from london with love: bbz

August 22, 2018
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By Kuchenga Shenje for AFROPUNK

Throughout the twentieth century intercultural exchange between African Americans and Black Britons was rich, vibrant and more than a little unbalanced. You sent us Motown, and we sent you Shirley Bassey. You sent us James Baldwin, and we sent you Zadie Smith. You sent us hip hop, so we stepped it up with the bumper package of Soul II Soul, Naomi Campbell and Jeffrey from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. In the twenty-first century the digital revolution means that the pace of this cultural sharing has increased. We watch Love and Hip-Hop on the same day as you for example. For some reason Mona Scott-Young doesn’t believe we have enough thots to warrant a Love and Hip-Hop London. We are sending our best cultural envoys ‘BBZ,’ ‘gal-dem’ and ‘Black in the Day’ to dazzle AFROPUNK with how far we have come as Black Britons, but also as part of a reconnaissance mission to give us the run down on what we need to do to entice VH1 across the pond. From London With Love:

BBZ (everyone just says ‘babes’) stands for Bold Brazen Zamis. Founded by the creative duo Naeem Davis and Tia Simon-Campbell it started as a club night for black queer and trans people in South London and has blossomed into a cultural movement that pops up in various venues around the capital bringing the art of the marginalised into new spaces as  well springs of joyful decolonisation.

Naeem says: “We started in Deptford in a small Jamaican bar and restaurant. One of the ways we got everyone to understand what it was about was to make a beautiful collage that had images of Alice Walker, Audre Lorde. Images from a film called ‘The Aggressives’ which is all about black MOC in the US, women AFAB people in the US. Just things that had always fed into our identity but that we didn’t necessarily have access to in our everyday lives. The party kinda grew very quickly!”

In December, BBZ held a multi-media, multi-sensory exhibition at the impressively grand TATE Modern on the River Thames’ Southbank. This four-day project featured installations, discussions and a special late-night takeover. Their political values were particularly underscored by hosting a panel discussion for black trans and non-binary femmes involving the activist/model Munroe Bergdorf, the performance artist Chloé Filani and the actor and cabaret performer Travis Alabanza.

More recently the BBZ BLK BK: Alternative Graduation show which ran at Peckham’s Copeland Gallery from 18 to 22 July, held space for ten recently graduated queer artists of black ancestry to reclaim their time just (as Aunty Maxine instructed us to do). Organised with the Sorry You Feel Uncomfortable Collective they defiantly mounted the works of the United Kingdom’s next generation of uppity negroes in an area of the city which has been violently gentrified in recent times. There was a real diasporic vibe in the building which felt truly blessed by the pan-Africanist ancestors that came to London to coagulate in order to deconstruct the master’s house in the seat of imperialism. Marcus Garvey would be proud to see the enduring global reach of modern blackness that will bring BBZ to the Big Apple.

Naeem says: “Really looking forward to going to New York and glad that it’s more than just us, that it’s Gal Dem and finally getting to meet some of the people that have inspired us to do what we do. Not only Afropunk but Papi Juice, No Bad Mind and Fake Accent. Just all the artists and trailblazers who created spaces that made me say “You know what?! We need that here!” That’s incredibly exciting. Y’know to do that cross-pollination ting. Let dem know wha gwan for us black british yoots.”

Join BBZ at AFROPUNK After Dark, at Baby’s All Right on Sunday, August 26. Tickets HERE.