‘BEING BLACKER’: A radical encounter between BAFTA Winning film-maker MOLLY DINEEN and Brixton’s BLACKER DREAD

‘Being Blacker’ is a unique, uncompromising and radical 90 minute documentary and both Molly Dineen and Steve’Blacker Dread’ Martin take to the road to launch the film in a cinema near you prior to it airing on BBC2 on March 12th.

Filled with anticipation I checked into BAFTA on Picadilly for a BBC press screening of Being Blacker – the latest documentary from the award-winning Molly Dineen. It delivers an intimate profile of the life and times of Brixtonian sound man, long-time record shop owner and producer, Blacker Dread. While I was hyped about the film but I’d also picked up on the odd rumour that Being Blacker had sparked alarm bells within the walls of the BEEB. Maybe the moral panics were down to the film central character, Steve ‘Blacker Dread’ Martin, being jailed for fraud during the making of the film and that his closest friend, Napthali – also a pivotal character within the film – is a convicted bank robber. Thankfully, the winds of political correctness gave way to the power of reality and the result is truly compelling and rewarding insight into the world of Blacker Dread.

The Funeral of Blacker’s mother…

Molly is one of the UK’s most unique film makers. There’s no crew. It’s just Molly Dineen and her camera. She was awarded The Grierson Memorial Trust 2003 Trustees’ Award for “Outstanding contribution to the art of documentary” and won a BAFTA and Grierson Award for her penultimate film The Lie Of The Land – a raw portrait of the British countryside and the demise of farming. You might have seen her TV series The Ark – where she spent 6 months at London Zoo or The Heart of The Angel which led her to film over 24 hours in the Angel tube station in London. All her films are available via the British Film Institute (BFI) and Being Blacker arrives after a 10 year hiatus. The only film of Molly’s which isn’t on sale via the BFI, is Sound Business – the film she submitted for her degree at the London College Of Printing. It’s within Sound Business that the roots of her long standing relationship with Blacker Dread lies.

If my memory serves me well I met Molly via Maroons Tunes, a short lived reggae emporium in Greek Street, Soho, where I did the odd day behind the counter alongside DBC’s Leroy ‘Lepke’ Anderson, Rae Cheddie (Bullwackies) and the erudite Steve Barrow (Blood & Fire).  She wanted do a film on sound system and I became her link to Sir Coxsone Outernational Sound System. That was 1981 and her 45 minute film – narrated by the late Michael ‘Dread At The Controls’ Campbell –  takes us into the dancehall, visits the dub-cutter and amp builder and offers interviews with the Coxsone team – Lloydie, Blacker, Festus, Bikey Dread and Levi Roots (yes…reggae reggae sauce and tings!). At that time Blacker lived in Armoury Way in Wandsworth and the same block of flats was also home to up ‘n’ coming youth sound Young Lion. Alongside Coxsone they also became the focus of Molly’s film – which, in a somewhat visually depleted form, you can peruse at your leisure on You Tube.

Molly and Blacker stayed in contact over the years and when his mother passed he asked the film-maker to document the funeral for him and his family. It’s a portion of this footage that opens the film and the viewer is immediately struck by the access that she’s been given. She is right there at the beating heart of a grieving family and we are there with her. It’s during the funeral that we encounter Naphtali. He’s driving and Molly’s riding shotgun. It’s his job to clear a path that enables the horse-drawn hearse to reach the cemetery without delay. It’s in this sequence that Molly declares, “Naphtali, you drive like a getaway driver… “. To which he replies, “I am…I am a getaway driver!” The plot opens up and another intriguing narrative emerges.

I know both Blacker and Naphtali from Coxsone sound. Having spent an evening in their company, while banged up in Hinkley jail, I am well aware of their humour and resilience when confronted with the long arm of the law. That was back in the early 80’s. We were on our way to a dance in Huddersfield. The sight of two dreads batting along in a transit van on a Saturday evening was simply too much for two bored motorway police officers. A stop and search ensued. Once in the station both Blacker and Naphtali made a clear impact on the officers on duty. From my cell I could hear them calling the name “Blacker… Blacker..” They seemed drawn to sound of the name. It was weird. Meanwhile, Naphtali appeared to have the run of the police station. Upon our eventual release we were given a police escort – lights flashing – to the motorway.

Sir Coxsone Outernational Sound System – l to r: Blacker Dread, Poppa Festus, Bikey Dread
Photography by Jean Bernard Sohiez aka Frenchie

However, Being Blacker is not about sound system or the reggae business. This is a film about being black and growing into manhood in Britain. It’s about making decisions – good or bad. As Blacker packs up his shop in Coldharbour Lane under the shadow prison the dread has to deal with the trial and tribulations of his own children. The traumatic death of one son in a drive by shooting continues to haunt him. Ever conscious and active within the black community he is drawn to others – parents, brothers, sisters, friends – who have lost their own children to the gun or the knife.

For Blacker, passing the 11+ produced not a step up the social ladder but a nightmare of racist bullying. So, when confronted with his own youngest son being considered “difficult” at school both he and his partner stepped in. They were met with a form of institutionalised racism within the education system that I thought no longer existed – especially in the inner city. Watching the film I was thrown back to the time when I did teaching practice and read Ben Coard’s hugely important ‘How the West Indian child is made educationally subnormal in the British school system: The scandal of the black child in schools in Britain’. The decision they make as parents is radical and profound and leads Blacker back to the place he grew up in Jamaica.

Paralleling Blacker’s trials are those of Naphtali. Anyone who reads or watches the news is aware of the scandalous state of our prison system and the potential for up to 70% of prisoners from some prisons to re-offend within a year. After a spell at Her Majesty’s pleasure Naphtali is trying hard to stay on the straight and narrow. As Naphtali works to stay afloat financially the camera of Molly Dineen captures the sheer desperation and humiliation of her subject. For me, it’s painful to watch. I can only hope that someone from a serious casting agency watches this film and seeks out Naphtali to offer him a career in acting. He could be as sensational as The Wire’s Omar.

Blacker & Napthali

Both Blacker Dread and Naphtali maintain the Brixton they knew growing up is a gentrified shadow of it’s former self. As a local business-man Blacker responded to that shift and was a prime mover of the annual Brixton Splash – an Afro Caribbean street festival that celebrates the diversity of the community and continues to attract thousands of revellers. It’s an event that’s a far cry from the ’81 riots. In my mind Blacker and his sound system bredren – from London and beyond – have undoubtedly shaped the cultural landscape of this nation. It’s a story that’s yet to be articulated in the way it deserves. Brixton’s poet laureate Linton Kwesi Johnson and voice of youth during the Seventies declared, “It Dread Inna Inglan” and Blacker, along with others from that first generation of Rastafari growing up in our inner cities, had to hustle to survive.

Just as Molly’s previous documentaries made me question my own stereotypical prejudices one hopes this film will provide a similar experience for those future BBC2 viewers. Hopefully they will be drawn into Blacker’s world and the film’s constantly evolving narrative which takes shape over 90 minutes. We not dealing with angels here, we are dealing with real people shaped by their experiences of growing up in London from Sixties, through the turbulent Seventies and beyond.  Being Blacker provides a unique glimpse into a real life drama within Britain’s long standing Afro Caribbean community. Rather than judge I hope people will intuitively find common ground and feel empathy with a father troubled by loss and bad decisions. This is a man with more than a crown of dreadlocks. He is witty, laid back but sharp as a razor. On the streets of Brixton he is respected by those around him and thanks to the tenacity of “Miss Molly” and her camera we – the people – are given a moving and thought provoking insight into an alternative, yet distinctly familiar, face of contemporary multi-racial Britain.  

WORDS: Paul Bradshaw / Straight No Chaser

In line with the radical nature of the film itself, Being Blacker is being shown in cinemas around the UK prior to it being aired on BBC2 on MARCH 12th. The template of showing the doc on a big screen followed by a Q&A with Molly and Blacker is real treat!

BBC Screenings
As part of the theatrical tour of BEING BLACKER, there are a few invite-only screenings in Q&A with Molly & Blacker. To request an invite email bbcbeingblacker@gmail.com.

March 3 – TBC, St Paul’s Bristol
March 6 – Home, Manchester
March 7 Everyman Mailbox, Birmingham
March 8 – Ritzy, Brixton

Tickets are on sale for screening + Q&A @….

March 3 – Ultimate Picture Palace, Oxford (3pm)
March 4 – Rio Dalston, London
March 4 – Peckhamplex, London
March 5 – BFI Southbank,London
March 7 – Bertha Dochouse,London
March 9 – Somerset House,London

Book now… check https://www.facebook.com/events/411828805933127/</spa

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Mali’s Trio Da Kali live in Stoke Newington Old Church

Mali’s Trio Da Kali live in Stoke Newington Old Church

Following a hectic array of interviews and live broadcasts including one from the Brownswood basement for https://worldwidefm.net/ Mali’s Trio Da Kali arrived in the Old Church on Stoke Newington Church Street as guests of the Nest Collective who dedicate their events to Folk & World music. The tiny church was packed with a cross generational audience, both sitting and standing. In the house was World Circuit don Nick Gold along with esteemed music journos like Neil Spencer, Robin Denselow and Val Wilmer. The recently released Trio Da Kali collaboration with the Kronos Quartet – ‘Ladilikan’ – has been a constant on this scribe’s turntable in recent times and it was down to the album’s co-producer, Lucy Duran, to introduce each member to the stage. Apparently, Da Kali means “to give a pledge” and in the case of this classical Trio that pledge is to a musical heritage which dates back to the court of the Mali Empire and Sunjata Keita in the 12th century.

In their native Mali, both the threat of Islamic fundamentalism on the one hand and the forward march of modern music on the other has virtually eradicated this classic trio format along with its repertoire. In 2017 Trio Da Kali is basically an endangered species. Trio Da Kali’s musical director and balafon player Fodé Lassana Diabaté is a long-time member of Toumani Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra. He has recorded with Salif Keita and Taj Mahal amongst others and on this night he proved himself a master musician who is capable of both dazzling and incredibly nuanced solos. He dropped the odd jazz lick – just to tease – and I wished my long time friend and vibes-man, Orphy Robinson, had been in the house to check him out. Bass ngoni player Mamadou Kouyaté is the eldest son of the instrument’s greatest exponent Bassekou Kouyaté, and he holds down the riddim in his father’s band Ngoni ba. If there was any diversion from the tradition it was this natty “bass-man”. While, on the one hand, his playing transported me across the Sahara to connect with the rhythms of the Gnawa, Mamadou also had a range of plucked and slapped licks that could have been inspired by Bootsy Collins. It came as no surprise to discover that he’s involved in the Bamako hip-hop scene. Centre stage was singer Hawa ‘Kassé Mady’ Diabate. She is the daughter of Mali’s greatest traditional singer, Kassé Mady Diabate, and the power, range and phrasing of her voice led Kronos’ David Harrington to compare her to the late queen of American gospel Mahalia Jackson. Armed with a small shekere to add or maintain a specific rhythmic pulse,to each song Hawa’s emotional and soulful voice washed over us and ancient griot songs like ‘Lila Bambo’ along with a re-working of ‘God Shall Wipe All Tears Away’, complete with Bambara lyrics, resulted is an elegant and most memorable evening of totally uplifting music.


CHECK: http://triodakali-kronosquartet.com/

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TWO NIGHTS: CHICAGOXLONDON – International Anthem Meets London’s Nu-skool @ Total Refreshment Centre ….

CHICAGOXLONDON – International Anthem Meets London’s Nu-skool @ Total Refreshment Centre in Stoke Newington, London.

Above: Ben LeMar Gay pic: Petra Eujane

This collision between Chicago’s International Anthem crew and a host of London’s nu-generation-nu-jazz innovators was guaranteed to throw up some magical moments. At the helm of this project was EZH’s Tina Edwards (formerly Jazz Standard) and Scottie McNiece of International Anthem and from what I could glean it was made financially more feasible through some of the visiting musicians also doing sets at other venues in the area. In fact, I first caught wind of this wider exchange when I read, via Richard Williams’ Blue Moment blog, that Tomeka Reid and Mazz Swift of the stellar string trio Hear In Now were also featuring in Roscoe Mitchell’s Art Ensemble of Chicago residency at Cafe Oto.

Above: Ben LaMar Gay image: Petra Eujane

While the ambitious CHICAGOXLONDON programme incorporated structured ensemble sets there also appeared to be a strong element of pure improvisation. That terrain seemed mostly to be occupied by innovative modernist and drummer Makaya MaCraven whose set would provide the final offering on each of the two nights. As with most TRC based events the crowd were tuned-in and supa- receptive. The first night gradually kicked off around a shape shifting set from urban griot Ben LaMar Gay of the excellent Bottle Tree who “DJ’d” adding cornet and single string “diddley bow” to the mix. We were then treated to a free flowing opening set from feisty Chicago based trumpeter Jaimie Branch who offered a taste of the skill level that our American counterparts are capable of – especially if they’ve been schooled the shadow of the AACM. Taking material from her appropriately titled ‘Fly Or Die’ LP she took us on an explorative journey where she was more than ably assisted by an excellent drummer of Puerto Rican origin and the sweet rapport between her bassist and the mesmerising cello excursions of a dreadlocked Tomeka Reid. One mighty moment occurred when both Branch and Lamar Gay suddenly appeared the midst of the crowd trading spirited horn licks while one Angel Dawid, elsewhere in the crowd, delivered sweeping and soaring runs on the clarinet. The bar had been set high.

Above: Jaimie Branch Pic: Petra Eujane

The next set arrived in the form of the mighty Theon Cross on Tuba, Nubya Garcia on tenor and Moses Boyd on drums. It was a stellar line-up with tantalising potential. Clearly intent on rocking the TRC Theon blew the house down. However, while this scribe felt that the trio didn’t quite gell the Comet Is Coming energy levels emanating from the stage had the crowd fully vibed. The final set of the night which featured Kamaal Williams on keys, Soweto Kinch on alto and voice and Makaya MacCravon drums also elicited a wave of high expectations. While the set didn’t reach the improvisational heights I’d envisioned the trio’s groove went straight to the dancing feet of a fellow scribe who was stood next to me – she simply informed me later, “That’s how the new generation bring it…”.

Stepping out in the night I was fired up and ready to return for another session the following night. I was not to be disappointed. First up came Hear In Now and that was a compositional and improvisational treat. These three bold women hunkered down onstage in close proximity to each other. They clearly “enjoy each others company” – as violinist Mazz Swift confirmed – and their music along with their explorative individual solos produced an unspoken, intuitive sense of communication and conversation. Who in the house could not love a ‘Prayer For Wadud’ – dedicated to the legendary cellist – or the reflective piece on their sad departure from Livorno in Tuscany – the home of bassist Silvia Bolignesi? All credit goes to the TRC audience who wasted little time in producing a hushed silence throughout the room. There was a lot of listening going down – both nights! I definitely needed to hear more from this trio and immediately snapped up a copy of their CD.

Above: Mazz Swift pic: Joe Lindsay

Pianist Ashley Henry and his RE:Ensemble posse followed and took us onto more familiar London terrain. This set progressed way beyond his ‘5ive’ debut EP/LP on Jazz Re:freshed and was joyously diverse. The excellent rhythm section of Dan Casimir on bass and drummer Eddie Hicks held it all down allowing Henry free range on keys while simultaneously providing a launch pad for some blistering solos from tenor-man Binker Golding. Add the vocals of Chemise Adams-Burnett and the spoken word of Anthony Joseph to the mix and you get the picture.

Above: Ashley Henry – pic: Joe Lindsay

The final set of the CHICAGOXLONDON sessions saw Makaya MacCraven united with Theon Cross, Nubya Garcia and Joe Armon-Jones and what a set that turned out to be. From the get-go Makaya was diggin’ deep ‘n’ funky pushing his collaborators to step into the affray. While Nubya smiled to herself, stepping to the rhythms, listening and reflecting, it was keys player Joe Armon-Jones who tugged his hair back and locked his vision – his focus – on the drummer opposite him. A mesmerising conversation unfolded and Theon Cross wasted no time in getting involved. The subtleties of his playing contrasted nicely with his set the previous night. He added both rhythm and textures that gave Nubya the opportunity to conjure up some of the most inspiring and engaging tenor solos of the whole event. Makaya is a powerful and inventive drummer whose lexicon draws on host of contemporary styles including ‘broken’ and drum’n’bass and both player and audience were taken on sweat inducing journey that maintained a thrilling but intense momentum. It was Makaya’s birthday, he was having fun and the result was epic.

Above: Nubya & Theon Pic: Petra Eujane

All the show’s were recorded and in the days after the session were chopped up and re-mixed to be presented a TRC DJ session on the Saturday night. I missed that but I suspect those tapes will surface in one form or another in the very near future. Can’t wait.

Above:TRC – The audience… The calm before the storm! Pic: Petra Eujane

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#SNC98 – Back On The Block but SOLD OUT! All gone!

#SNC98 – Back On The Block but SOLD OUT! All gone!

Firstly, apologise to all the peeps who check out this on-line journal as there’s been very few… hmmmm, Zero!…posts over the past period. Basically, I – along with Ian Swift – were deep in the shed (literally) putting together Straight No Chaser / #SNC98 and it finally dropped in September to an appreciative worldwide following – give thanx & praises! Basically, after a 10 year hiatus it was fun to put together… we have new scribblers and a posse of old hands along with esteemed guests… it juggles art and music and embodies a healthy political perspective that is hopefully attuned to these fucked-up times.

As it’s sold out we may post some of the stories here so watch out for that…

OK … if you missed this issue, the next one will be in February 2018. Don’t sleep on it.

Respek… pb

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The Hieroglyphic Being Experience LIVE – New Years Eve 2015/16

CAFE OTOproudly come with Release 100 (!!!)

CAFE OTO are supa-pleased to make the Jamal Moss non-stop 6 hour New Year DJ set available for FREE! Half the night came out as a double cassette dubbed "The Hieroglyphic Being Experience Vol. 1" last year, but they're all sold out now and the casettes didn't include that magical moment when Jamal dropped 'I Feel Love' and re-works it in his decidedly unique Chicago-acid-house-stylee.

The set is huge so Oto have split it half way to help with any bandwith issues. To get the whole 6 hour set go to the Cafe Oto shop and register and order your download! Marvelous.

I didn’t make to the actual New Years eve seshaaan but I did pass through the night after – January 1st / New Years Day – when he was joined by vibes-master Orphy Robinson (on numerous instruments) and Mark Saunders on drums. That mind expanding set is also available as a download for modest 6 quid from the Cafe Oto shop – https://www.cafeoto.co.uk/shop/jamal-moss-mark-sanders-orphy-robinson-010116-dl/

Thrilled to witness further excursions on this tip with Jamal joining forces with Shabaka Hutchings and Sarathy Korwar. Plus, nice to see Soul Jazz come with ‘The Acid Documents LP.

Respect to Cafe OTO for continuing stretching the musical boundaries.

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JUNE 8th: Strong And Stable My Arse… Jeremy Deller!

Thanks to Jeremy Deller!

RESPECT TO… & CHECK OUT: https://www.flyingleaps.co.uk/

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Kate Tempest meets kennardphillipps

Batter Them Down! JUNE 8th!!



Strong and stable into ruin
School-kids on the hunt for lunch
Cut the apron strings.
Least it keeps the bastards lean
And gets the scroungers off the couch.

Murdoch headlines; leeches for the letting of our bloodlust.
Blame it on the migrants suffocating in containers
Blame it on the muslims
Or whichever current favourite takes the weight of our collective rage
And keeps the nation safe.

Privatise and privatise in private, let the nurses burn
Along with every other resident who voices their concern
And yes divide the country
Into will they never learn
And will they never stop
Then bring the army out to guard us.
Saying those sick-hearted martyrs will not test our liberal values
Locked in the panopticon, we’re volatile and fragile.

Such stability.

Suicide’s increaseing
More rough sleepers
Ugly words in public places,
Fear and doubt
And all the racists have come out to show their faces.
Under May there is a gulf that separates
And seems to gape a little wider every day.
Now watch her prey on every tragedy.
Divide divide and frenzy up the nastiness,
The them and us,
The human cost
The heightened threat, we must be watched
Clocked and marked and kept and blocked.
If this is strength then we’re all fucked.
But give them an inch and they’ll set up shop.

I want to create a really hostile environment
Her words, not mine.

Poem by Kate Tempest written for MAY NOT exhibition

THE SHOW! MAY NOT

A banging exhibition by political artist duo kennardphillipps is being staged at Dadiani Fine Art on the eve of the general election. May Not is a raw visual response to the snap election by Cat Phillipps and Peter Kennard, who create photomontages that analyse war, free speech and the corruption of power.

MAY NOT features an installation of photomontages printed on The Financial Times and blank newsprint, propped up by a three-dimensional red graph which snakes throughout the gallery, spiking up to the ceiling, and extending financial market figures into a physical manifestation. The artists take hold of this graph and connect it directly to images that focus on the real-world impact of financial powerbrokers and the political elite.

One of the images features a grinning Nigel Farage, clutching a pint, emerging from Theresa May’s head, suggesting that the Tories have absorbed UKIP while another suggests the Prime Minister has reduced the NHS to rubble. In another image, the dispossessed are gathered outside the door of 10 Downing Street.

“MAY NOT is a powerful immersive experience, comprised of photomontages addressing current political upheaval and oppression.” Eleesa Dadiani

‘MAY NOT’ by kennardphillips
7TH JUNE – 7TH JULY
DADIANI FINE ART
30 CORK STREET
LONDON
W1S 3NG

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