One day to go until #blackbird is in the world...
This song has been inside me since I realised at 5 years old that people weren’t looking at me the same as they were looking at my mum. The first time in Wales I was asked if opened my banana the way ‘people from the jungle’ do. The first time I was told I had to stop copying the white kids because it was impossible for them to be the cheaters. Not knowing what part of myself I should code switch into within my family. Being told I was a ‘crap black person’. Growing up every day feeling less sure of myself and who I was allowed to be. What ‘side’ I was meant to choose.
And then I watched a video of a tall black woman, an activist in the US being forced out of her car, beaten off camera and pronounced dead a few days later. That woman was Sandra Bland and that changed everything for me (How Active Is Activism). The fear and rage that I’d been able to push down over the years exploded inside me and all the questions about whether I was allowed to engage in black politics as a mixed race/light skinned person dissipated because I saw myself in her.
It wasn’t enough to just talk about race with people I trusted, or politely leave it out of conversation for the sake of others comfort. I wrote Sycamore Tree and sang it at the #BlackLivesMatter Bristol march. Digging deep I realised that I hadn’t been engaging in the conversation because it was too big; I felt ill-equipped and terrified of how useless I would feel and the friends I’d lose along the way once I started to speak up and call out.
Equally I knew that it was something I had to engage in because it was too dangerous not to. I’m not a lawyer or a doctor or a police officer – I’m a musician and an entertainer…but that doesn’t mean that my contribution won’t make a difference. Music has been the one constant in my life I could always rely on – writing helps me to un-muddle my thoughts and singing helps me turn them into something beautiful. When I sang Sycamore Tree that day I cried. I looked up and saw others crying with me and in that moment I gave myself permission to write Blackbird. Not in the form it is in now (I was years off that) but I began to read and write about race, allowing the words to rhyme.
Slowly they started to take the form of spoken word. I allowed myself to be angry, vulnerable and say what had been inside me but never allowed to say to the people who needed to hear it most. I’ve been writing Blackbird for three years but it’s been inside me since I was 5 years old.
Blackbird, released on Saffron Records, Thursday 19th September, will premier on Bristol 24/7