Maxwell: Summers’

Partial tracklist to Summers' (c) Maxwell's Instagram
Partial tracklist to Summers’ (c) Maxwell’s Instagram

US singer Maxwell released a teaser at midnight, New York time for his upcoming record Summers’.

It is the second part of his trilogy BlackSUMMERS’night; and Maxwell’s cryptic clues to the record online, has kept his fans gripped in the anticipation of an artist who has consistently released great music.

On his Facebook biography; Summers’ is said to lean towards a gospel sound, and in more recent interviews Maxwell has described the album as a hybrid of music. He cited some artists he enjoys such as the xx and Fleet Foxes, and suggested a subtle influence of indie rock and alt-rhythm and blues might creep onto the record.

Maxwell performs onstage during the 2008 BET Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on June 24. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images North America
Maxwell performs onstage during the 2008 BET Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on June 24. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images North America

Maxwell always surprises; in 2008, he came on stage for his first televised performance in seven years at the BET Awards – to pay tribute to Al Green – and to prepare audiences for a new album.

Black was released in 2009. He recorded the album with a live band and archaic microphones to give the record more character, and hearing his magnificent falsetto and tenor voice on tracks such as “Bad Habits” and “Love You” made some of my favourite music moments.

In the wait for Summers’, fans were elated with Maxwell’s surprise appearance on the smoky ballad “Fire We Make”, a duet with Alicia Keys on her current Girl on Fire album.  Their voices, together, accompanied by synth bass and quiet horns is the kind of material that soul fans dream of.

It makes the prospect of a collaboration with Marsha Ambrosius on Summers’ even more exciting, which came about from a hint Maxwell tweeted.

What’s interesting about Maxwell’s Twitter, is that he has assured his artistic integrity. He doesn’t pander to his listeners or give in to them, instead he challenges them.

The music industry is ever changing and while some artists have to release albums to support their tours, Maxwell, thankfully, is in a position where he can create the timeless album that he wants to.

It’s a work ethic which reminds me of Michael Jackson’s; he cared about every chord change, every sound and always wanted to do something different and recorded hundreds of songs for each album. Not to say you can’t be prolific – Prince is evidence of that, but that’s two ends of the spectrum of genius.

With the release of Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite in 1996, wheels were set in motion for him. He was claimed as a “saviour of soul”, “the new Marvin Gaye” and “the king of neo-soul”, as the critics tried to put Maxwell – the commodity in his box.

Maxwell told Vibe Magazine’s Selwyn Seyfu Hinds around the release of Now in 2001 about the pressures of competing against his highly acclaimed debut record:

“You know sometimes when you want to do your own thing and people just kind of want you to fit within their world…it’s a revelation. So I learned about a lot, about just perseverance and pure faith. And about humility”.

Embrya, released in 1998; its enigmatic sound and interesting lyrics actually makes it a fan favourite.

Plus his audience had already come to realise that Maxwell had more depth to him. The year following Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite’s release, he would perform on MTV Unplugged and cover “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush and “Closer” by the Nine Inch Nails. People realised he wasn’t a single-minded Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye fan.

Like Erykah Badu surprised critics on her second album (for sampling Dr. Dre) when her first album had her acclaimed as the neo-soul Billie Holiday; Maxwell was making the music he needed to.  It’s not a new thing or just confined to the soul genre. Janet Jackson went against advice from her record company to release Control part II and unleash Rhythm Nation 1814.

I like those kinds of artists, they don’t’ compromise their art or just fall into line. Maxwell, Badu and Jackson have all spoken about growth – personal, spiritual and artistic when asked on their follow up albums.

Which is why I enjoy listening to Maxwell, I know he’ll always surprise and challenge me as a listener and I too can grow.

Follow Maxwell on Twitter: @_maxwell_


Austin Brown: a melting pot of a mixtape

From Sly Stone to J Dilla: Austin Brown's mixtape Highway 85 is a melting pot of musical influences
From Sly Stone to J Dilla: Austin Brown’s mixtape Highway 85 is a melting pot of musical influences

Austin Brown has been making a name for himself over the last four years. Nephew to the legends Michael and Janet Jackson, and the son of Rebbie Jackson, he released a free mixtape “Highway 85”, on his website last week.

It is an especially good career move for Brown; releasing free mixtapes has worked wonders for Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and Azealia Banks.

Brown’s influences include Miles Davis, Sly and the Family Stone and the Beatles; he has said in interviews he wants his listeners to dig deep and discover the artists he’s referencing in his music.

The black and white video for the single “Ménage à Trois”  showcases he has a band behind him and demonstrates in true Jackson style, that his music is dance music.

The song’s intro is a reminder of the stomping feet at the beginning of “Where Did Our Love Go” by The Supremes; and sounds like classic Motown with a twist. Brown has described the process of creating “Ménage” with his producers as an attempt at marrying the hard drums of a Dilla beat with a James Jamerson vibe bass.

Austin Brown is a ghost writer, producer, musician and dancer
Austin Brown is a writer, producer, musician and dancer

Brown has been mentored by Q-Tip, Rodney Jerkins and Jermaine Dupri and has been ghost-writing for a while. He and his group, The Backpackkids, recently produced JoJo’s mixtape Agápē and wrote four records on it.

So “Highway 85” – the title referring to his musical journey since birth – is a delicious collection of funk grooves and infectious hooks.

The opening track, “Highway to the Sky”, is a stomper with a touch of Beatles influence. Brown instantly makes his mark with his mellifluous voice soaring over the marching beat.

“Where Were You” has 90s house influence stamped all over it; and then there are more sublime moments, like “What Did I Lose To Love You”, which could give Bruno Mars some healthy competition.

Within the melting pot of influences that can be recognised; it is “City of Angels” that solidifies Brown to his musical family. This track is showered in a multilayer of Jacksonified falsetto notes and is a wonderful mid-tempo groove.

“F’d With My Mind” is when you know for sure, Brown is putting his heart into his music. He opens the song by telling the girl it’s dedicated to: “I know you think that you’re the shit,” as he pleads “I still want you” over and over.

The record has blazing funk-groove moments, such as “Stargazer” which has elements reminiscent of Isaac Hayes’s Walk On By; to 90s hip hop. “Groove 92”; an easy going summery track to simmer down to after all the funk, is chock-full of early 90s references and winds-down to more slower tracks.

The standout track for me is “Volcano”; Brown’s voice catches onto a pulsating beat which builds up into a frenzy of chord changes which you can’t help but dance to.

The closing track, “All I Need” has a bubbling bass and crashing brass section which his voice effortlessly shines over – making it a good song to end on – because, you’re tempted to press play again right away and put this record on a loop.

Follow him on Twitter: @austinbrown

Watch the Ménage à Trois Music Video here:

Listen to Highway 85 on soundcloud:

Spotlight on Deeyah: Listen to the Banned

Classically trained singer Deeyah now uses her voice for the voiceless – speaking up for music censorship

Deeyah, has a lot of titles to her name: singer, producer, composer, film maker and human rights activist.

A child prodigy superstar in her home country of Norway; as she grew older she gained international success, was signed to the record labels BMG/Arista and Warner Bros and subsequently became subject to threats – for being a westernised Muslim woman with a growing presence in the media.

“Music is one of the oldest art forms we have, a gift from our ancestors”

She has not run from the spotlight but she now aims to educate the masses about issues that are not highlighted enough; including musical artists at risk and murders which police are only now recognising as cultural cases of  honour based violence.

She is still creative, she provides a platform for musicians and artists to have their work celebrated under her music and film company Fuuse.

She has many different projects under the umbrella Ava; the word is Persian and means “a pleasing sound”. The charity’s aims are to give a voice to those whose voices are hidden.

Banaz: A Love Story

Since 2007 she has spearheaded music and movie projects from behind the scenes. Her documentary Banaz: An Honour Killing (originally titled Banaz: A Love Story) premiered at the Raindance Film Festival in London in 2012 and was snapped up by ITV: Exposure.

It caused a wave of frustration and heartbreak from critics like Jon Snow (Channel 4) to twitter users and bloggers whose eyes were opened to Banaz’s efforts to get the London Metropolitan police to prevent her murder.

In 2010 she and the FreeMuse project [Freedom of Musical Expression] produced the album Listen to the Banned which is a collection of funk rhythms songs and stunning ballads created by banned or censored music artists from around the world.

I spoke to Deeyah about the album, her views on music and human rights, and an event that is close to her heart – Music Freedom Day.

“Musicians and composers around the world have been tortured, jailed, exiled and even killed for their musical expression”

So could you tell me about growing up in the spotlight?

I have actually always been quite a shy person and being in the spotlight was never something that felt comfortable to me, in fact I found it to be awkward and not something I particularly liked. My love, heart and focus was always music and my happiness was in music itself and never in the rest of what comes with being in the pubic eye. Being a little brown girl growing up in Norway made me different enough as it was and being in the spotlight made me even more different and as a child that was just not something that felt good to me — but my refuge was always music, music was where I felt myself, comfortable, complete and at home.

What does the Human Rights Act mean to you?

I feel we should strive to have these fundamental and universal human rights apply to every people of the world regardless of gender, religious, cultural, socio-economic status – for the human rights act to be afforded to every individual.

Taking a song off airwaves is one thing; so many years after the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 by the UN, can music artists really be in danger?

Unfortunately millions of people around the world still do not enjoy the protections and rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As a global society we still have a long way to go before every individual is protected by human rights. Poverty and violence is far too common in too many parts of the world so I don’t think we can say that because we have an international Human Rights declaration in writing and in concept that it now in fact translates into the lives of everyone or every country at all. Similarly music artists are individuals who are citizens of these societies as well. We can hope that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will protect us all but this simply is not the case today so it is not surprising that along with others musicians and composers are also in danger and the victims of oppressive regimes and religious authorities.

How powerful do you believe music is?

Music is one of the oldest art forms we have, a gift from our ancestors. We sing before we can even speak. Music is an essential part of our cultural expression and heritage. In many ways I would say music is the mirror and soul of a society and people. It has the power to inspire change, to incite uprising, to give hope and to unite. I believe music is deeply spiritual and enriching– I also feel it provides a peaceful and positive outlet of expression for young people. For me personally music is everything, it is my homeland, it is my devotion, it is my peaceful form of resistance, it is my weapon, it is my first love, it is my refuge, it is honest and it is complete– it is life and like breathing for me.

What has being an Ambassador opened your eyes to?

Before learning more about the work of Freemuse I did not realize the extent of the censorship and persecution that exists of music and of those who perform or compose music.

Are there government regimes that are threatened by music?

Yes, many are threatened by music. Because music can be more than just an artistic expression, it can also be an expression of resistance something that can be critical of oppression and injustice– in many instances music can become a voice of the voiceless. Just some examples are Tiken Jah Fakoly who denounced the political corruption in his country The Ivory Coast. As a result he has been threatened and during a political crisis several of his close friends were killed– since Tiken has been living in exile. Lapiro De Mbanga is sitting in prison today serving a jail sentence in his country Cameroon for singing a song critical of the country’s president Paul Biya who made changes to the country’s constitution just so he can stay in power indefinitely. Another artist on the Listen To The Banned album Kurash Sultan another symbol of resistance for the Uighur people. Many of his songs were banned by the Chinese authorities and subsequently he was imprisoned in Kyrgyzstan due to pressure from the Chinese authorities.

Another Listen To The Banned artist Ferhat Tunc has endured police brutality, harassment, death threats and countless court cases because he belongs to the Kurdish minority in Turkey– for protesting the oppression of Kurdish people, culture and language. The Taliban is another example of a force of brutality and suffocation of music in Afghanistan during their rule.

In Iran as recently, the religious and political authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that music is ‘not compatible’ with the values of the Islamic republic, and should not be practised or taught in the country and that promoting and teaching music is not in line with the highest values of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic.

Where is music censorship happening and why does it seem to be happening?

Music is suppressed in many parts of the world and this oppression happens for different reasons, it can be for political reasons like in China, Cameroon and Burma sometimes religious reasons like in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran sometimes due to repression of cultural minorities like in Turkey, Western Sahara and China.

I believe it happens because of fear. The fear of the impact that music is able to have on people. Music is a part of reflecting peoples hopes, dreams and their feelings and opinions– these feelings, ideas and thoughts could also be in opposition to that of the people in power. It’s about control, about breaking the spirit of people by taking away something so simple yet essential as music it is another way of controlling what an individual should hear or say, think or feel.

What is happening to these artists who are censored?

Musicians and composers around the world have been tortured, jailed, exiled and even killed for their musical expression.

How did you find out about the artists you made the compilation “Listen to the Banned” with Freemuse with?

I initially discovered all the artists on this album through Freemuse. I was introduced to all these incredible artists and their music by researching and reading about them in the reports and databases of Freemuse.

What has been the reaction to the album?

It’s not easy to bring attention to such a project, but the response it has received so far has been very positive and I think the more people who find out about the album and through it find out about the work of Freemuse and these artists the more awareness we can hopefully continue building around this issue.

What else needs to be done? Is there enough outrage?

Anything we can do to keep music alive. We need to highlight wherever and whenever music and voices are silenced, if we turn away from this oppression we are signalling that this is acceptable and that authorities, regimes and individuals can in fact get away with suppressing musical expression in this way. This is not just a matter of musicians being robbed of the right to create and perform but also robbing from us the choice of what we want to listen to and robbing our children of an art form and artistic heritage that reflects our history, our traditions, our culture and identity. Injustice can only survive in the presence of apathy and in circumstances where this behaviour is not challenged. All effort to protect human rights matters, every voice against injustice and oppression matters.

Do these countries which censor music have national anthems?

From my understanding yes I think they all have national anthems.

On the flip side, does music ever get used to further political agendas and what are your thoughts on that?

Yes music does get used for propaganda purposes as well. Because music can have a very strong and emotional impact on people some regimes and authorities realize this and use it for their own agendas. Some examples of this is the Zimbabwean government that records ‘praise music’ to replace critical songs, essentially propaganda music to promote its policies.

In North Korea the government controls all areas of music often encouraging music and lyrics that praises the leadership of the country. I have also heard that actually parts of the Taliban even listened to songs that had words to inspire them in their fighting and violent cause. There is also the issue of “hate music” — in essence this is when music is used to reinforce discrimination and intolerance designed to create hatred between people.

For example in Sudan there are traditional Arab ‘hate singers’ known as Hakama or the Janjaweed women who through singing spread propaganda and hatred, singing words like “you have to kill, kill, kill!” These Janjaweed women’s traditional role is to compose and sing songs to stir up men’s instincts and launch them to war. Several human rights groups say that these women singers have a big influence on the community and play a very dangerous role in the conflict. In the context of hate music we can also see that racist music, white supremacist and nazi music exists. Also there are cases of artists that similar to hate speech write music that promotes the discrimination against for example women as well as gay people.

What is Music Freedom Day?

March 3rd is Music Freedom Day all people are invited to participate in any way through any form they choose to express their love and connection with music. You can organise a concert or a seminar, produce a radio feature, show a film, write an article or just dedicate a song to Music Freedom Day– maybe you can join the Freemuse international network. A day that celebrates this profound artform and expression of our hearts and cultures Music Freedom Day. For more you can visit:

What is the next step for you in opposing music censorship?

I will continue supporting the work of Freemuse in any ways that I can. It would also be my honour to produce any further Listen To The Banned albums in the future.

Will the battle ever be over?

The struggle will be there as long as there is injustice, oppression and people who seek to control us, whether it is through political, religious, cultural, financial or even violent means.

All support truly helps and is much needed. What we can realistically do is by raising awareness, standing in solidarity with Freemuse and not letting oppression continue unchallenged we can certainly make a difference in the lives of many musicians and in the protection of music as a whole. If we do not even attempt to safeguard musical expression not only are we sacrificing music itself but we are also in ways betraying the artists who compose and perform it, who dare to use their artistic voice for fairness, justice, dignity, equality, peace and harmony.

Is there any message you’d like to add?

I would urge people to support the work of Freemuse.  Also I hope to see the release of the artist Lapiro De Mbanga, who is currently in prison in Cameroon for his song ‘Constitution Constipée’. He is being kept in dire conditions sharing a cell with 50 other prisoners while his health is deteriorating. I hope if we can continue applying pressure that he will be freed.

What a year for Edward Lear: 2012, the bicentenary

edward lear self portrait
A self portrait by Edward Lear

The unusual personality of Edward Lear, the quirky writer of The Owl and the Pussycat and other “nonsense” limericks, has been celebrated throughout this year as 12th May marked his 200th birthday.

Born in Holloway, North London in 1812, Lear suffered asthma, bronchitis, depression and epilepsy which many have contributed the melancholy tinge to his work.

But his work is fun. He created many fantasy worlds, fantastic creatures such as the ‘Quangle Wangle’ and introduced fun new words like “runcible spoon” into the English language.

Michael Rosen, children’s author and broadcaster for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Word of Mouth’ toured throughout the year celebrating the bicentenary.

Michael Rosen
Michael Rosen uses Yiddish words in his poetry

He says that there is an incredibly diverse poetry scene in north London: from commemorations of past poets like Keats House, performances of new work, some in traditional styles or at poetry slams performed with music or dance.

Rosen who sometimes uses Yiddish words in his poetry which English people are unfamiliar with, said: “The funny thing about ‘runcible’ is that it had no meaning. Lear used it in very different ways. I think he liked the sound of it.”

The great thing about creating new words, or neologisms is that once they’re in the English language people want to know what they mean.  Lear’s ‘Runcible spoon’ caused years of intrigue and is now generally accepted to be the term for a three-pronged fork which is spoon-shaped.

Dean Atta
Dean Atta, a spoken word artist whose first book will be released in March 2012 is described by the Guardian as the “Iphone Poet” and by Charlie Dark as the “Gil Scott-Heron of his generation”

Dean Atta who performs all over the country at part of a Poetry collective called Rubix from Camden, will use slang and other influences such as Jamaican patois in his poetry.

He said:  “Some words are not in the English dictionary but are in people’s spoken vocabulary. I’m happy to use it if my audience knows what I mean.”

Atta recently had a surge of interest in his work when his spoken word poem in memory of Stephen Lawrence went viral online.

When I first spoke to him in April about Edward Lear he told me he’d never written a limerick himself.

“It makes me think I should teach limericks at workshops, they’re quite cool. They are quite accessible in that they are easy to recite.”

Since then, Atta has trialled limerick workshops and discovered a good response from children

Rosen addeds: “I think limericks are a popular art form. People love the neatness and punch of them. They particularly like them if they’re about people or places they know.”

Atta is brought into English lessons to teach poetry to help prepare students for their GCSEs and A-levels and also to help those who are learning English as a second language.

Poetika Uk check out
Poetika Uk check out

Lisandro Tavares is a young spoken word artist who performs under the name Poetika around London at spoken word events and at North London venues such as the Buffalo Bar near Highbury & Islington station.

He believes poetry should be taught as a vocation in schools and that it has the power to create a link between teachers and pupils.

“A lot of people are webtroverts, meaning they’re disconnected in life and can only connect and express themselves through words online,” he said.

“What you think, to what you write down, to how you say it is all interlinked. If teachers ask children to write down what they want to be in life, then when they express it, that’s poetry because it comes from the heart.”

Expression of the self was present in all of Lear’s works.  A lot of his limericks focus on eccentric individuals.

Michael Rosen said: “It seems as if Lear was in some ways a very unhappy man and often travelled, perhaps to escape from his illnesses and emotions.”

His Book of Nonsense published in 1867 popularised limericks and included his most famous piece, The Owl and the Pussycat and the main theme was about the joy in adventure and travelling which probably reflects the happiness he was searching for.

It is a testament to Lear that he still entertains people today and that is why his bicentenary is being celebrated near his birthplace and worldwide.

How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!

Who has written such volumes of stuff!

Some think him ill-tempered and queer,

But a few think him pleasant enough

Owl and the Pussycat

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon.
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand.
They danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Janet Jackson: Becoming a Legend

My article below, about the impact of Janet Jackson being the global face of Blackglama, was printed in the inaugural issue of Ombré Magazine.

Ombré Magazine

View the entire magazine here:

Becoming A Legend

Janet Jackson Blackglama
Janet Jackson is the biggest selling brand face for global company Blackglama

Ombré takes a look at a superstar’s rise to global spokeswoman.

Words Selina Ditta

“What becomes a legend most?” is the question that has been adorning ad campaigns for luxury mink house Blackglama since its inception in 1968.

For the last three years, African American triple-threat beauty, Janet Jackson has been one of Blackglama’s “legendary” faces, joining a roster of icons including Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand. She is by no means the first person of color to represent Blackglama, which has had representation from Lena Horne, Diana Ross, Naomi Campbell and Ray Charles, but has led the most successful ad-campaign for the brand since its start.

Blackglama is world-renowned for providing exclusive ranch-raised natural black mink and has always featured a celebrity in its black-and-white print ads posing behind its famous slogan. Given that Jackson is one of the best-selling female artists of all time, selling over 100 million albums worldwide and being the only recording artist whose Grammy nominations span the categories of Dance, Pop, Rap, Rock and R&B, her universal and multi-dimensional appeal was a no-brainer to the Blackglama company.

Joe Morelli, CEO of Blackglama said: “Janet is an icon in the world of music and entertainment, a true legend. She embodies glamour, luxury and sophistication, everything that Blackglama stands for.” Jackson’s ad campaign for the brand was unveiled with a billboard in Manhattan’s Times Square, seen by hundreds of thousands of people. Charles DeCaro, co-creative director of Laspata DeCaro, who shoots Blackglama’s “WBALM”campaigns, said of the ad:  “It visually communicates Janet’s legend – her approachability, her sparkle, her smile, her magic.”

After her start with the brand in September 2010, not only was she was the first announced Blackglama “legend” to be featured for a consecutive year running, her own line for Blackglama debuted in Fur Salons at select Bloomingdales and Saks Fifth Avenue. Jackson, who is often seen at the front rows during Fashion Week has said: “The art of fashion is one of my great passions. “I’ve worked for years to bring a collection into the world.” The Janet Jackson Blackglama collection was released in 2011 and consists of 15 pieces ranging from contemporary coats, vests, scarves, gloves and other accessories.

Jackson once sang, “Because of my gender, I’ve heard no too many times. Because of my race I’ve heard no too many times”, on a track demanding respect, with Chuck D called “A New Agenda” from her 1993 multi-platinum album “Janet”. When Jackson was born in 1966, other African American women were fighting to be seen as more than just their color or gender. She grew up idolizing Dorothy Dandridge, also a triple threat talent, who fought to not play roles of slaves in film. Dandridge represented black glamour in the days of Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly.  During Jackson’s childhood, the most glamorous, black leading ladies were Diahann Carroll and Nichellee Nichols. Dorothea Church Towels who was the first successful black fashion model in Paris at the time, similarly struggled with racism at home. Towels used her model discount to buy material from top designers like Dior, who she modeled for and created her own couture line to raise funds for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

Finding black spokespeople for luxury products back then were few and far between and some may argue that it still is like that today. However, the  evidence of African-American women’s beauty strengthening couture brand recognition worldwide has been historically recognized. Kimberly D. Brown, Association of Black Women Historians Website member and Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at Howard University said: “During the first half of the 20th century, most African-Americans suffered racist and socioeconomic ills that harmed with even greater devastation during the Great Depression, World War II, and the Post War eras. Even then, several brands knew the mass appeal and selling potential of darker beauty and sought out Black models to bring lustre to their products.”

During the 1930s and 40s, Josephine Baker captivated audiences in Europe with her comedic theatrics and show stopping dance routines. She was the highest paid entertainer in Europe as well as one of the most photographed women in the world of her time. Baker’s infamous banana dress is an iconic fashion statement that has been imitated throughout the decades and worn by entertainers and models alike including most recently Beyoncé.  Her beauty and star appeal, much like Jackson’s meant designers flocked to dress her. Baker was a friend and muse to French couture designers Balmain and Dior themselves. She has even been credited with saving the French fashion industry post-war. Jackson, who Mattel immortalized  into a Barbie doll two years ago, has likewise created statement outfits. The Rhythm Nation attire has dressed Mickey Mouse and Keri Hilson among others and her Rolling Stone cover in 1993 has been replicated countless times.

Today, Janet Jackson’s affiliation with Blackglama echoes Josephine Baker’s attachment to Dior. Both international multi-talented women, were sought to revitalize classic brands using celebrity to sell their desirability.  Jackson’s Blackglama ads run in international issues of magazines such as Vogue, Tatler and Marie Claireand her inclusion in the long-running campaign, which has also featured Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Liz Hurley and Cindy Crawford, implies the line’s acknowledgement of a black woman as a timeless attraction and also suggests the same to its consumers, according to Kimberly D. Brown.Brown said: “Much like Dorothea Towel’s employment with Dior and Balmain proved that a Negro model can sell a $1,500 gown in Europe, Jackson’s endorsement deal with Blackglama says a Black girl from Gary, Indiana can sell a $10,000 mink anywhere. In a universe where beauty culture and race ideology in general is still informed by European inclinations, that’s a big deal.” Being one of very few persons of color representing a luxury brand in 2012, Jackson is seen as an iconic woman worldwide.

Banaz: A Love Story

She was killed because she fell in love. Now Banaz tells her own story, in her own words, for the first time.

“They’re following me. If anything happens to me at any time it’s them.”

Last night, twitter feeds blew up in reactions ranging from disgust, outrage and heartbreak, in response to the ITV Exposure programme broadcast on the painful life story of 20-year-old Banaz Mahmod.

Banaz, who moved to Surrey when she was 10 with her Kurdish family fleeing Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime, was a brave young woman.

She was the victim of an abusive marriage and of a controlling family who she trusted to help her through a divorce and accept Rahmat –a suitor she chose herself and she was fatefully the victim of an “Honour Killing”.

Her father Mahmod Mahmod and uncle Ari Mahmod were convicted of her murder in 2007, her relatives Mohammed Ali and Omar Hussain, were extradited from Iraq three years later to be prosecuted for their involvement. The men believed she had brought “shame” on the family by choosing a new suitor, Rahmat, during her divorce proceedings and her father and uncle held a meeting which determined her fate.

The trial which put away five of Banaz’s killers and brought the horror of “honour killings” to the consciousness of the British public, caused a wave of criticism toward the police forces that failed in saving her.

“Now I have given my statement. What can you do for me?”

The powerful yet painful film, leaves no horrifying detail out. It chronicles the circumstances leading up to Banaz’s brutal death, how authorities ignored her five pleas for help and the Detective who made it her quest to find Banaz’s body and bring her killers to justice.  Chillingly it was Banaz’s own letter to police that helped solve her murder with its accurate predictions.

Honourable women: Filmmaker Deeyah defied threats on her own life to tell Banaz’s story and DCI Goode was determined not to let Banaz’s killers escape.

There is a debate in the UK, noticeably by twitter reaction to the film, as to whether it is appropriate to label such a murder as an “Honour Killing”, as there is no honour in murder.

What that title does do though, is distinguish it away from crimes of passion, where murderers can claim their rage took over and they didn’t know what they were doing.  An “honour killing” is one which is conspiratorial and takes place in families with a system or culture of controlling people, especially women.

These types of murders are difficult to uncover and expose, which is why the documentary, which was an edited version of a film premiered at the Raindance Film Festival 2012, is such an eye-opener.

Deeyah spent four years creating this labour of love. The Norwegian musician and human rights campaigner says she was determined to give Banaz a voice with the documentary because: “No-one listened to her in her life.”

The film speaks to experts in honour killings and the police team who managed to extradite two of the killers who had fled to Iraq.

 “If Rahmat hadn’t reported her missing, we wouldn’t have known.”

Det Sup Caroline Goode of the Metropolitan police who is featured in the film came into her position only after Banaz went missing. She states on camera her belief that more people than those convicted may have plotted and covered up her murder.

The police speak on film about how they usually do everything to help a murder victim’s family but in this case, the family showed no sign of caring about the investigation. They did not report Banaz missing, they did not assist the police and they did not even have photos of her in their home.

Deeyah has gone on record saying: “Whenever you see a film about someone who has passed you will always have family, friends, people who knew the person, sharing their love, their memories and thoughts about the person who has died – they have home videos, photos.  That was just not the case here at all. The only person speaking for Banaz who had known her alive was her sister.”

Banaz’s sister who testified at trial and helped jail members of her family, appears in the film in a burkha, not for religious reasons but in fear for her own life. She can disguise herself, but Banaz’s boyfriend Rahmat cannot and so he does not make an appearance to speak in the documentary.  His mobile phone footage of a hospitalised Banaz recounting her father’s attempt to kill her was played at the trial and is shown in the film.

It is thanks to him that Banaz eventually received justice but it is estimated that only around 12 honour killings are reported to the UK police each year. The number of victims is thought to be much higher because many are too frightened to come forward.

The film also highlights countless other unsolved UK “honour killing” victims.  It serves to bring women going through the same fate of being “erased” within their communities worldwide to light.

Deeyah’s mission is to create awareness for the sake of prevention.

She set up to commemorate victims of honour killings and shame their perpetrators.

She also set up which is an arts and multimedia based educational organization created to work for freedom of expression and human rights.  The primary goal of AVA is to support and encourage voices from the margins while addressing the forms of oppression and the solutions needed and to provide public education, research, new media outlets and artistic tools in order to increase global action in identifying honour threats and supporting people in need to know they can get help.

Like in cases of domestic abuse in the past when police did not interfere, authorities have been slow to protect women from communities who are at risk of being “honour killing” victims.

“We shall not sacrifice the lives of ethnic minority women for the sake of so-called political correctness. I’d rather hurt feelings than see women die because of our fear, apathy and silence.”

Throughout Deeyah’s career she has been subject to “honour abuse” and threats. Thankfully, her family support and protect her and she has chosen not only to fight for women’s rights globally, but highlight vulnerable people at risk and artists who are jailed for their political opinions.

Deeyah’s projects:-

  • FUUSE MOUSIQI is Deeyah’s music company and a division of FUUSE created to promote art & activism.
  • AVA PROJECTS is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) registered public charity founded by Deeyah.
  • LISTEN TO THE BANNED is a compilation album co-produced by Deeyah featuring banned, censored, and imprisoned artists from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
  • MEMINI | Remembering Victims of Honour Killings Worldwide.
  • SISTERHOOD Empowering self-expression for young Muslim women across creative disciplines.
  • I HAVE A VOICE a grassroots campaign committed to the struggle for human rights, equality, freedom of expression and peace. A primary focus of I HAVE A VOICE is violence against women.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Digging into life a little deeper

%d bloggers like this: