‘Afropolitan Divas’ in London

The second Numbi of 2012 happened – with undeniable flamboyance – last Saturday, bringing a team of ‘Afropolitan divas’, and with them an influx of poetry and music from East Africa and elsewhere, to East London.

Created in 1998 by artist and activist Kinsi Abdulleh (that’s her in the image below with compere Diriye Osman), Numbi, named after “a kind of dance that happens in Somalia where one lets go of one’s inhibitions and gets free” is a platform for collaborations between Somali artists and others.

The evening began with a performance from poet-singer Zena Edwards (introduced by Osman as “our number one soul sister”), and poems, most memorably on bad hair and the slave trade in Bristol (respectively), by Dorothea Smartt and Rosie Martin, who read to rhythmic support from several members of what would later become eleven-piece Afrobeat outfit Bronzehead.

Following these, a quiet and beautiful set by Eritrean-born singer Miryam Solomon (pictured above) and an accompanying guitarist. Solomon’s work seems to be, unfortunately for internet-dwellers, still totally unavailable outside Numbi.

The climax of the whole thing was a performance by Somali singer Maryam Mursal who stood alone on stage, accompanied by a backing-track, her arms outstretched towards the audience in antique admonishment to sing her classic Somali u diida ceeb (‘Somalia, don’t shame yourself’). Mursal – having effortlessly attained diva status with a life of breaking precedents, government suppression, asylum-seeking, collaborations with Nina Simone and Peter Gabriel – departed after only two songs. The night ended with some Afrobeat from the Bronzehead collective, and a dj set of Afropolitan classics by Bradley Zero.

Abdulleh also edits Scarf magazine, which appears yearly, and has published some of the poets involved in Numbi, and diverse other artists, photographers, and writers of poetry, fiction, interviews, and essays. The new edition looks promising, including interviews with Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu (for whose medical sketches see here) and Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara, creative writing by Abdulrazaj Gurnah, and a recipe from Edwidge Danticat.


The launch of this year’s SCARF is Tuesday 22nd May at Rich Mix (details here).

* Photo Credits: Cristine Leone.

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