man who is now literally beating his chest, actually want it to escalate. It’s just posturing; it’s just alcohol, testosterone, and honestly it’s a little dull. So I tune out, letting the angry declarations fall short of my eardrums.

Even his friends are starting to turn their backs now, I don’t blame them. It’s a beautiful afternoon, we’re surrounded by people who care for us, and who wants to listen to nonsense like that.

Ed King is a Birmingham based writer and editor. His book, Snapshots of Mumbai, is set for release through Review Publishing in August 2018 – featuring pictures from Paul Ward. Follow Ed King @edking2210

For more on Snapshots of Mumbai, visit www.snapshotsofmumbai.com

OPINION: The making of European English

OPINION: The making of European EnglishWords by Johnny Kowalski / Pics by Sarah Tohin

N.B. Johnny Kowalski & the Sexy Weirdos play at the Hare & Hounds on Sat 20th May – celebrating the run up to their third album, European English – out this summer. For direct info and online ticket sales, click here.

It all started in 2014. We’d just made and released our album Kill the Beast, and to anyone who was listening (which wasn’t many people) we were selling that album. Inwardly though, we were already groping towards the album number 3. Our first album had been cobbled together DIY style. Our second album, Kill The Beast, was made in a ‘big name’ studio, and although Gav Monaghan (Editors, The Twang) did a great job, it pointed us in the direction of the album we wanted to make next. Which was something more fucked up.

So we set off on a five week tour of Europe. The phrase ‘five week tour of Europe’ sounds impressive,  but it was a crowning children’s crusade in a surprisingly long litany of daft adventures. We’d managed to book around 12 gigs for that entire period, and though we had sporadic lodgings sorted we were effectively condemning ourselves to periods of pointless homelessness.

The first show was in Paris where we narrowly avoided a fight with some children on the way in, and played in a tiny, packed basement to an audience who seemed to take me very seriously, observing us as if they were at the theatre. After playing in Orlean we had a 14 hour van journey to the French Mediterranean to play in a steak bar by the sea. We stayed a few nights, met a guy who could balance a bike on his face, bought cannabis off a police officer and dreamed of bank heists. From there we went on to a squatted football club near Milan, and then eastwards across Italy. We spent a sweaty night in the van near lake Garda drinking cheap wine, a night so bad I had to remind myself being in the Sexy Weirdos isn’t compulsory. This was followed by a weekend of spontaneous gigs in beautiful Verona, then onto Trieste, stopping in Slovenia and Austria, before landing in our temporary home of Josefov.OPINION: The making of European English / Sarah Tohin

Josefov is an Austria Hungarian fortress town near the border of Poland in the north of the Czech Republic. It has over forty kilometers of tunnels beneath its surface, and a wall around the outside so thick that goats and sheep live on top of it. It’s under populated, inhabited only by a small group of Romani gypsies and a few artists – one of which is a classical sculptor that rides his horse bare back around the town every day. All of this, as well as the preceding tour, meant that the Sexy Weirdos were feeling pretty God damn epic when we set up our equipment and played whatever was going through our stupid heads.

I’ve got to admit it; at first it annoyed the hell out of me. It felt like everyone was self indulging rather than composing, and there didn’t seem to be a discernible gap anywhere for vocals. I had no lyrics prepared, and was spooked by having to sing them in front of everyone without obsessing over them in private for months on end first.

However, something was emerging.

So that’s the romantic genesis story behind European English. The middle part of the story involves us slowly improving and adding to the tracks we wrote in that Austro Hungarian fortress town over the next couple of years, in OPINION: The making of European English / Sarah Tohinrehearsal rooms and on stages. Being of limited financial resources and having poor organisational skills has meant that the recording process has been incredibly trying at times. Hell, it took us far too long to even start recording. Multiple deadlines have been missed. We’ve screwed it up; other people have screwed it up too. Tempers have been frayed, and at times, harsh words have been spoken.

However, no blood has been spilled. And the end is in sight. At present, we have mixes being finalised, two potential covers being argued over, and several pieces of video to launch at you in the near future.

We also have a limited edition E.P featuring two entirely new tracks (‘Megahorse’ and ‘Flight Of The Juniper’), backed with remixes and collaborations that have not been given a physical release before. This will only be available at our gig on Saturday 20th May at the Hare and Hounds (Kings Heath). We hope that you join us for that gig, buy a copy of the E.P and support the album when it’s finally released.

I’d like to leave you with the reasons for choosing the title European English.

The album is called European English for three reasons:

A) A reference to the dialect of English spoken between European people using English as a necessary second language.

B) An acknowledgement of the bands’ wider musical influences (see tracks such as ‘Serbian Rumba’ and ‘Sicilian Silian’). The cannon of cool guy bands we’re all supposed to like has been too narrow for too long.

C) A gesture of solidarity with those individuals from mainland Europe who have touched both our individual lives and our existence as a band, which includes our Greek percussion player, our violin player’s half French children, those that helped us stay at the Czech fortress town (Josefov) where we wrote most of the album, alongside many others from many different European countries. There is a good chance that without this support coming from overseas, our band may not exist today.

Our idea of Europe is wide enough to include anyone who comes here and peacefully makes it their home, of whatever persuasion, from wherever they may come.

This album is not a statement about the European Union.

‘Megahorse’ (taken from European English) – Johnny Kowalski & the Sexy Weirdos. To play, click here or on the image below:










Johnny Kowalski & the Sexy Weirdos play at the Hare & Hounds on Sat 20th May. For direct gig info and online ticket sales, click here.

For more on Johnny Kowlaski & the Sexy Weirdos, visit www.sexyweirdos.bandcamp.com

OPINION: I wish it could be Christmas…

OPINION: I wish it could be Christmas... / Ed King




Words & lead pic by Ed King

‘As long as that’s here, I’ll be OK. I can drink that; by the time the line gets below the bottom of the red shield, past the emblems, the cursive and the thick bold type, I’ll feel OK. I don’t need a mixer but I have orange juice or lemonade. There’s even ice in the fridge. If there’s time.’

I would have this conversation with myself at least once a day. Usually at lunchtime or as I’m lying in bed. I had no bedtime anymore. I woke up earlier too – an odd by product of addiction – with an inbuilt alarm clock running on fear or necessity. Life was a drawing of Gin Lane and it’s a cold Tuesday morning when you’re waiting for Victoria Wine to open.OPINION: I wish it could be Christmas...

In the end, the precise cut lines of the Smirnoff logo turned into the rounded edges of Grants. The world became numb. Anesthetized. The colours stayed the same, as did the schedule and as did the fear. But the necessity got worse as the price tagged dropped, like some symbiotic downward spiral. My ability to ration found levels almost as frightening as my denial. It was around this time that I began to question my drinking.

Vodka and orange in the morning, first thing. Then another. I’d make one for the shower and have a forth with toast. With a healthy pour, this could be a third of a litre gone by breakfast. Then I’m ready for the day. I’d struggle through the morning, taking a half-and-half bottle to work and hiding behind the same masks as everyone else, and then get back on track at lunchtime. Or just before if I could conjure a meeting. Order a beer, drink it quick, pretend you don’t notice, then order another one before your colleagues have time to say “…but you hold it well”. We all knew I didn’t. But I could order a shot at the bar both times, and there was always the vodka – hiding and ready should oblivion ever be needed.

I was eighteen years old. I kept this going until I was at least twenty two.

It started with abuse, neglect and aggression. As many acts of obnoxious self destruction will. Locked in a house with a sexual bully for a step brother and the ‘Ice Queen’ for a stepmother, although pantomimes were ultimately a lie. I was six, when Andrew made me play the games I never understood. The ones that always ended with me getting beaten up and made to hide under his bed. The rest of the house was even less fun – three floors of cold anger, radiating from our weekend matriarch as she stalked from once acerbic non sequitur to another, threatening my eight year old sister like a violent hybrid of Sylvia Plath and Cruella de Vil (I would honestly like to find something positive to say about this time and place in my life, and I guess it’s either ‘Mojo’ or ‘Chris’. But one was a cat, the other was ten, and neither has sanctity on their job descriptions).

I remember my childhood best by houses and the ‘weekends at Leamington’ were when, and where, it all came together. Or undone. But eventually every weekend became every fortnight, before sliding into the forever to be blessed ‘occasional days’. The wild stab of parenting poking fun at itself with an oddly honest moniker. I didn’t care. With every step I was freer than before.

By the time I was fourteen I never had to go back, and had already discovered blotter paper acid (my wings of mercy, then hell) and smoked much more than I drank. But when peer platforms and public expectations/acceptance kicked in, around that sweet sixteen spot, I found alcohol much more than reliable. It was legal, kind of, and I could sit on a park bench with a clearly visible reason. I could share it, even if only to dilute the guilt. But no one would call the police and a bottle of Bulgarian Cellars was the same price as a Blue Penguin. I probably wouldn’t have even have been expelled. And I could eat.

I functioned highly for several years – an existence not as fun as it sounds. You get away with very little. But I was earning money, having sex, and being successful in interviews; I grew up, of sorts. I built things, I destroyed things, and I still have friends left. I even gave up drinking. Twice. I went to AA, Aquarius and numerous third sector councilors, before my mother locked my in a room with nothing but a bottle of Jacob’s Creek and my own face to stare at. Three months later I emerged like a shaky butterfly, torn and frayed by still just about able to fly. I still remember the first time I went into the town centre sober.

Now that broken boy is a long way behind me. The wounds are scars. And although I can knock back the shots, and the angry is ‘still there mum’, I am nothing of the shadow I once was. It’s Boxing Day and there’s alcohol all around me, but I’m not drinking. I had two glasses of Malbec at Christmas dinner without realising, and the champagne on OPINION: I wish it could be Christmas...arrival is still sitting half touched on the window sill. The cheap French stubbies are unopened and there’s a bottle of rum in my kitchen I’ve used only for baking. Tonight I’m staying in, watching The Goonies and Gremlins back to back. I’m not thinking about New Year’s Eve until New Year’s Eve and I’m already scaling back my ideas for that.

It’s also on days like today that I remember one of the ‘moments of clarity’ from my early twenties – a man who had come to speak at an Aquarius meeting I once attended. He was ‘an inspirational speaker’ who had ‘survived’ the ‘disease’ that is alcoholism. He was very animated and very angry, and wouldn’t walk on the same side of the road as a pub beer garden (or even an off license) because of the ‘blind addiction that is ruining society, being sold and taxed by a government that doesn’t want to care about its people.’ He didn’t care about us, and even then, as I dug chewed nails into weak skin, I could at least see that. There was nothing in this man to admire or to aspire to be; he was ‘full of shit’ and still ‘broken’ by his ‘personal choice’. The Feudal System. The East India Company. The National Lottery. Your own life. His was no more a freedom than my previous daily routine.

I’m writing this to get ahead of New Year’s Eve Resolution #3 – be more honest with my writing. And start at the start, right? But in this time of orchestrated celebration and endorsed excess, I say find your peace. Your peace. Be merry, if you can. Don’t be me or that man. Be happy.

And if you can be a happy drunk, one who’ll wake up sober with just the right amount of regret, then I’ll raise a glass, deck the halls and sing along. Hogarth be damned.

Ed King is a writer and editor of Birmingham Review. Follow him @edking2210


OPINION: Where have all the rebels gone?


Words by Helen Calcutt / Lead pic by Tina Barnes – Red Storm Productions 

**Oct 6th is National Poetry Day 2016 as organised by Forward Arts Foundation. To find out more about the UK wide initiative, visit www.nationalpoetryday.co.uk / For more on Forward Arts Foundation, visit www.forwardartsfoundation.org**

I write because if I didn’t, life as I know it would be a struggle. It’s in my bones to transform experience into verse and song. It is also therefore insurmountably important that I read good poetry: challenging, thought-provoking poetry, and that, whether from a new voice or not, this poetry is circulated. Circulation, as we all know, comes from publication and hopefully deserved recognition. At the moment there’s a wave of writers; fresh, startling, genuinely different; that simply aren’t being recognised by the very factions that encouraged them to start writing in the first place. And this, Dear Reader, is a big problem.oct-6-national-poetry-day-logo-red-amber-portrait

As a poet, I’m starkly aware of the damage that’s being done to writers and poets of magnificent quality: both young and old, seasoned or just starting out. Yet either because of their ‘demure’, the challenging quality of their work, or their non-existent desire to professionally hobnob, they find themselves, with regards to publishing at the very least, at the back of the queue.

This is a tricky subject, one with which you’re no doubt familiar, but also perhaps a little afraid to publicly comment on. Another thing of which I’m certain is that a great number of poets are too nervous to openly offend the current state of affairs, firstly because they think it would damage their social standing, and secondly, diminish any further publishing opportunities. You would think ‘the poet’: the verbal revolutionary, would be the first to take the plunge and open her heart on such matters. But this doesn’t seem to be the case. I’m repeatedly surprised by how many carry along blind with the proverbial bandwagon, hailing every other blithely thing ‘excellent’ because someone else a little further up the chain told them it was. There’s very little celebrated in the high realms of literary London these days actually worth watching. But this doesn’t mean the stuff worth reading, and the poets worth revering, aren’t out there.

A number of small independent presses are pushing through, bringing us some remarkable talent (see Flarestack Poets as a starting point.) But who is actually reading these books? The Forward Prize for poetry this year was nothing short of predictable (though I can resolutely celebrate the prize for best single poem from Sasha Dugdale). Nothing about the winner’s work stood out as anything new.  The last thing I want to do is criticise the quality of the work, there’s no denying that it’s good writing.  But it’s just not distinct enough.  These are big awards, and should be given to writers of enormous vision.

One of the most frustrating issues here is that these visionary poets are out there. They’re published, but not by the larger presses. And not every kind of press is welcome to put their writers forward. Pamphlet or chapbook collections for example, are exempt from the Forward Prize, which is absurd. Some of the finest poets we have today are published in chapbook form. Creating a pamphlet is an art form in its own right, and while every poet wants a full-length collection to their name, in order to give new voices the readership they deserve – outside the immediate audience of the press – we have to open up the channels of opportunity. Allowing pamphlet presses to forward their collections would be a start, especially now the PBS Pamphlet Awards have fallen through. I asked a number of writers, all deeply involved in this profession, if they had seen the Forward results, and the common response was a shrug. Either out of frustration, boredom, or both – they have simply stopped caring.

I deeply admire the presses and publishing houses that were listed this year, but as a reader especially, I’m not getting what I need from their books. I address all major publishers and presses when I say: be braver. To the poets? I send the same message. If the publishers aren’t looking hard enough, listening deeply enough: make more noise. The reason we’ve had a surge in self-publishing in the last fifteen or so years, isn’t because poets think they can do a better job than an editor. It’s because poets can’t get an editor to look twice at their work. It’s because it’s all too soul-destroying to have the fruits of your labour, lasting some seven or eight years, rejected because – well, who are you? Sadly it’s becoming the case that if you don’t know the right people in the circuit, or aren’t willing to exhaust yourself with social weathering, you’re royally f*cked.

I exaggerate here, but it’s to make a point. Suppressing the urgency and light of poetry that needs to be read – the sort that makes us uncomfortable, and criticise ourselves – will seriously damage our cultural immune system. We need art that both grounds and debilitates; that tests and embraces us, and we need to it from an array of voices. If you recycle the same substance over and over, it becomes putrid. If we keep reading the same ideas, phrased slightly differently, tarred with a different brush, you get lazy. ‘This is the way to write poetry’ we think. And this is also, a problem.

poets-corner-web-coloursIt seems to me, whether by standards dropping from publishers, or a lost desire to be challenged, that we’re rapidly losing touch with how to read genuinely innovative, ground-breaking poetry. There was a time when everyone used to go to readings, not just poets. It’s very difficult to work on the gold standard of writing when you’re just reading to another bunch of writers. Dylan Thomas would perform to sell-out audiences made up of people from all walks of life, who could engage with his work simply because they understood it to be breath-taking. What happened there? I go to poetry readings now, both local and small, big and influential, and it’s just full poets talking to other poets, eating cake, patting each other on the back and telling everyone in the room they’re doing a wonderful job. And what is the point in that?

At the beginning of the month I hosted an episode of Radio Poets on this very subject. The broadcast featured Flarestack Poets editor Jacqui Rowe, Black Country poet Elinor Cole, and performance poet Fergus McGonical. All are writers and editors I admire; both for the work they create and also for the poets they invest in. Though feeling trepidation, I found myself sharing a platform with three poets who, although very different, shared my views. When asked ‘are there enough opportunities for young writers today’, their answer was no. When asked if they believed there is a formula to success, generally based on a ‘winning style’ –and the spice of ‘who you know’ rather than what you can write, the answer was a muddled sort of yes. Though there are undisputed efforts to change the rotation of winners within the circuit, the solidly agreed point was that there needs to be fair, balanced opportunities – based on the understanding that there aren’t enough. We need writing to be judged by writers who are genuinely interested in the power of the work, or its potential (see www.lamplightpress.co.uk for a prime example) not the friend of last year’s judge, who is this years’ winner. Or a musician-come-Pollockesque-artist drafted in to give this years’ Forward Judging Panel the cool factor.

Changes are being made, and some exciting work is coming through. National Poetry Day is a fine example of one long-standing event that celebrates and nurtures a range of poetic voices from all over the world. The newly launched Verve Poetry Festival too, is specifically designed to cater for a wealth of talented voices desperately needing a welcome platform from which to share their work. But the message we receive as writers, day-in-day out is often the same – ‘if you write like this, you will achieve success.’ The new now in poetry is always very similar to what we just had, and this is both tedious and depressing. I put this idea to the panel, and it was Fergus who made the powerful point that, as a writer, you have to be yourself.

It’s the age old argument, but the roots of the issue have been squashed almost to the point of elimination. We’re so hell-bent on driving home some ‘idea’ of who we are, probably in order to fit in with the idealistic ‘I’ of whatever fits, that we’ve left the genuine element behind. The shamanistic view is that in order to know a person, you have to retreat from them as deeply as you can. In order to understand the ‘self’ too, you have to distance yourself from it: distill it in some way and then, over time, stand back to observe how it behaves. The true act of writing poetry is most definitely a way of touching the deeper corners of the spirit, separate enough from the self to both observe and absorb. Though crucially (another Fergus point) this takes a very, very long time. The problem is that the world of publishing seems obsessed with the quick fix method: “Here’s a cool new face with a sort of inspiring idea, let’s fling it out there and see what happens!” Not good. Publishing in 2016 rakes at one thing, and real poets, claw at another. Writing good poetry that does the job it’s meant to do takes all the sweat, blood and effort in the world. Furthermore it absolutely has to come deeply from the poet’s own self, simultaneously drinking outwards from the immune system, exposing not just the personal wound but also (hearkening to M.L. Rosenthal) tapping into a shared, social conflict, electrifying the universal airwaves through the music and power of language alone.

As you can imagine, this can take a very long time. And not many poets working today are either aware, or really being allowed the proper space or time to achieve this. If they do, their work is largely undelivered. And if it’s out there, they’re one of the lucky few.

I consider myself an incredibly lucky poet. All my successes have come about through the quality of my work, admired by the right people. I would say Elinor Cole, a young poet with glimmering potential is going a similar way. She made a profoundly uplifting point, one that I’m re-phrasing to close this feature. When I asked her about her journey as a poet, she said that she had been very lucky. The charm of her Black Country work had grabbed the attention of the charity Poets Corner, who in turn offered performing and publishing opportunities. Cole’s writing is in many ways verve_logo_retinairresistible, very of its place, and remarkably unlike Liz Berry’s Walt Disney rendition of the bleak, stark realities of the Black Country. But when asked her opinion of opportunities for her peers, who don’t hold that ‘sensationalist’ performance package, she said, bar a few transformative groups there simply aren’t enough. The scene is swamped with one format, and for someone starting out who doesn’t work in the expected (or accepted) way, this is almost impossible to overcome. I put the final question to the floor: ‘where is this all going? Can we smash through, and generate a new era of poetic power?’ Elinor spoke again. Her idea was this: those writers who struggle, that suffer timeless rejection – who are good and who deserve publication – will be the ones to go on and change the face of the publishing industry. With compassion and drive, these poets and editors will reform the current quick-fix sensational mess the poetry publishing world is made of. En masse, they will create the wealth of sensitive, intelligent, language-loving opportunities they should have had, for the future voices that deserve them. To abbreviate on an upside, and end with a message – things will change for the better. They will evolve.

So where did all the rebels go? Nowhere. There’s one sitting right here telling you that the world is full of compelling, insurgent poetic voices; the only problem is that they aren’t being heard. However, this doesn’t mean you stop writing. In fact, it’s a reason to do more. Let’s face it, the situation of poetry publishing today is not a true reflection of what it should, or could be, and while there are some incredible efforts being made to broaden the scope it’s not enough. My advice? Keep your fingers on the pulse. Be alert, dig with the pen. Keep pushing with your own voice. It’s the only way anyone will really, truly hear you.


Helen Calcutt is a poet, writer and choreographer. Helen hosts the Radio Poets show on Brum Radio – next broadcast on 25.10.16

For more on Helen Calcutt, visit www.helencalcutt.org or follow her on Twitter @HelenCalcutt


OPINION: What is Afrofuturism?

What is Afrofuturism? / Held at Birmingham Hippodrome on Saturday 24th SeptemberWords by Juice Aleem

*Juice Aleem will be organising & hosting the AfroFlux – what is Afrofuturism? event as part of the B-Side Hip Hop Festival, free to attend at the Hippodrome on Saturday 24th September.  For more info, click here.*

You may have heard the term ‘Afrofuturism’ being thrown about a lot in recent years. And if not it’s been behind the scenes in many of your favourite music videos and sci-fi films.

In its purest explanation it’s simply a way of seeing Black people in the future. A future that too often forecasts an image with little to no melanated peoples: A way to escape the drudgery of the traditional all white male winning all the time narrative and it’s far more sinister real life big brothers of racism, sexism and colonialism.

Even groundbreaking TV projections such as the original Star Trek, only had Lt Nyota Uhura and Lt Hikaru Sulu as leading nonwhite characters. When yesterday has already been bleached of your presence the least one could expect is to see themselves somewhere in the tomorrow of a sci-fi TV show. After all, it’s not real is it? It’s just entertainment.

With the original peoples of many areas of the Earth slowly disappearing due to pollution, disease and warfare in this at times harsh real life of ours. We who have the will, creativity and ability, not only seek to protect our elder family, but project a tomorrow where our children are not hated or hunted for being of darker shade to what is deemed ‘mainstream’?

Today’s news and yesterday’s history books show a picture of Black and brown bodies being enslaved, beaten, choked, evicted, lynched, polluted, bombed and all-round disrespected. The today of this now has us in a place where Black women cannot go to school or work without being chastised for their natural hair and skin tones. And even then those same women are cursed again for bleaching and wearing hairstyles unalike their nature.

The mainstream media ask us to believe that Black, brown and poor people stab, shoot and even break their own backs once we come into contact with law enforcement. This is how the mainstream often presents Black people. Unless Juice Aleemsinging or playing ball there is often little way to swim out. Be basic or be invisible. This mainstream predicts a future with no Black people at all. Swimming through this tide towards freedom, a new way has had to be presented.

Afrofuturism is that new tomorrow. A blend of ancient myth and modern technology remixed to fit the future of those who travel it. There are many mainstream artists, activists and scholars who use its imagery and techniques but its peaks in the AvantJazz of Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman are a great place to become initiated. Other spaces it inhabits include Dub Reggae and Electro. The elements that have been left us flood into films such as Blade and musicians like Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. The heroes of these pieces are left to be themselves and experiment without having to continually explain who and what they are.

Imagine Storm of the XMen, flying solo to save the day with the sonics of Public Enemy as the backdrop. If you can imagine that then you are at least a small part of the way to understanding what Afrofuturism is.

Juice Aleem will be organising & hosting the AfroFlux – what is Afrofuturism? event as part of the B-Side Hip Hop Festival, free to attend at the Hippodrome on Saturday 24th September. For more on AfroFlux – what is Afrofuturism? click here.

Juice Aleem is a Birmingham based rapper & producer. For more on Juice Aleem, click here.