Black celebration of iconic figures

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, showing at the Showroom Cinema as part of Black History Icons
The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, showing at the Showroom Cinema as part of Black History Icons

OCTOBER is Black History Month when all over the country events are put on to highlight positive black contributions to British society and at the same time to heighten the confidence and awareness of black people to their cultural heritage.

Music is one of the most prominent examples of cultural influence and the University of Sheffield is including a Black History Icons strand in its Autumn Concerts programme backed by five music documentaries being screened by the Showroom Cinema.

The series of events looks at music and identity - how music has portrayed the fight for justice and equality and its significance in a world where racism and multiculturislism co-exist in an uneasy relationship.

“We seem to think we live in an equal society and the reality is that we don’t,” says Stewart Campbell, concerts manager for the University of Sheffield´s Department of Music. “The aim of Black History Month is to help the confidence and awareness of black people and make them aware of their cultural heritage.” At the same time it promotes the achievements among the rest of the community.

“It’s similar to our gay icons season in showing how the arts mould what we think.”

The centrepiece will be a concert by bass player Gary Crosby, a Black British jazz pioneer, and the 16-piece Nu Civilisation Jazz Orchestra with a programme of work exploring musical paths that converge at the crossroads of jazz and classical music.

Crosby will participate in a pre-concert discussion, Black British Jazz and the Meaning of Music in the UK, with Dr. Jason Toynbee of the Open University .

It will be followed up in November with a concert in which the Dante Quartet perform an inventive programme of music composed or inspired by black musicians over the past 250 years – a time scale which may surprise many.

There will be pieces by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a prominent name in classical music that many are unaware was black, and a performance of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in A named Kreutzer but originally dedicated to black violinist George Bridgetower.

“Somehow these men managed to rise above the constraints of race and class and maybe that’s what drove them to be creative,” says Campbell. “That’s why I am fascinated by the notion of music and identity.”

The five films at the Showroom include recent release Fire in Babylon which highlights the achievements of the West Indian cricket team during a time of upheaval and racial discrimination, played out to a soundtrack of reggae. Harry Belafonte’s work within the civil rights movement as a major public figure is shown in Sing Your Song The Story. The American civil rights movement is also discussed from various angles in Soundtrack for a Revolution and Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975. Lover’s Rock charts the emergence of a British reggae genre in the Seventies and Eighies that has a lasting influence.

There will also be exhibitions at the Workstation. In Black Brittania London documentary photographer John Ferguson aims to inspire the younger generation by highlighting the achievements of 50 black British pioneers who have all broken through the glass ceiling and defied negative stereotypes. Arthur Wharton: Football Unites, Racism Divides tells the story from the 19th century of the world’s first paid black footballer, charts and Pioneers celebrates the progression and achievements of black and Asian players in the modern game. The three exhibitions open on October 17.

Mia Morris, national organiser of Black History Month, said: “I’m delighted that Sheffield is taking part in Black History Month and particularly the truly enriching arts experiences that will be on offer in the city. I’m pleased that the University of Sheffield Deparment of Music has recognised the cultural importance of this UK wide event and the new relationships that have been forged alongside the Showroom Cinema. I’m sure visiting audiences across the Yorkshire region will be challenged, entertained and moved by the programme of work created to celebrate black culture and history.” It’s something that is going on all the time, in some ways, such as the recent production at the Crucible Studio, One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show. And, of course, in the Main House Othello also has something to say about black culture.