Dominated by theatre actors, Turn Up London wasn’t all showtunes, and that’s okay – after all, variety is the spice of life. The concert is part of a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, seeking to raise awareness and some money for a number of organisations that support the black community. I make no apology for turning to them first, before saying anything more about any of the performances. The Bail Project, as its website sets out, is “a critical tool to prevent incarceration and combat racial economic disparities in the bail system”. Its fundraising efforts are used to pay bail for a black person who couldn’t otherwise afford it, and that money returns to the fund at the end of a client’s case, at which point that same bail money is used to free someone else. The Okra Project provides free meals and other resources to black trans people who would otherwise go hungry. The okra plant has a Wikipedia page for anyone who is interested in further particulars. Even the BBC has recipes on its Good Food website.
The Black Curriculum describes itself as a “social enterprise” set up by “young people to address the lack of Black British history in the UK Curriculum”. Despite Black History Month being a mainstay in British schools for some years now, there isn’t much in examination board specifications that tests pupils’ knowledge of black history… because there isn’t much black history in the curriculum in the first place. So, The Black Curriculum have come up with what they call “an accessible educational Black British history curriculum that raises attainment for young people”. UK Black Pride is open to “LGBTQ people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Latin American descent”. They have their own large annual celebration (totally unaffiliated to the Mayor of London-sponsored ‘Pride in London’) and other events throughout the year.
Turn Up London features songs like ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, first released by Nina Simone in 1964, and ‘Ball of Confusion’, first released by The Temptations in 1970, and it is something of a damning indictment on life in 2020 that such tunes are still highly relevant in a supposedly more enlightened world. There were also a number of spoken word pieces sprinkled throughout the proceedings, performed by (amongst others) Clive Rowe MBE and Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE. Maya Angelou’s works featured heavily – her ‘Phenomenal Woman’, performed by Noma Dumezweni, was particularly poignant for me. I also liked the thoughts asserted in an extract written by Vernon Jordan, and performed here by Arun Blair-Mangat: we cannot get to where we want to be on our own, but must stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, and we may take and live temporarily, or otherwise live ‘forever’ through what we ourselves give.
God cannot be kept out of (the white dominated) Les Misérables, let alone something like Turn Up London – most of the largest churches in the London area are described by sociologists as ‘black majority’ – and so audiences were treated to the Sister Act rendering of ‘Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee’ by recent actor graduates. Brittney Johnson and Alexia Khadime’s version of ‘For Good’ almost immediately sparked debate on social media – there haven’t been many black principals to have played either Elphaba or Glinda in the West End in the time Wicked has been at the Apollo Victoria Theatre (the Broadway production appears to have done slightly better). Khadime is the only (ex) London Elphaba that comes to my mind.
Then there are the crowd-pleasers, such as ‘I’m Every Woman’ from The Bodyguard, sung by Natalia Kassanga, Kelly Agbowu and Nicole Raquel Dennis, and ‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)’ sung beautifully by Claudia Kariuki and Danielle Steers. The show closed on a high in more ways than one, with Marcus Collins, Rachel Adedeji and Layton Williams raising the roof with their version of ‘Ain’t No Mountain’. Most impressive of all, perhaps, were the donations made by some more well-off people, such that the producers were able to grant free access to people who could not afford to see the show. Inclusivity indeed.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.