Monday, 27 December 2010

NewAfricanPerspective: BBM Dozen: Music To Uplift You in 2011

NewAfricanPerspective: BBM Dozen: Music To Uplift You in 2011

BBM Dozen: Music To Uplift You in 2011

During British Black Music Month in June 2010, Toyin at Nyansapo Radio requested my top 12 "militant tunes". I put this list together, drawn exclusively from the British black music canon, which I hope will minister to you, uplift and encourage you:

1. Gabrielle 'Ten Years On' - we have to plan, think, reflect sometimes - it's NOT always ACTION straight-away

2. Soul II Soul 'Keep On Moving' - we sometimes need exhortation, encouragement to move on and up

3. Young Disciples 'Apparently Nothing' - the funkiness of the groove and sweet sound of Carleen Anderson's vocals belie the deep socio and political critique of the song

4. HKB Finn 'Don't Give Up The Fight (Sisters)' - the title is self explanatory

5. McKoy 'Fight' - conscious, uplifting soul music

6. Aswad 'Back To Africa' - articulating the 1970s experience of the disenfranchised African youths and looking to Africa and Rasta

7. Aswad 'Three Babylon' - a telling view of the police from disenfranchised African youths

8. Steel Pulse 'Ku Klux Klan' - it's about racism here in the UK, not in America's Deep South

9. Bashy 'Black Boys' - a young African turning things around by focusing on positives and bigging up fellow African youths

10. Des'ree 'I Ain't Movin'' - enough said

11. Eddy Grant 'Give Me Hope Jo'Anna' - rare crossover political song!

12. Labi Siffre '(Something Inside) So Strong' - The more you refuse to hear my voice, the louder I will sing - enough said!

Black Music Congress (BMC)

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Three Oxford University Educated Africans, 2 Different Perspectives

Former Ghanaian President John Kuffour saw no need for Europeans to apologise for the trans-Atlantic enslavement of Africans, nor did he think there was a case for reparations for enslavement and colonialisation. He was happy to officially open University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation in 2006. When he spoke of Wilberforce’s “legacy”, one hopes he saw the Abolitionist’s work in terms of end the trafficking, and not enslavement itself.

Another Oxbridge educated Ghanaian head of state, former Prime Minister Kofi Busia, was so steeped in a Western mindset, he famously informed the British media: “Oxford made me what I am today.” A highly educated man, but from whose perspective?

There’s nothing wrong with Oxford or Western education per se. It’s how it’s viewed and applied that’s at issue. Take for instance the pan-Africanist Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem. Even though he applied for the Rhodes scholarship, he did not give the selection panel an easy ride. He deliberately wore traditional Africans clothes to the interview and quizzed the panel as to why they’d want to associate someone like him with a scholarship that perpetuates the image of the imperialist and colonizer of southern Africa. Becoming a Rhodes scholar, the elite amongst the scholarships, did not stop Abdul-Raheem being an ardent pan-Africanist champion in and outside Oxford University.

He certainly was not made by Oxford. He learnt from Oxford, but nevertheless had an Africanist perspective, which was not dulled by his Oxbridge education. Ditto the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, who had a Western education, but still managed to have a (pan-)Africanist viewpoint.

Saturday, 9 October 2010



A position paper prepared for the Harrow BHM 2010 Steering Group by Kwaku

Last year, I read a run-down of how Black History Month came about, having started in America in 1926. A summary can be found on page 4 of the Events Programme.

This year, I’d like to focus a bit on What is Black History Month or BHM? And Why it is needed.

The start of BHM in Britain can be traced to a young African boy of Caribbean heritage, who asked his mother: "Mum, why can't I be white?"

Ironically he was named Marcus, in honour of the great pan-Africanist icon Marcus Garvey. That not withstanding, we can see how negative impressions or lack of positive images and achievement had impacted on the boy’s psyche, identity and self-worth, at such an early age.

A colleague of the boy’s mother, Akyaaba Addai Sebo, who was then working at the GLC, decided to do something to combat what was causing inferiority complexes in some of our African children.

Incidentally, when we use the term African in this forum, we mean anyone of African heritage where from the African continent or its diaspora.

Sebo decided to use history – African history to empower Africans to improve their self-worth and knowledge, and indeed for the wider community to also learn more about the achievements of Africans, which is not often found in mainstream education or media.

In short, the primary aim of BHM is to provide African people, who are generally marginalised and disadvantaged on numerous fronts, a positive environment to improve self-esteem and self-worth, and also knowledge about themselves.

This is what the late Bernie Grant MP said when BHM was introduced to the UK: "Ignorance of black history and heritage breeds low self-esteem".

At a time when Africans generally speaking tend to habit the lower ends of the academic league tables, and are over-represented within the criminal justice system, knowledge of self and respect for self and each other, are some of the tools we need in combating some of society’s ills and prejudices.

Recently, there has been both confusion and a move to have everybody that can be mustered under the black banner for BHM. However it is worth pointing out that BHM is singularly about the African experience. Which is the reason some refer to it simply as African History Month.

BHM was launched in London under the African Jubilee Year Declaration. The Jubilee year run from August 1987, marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great pan-Africanist icon Marcus Garvey, who was born August 17 1887, right through to 1988, marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Organisation Of African Unity on May 25, and the 150th anniversary of the end of chattel enslavement in the British Caribbean, which was on August 1.

We should repeat here that unlike the supposedly “more humane” indentured servant system, the cruel chattel enslavement system was confined to Africans.

This is why in Harrow BHM is focused on African history, but with a British link, where possible, and is also driven by Africans, but for the whole of the Community to participate in. We also do things a bit differently by expecting participants to leave with at least a couple of clearly definable learning outcomes.

Back to the introducion of BHM to the UK, Statutory bodies such as Councils were convinced to buy into the Declaration, which consisted of a number of commitments. These included the demonstration of anti-racist, anti-apartheid, and human rights policies.

There was also a commitment to promote positive imagery, achievements and contributions of Africans at home and abroad over a wide range of endeavours, plus naming buildings, parks or monuments or streets after notable Africans, such as the CLR James Library in Hackney, and Mandela Street in Camden.

Finally, the commitment extended to solidarity with the freedom struggles across Africa. Remember, in 1987, countries such as South Africa and Namibia were not politically free.

The Declaration also bound Councils to undertake to organise events that publicise, encourage and implement the tenets of the Declaration and to encourage other Councils and statutory bodies to do likewise

However although the Declaration did not have legal backing, it was underpinned by an important section in the 1976 Race Relations Act, which is extended in the post-Steve Lawrence Inquiry inspired 2000 Race Relations Amendment Act.

The Act demands of statutory bodies such as Councils, and educational bodies to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination; and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between people of different racial groups. BHM is certainly an important plank when it comes to the last point. No doubt our Councillors and Council staff especially are aware of this.

Even without the legal requirement, BHM should be a catalyst for inspiring development of extra curricular activity in schools – and we don’t mean face-painting or “African dance”, whatever that means, encourage the formation of Saturday schools and African parents education/mentoring groups.

We believe BHM programmes should be designed to
a) educate the community, Africans and non-Africans, about African history and achievements,

b) not focus solely on song and dance, except where its primary aim is to tell or underscore history, rather than purely to entertain and

c) show that African History is much wider than enslavement. This is because although enslavement had devastating consequences, and its effects are still with us, it took place over a relatively short period of the African history time continuum, and there’s lots more besides that can be explored.

Finally, do we need BHM? Certainly Yes, so long as the mainstream arena, be it education, media or other social outlets, do not adequately reflect the histories and achievements of Africans.

A community that’s better informed about each other should hopefully make for better community cohesion based on informed views, rather than prejudices. This is the aim of Harrow BHM’s events starting from today, and hopefully beyond October.

Kwaku © 2010

Harrow BHM Steering Group

Reflecting On 2007 For Kilombo Magazine

Kilombo Article
by Kwaku

I’m the founder of and Black Music Congress, which are focused on developing the British black music sector through debates, networking, and music industry education.

Perhaps more relevant for readers of this magazine is BTWSC, a pan-London voluntary organisation I run with its Ghanaian-born barrister and co-ordinator Ms Serwah. BTWSC uses the creative arts to develop potential, raise aspirations, and promote social inclusion. I also teach, write, facilitate courses and community events.

I would like to use this article to give some background about myself, reflect on 2007, and round up with what’s in store for 2008.

Although I’m British-born, I’m very proud of my Ghanaian and African heritage. I use one name – Kwaku, because it’s the only name I have that tells people that I’m African. It was a conscious decision I made in the late 1980s, when I started in the journalism game.

Now, I enjoy using just one name, because I also love telling people who ask for a surname that I only use one name.

Why should I bother with a surname? Of course I do have one. But it’s European – something to do with colonialization, and besides it carries no weight in England, although in Ghana, it has the advantage of being a fairly well-known name.

A year ago most of us were marking – I will not use the word ‘commemorating’ – the Abolition Of The Slave Trade Act of 1807 and Ghana’s 50th anniversary of ‘independence’.

I will start by concentrating on the 1807 Act. We organised and spoke on a few Abolition-themed events last year. BTWSC is part of Truth2007, a grassroots organisation set up to put forward the African/African-Caribbean perspective in contrast to the British Government-backed Abolition activities. The latter was referred to by some of us as Wilberfest, on account of the overwhelming focus wrongly put on the British MP William Wilberforce as an Abolitionist and the man who freed enslaved Africans.

By the way, as a way of marking the legacy of those enslaved Africans, I’ve vowed that as of 2008, the descriptor to use for people of African descent, irrespective of where their antecedence is located, should be African, instead of black.

One of the founding members of Truth2007 is Ligali, the London-based African rights and media monitoring group. It was Ligali founder Toyin Agbetu who interrupted the Abolition memorial service at Westminster Cathedral, and requested the Queen, the Prime Minister, and the Arch-bishop, apologise for the role of the monarchy, Government and church in the trans-Atlantic ‘trade’ of enslaved Africans.

Agbetu was writing about how we were in line for a commemoration of the Abolition that would white-wash the facts long before 2007. He also tried unsuccessfully to engage the authorities in order to have the roles of Africans properly reflected in the Abolition story.

Indeed, my interest in the whole Abolition issue stemmed from reading an article Toyin had published in one of Britain’s African newspapers.

I then published articles in the African press in 2006, which basically stated that as we get ready to mark the bicentennial of the Abolition Of The Slave Trade Act and the twentieth anniversary of Black History Month in Britain, we must take from it two things.

Firstly, everyone of African descent would do more to honour the memory of the enslaved Africans if they referred to themselves as Africans or African-British. I pointed out the Asians born in Britain or from east Africa, refer to themselves simply as Asian.

Secondly, I pointed out the Black History Month concept was introduced to Britain in 1987 during the African Jubilee Year, as a way of highlighting Africa’s contribution to the world’s civilisation and uplifting people of African descent. So I called for Black History Month to be African and history focused, as opposed to a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural celebration, which provided little or no African history content.

Back to the Abolition – Ms Serwah and I spent much of 2007 correcting individuals, newspapers and websites that the 1807 Act did NOT seek to abolish enslavement. We also conducted lectures on enslavement and the Abolition for university students and local authority staff.

It seemed hardly anyone had read the 1807 Act. Had Africans read it, they might not have celebrated it – the worse ones being a dinner & dance and a football tournament, to commemorate an Act that enshrined discrimination against Africans by stating that Africans who served in the King’s army were not entitled to pension!

BTWSC organised talks programmes, ‘Abolition Truths’ and ‘Putting Abolition & Slavery Into Perspective’, and edu-tainment music programmes, ‘Then To Now’ and ‘From The Talking Drums To Rap And Grime’, aimed at raising awareness that the 1807 Act did not abolish the enslavement of Africans, and it was efforts by African abolitionists in Britain like Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano, and leaders across the colonies such as Toussaint L’Ouverture of Haiti, Nana (Nanny) and Sam Sharpe of Jamaica, and Bussa of Barbados to name a few, that brought about the 1807 Act and the 1833 Abolition Of Slavery Act.

Indeed, because of the misunderstanding and mis-information, BTWSC will be publishing an Abolition primer this year for young and old alike, to find about the basic facts.

Regarding Ghana’s golden jubilee, someone said the fact that the country had survived that long without any major skirmishes was reason enough to celebrate. It did not seem reason enough, until one saw what has been happening in Kenya. One hopes that the maturity that has followed recent elections in Ghana continue after this December elections.

That said, I find very little to celebrate. I’ve already highlighted many of the issues in my Travelogue feature in the January 2008 edition of New African. All I’ll add here is that it worries me when our leaders think the way to develop is either to sell our assets to foreigners or continually ask for foreign aid. Also, not having a handle on the way Accra, for example, has expanded without adequate infrastructure, which results in regular interruption of water and electricity supplies is unacceptable for a nation that aims to be the hub of the sub-region.

I marked the jubilee with a small Ghana @ 50? display of Ghanaian goods during the BTWSC Abolition events, and An Evening With Mr K B Asante, where the esteemed former Ghanaian diplomat read from his ‘Voice From Afar’ book, and fielded questions ranging from his time working with Ghana’s first president Dr Kwame Nkrumah, to the vision for Ghana.

We launched the BTWSC Professor Allotey Science Prize in London in October. The Prize, which is named after the renowned eponymous Ghanaian mathematician and physicist, aims to popularise the sciences among young Africans in Britain and Ghana. The Prize, which has a laptop computer as the top prize, will also be presented to the best student at Professor Allotey’s wife Ase Allotey’s alma mater Aburi Secondary School in April 2008.

I started 2008 as one of the panellists on the Ghana We Can Do Better Conference, which highlighted some of the work done by Ghanaians in London, and sought ways in which we can positively impact upon Ghana.

One of the suggestions I put forward was that if we who are overseas have ideas that we believe will benefit Ghana, we have to be mindful not to drive it through in a patronising manner, and that it would be an advantage to work through local personalities or agencies to champion the idea.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Feedback To London Mayor's Drastic Black History Month Funding Cut

As someone who organises African/Black History Month (BHM) events, I am disappointed that London Mayor Boris Johnson has made serious cuts to his BHM budget. However, whilst I won’t dissuade those campaigning for a re-instatement of the budget, I’m focusing on self-reliance.

When Boris got into City Hall in 2008, I had a discussion with someone who also organises community events. He expected Johnson to cut the BHM budget, but he thought this would make us more self-reliant, and that many programmes would be delivered out of necessity, rather than the availability of a grant.

In Harrow last October, for example, when the Council’s oversight meant no BHM grant was offered, apart from two events I was involved in, In Search Of Achievers Closer To Home and the Harrow NARM (Naming And Role Model) Photograghic Exhibition, none of the organisations that had previously delivered BHM events with Council funding organised any events.

Also, I wonder how those complaining about the Mayor’s budget cut have actually attended any of the Mayor’s sponsored BHM events?

Back to the Harrow experience, when nothing much happened, all of a sudden we had some people calling and emailing, asking what was happening to Black History Month? But when the NARM exhibition was extended within Harrow libraries to four residencies right into March 2010, none of those people bothered to attend that or other African history related events they were invited to.

It seems there are some people who just want to know that there are numerous BHM events, though they are not particularly interested in attending. But once funding is cut, they are ready to make noise about how there needs to be more BHM events.

Quite frankly, I think many BHM events do not do anything to improve anyone’s knowledge of African history. The majority are focused on 'culture', rather than history. I am not decrying culture, after all I’m the founder of the Black Music Congress and have a passion for promoting British black music and culture.

However BHM isn’t about singing and dancing, which may make one feel good but not necessarily raise awareness of our history. Nor is it about face-painting, food, and other activities not related to history. We should not also tolerate the same-old, and often lazy “black history” focused just on Mary Seacole, Martin Luther King, and now, Barack Obama.

In Harrow, we fought for the Council to devolve the running of BHM to community groups. The Council has decided to fund a Black History Season that ends in March. And even though the budget has been cut in recent years from £10k to £5k, better programmes are being delivered, because not only do funded events have to be focused within an African history context, there also must be learning outcomes for the audience.

So, for example, even though Messrs Coleridge-Taylor & Pine, which takes place on March 23 at Harrow’s Council Chamber, is about the British classical composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and jazz musician Courtney Pine, the focus is not on entertainment, but on learning about the works and lives of the two musicians, and their contributions to world civilisation and history.

Also, I believe BHM events should not only highlight history, but should where possible, have a British connection, either in content or by pointing to references or connections closer to home.

So if, for example, an event should re-visit the American civil rights and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, it would help if the audience were made aware of some of the civil rights activities that took place in Britain, including the Bristol Bus Boycott, which ended on the same day MLK delivered his famous I Have A Dream speech.

The Bristol Bus Boycott is one of the many African British histories that comes out of my talking through the subjects of the NARM photographs.

The moral here is that a budget cut does not necessarily mean poor quality events; a multiplicity of BHM events does not necessarily mean our knowledge of African history is improved; and that many of those complaining about the Mayor’s budget cut would not necessarily participate if there was a plethora of Mayor-funded BHM events.

Finally, even though statutory bodies, such as the Mayoralty and Councils, are enjoined to support the tenets of BHM, and they ought to be providing adequate BHM funding, I would rather we found ways within our own means to empower ourselves and particularly those of us who routinely claim “we don’t know our history”, rather than concern ourselves with budgets which have in the main been used to entertain, rather than educate us.


Our related events in March 2010:

March 16, 5-7pm: launch of African Voices: Quotations By People Of African Descent book at Houses Of Parliament with Brent South MP and Minister for Youth Citizens & Engagement Dawn Butler MP. For more info:

Late March: confirmation of accreditation of new course Copyright, Contract, Music & Cultural Industries. BTWSC’s other accredited courses are Event Planning, Music Industry Overview, African History Overview, Training For Trainers. For more info:

March 23, 12noon-2pm: Copyright + Music Industry + Music Industry Education – 2010, Where Are We At? A free conference at Houses Of Parliament with Minister for Higher Education & Intellectual Property David Lammy MP and stakeholders covering legal, consumers, musicians, music industry and education. For more information:

June-early July: June Is British Black Music Month. BMC and partners deliver a range of events from talks, performances to education. For more info:

March 23, 6.30-8.30pm: Messrs Coleridge-Taylor & Pine at the Council Chamber, Harrow Civic Centre as part of Harrow Black History Season. A free audio-visual presentation and discussion on the lives and works of African British classical composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and jazz musician Courtney Pine. For more info: