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Taste the Okra Experience
If your tastes are not confined to one stream of the Diaspora, and you can appreciate ancient traditions in the same breath as modern cultural expressions then Okra may be for you.
The brainchild of south London DJs Duke Etienne and Suga Kan'n, Okra parties are rapidly gaining favour amongst London's black bohemia with their blatant disregard for intercultural barriers.
Little more than a year ago, we came up with the idea for the series of events after repeated musical meetings at Afro-inspired parties across the capital. I'd be spinning at loft-parties and Suga Kan'n would always be there. I knew who he was and that he had amazing music that I'd never heard anyone else play. We collaborated a few times and the results were so good, we figured we should take things a step further.
Our epic DJ sets, taking in everything from Guadeloupian Reggae to South African House and traditional Senegalese Mbalax, are causing a stir on London's afro circuit with the blend of Suga Kan'n's traditional beats and my more contemporary selection garnering attention with each successive event.
I've spent a long time on London's club scene, and through my Caribbean heritage, got into music that used Caribbean rhythms in a more urban way. Suga has been digging out traditionally inspired music from Africa, the Caribbean and South America for the past decade. He's travelled Africa a lot too so his DJ sets are pretty unique. When we got together, we realized that we had stumbled upon something which no-one else in London was offering – and we just ran with it.
HKB FiNN photo by Yoshitaka KonoIt's not all DJ sets though. Part of Okra's enduring appeal is the importance it places on live music. So far our stage has played home to Bélé drummers and dancers from Martinique, traditional Afro-Brazilian Maracatu (Brazilian carnival music), North African Gnawa trance music, Jamaican Dub poets, Nigerian soul singers, Haitian Vodoun funk fusionists Adjabel and Kumina drummers direct from the hills of Jamaica.
Live performance is important to us and we work hard to programme bands whose music tells a story in terms of its origins. It's interesting, because although a lot of them are amazing performers, you'll be hard pressed to see them play elsewhere. I think that's part of the success of our nights, people know that when they come, they're going to experience something truly different.
A year later and the proof is in the pudding. Okra nights are increasingly well attended and it's the sisters who are answering the call in droves. I never thought I'd say this, but we need more men at our events. We get good crowds, but they're almost 80 per cent female. That's great from my perspective, but the ladies are starting to complain that there aren't enough men at our functions – brothers, you need to redress the balance. Whether male or female, there's plenty of opportunity to taste the Okra experience.
With a regular slot Upstairs at Brixton's Ritzy cinema running in tandem with larger one-off events and a constant stream of secret parties for those in the know, there's little excuse not to make it down to at least one Okra session.
Black History Month question: What is the importance of Black History Month and is it still relevant today? Black history month is both important and relevant. As a symbol of awareness of our cultures, our achievements and as a tool to the gradual healing of our people, it is vital.
I think its a shame that credit to black achievement must be condensed into one month per year. Whether we view the history of humanity on this earth in its entirety, or simply choose to look at modern history, it is undeniable that black culture has made a massive contribution to the world.