Firstly I want to say Happy New Year to everyone! I hope that 2012 proves to be exciting, eventful and (peaceful) for us all. Last year I was asked to produce a film for Hackney Museum and Black History Month for their Our African Roots Exhibition. With Robert Dee and our organisation Octopus Film we made Sankofa- 'Sankofa' is a term for a Ghanaian Adinkra symbol meaning 'To go back and fetch'.
The meaning of the symbol proved to have more and more resonance while looking through the footage we had collected after shooting.The notion of 'going back and retrieving one's past' was an idea that was very much celebrated by many of the people I interviewed and an idea that has since made me think a lot about the shape of our society and the feelings of people on the streets.
When I was originally given the task to make this film I did not know where to start. The idea was to represent people with African heritage or 'roots' living in present day Hackney.
It is always a daunting experience to approach strangers and to try and convince them to partake in any 'community' project, and fairly soon before we were supposed to be shooting I found myself hovering by the Ghanaian food stalls and the hair salons of Ridley Road Market in the hope that someone would agree to be interviewed. While rehearsing a speech in my mind about the project, I shifted towards a few stalls selling plantain and other African spices. I tried out my speech on a few different market sellers and seemed to have similar responsesfrom each; initially I was deferred to the 'right person' running the stall; on finding the right person I was then given a blank stare and terse answers on the realisation that there was no money involved. This happened more than once. I was met with suspicion and distrust by a woman packing down her Gambian store as I desperately explained that the film was not a commercial endeavour. I was also asked why I was making this film and not an African person... Hmmm. Eventually I met someone who seemed interested and my spirits were lifted again but I left Ridley Market that time feeling like it may be an imprenetable treasure chest.
After I met Nigerian Frank Oowasu - the head teacher of the African Community School, my feelings towards Ridley Road Market changed from one of tense encounters and apprehension to one of discovery. Frank introduced me to a number of ridley road's key African and Caribbean retailers opening up a special colourful world- it seems to be a microcosm of the African demographic- revealing all the countries to have found themselves in Hackney, preserved in the thriving, exciting market stalls and enclaves on Ridley Road.
Making this film took me to places that I would never have seen or understood without this opportunity, I never would have found myself at an Anglican- Igbo church service meeting the chairmen and hearing the beautiful sounds of an African choir, or meeting the wonderful staff at the African community School to learn about the hands on community methods to educating, or sitting in Gillett square with 'Lady Dalston' learning about Ethiopian coffee ceremonies and cross- cultural Somali arts events at Marcoos Coffee bar. Nor would I find myself at Open The Gate buying Shea butter and talking about Adinkra symbols, or finally meeting Maurice- a man who had escaped the Biafran war as a child and is now a successful Reggae musician and Entertainer.
Our recordings of personal stories taught me more about the African diaspora in London and beyond. I learnt just a fragment of what it actually may be like to come from a war- torn country and to have to settle in another alien place. I learnt about the absence of black history in education and those gaps in cultural memory that can sometimes only really be filled with sorrow or loss.
On a more pragmatic note, for film making and myself; I learnt about 'going back and fetching'- going back to Ridley Market and persevering- having a bit of patience and determination.