Alice Mason, from the team at Writing On The Wall, reflects on her experience of interviewing Benjamin Zephaniah and talks about his life and work, as well as what WoW have in store to celebrate Black History Month in Liverpool. You can listen to the interview below:
What can I say about Benjamin Zephaniah that hasn’t been said already? Poet. Musician. Vegan. Rastafarian. Anarchist. He encompasses all these things and more. Leaving his native Birmingham for London in the early 70s to give his dub-poetry a go, he has since gone on to publish twenty four books, including five children’s books, release five studio albums and he even hosted The Two Nations concert at Nelson Mandela’s request.
I practically jumped out of my seat when Emma (our Senior Project Manager at WoW) and I had the opportunity to interview him. I’ve always loved the idea of interviewing people and this was the first time I would be co-interviewing someone, not just anyone, Benjamin Zephaniah – king of dub poetry.
I was nervous, that was a given, but Benjamin was a charming interviewee, the ease at which he spoke to us was as if we were old neighbours. We talked about all kinds of topics, in fact he didn’t stop talking! I guess the thing about Benjamin is that he can talk about anything with such ease at a rapid pace, full of stories and with some pretty special nuggets of wisdom. Most importantly he makes his opinions relatable and accessible and by not getting caught up in academic language, he includes everyone in the debate.
Having said that, it’s hard to forget his legendary status when he talks about his friendships with the likes of Maya Angelou, giving us a personal insight into the life and times of one of the most extraordinary women of a generation. He also gave us his thoughts on Brexit and moved onto discuss the direct impact Grenfell has and will continue to have upon communities across Britain. I was floored by how straight talking yet down to earth he was.
Benjamin Zephaniah and his band, the Revolutionary Minds, will be just one of the highlights of our Black History Month Festival, this particular event being in partnership with our friends over at Positive Vibration. His new album Revolutionary Minds is brimming with thought provoking lyrics on every song of the record.
Interviewing Benjamin demonstrated to me some often forgotten (or forced under the carpet) facts. Racism still exists. Hate crime is on the rise. Women are far from being equal. The rise of the far right is a direct threat to our communities? He mentioned the times he got stopped and searched for no reason whatsoever. On one occasion, being merely “a black man in a BMW” was enough to raise suspicion. We sometimes brush aside how things from the past still affect us now. Especially in Liverpool, where we have the oldest Black community in Europe and such a complicated history.
We spoke to Benjamin about one of our events during the weekend, which will be highlighting this: a 1919 Walking Tour of the race riots that occurred during that time. Presenter and author David Olusoga will be presenting his book Black and British: A Forgotten History plus a launch of Great War to Race Riots, written by WoW’s Madeline Heneghan and Emy Onuora which follows the stories of Black ex-servicemen from WWI who were stranded in Liverpool. We hope our events will be a time to reflect on how and what needs to change for a better future, a time to contemplate recent local and global events, but most of all a time to celebrate – with Benjamin’s tunes as the soundtrack.
Writing on the Wall and Positive Vibration present Benjamin Zephaniah and the Revolutionary Minds on 21st October at District as part of Writing on the Wall’s Black History Month mini festival. Tickets are available here