It’s been a week since the first ever Melanin Box Festival and it’s effects still linger on. There was something extremely gratifying about artistic and self aware young black creatives, gathered in one place to celebrate the very thing the media is bent on destroying- their identity.
Melanin box festival in its attempt at “redefining the narrative” is a necessity in the creative industry and further accentuates the lack of festivals celebrating ethnicity and art within the UK. It’s a way to showcase work by Britons of colour, who refuse to settle for the status quo and “knock on the door” of other organisations who can’t relate or cater to their creative needs. To paraphrase event producers Damilola K Fashola and Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu: “We are way more than just estates buildings and hoodies.” and the whole festival proved this to be true.
From monologues, dance, film and music it’s clear from the narratives portrayed at the Bussey building throughout the three days, that traditional media outlets are still representing Britons of colour, in a restrictive and flat way.
Day 1 began with the captivating and funny Hail your majesty by Tessa Hart, a monologue based on a real life African princess. The snappy line “40 thousand virgins dance for 8 days naked for the king” set a strong feminist undertone for the night, with “View of her own beauty” a short piece following suit. The latter brought forth the polarising issue of black hair, with a refreshing exchange on where the two sexes stand on the subject.
Dance piece by Sean Graham Rivers of blood, my personal highlight of the 1st night, deconstructed the history of riots in Britain, with a soundtrack of underground jazz entwined with speeches by prominent British figureheads such as Enoch Powell, David Lammy and Dianne Abbott. Graham’s movement unraveled to an emotional crescendo- powerful given the juxtaposition of the speeches. The cryptic and religiously themed The Grid by TheSireTheatre written by Seyan Sarvan, explored the consequences of addiction, brought to life by the talented actor Eduard Maniata, who shocked with a fast paced self torture sequence.
Milk and Oreo’s by Seraphina Beh & Janise Sadik, provided some comic relief to the evening, focusing on interracial relationships in adolescence. With zingy one liners from the three cast members, who brought a liveliness to the night with their lovable characters. The evening was rounded off by a short reprise of Sweet Like Chocolate Boy by Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu, who brought estate dreams back with a visual and audio bang, perhaps even louder than the premiere at Rich Mix, earlier this year.
Day 2 started off with a charged up performance by Mikel Ameen from World Changer Music with his song Martina Luther Queen, getting the audience riled up and ready for an evening of film and monologues. The short film section was kicked off by the subtly beautiful Great by Curmiah Lisette, who took on the shift of power between male and female within relationships. This was an elegant amalgamation of dance and spoken word.
We left the comforting bosom of black love, to follow Olivia by Smashed Screen Films x Tobi Bamtefa, into a deep alcohol fueled breakdown. This powerful account of child abuse turned into adulthood trauma, was excellently performed by actress Maia Watkins.
Sweet Taboo by Talawa was the funniest piece of the whole festival, in my opinion, with a well rounded cast portraying the insecurities of the dating game through a speed dating event. Delving into themes such as disability, gender and sexuality. En Vogue by Jenn Nkiru was a blast of glitter, exploring the underground dance subcultures voguing and ballroom. Spy thriller Double Cross and the enigmatic episode of Ghost Runner brought intrigue, espionage and stellar cinematography on both projects.
The Premiere of season one of the HâRT series by Timothy Ogundijo, Damilola K Fashola, featured stunning earthy visuals, set to the backdrop of poems based on unrequited love and rejection. An impressive debut by Caro Ohemaa.
The evening ended with collective Synergy, a vibrant compilation of 11 monologues by actors Joanne Sandi, Sherine Chalhie, Stanley Jackson, Tobi Bamfeta Alaba Nwanya. Fantastic stand out performance by Synergy Award Winner (House Of Alt Show reel footage, and free Triforce Master Class) of the night Bamfeta, with his risqué piece on club culture and sexuality from play Zarascasket written by Fashola.
Day 3 focused on theatre, with Camp by Anthony Simpson-Pike. The comedy-drama about a gay to straight conversion camp was a quick witted and funny piece, exploring the awkwardness of sexual restriction. Dreams by Tyrone Isaac-Stuart and Tah by K.I.D, both explored the male subconscious using movement and music. Dreams used a saxophone as several objects (a gun, bong and instrument) whereas the cast of Tah focused on the body to demonstrate the levels of emotion. Both captivating pieces of drama.
The abstract theme continued with Sophia Mackay’s SHADE, where a trio of bouncing afro teens played one actress, fighting against the typecasting of black women in the performing arts industry. Aptly performed by all 3 actresses who were attentive to every move, all done in complete unison. A special performance of SKEEN by rising actor Stanley Jackson III, written by Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu, who’s performance was striking and sharp. He did not miss a beat with this fast paced take on loss of innocence.
Damilola K Fashola’s choreopoem-play Zarascasket, brought the enigmatic sex worker Zara, who waxed poetically as she debated sexuality with a female client. Masterfully sensual with a feminist take on relationships. You could see echos of Fashola’s influence within the Choreocollabs dance theatre debut “Mourning” by Patience James, with 4 dancers who engaged and moved the audience on the emotional impact of pain and loss.
The 3 days of this festival were truly an innovative, imaginative and uncensored look at British talent- and somehow it still didn’t feel like it was enough. When MC Mikel Ameen sang “We want more!” and the audience shouted it back, we weren’t lying- we do want and need more.
Melanin Box festival is produced by The Initiative.dkf & Charged Up Entertainment in association with RENN events. It is supported by Triforce Creative Network , House Of Alt & World Changer Music. It was founded by Damilola K Fashola and developed by Wofai Eyong and Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu. More info can be sourced from www.melaninbox.initiativedkf.com.