Amsterdam, Brussels, Global, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Marseille, Moscow, Paris, Rome, Sheffield, Stockholm

www.afropean.com: A new Afro European Culture Magazine!

Afropean.com: A New Afro-European Resource

The Afropean is a new online multimedia, multidisciplinary journal exploring the social, cultural and aesthetic interplay of black and European cultures, and the synergy of styles and ideas brought about because of this union.

After winning an ENAR Award for a contribution toward a racism-free Europe with our Afropean Culture Facebook page, we hope to build on the work of Erik Kamble’s important Afro-Europe blog, which closed in 2013, and will continue to shed light on art, music, literature, news and events from the Afro-European diaspora, as well as produce and commission original essays and projects.

The Afropean team: Johny Pitts, Nat Illumine and Alice Gbelia

What’s in store for March…

From the forthcoming photo essay/travel narrative 'An Afropean in Marrakech' coming soon on www.afropean.com

From the forthcoming photo essay/travel narrative ‘An Afropean in Marrakech’ coming soon on http://www.afropean.com

In the coming weeks we’ll have interviews with legendary Belgo-Congolese singer Marie Daulne of Zap Mama, get the lowdown on why French Hip-Hop is still a political force to be reckoned with from UK MC turned-Paris native Apocraphe, and revisit a digital journey down the river Thames, exploring themes of immigration with Caryl Phillips. We’ll look at Arabic Neo-Soul, with an accompanying travel guide and photo essay about Marrakech, get three unique perspectives on what the term ‘Afropean’ means as a cultural identifier, and speak to world record holder and British Nigerian TV Host Andy Akinwolere about Afro-European style. You can also expect news, reviews, and a calender packed with Afro-Europe related talks, calls for papers, exhibitions, events and gigs in our ‘Agenda’ section.

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London

Street Photo: ‘New Europe’

© Johny Pitts Photography 2013

© Johny Pitts Photography 2013

For a few months I’d been toying with the idea of shooting some photographs in Baker Street tube station. I was interested in capturing the old Victorian details that evoke Sherlock Holmes, the vintage lettering left from the turn of the century, the doors that read ‘private’ and the dusty crevices that had preserved the identity of the oldest underground network in the world.

I noticed that a lot of the advertising space had been left with really old adverts, blacked out by pieces of tape so that they weren’t still helping to sell any products that weren’t paid adverts.

I saw a poster of Michael Palin’s ‘New Europe’; a documentary and book released in 2007. Palin is one of Britain’s national treasures, and I too am a fan, but when I saw his advert and the young black Londoner walk past it, I saw an opportunity to comment not only on new European identities, but also the lack of black writers in the pantheon of great travel writing.

It’s important we don’t write off the great European minds who produced such brilliant buildings, and created such a clever infrastructure, but it is also important to make room in our ideas of just who a European is, for those people who might not exactly resemble the historical figures we’re taught about in school, like Sherlock Holmes, for instance.

Europe is a diverse and constantly changing continent, and we need to embrace that.

It’s elementary, my dear reader!

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London, Sheffield

On Having an Afro in Britain…

My white friends from Sheffield always mock me…. “He only pulls ’cause of his afro” they say, if I ever get attention from the opposite sex. I’ve shaved it off on numerous occasions to try prove them wrong, but, alas, I’m afraid they might be onto something.

Even past girlfriends have encouraged me to keep it because they think it makes me look ‘pretty’. Perhaps having a huge fro’ is a natural way of what so-called ‘pick-up gurus’ call peacocking: showing off and standing out from all the other male suitors- expressing my uniqueness, demanding the attention of any prospective mates.

At a typical Sheffield bar called 'Soyo'

At a typical Sheffield bar called ‘Soyo’

I have weird hair; It doesn’t know whether it wants to be white or black. When it is short it is the consistency of what is depicted on old greek statues- waves that break into curls like the riptide of a Hokusai Tsunami. My frilly prose makes that sound more attractive than it is.

In reality the waves are bouncing around all over my head- a whirlpool of wiry springs they can’t be shaped like full Afro hair, but can’t be gelled and styled like European hair, and so I either have to keep it really short or grow it really long.

It's hard to find products designed for mixed race hair, so since being young it has always looked somewhat messy!

It’s hard to find products designed for mixed race hair, so since being young it has always looked somewhat messy!

Short doesn’t suit me much, and I’m not the type that can be bothered to visit the barber’s every couple of weeks to keep it neat anyway, so I often grow it out to an afro because it takes minimum effort. I wash it every couple of days, and only comb it out on the days I wash it. It doesn’t look right when it’s too tidy- I’m aiming more for Maxwell rather than Shaft.

Maxwell was the pioneer of the neo-soul fro' that expressed blackness but also hinted at hippyness

Maxwell was the pioneer of the neo-soul fro’ that expressed blackness but also hinted at hippyness

Once, when I was at a stand-up gig, the comedian told a funny racist joke, and had a bit of banter with my friend Andy and I, who were the only black people in the audience. Andy is a full blooded Yoruba Nigerian, with skin as close as it can be to actually being black. “And you…” the comedian said looking at me “You’re mixed-race aren’t you…but you’ve got an Afro which kind of makes you more black”.

Me with my good friend Andy Akinwolere

Me with my good friend Andy Akinwolere

I’d never thought of it that way, but it’s true- when my hair is short it’s me sort of sitting on the rabbit-proof fence. In the past people have thought I was Arabic, Berber, Fijian, Brazilian, and I even got half-Japanese once. When I grow my Afro though, I’m standing more firmly in the realms of blackness and entering the territory of great pro-black Afro -wearing icons through the ages… Huey P Newton, Angela Davis, Mohammad Ali… Black Belt Jones…

A Fly Brother! Black Belt Jones!

A Fly Brother! Black Belt Jones!

But when my Afro is in full swing, I always have the desperate urge to chop it all off again. When it’s short I miss it, when it’s long I resent it. And why? Because in Europe you can never own an Afro. Once it has grown past a certain length- I’m going to say five inches in all directions- it suddenly becomes public property. You can be on the bus, in a club, at work or at the gym, but there is no escaping the straight-haired clan when they give you that look. A complete stranger will lurch towards you like a zombie with possessed eyes that aren’t making eye contact but focused instead on the space above your forehead, and in almost all instances they’ll touch your hair and say on the breath of an orgasmic release of pleasure “Affrrrrooooo”.

"Oh my GOD It's SO soft!"

“Oh my GOD It’s SO soft!”

This bothers me, and I’m not the type that necessarily shies away from attention. But why? I found out the reason on one particularly tactile night out when I went home to Sheffield. I played a little experiment on the fifth girl who reached out with the afro- goggle eyes and stroked my hair.

I stroked hers back!

She was attractive, and her hair, falling past her shoulders, was mousie brown and silky soft. There was a brief moment where we were stroking each other’s hair in the middle of a club, as complete strangers, and it obviously made her feel deeply uncomfortable. She looked at me like I was out of my mind and scarpered off. At that moment I knew I had found a perfect antidote to the Afro-touching and also why my hair being touched bothered me: It is because the person touching it didn’t see me, they saw a caricature… a funny plaything..a Furby fro…a big piece of black fluff that reminded them of a cute little animal. That’s why they never asked to touch my hair before touching it- you don’t ask a dog if it’s okay to pet it.

Bitch!

It isn’t just white straight-haired women who cause me to get a trim though, it is also other Afro-topped black men, because if you’re going to rock an outlandish fro, you have to make sure you’re the only fro in the village. Going back to the idea of the peacock- there is no doubt that sometimes my hair has got me good attention.

Afros are cool in the right setting, and to be the only man with an Afro at an art gallery, or a member’s bar, allows one to masquerade as an eccentric creative…a Jean Michel Basquiat-type who is black but earthy and cerebral (I use ‘but’ because blackness and anything remotely complex are often promoted as being mutually exclusive).

I was in Japan, standing out and getting all the attention until this dude behind me shows up and steals all my shine!

I was in Japan, standing out and getting all the attention until this dude behind me shows up and steals all my shine!

This is why there is NOTHING worse than when you have finely crafted a niche only to enter the room and see some other scruffy looking arty black dude with a large unkempt fro’.
Seriously- the next time you see two men with afros in the same room, or pass each other in the street watch their body language. They either:

A: Pretend they haven’t seen each other…

B: Stare at each other with hatred for a few moments and move out of each other’s space as soon as possible or…

C: Get caught by one of their white friends who finds the situation hilarious and INSISTS on taking a photograph to put on Instagram.

This doesn’t happen too often though- A lot of young black men choose razor sharp beards, perfectly crafted fades and severely sheared hairlines. My kind of afro doesn’t always go down well with the black crowd and when I last went to my black hair barber, he took one look at my natty hair and tatty clothes and said “are you looking after yourself John? You look like a homeless person”.

The Derulo look is NOT for me!

The Derulo look is NOT for me!

I think this obsession with clean lines and fresh ‘swag’ stems from of an insecurity stemming from colonialism. I wonder if the fear of being seen as ‘jungle bunnies’ still lurks at the heart of the black British subconscious, and so we challenge it with neatness and newness.

This isn’t just a black phenomenon- I’ve noticed how my working class white friends from up north get uber preened for a night out in a way that the upper-middle classes of London mock in their self-assured slobbish understated-ness. There are straight men who are plumbers by trade during the day, and at night get their ridiculously low V-necks out to show off waxed chests and salon-tanned skin. Some even have plucked eyebrows.

The cast of Geordie Shore...

The cast of Geordie Shore…

It seems that if you’re from a community who have historically been seen as an underclass, you try to clean the metaphorical soot and grease off your working class ancestry by over-compensating on the tidyness. I reckon that whole Geordie Shore/Only Way is Essex aesthetic is born out of a desperation to escape ‘Chavdom’, or what Owen Jones calls ‘the demonisation of the working class’.

Indeed, the clothes we associate with ‘Chavs’ themselves are only worn as a way of trying to show you aren’t poor. I myself used to buy brand names on sale from markets in order to ‘keep up’. But when I left home I started to learn you could only keep up in a race you chose to run all by yourself.

During my so-called 'Chav' days.  I bought this shirt for £10 and told everybody it was £90.

During my so-called ‘Chav’ days. I bought this shirt for £10 and told everybody it was £90.

So, having black ancestry rooted in slavery on my Dad’s side and working class white heritage on my Mom’s, I have often tried to dodge and weave my way through class and race by non-conformity, and my hair, whether left long or cut short, seems to be a good starting point when trying to embrace my dual heritage whilst also attempting to transcend it. Just remember that heavy paragraph the next time you mindlessly reach out to ‘pet’ it then, yeah!? 🙂

...And that goes for you too, pigeon!

…And that goes for you too, pigeon!

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Amsterdam, Brussels, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Paris

10 Classic Escapist Music Videos for The Afropean Traveller

Few arts have developed the idea of Afropean as an aesthetic like music.
Presented here are ten particularly beautiful videos born from a musician’s vision in which something fresh emerges from what W.E.B DuBois described as the ‘double consciousness’ of the black diaspora experience. They are also videos that transport us through time and space, and explore ideas of black travel out of wanderlust, rather than usual notions of illegal immigration and displacement. If nothing else, they’re great escapist visuals for a cold Monday night to help ease us all into late Autumn/early Winter.

Maxi Priest ‘Close To You’

Maxi Priest is a British- Jamaican artist who gained popularity in the late 80’s as a pioneer of fusion reggae, a mixture of smooth quiet-storm soul and rare groove moods with reggae. This violet video, with influences of Nubian North Africa, perfectly captures the essence of his sound- soulful and tinged with the tropics.

Orelha Negra ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’

Orelha Negra are Portugal’s premier soul band, and this video is a stunning love letter to Europe’s oldest city, and the place where their music is born: Lisbon.

The Pharcyde ‘She Said’ (J Dilla Rmx)

A bit of a cheat, this one. Yes The Pharcyde are from the West Coast of America, but their brand of alternative Hip-Hop found a home in Europe in the 1990’s, probably more than it did in the States, and here is the band on tour in Amsterdam. The visuals are beautiful and capture the sentiment of this J – Dilla remix.

Sade ‘Sweetest Taboo’

Sade Adu has always personified elegance and effortlessly weaves her multiculturalism into something completely unique. Of middle-class Nigerian and British heritage, Sade was born in Ibadan Nigeria, but moved to Greater London with her parents when she was a child. Sade songwriter and band member Stewart Mathewman was instrumental in creating the neo-soul movement, and went on to produce Maxwell’s classic ‘Urban Hang Suite’. The video sums up their sound, splicing the melancholy with the romantic.

Zap Mama ‘Brrrlak’

Marie Daulne of Zap Mama might well be credited with being the first person to coin the term ‘Afropean’ when she released her ‘Adventures in Afropea’ LP in the early 90’s. Her father was a Belgian man, tragically killed by Simba Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her Mother was of Bantu heritage and it is through listening to her African chants and songs that Marie was first inspired to create her own sound. Born and raised in Brussels’ Congolese quarter ‘Matonge’, Marie started her musical journey with an acappela quintet, but eventually made her transition into more funk and soul influenced sounds and also took on the ‘Zap Mama’ moniker for herself. This video for their first single featuring the original line up ‘bumpin’ in the desert’ can’t fail to put a smile on your face…

Joy Denalane ‘Was Auch Immer’

Has the harsh German language ever sounded so mellifluous? Joy Denalane has German and South African roots and grew up in the hip Kreuzberg district of Berlin, before it was hip, of course. This video isn’t filmed on an exotic desert island, but Joy’s vocals and the colours she brings some how makes Berlin seem as Tropical as Havana!

Kaoma – ‘Lambada’

Kaoma, the French-Brazilian pop group with the song everybody knows and loves. The music video is one of the most joyful ever made, and references the idea of the Lambada being a ‘forbidden dance’.

Les Nubians – ‘Makeda’

Hélène and Célia Faussart grew up in Paris but are heavily influence by the sounds and styles of their motherland Chad. They broke onto the international scene with their classic album ‘Princesses Nubians’ which became a surprise hit with the American neo-soul crowd. Undoubtedly influenced by their Afropean forerunners Zap Mama and Sade, they popularised the ‘Afropean’ term more than any other act during the 1990’s. Another video based in a city, but with beautiful colours and cherry blossoms.

Ayo – ‘Life is Real’

I interviewed Ayo, a tall, stunning woman of Nigerian and Romany heritage a few years ago in Paris, and she told me her tumultuous life story with an incredible lightness of being. Her Mother, a romany gypsy, was a lifelong drug addict and Ayo was brought up mainly by her father in Germany. Thus her music, which she describes as ‘African Gypsy Soul’ has the various influences you’d expect from a lifelong traveler…from folk to reggae, soul and Afrobeat. This video was filmed in Nigeria and lilts along just like Ayo’s music.

Buika – ‘No Habrá Nadie En El Mundo’

Latin Grammy award winning singer Buika grew up in Mallorca, Spain and has, in my opinion, one of the most beautifully rich voices in contemporary music. African and Spanish rhythms have always worked well together, and with Buika’s voice at the helm the combination is enough to melt your soul!

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Girl, Excel 3 Click the link and then the photograph to see a photo-essay in collaboration with Caryl Phillips

All Images © J A Pitts

London

London, Immigration & The Thames…

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