Sunday, March 25, 2007

an undauntable spirit

by Andrea Enisuoh

He’s a poet, a story-teller, a musician and a historian - for brevity he describes himself as a cultural activist. And as any good cultural activist would, he is throwing himself wholeheartedly into this period of events marking the Bicentenary of the Abolition of Slavery. Only Roi Kwabena isn’t into celebrating William Wilberforce and his alleged achievements, he’s committed to hailing the real heroes of the abolition movement – the slaves themselves.

‘It’s an issue that has been left to fester for far too long,’ he tells me as we discuss a dinner, lecture and multi-media presentation he is hosting this week. ‘Who really abolished the slave trade? Over the years we hear so much about Wilberforce and sometimes Olaudah Equiano, but so little about the real heroes. So little about those who rose up against chattel slavery, such as in the Morant Bay rebellion. It’s so rare we are told the true facts: that slaves abolished slavery.’

In fact the abolition of slavery is just one of the many cultural issues he wants discussed. To this end he has linked up with Caribarama Restaurant and Centerprise arts and community centre to organise a series of lectures and discussions. Rather than dry academic discussions however, in the true tradition of our communities the issues will be discussed over an African/Caribbean meal and drinks, against a backdrop of music and visuals.

Born in Trinidad Roi Kwabena came to Britain in 1985 after political and cultural activity in his home country. A one time Poet Laureate in Birmingham, he has lectured, performed and conducted workshops in the Caribbean, Europe and Africa in various universities and schools. Using a distinctive style of dialogue, drama and rhythm, he has published collections of poems and spoken word and music CDs. He draws no distinction between his cultural and artistic activities. ‘Art is a part of struggle,’ he says, ‘It is our form of expression, a way of seeing our face in the mirror, whether it be in visual art, music, literature or any other form.’ A committed advocate of cultural literacy Kwabena also publishes Dialogue, an international journal addressing indigenous cultures and their impact today.

But for now, admid the frenzy of events and discussions about the abolition of slavery, he is concentrating his time on setting the record straight. ‘People are mistelling the story,’ he insists, ‘To tell the true story we need to look at the Haitian Revolution. Not many people know but it was that revolution that led to the American Civil War.’ In fact what happened in Haiti had a tremendous impact on the entire region, which is much of the reason why Haiti is suffering so much today.’

Undoubtedly Roi Kwabena is a powerful advocate for black liberation. What I really want to know is how he became so imbued with such an undauntable spirit. ‘I grew up in a very eventful period,’ he reveals, ‘I grew up during the Civil Rights Movement, a time of people being lynched and shot. I’ve lived in Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt. I’ve met and worked with great ancestors such as Walter Rodney, Maurice Bishop and Eric Williams.‘He reels off other names too, like Betty Shabazz and Stokely Carmichael and you just know that the spirit of art and activism courses through his veins. During our discussion I interrupt to ask how he feels about how we are living today. ‘After what I have lived through and because I am an optimistic man, I can see change,’ he admits, ‘But I can’t deny that I feel sad too. I can’t pretend we don’t have problems.

There are problems with communication, with self-love and dignity. We are not recognizing the power that we possess. But I guess what really makes me sad is that after all our ancestors have been through, we have not built any lasting institutions to bequeath to our youth. No concrete, lasting centre, independent of welfare or government. That’s what we really need.’ I can’t help thinking that with campaigners like Roi Kwabena in our corner, buildings are just one of the many lasting legacies we will eventually achieve.


Post a Comment

<< Home