Tag Pan-Africanism

My Father and Easter…

TheDarkDisciples

EASTER ALWAYS MAKES ME THINK OF MY FATHER (seated far right).

Not only because today marks the (12th) anniversary of his passing. But also because, although he never sought out a career as an actor (as far as I’m aware), he was part of one of the UK’s first Black theatre companies called The Negro Theatre Workshop.

Founded in 1963 by the Trinidadian-born theatrical and literary agent, actress and cultural activist, Pearl Connor and her husband Edric (also a renowned Calypsonian singer and actor in his own right), they were pioneering and ardent campaigners for the recognition and promotion of African Caribbean arts.

In 1966 they produced an interpretation of the Easter story entitled The Dark Disciples, which was the first ever all-Black production televised on the BBC. It also represented Britain at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal. My father was due to go on this tour, but had to decline due to a little forthcoming co-production of his own with my mother Sheila… 

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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.