I’m always finding those ‘good for your soul’ type events and then on the night cancelling to do something boring but necessary and then getting cussed for being a grandma. We thank God deeply and loudly that I was able to push my stuff aside and get out to the opening night of Namiwa Change Formation’s (@ncf_brum) open mic space ‘Wile Out’. It promised to be a discussion fueled night of performances, short films, live music and vegan snacks and it managed to offer so much more.
3 Three’s Coffee Lounge was selected for this open mic night and it couldn’t have been better suited. There are two separate spaces: there is the actual coffee shop space downstairs which worked well for interludes, quiet time and sipping and spilling tea and then there is the upstairs, almost a secret room kind of entrance, dark and intimate but with good lighting and windows enough to open when the fire was a bit too much. 3 Three’s Coffee Lounge, specialising in vegetarian and vegan cafe food had the perfect vibe, serving vegan ice-cream to all during the night and other treats. it was cute.
Walking in, you know it isn’t your typical open mic night. it is not easy to spot your eager or nervous open micers and there is no squashing to fit people in. there is room. there is noise, not coffee machine noise, but the sounds of people who recognise people, the sounds of people singing with strangers. There is no space for standing still because DJ Miss C Brown has decided to flood the place with vibesy music and everyone is responding on the temporary dance floor. If you can’t dance you can stand at the back and be artsy and watch the short films projected onto the back wall. True to the agenda of supporting new spaces and ideas, there is a live art stall courtesy of Tasia Graham and a stall for vegan snacks supplied by Vegan Alex.
The open mic stage was graced with poetry and song, unplanned and random and still telling a story somehow. For me, it felt like an experimental space for many. People performed pieces they hadn’t performed before and others performed songs that were unfinished, unwritten. it invited those kinds of experimental minds. The host, Melzy J kept that energy and intimacy up during the entire night, making time for conversation after each performance. I spoke to one performer who told me that it didn’t feel like open mic, it felt very home-like, almost like being amongst family. Your girl even read some poetry (which she don’t do too much) and left the stage feeling like I was in the company of friends who were used to me and my words.
I mean, to have the headline act and big deal Bridget Minamore sit amongst you and casually enjoy the show and join in the discussion speaks for the event itself. A favourite moment of mine was when NCF’s co-creative producer Aliyah Hasinah contributed baby diamonds to the group discussion by explaining that oftentimes ‘in our communities we are in constant grieving, not even for family, for lives lost and there is no time for healing. this [night] is communal healing.’ (she dropped all of this wisdom sitting cross-legged on the floor I think).
Founder Namiwa Jazz spoke to me about a similar sentiment when interviewed. When I asked her to describe the foundation of NCF in three words she tells me with little thought: ‘Black Production House’. I ‘mmmm’ a lot when she says this because I’m proud. Birmingham needs this. She agrees with this unspoken thought when she tells me about future plans of incorporating a residency space for women as a way of supporting the community.
I asked Namiwa what was the inspiration behind having so much packed into one open mic setting and she told me that it is more so about the amount of diverse talent that exists around her in Birmingham. Later, someone in the audience will talk about the excitement of realising that there are strong black communities outside of London and I start smiling to myself because I know this is exactly what Namiwa wanted to demonstrate and she achieved it in the opening night. In the interview, Namiwa reveals to me (I am now revealing to you, you’re welcome) that she is invested in involving different generations. This includes inviting mothers and their children to events and seeing how, as a community, we can accomodate for this change.
What I found beautiful was the discussion around safe spaces as prompted by Remani Love’s exclusive pre-release of her upcoming project with Afropunk. Some clips from the pre-release were projected onto the wall and people were occupying any and every spot they could to enjoy a few moments of ‘diaspora feels’. Again with the communal space. This is something Remani tells me she enjoys about this space; how easy people can share themselves. Speaking to Remani previously, I know how big she is on collaborations and so I am not surprised when she tells me in the interview that she found open micers to collaborate with in the future. The event inspired her so much that she promises me that she feels encouraged to work more on documenting her own stories which she has shied away from.
All of this discussion, communal grieving, safe space, family vibes, ideas about home as discussed in the poetry of Bridget seemed so scarily connected. There was a communicated though non-verbal prompt towards these ideas and it gives me a lot of pride to think about what is to come for this platform. If on the opening night, NCF cultivates the kind of space where people are comfortable to sit on the floor and listen to poetry, watch documentaries and part-take in some reasoning, if in its genesis it is the kind of space where the host feels inspired to do something new and share poetry and the close of the event proves to be the start for many people quick to connect with new networks, then I trust Birmingham has much to look forward to. Stay posted for the next series of wilin’ out via the instagram and twitter pages.