City Central

A journey that will take you from Sheffield’s once-glorious industrial past to the gritty urban high rises of contemporary Amsterdam, from the Afropean music of Brussels to Lisbon’s vibrant black community hidden from tourists, City Central stops at fascinating and surprising calling points.

UPDATE: City Central was supposed to take place in March 2020, but had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It will premiere at the Southbank Centre, London, in early 2021. Below is a film giving a flavour of the sights and sounds of the show, which was part a dgitial presentation which also showed a BBC Arena film about the band Zap Mama.

City Central is a collaboration between author/photographer Johny Pitts and poet/musician Joshua Idehen. Using Johny’s 2019 non-fiction book Afropean: Travels in Black Europe, and the work of Josh’s band Benin City, the pair are creating a live performance that fuses poetry and prose, music and photography, film and field recordings.

The result will be a dynamic, exciting multimedia show that focusses on gentrification and the importance of multicultural, working class spaces in cities across the continent

Johny Pitts
Benin City
left-right: Tom Leaper, Shanaz Dorsett, Joshua Idehen

Working and performing alongside the pair are Josh’s Benin City bandmates Tom Leaper and Shanaz Dorsett, and Johny’s long-time multi-media collaborator and artist Chris Morris.

Join the City Central Express for an exhilarating whistle-stop tour of unseen Europe at the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room on 28 February for the show’s premiere. This multi-sensory journey will start in first class, with an iconic Arena film screening setting the scene for the unique sights and sounds to come in the live show.

Johny Pitts is the author of the non-fiction book Afropean: Journeys in Black Europe, an on-the-ground documentary of areas where Europeans of African descent are juggling their multiple allegiances and forging new identities. ‘A revelation’ – Owen Jones

Benin City are the acclaimed band named after a Nigerian capital, who are known for their genre-bending musicality. They are about to release their third album. ‘One to watch’ – the Guardian

Chris Morris is a multi media artist working in music, sound and film; a specialist in working with neurodiverse musicians and artists in developing innovative practice.

A Speaking Volumes Production in collaboration with the Southbank Centre funded by ACE.

Breaking Ground: Celebrating Writers of Colour

The next chapter of Speaking Volumes’ Breaking Ground project began in 2017 with the launch of a new booklet celebrating writers of colour. We hope that the booklet is a valuable resource both at home and overseas, demonstrating the wide and varied literature of the UK whilst raising the profile and giving a platform to 200 contemporary British BAME authors. It was launched at London Book Fair.

The booklet accompanied major Breaking Ground showcases of British writers of colour in five European cities over 12 months, plus a series of events in the UK. Speaking Volumes took poets and prose authors to Tampere in Finland, Lisbon in Portugal, Madrid and Seville in Spain, Berlin in Germany and Brussels in Belgium. For each showcase we arranged for the translation of the visiting writers work into the language of the host country, printed individual brochures and distributed them to audiences and literature professionals in each country. These brochures can be read with the overview of each country visited along with videos and photos of each showcase.

Read the brochure in full here:

Breaking Ground Finland

Poets Zena Edwards, Vanessa Kisuule, Solomon OB, Roger Robinson and Yomi Sode performed at FestAfrika and the AfroEuropes Conference in Finalnd’s second city Tampere. Johny Pitts also gave a keynote address at the conference.

Breaking Ground Portugal

Peter Kalu and Jacob Ross gave a readings and a discussion on black British thrillers and crime writing at the Jose Saramago Foundation in Lisbon.

Breaking Ground Spain

Authors Yvvette Edwards, Colin Grant, Peter Kalu, Irenosen Okoje, Jacob Ross and Leone Ross gave talks and performed at the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD) conference being held in Seville, Spain. Prior to the conference, the women of the group took part in events at the University of Alcala in Madrid.

Breaking Ground Berlin

Francesca Beard, Rishi Dastidar, Caleb Femi and Xialou Gao presented multi-media adaptations of their work at Berlin organisation Lettrétage, which included film and audio accompaniments, a pecha kucha slideshow and a dual language theatre piece. In between each live performance was a filmed one, with Karen McCarthy Woolf’s Dancing Words piece, the premiere of Bidisha’s first poetry film, and a show of Johny Pitts’ Afropean travel photos.

Breaking Ground Brussels

As part of the Afropean conference at BOZAR Brussels, Speaking Volumes were invited to bring a Breaking Ground showcase for the headline event. Inua Ellams, Bernardine Evairsto, Amina Jama, Catherine Johnson read a mixture of prose and poetry on a bill opened by legendary dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, and followed by a 40 minute version of Nick Makoha and Roger Robinson’s Mixtape show.

Find out about the Breaking Ground US tours in 2015 and 2016 here.