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.

Ber/Lon – A Tale of Two (Gentrifying) Cities

For centuries the cities of London and Berlin have been transformed and re-invented by people from all over the world, who have created vibrant cultures in local areas at the intersection of art and politics. Is this all under threat now, as creative and political spaces are eaten up developers and capital cities are overrun by the power of capital?

Join artists Joshua Idehen and Adelaide Ivánova, Johny Pitts and Joanna Legid as they confront these issues in the London and Berlin neighbourhoods at the forefront of change. Through multilingual poetry and prose, photography and music, Ber/Lon explores what is lost — what we lose — when working-class, multicultural areas become gentrified.

Where and When

LONDON

Wednesday 19 February 2020 at Candid Arts Basement, 3 Torrens Street, London EC1V 1NQ. Tickets £5 / £3 concessions

BERLIN

Friday 28 February 2020 at Literaturhaus Lettrétage, Mehringdamm 61, 10961 Berlin

Left to right: Joshua Idehen, Adelaide Ivanova, Johny Pitts, Joanna Legid
Left to right: Joshua Idehen, Adelaide Ivanova, Johny Pitts, Joanna Legid

Artists

Joshua Idehen is a poet, teacher and musician. A British-born Nigerian, his poetry has been published widely and he has performed across Europe. His interest in the impact of gentrification and the closure of music venues led him to create the online fanzine anothergreatnightout.com, to celebrate Passing Clouds, one of the first venues he played in. He has collaborated with Mercury nominated artists The Comet Is Coming and Sons of Kemet. The album Last Night with dance pop band Benin City was released in 2018 (Moshi Moshi Music). He is currently working on his debut poetry collection and a one man show.

Brazilian Adelaide Ivánova is a journalist and political activist working with poetry, photography, performance, translation and publishing. Her poems have been translated into German, Galician, English, Spanish, Greek and Italian. Her photos/texts have appeared in The Huffington Post (USA), Marie Claire (Brazil) and Modern Poetry in Translation (UK) among others. Her photo reportage can be seen in Kunst Museum Dieselkraftwerk (Germany), L’arthotèque Museum of Fine Arts (France) and Galeria Murilo Castro (Brazil). In 2018 her poetry book o martelo won the Rio Literature Award. She edits the anti-capitalist poetry zine MAIS NORDESTE, PVFR! with leftist poets from Brazil’s northeast. She lives in Berlin, earning a living as baby-sitter, life model, waiter and other alienating jobs. 

Johny Pitts is a writer, photographer and broadcast journalist. His book Afropean came out in the UK in June 2019 to critical acclaim and is being translated into German and French among others. He has received various awards for his work exploring African-European identity, including a Decibel Penguin Prize and a European Network Against Racism Award. He is the curator of the online journal Afropean.com, part of the Guardian‘s Africa Network and has collaborated with acclaimed author Caryl Philips on a photographic essay about London’s immigrant communities for the BBC and Arts Council England.

Joanna Catherine Schröder aka Joanna Legid is an analogue photographer capturing people, things and places through the lens of her camera. Born in Rwanda to a German father and a Rwandan mother, Joanna has lived in different places until she moved to Berlin ten years ago. With a love for the intimate moment between staged poses and a trained eye for imperfection, her photography focuses on portrait as well as documentary work. She is also the co-founder of heartxwork.com, a creative platform which assembles stories of Germans with a migration background as well as BIPOCs living in Germany.

A Speaking Volumes production with Lettrétage, funded by the Goethe Institute

Breaking Ground USA

Following years of failed diversity initiatives in literature and publishing sectors, and after the publication of Spread the Word’s 2015 Writing the Future report, we decided that it was time to act, and at least make our own small contribution to raising awareness and visibility of the immense, hidden, diverse talent in the UK, and the Breaking Ground project was born.

Conceived, curated and organised by Speaking Volumes, Breaking Ground was a double tour to the East and West Coast’s of the USA, one in November 2015, the second in May 2016. It came from discussions with colleagues at the AfroEuropes conference, following a cultural evening programmed by Speaking Volumes, a number of visitors from the US expressed shock and surprise that Black British writers existed. We felt that raising awareness of this would privde a boost for our writers, providing opportunities in the US that UK publishers were not.

Left-right: Karen McCarthy Wolf; Nick Makoha; Jay Bernard; Gabriel Gbadamosi; Johny Pitts; Bernardine Evaristo; Diran Adebayo; Roger Robinson; Colin Grant

The Breaking Ground tour list consisted of five prose writers, five poets. All of the artists present a vast range of themes in their work and many are multi-genre writers, combining poetry and playwriting, for example. We paid particular attention to balancing gender and age and to present both new and established names to audiences.

The ten tour writers were Diran Adebayo, Jay Bernard, Bernardine Evaristo, Gabriel Gbadamosi, Colin Grant, Nick Makoha, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Johny Pitts, Roger Robinson and Warsan Shire.

Breaking Ground had a very successful start in 2015, with three events around England followed by the first part of the US programme. Ten of the best Black British writers gave lectures at Rutgers University, NY; conducted workshops with young poets in Chicago, IL; presented solo shows in Pittsburgh, PA; and visited classes at Emory,  the first black college in the US, in Atlanta, GA. This series ended with a full showcase of of all ten authors at the 2015 Association for the Study of Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD) conference in Charleston, SC.

As a result of ongoing demand from North American contacts, we planned a second ambitious tour of the USA, this time heading for the West Coast and Califonia. The writers read at San Francisco book shops, visited classes at the University of California at Davis, had a sold-out theatre showcase, and ran workshops at Sacramento Maximum Security Prison. At this moment in the twenty-first century, Breaking Ground represents a thoughtful and imaginative way of presenting a positive Black British experience based on a spirit of collaboration and exchange.

Roger Robinson reflects on visiting Sacramento Maximum Security Prison
Johny Pitts reflects on the Breaking Gorund US experience

The dates for the second part of the US tour in 2016

Thursday 28 April

Breaking Ground at Seton Hall, New Jersey with Bernardine Evaristo and Colin Grant

Free and open to the public | 6-8pm | Arts & Sciences Hall, room 107, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ

Friday 29 April

Breaking Ground at New York University with Bernardine Evaristo and Colin Grant

Monday 2 May

Creative writing workshops at California State Prison-Sacramento (formerly Folsom Prison)

Workshops for inmates will be conducted by Diran Adebayo, Gabriel Gbadamosi, Colin Grant, Nick Makoha, Johny Pitts and Roger Robinson | Closed event

Monday 2 May

Jay Bernard and Bernardine Evaristo – brown bag event at University of California at Davis

Tuesday 3 May

Breaking Ground Black British Writers Showcase featuring all ten tour writers – Mondavi Center 

Tickets $30 / $10 concessions | 8-10pm | Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center, University of California, Davis, CA

Wednesday 4 May

Breaking Ground Showcase at Green Apple Books, San Francisco

Featuring nine tour writers |  7.30-9.30pm | Green Apple Books on the Park, 1231 9th Avenue, SF CA

Thursday 4 May

Breaking Ground Writers visiting classes at University of California, Davis

Closed event | various times | UC Davis

Thursday 4 May

Breaking Ground Readings at UC Davis