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Month February 2015

4 Corners: An Interview with Lewis Williams

As we approach the close of the US Black History Month celebrations,
am extremely proud to celebrate our 2nd anniversary as a regular monthly column with you.

This month we pay tribute to both occasions with a profile interview with the Chief Creative Officer of one America’s oldest Black advertising agencies and one of the largest multi-cultural marketing firms in the world.

Founded in 1971 by Tom Burrell and then Partner, Emmett McBain, with the principle of forging an authentic and respectful relationship with the African American consumer; tapping into how the Black Aesthetic could also appeal to the general market consumer; and recognizing that there were inherent cultural differences that drove patterns of consumption, provided the launchpad for all Burrell’s communications. Principles, most succinctly phrased at the time by its founder Tom Burrell who stated, “Black people are not dark-skinned white people.”

Now, as part of the Publicis Groupe with over 100 employees, the company’s is steered by two dynamic women of colour, Fay Ferguson and McGhee Williams Osse. And it’s creative legacy remains resolutely intact and as relevant as ever (as its current Black = Human campaign in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter will testify) under the watchful creative direction of Lewis Williams, whose work and life story I have the great pleasure of introducing you to today.

Williams_Lewis_02

Lewis Williams, Executive Vice President / Chief Creative Officer, Burrell Communications

What’s your background?

I’m a southern boy to the core. Born and raised in Macon, Georgia, the home of such musical greats like Little Richard, Otis Redding, Lena Horne and the Allman Brothers Band.

As a kid I always loved to draw and got a lot of encouragement from my community and schools. My first dream was to become an architect, but quickly abandoned that idea for math was not my favorite subject. So I concentrated on the fine art side of things. I had no idea there was an industry called advertising.

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I graduated from Kent State University with a BFA degree in Graphic Design. Since most design shops were small without many positions open my break came when hired by a San Diego, CA ad agency as a production designer. Which later turned into an art director’s role and my ad career was born.

You can see more at by website and my profile on LinkedIn.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/93108785″>Late Nite Final</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user26991593″>lewforhire</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

What challenges did you face/overcome in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

There’s a few. The first was being born black. The second access and just lacking or knowing anyone or anything about it. This was amplified even more since I am a minority. African Americans were hardly represented in any roles in agencies especially in the creative department. So there was this need to go hard 24/7.

But with a strong work ethic, mentors, faith I’ve made a pretty good go

at it so far. But make no mistake the challenges are still there and always will be.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/92098050″>ToyotaAvalonOnlyTheName3.m4v</a&gt; from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user26991593″>lewforhire</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

Being black and proud has always been my inspiration. But the primary foundation will always be my parents. My father, a welder helper and my mom a domestic worker. They gave me great values and support that gave me the ability to believe in myself.

One winter day my father once came home, cold and dirty from a hard days work. He looked at me and said…”Son, do good in school so you can get a job working inside.” I never forgot that.

What is your best piece of work or project you are most proud of?

We’ll hopefully I haven’t done it yet. But a pro-bono work I did for the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio some years ago rises to the top. Its mission is to abolish modern day slavery and oppression around the world.

Underground Railroad

What would be your dream job or project?

My dream project would be to open an ad school/agency for kids who lack access through the “normal” channels and kick butt.

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

I have to start at the beginning; my parents and family; my church family; my grade and high school teachers. Upward Bound. Bob Kwait was my first boss to see I had a knack for doing ads. Tom Burrell, gave me a shot when others wouldn’t.

Cheryl Berman who gave me the break into the big time at Leo Burnett and mentored me throughout my career there.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Love what you do. Work hard. Find mentors and listen to them. And never let up. Never.

What’s next for you?

I don’t know. I just know I’m not done.

For more information visit:
http://www.lewforhire.com and http://www.burrell.com

Network:

 

EUROPE:

V&A ART & EXISTENCE | Lecture Series:

The Seamstress, Designer and the Model explore the role of the seamstress in black cultural life in the Caribbean, the results of emigration and displacement, and compare patterns of production in the Caribbean and Britain. Thursday 5 March 2015 14:30 – 16:00 in The Clore Study Room. For more information click here

The Rise and Development of Black Print Culture uses the work of Joel Augustus Rogers (1880- 1966) as a case study, examine the role of the journalist, political activist, artist, and publisher in countering racist stereotypes, by creating a black led perspective on print media, collected on people from the African Diaspora within books, newspapers, hand bills and pamphlets. Thursday 12 March 2015 14:30 – 16:00 in The Clore Study Room. For more information click here

Calypso and the Black British Experience. The lyrics of Calypso were highly political as they were contentious, and dealt with a variety of topics such as poor housing; gaining Independence and the Commonwealth; African, Caribbean and British affairs; the wars and economic status. Consider the changes that have occurred since these decades, and revisit “London is the Place for Me” through Alexander’s “Windrush” song, that contrasts with Kitchener’s rather rose tinted view of Britain in 1948. Talk led by Alexander D. Great, Musician and Educator. Thursday 19 March 2015 14:30 – 16:00 in The Clore Study Room. For more information click here


THE CARIBBEAN:

The New Waves! Institute was established in 2011 and has since gathered 200 dance artists, teachers, and scholars in the Caribbean. Each year, participants, staff and a renowned faculty of international artists form a supportive and inspiring community that has created a unique space for dialogue, networking, experimentation and collaboration. The program has been made possible through a major partnership with and held at the University of Trinidad & Tobago / Academy for Performing Arts, within the National Academy for Performing Arts in Port of Spain in 2011, 2012, and 2013. In 2014, the New Waves! Institute was held in Jacmel & Port au Prince, Haiti. New Waves! returns to UTT/APA for its 5th Anniversary, from 22 July to 1 August 2015. Applications due from April 3rd click here for details

 

THE U.S:

TITUS KAPHAR: THE JEROME PROJECT is composed of small-scale works that engage with contemporary social issues, particularly the criminal justice system. In 2011, Kaphar began searching for his father’s prison records. When he visited a website containing photographs of people who have recently been arrested, he found dozens of men who shared his father’s first name, Jerome, and last name. The artist was influenced by the writings of Michelle Alexander and William Julius Wilson on the prison-industrial complex and the use of policing and imprisonment by the US government as a means to address economic, social and political problems. The panels are based on police portraits of the men named Jerome that Kaphar found online, which represent only a portion of each man’s identity yet are preserved in the public record. Although each work depicts an individual, this series represents a community of people, particularly African American men, who are overrepresented in the prison population. Runs until 8 March 2015 at the Studio Museum of Harlem

 

AFRICA:

DESIGN INDABA has become a respected institution on the global creative landscape, based on the foundation of our annual Festival that has attracted and showcased the world’s brightest talent since 1995. The annual Design Indaba Festival in Cape Town now also includes the highly popular Design Indaba ExpoFilmFestMusic Circuit, multiple Simulcast versions of the Conference in cities around South Africa, and other special events. Go to our Festival page for the latest programme or download our Festival App for updates. Festival runs until 1 March 2015.

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

 

Salaam Malcolm: 50th Anniversary 1965-2015

1990. ‘Malcolm X Fever’ is at fever pitch.

There is a plethora of Malcolm X iconography inspired primarily through the music of legendary, afrocentric and conscious rap/hip hop groups such as, Public Enemy and the X-Clan who had just dropped their debut album, ‘To the East Blackwards’; the films and merchandising of Spike Lee through his newly opened store in Brooklyn, Spike’s Joint; and the bold, fresh and funky fashion of Cross Colours.

These were ‘X-citing’ times. But as with any popular cultural movement, it can reach its point of overload and for many people, like myself who were into Malcolm-X for more historical and political reasons, the seeming reduction of him to that of purely a fashion icon was a bridge too far.

That point of overload was to literally hit home to me, in my locale of East Sheen in south-west London, when suddenly I’d see all these white middle and upper class kids in the local high street, rocking their Malcolm X and Public Enemy t-shirts.

In hindsight, I wish I could maybe have viewed it less cynically and accepted it for what it was, which whatever the reasons, was a mainstream, multi-cultural adoption of Malcolm X, which would have been utterly inconceivable in his lifetime.

Instead, to be honest, I was more consumed with mixed feelings of cultural appropriation and a desire to push a more meaningful adoption of Malcolm X, his teachings, his politics and his philosophies.

However, these feelings inspired me to design one of my first ever t-shirt designs, which I created to recognise the 25th anniversary of Malcolm’s death in 1965.

Malcolm RIP XXV © Jon Daniel

I deliberately took a less populist approach, using his muslim name of ‘El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz’. And a typographic rather than image-led visual treatment, using an excerpt from the eulogy read at Malcolm’s funeral by the Black actor and civil rights activist, Ossie Davis.

The design, which I initially sold on the street at the Notting Hill Carnival in 1990, and then afterwards at a few select stores around London, also proved to be a powerful creative catalyst.

It forged within me a new mindset to use design and creativity as a tool to promote the rich historical legacy of Black heroes and heroines from the African diaspora, and to take a progressive and pro-active stance to issues that affected the Black community.

As-Salaam-Alaikum.

 

Introducing ‘AfroNOWism’: Five Funky Philosophies

I was that kid at school who was always restless.

‘Distracted’. ‘Boisterous’. ‘Excitable’. Just a few of the adjectives that were used to describe me in my school reports.

All this much is true, as I have always had a relentless energy and over-active mind and imagination.

I was, and still am a dreamer, and I know that I am not alone in these feelings.

I also have an abiding passion for ideas (both my own and others). And it is this passion that has driven me, to pursue a life as a creative professional in design and advertising, a collector and curator of Afro-pop culture, a columnist and more recently as an independent creative director and artist.

It has also led me on an internal quest to challenge myself and find an expression to encapsulate my creative approach.

A definition, that could underpin my ethics and help characterize some of my personality traits.

Traits, such as my insatiable appetite for thinking up ideas and putting them into action; my general impatience and high degree of self-gratification in wanting things done immediately; my refusal to wait for ‘opportunity’ and impulsiveness to just go out there and try to make things happen; my constant desire to challenge injustice, inequality, convention and the status quo.

I am what I am.

So in a humble bid to inspire and share with my fellow creatives, what I feel has been useful to me over the years, I offer you five principles that I try to live and design by, and which constitute my newly formed ‘AfroNOWism’ idea-ology:

AFRONOWISM_SQ

AfroNOWism © Jon Daniel

 

1. Seize The Time!

These words became one of the mantras of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, as coined by co-founder Bobby Seale. Together with Huey P. Newton, they created a grass-roots movement that inspired generations of people all over the world to take action and fight for their human rights. Someone once told me, you’re more likely to regret the things in life that you don’t do, rather than the things that you do. So what’s stopping you? I’m not saying don’t look before you leap, just be intelligent about your actions. The key to selling a concept, dream, idea or ideal is all in the ARTiculation.

 2. If you ain’t gonna get it on, take your dead ass home.

This P-Funk lyrical phrase, was coined by one of my greatest Afro Supa heroes and sources of inspiration. P-Funk is a complete and entire culture that manages to philosophically and aesthetically bind together a giant funk gumbo of; music and musicians; art and artists; and a plethora of super-cool funkativity masterminded by the most magnificent godfather of Funk, George Clinton. Fusing the greatest musicianship with black social commentary, psychedelia, sharp, satirical lyricism and general Afrofuturistic, cosmic creativity, it has informed my ‘through the line’ thinking and approach to branding and campaign communications on many an occasion and inspires me to bring my best game to all I do.

 3. Under-promise. Over-deliver.

When working with clients, one of the key virtues I’ve found is always to be attentive. As in life and friendships, listening is key. Be intuitive, and above all be honest. If you are confident and skilled at what you do, then you shouldn’t need to over-sell yourself. It’s far better to create a relationship based on honesty and mutuality, rather than one based purely on expectation and exploitation. Prepare both yourself and your client for whatever can happen and you’ll come back with ideas and designs that are resonant, robust and therefore deserving of reward and recognition.

4. Form Follows Funk.

In design, there is an old adage that ‘Form Follows Function’. It’s a principle that I also believe in and adhere to often. But in freeing myself more and more of the constraints of working primarily with commercial and corporate clients and now adopting a more personal artistic approach I’ve also found the joy in creating things fuelled much more by instinct than instruction. Designers tend to be quite anal. Well “free your ass and your mind will follow”. Now I trust myself that the wealth of experience that I’ve gained, will translate instinctively in anything I do. I question myself less and just let things flow. If it looks right, and it feels right (to me), it can’t be wrong.

5. Box outside the think.

Be Brave. Be Bold. Believe in yourself and fight for your ideas. Keep your eyes on the prize by constantly moving, bobbing, weaving and learning how to create and build momentum by exploiting the gaps between the question and the answer. You’ll triumph in the end.

 

 

 

NINE FINE: Supa Soul Sistas

 

NINE_FINE_Soul_Sistas

 

Valentine’s Day, 2015.

I was blessed to be in the company of two very special women. My beautiful wife of over 21 years, Jane. And Hilary Mwelma, otherwise know by her stage persona, Hil St. Soul.

The latter was there as the host and star of a special intimate night of musical entertainment taking place onboard the historic Cutty Sark ship in Greenwich, South East London.

It was a truly beautiful night and Hilary had both myself, my wife and all the other lucky spectators in the audience captivated by her beautiful performance and selection of songs for the night.

As a longtime fan of ‘Hils’, it was actually the first time I had seen her perform live, and I came away feeling inspired and humbled by the experience.

It gave me cause to pause and reflect on how much pleasure and enjoyment I get from musical artistes such as Hil St. Soul, and especially made me realise how much more I tend to listen to female artists more than male.

Here’s my selection (in alphabetical order) of  favourite tracks from nine of my favourite soul sistas. My humble way of paying tribute to these amazing women.

Thank you for blessing me daily with your deep, beautiful, intelligent, powerful, unique musical voices and extraordinary lyrical talents.

I love you all.

#NineFine #SupaSoulSistas

Angie Stone ‘Everyday’

 Anita Baker ‘Sweet Love’

Amel Larrieux ‘Get Up’

Brenda Russell ‘In The Thick of it’

 Erykah Badu ‘Next Lifetime’

Hil St. Soul ‘Feelgood Factor’

Jill Scott ‘Cross My Mind’

Lauryn Hill ‘Killing Me Softly’

Me’shell Ndegeocello ‘Trust’