A Night at the Southbank: Thoughts on Cosmic Ashoke

The funny thing is, you have no idea how long it took us to come up with a name. It was a Monday or a Thursday evening at the Impact Hub and we were huddled at a table, scribbling out random words on post-its as we wondered just what we should call this… happening we were organising. Cosmic Ashoke wasn’t even our first choice but for some reason when it came down to it, that was the one that went forward. By the end of Thursday night, as the lights were turned back on and the mmanwu packed away, it seemed like there could never have been any other name to call it.

6th October saw the first collaboration between Artivist UK and AfroFutures_UK to produce an event in honour of national poetry day at the Southbank Centre, a day which also included poetry readings accompanied by live drawing with the wonderful Chris Ridell.

When we’d first spoken of our ideas for Cosmic Ashoke, chief among them was somehow giving the audience a sense of timelessness. For the hour and a half, we wanted people to feel as though they were outside of normality, a place where all our narratives and histories and experiences could combine. Even the name ‘Cosmic Ashoke’ was meant to express this. The ashoke is a garment worn by various peoples in Nigeria (and the pronunciation differs slightly from people to people) that is a tightly woven, dense piece of fabric, often bestrewn with beautiful patterns or sparkling threads. We were inspire by the idea of creating a cross-cultural, pan-black event where all of our experiences could be combined and exchanged to create something far more beautiful than the sum of its parts.

From Jolade‘s reflections living in Lagos and London to the sultry notes from Birmingham’s own Affiejam; from Juice Aleem‘s futuristic beats to Travis Alabanza‘s intersectional mash-ups on protest, pain and black love; from the living Storybook that was Nikky Norton Shafau to Caleb Femi‘s ruminations on change and challenges on the streets of London. Surrounded by neo-mmanwu, each representing an epoch in black past, present and future with an original piece reminding us of humanity’s journey courtesy of animation by Al Conteh, Cosmic Ashoke was truly an interdimensional experience and one which we hope will return and continue to evolve, including ever more voices.

Special mention must go to Wanda and her team from KOBRA TV who filmed the evening having travelled all the way from Sweden to include Cosmic Ashoke as part of their Afrofuturist season. Watch this space for more details about its broadcast date!

Thanks must go to all the amazing performers, our guests for making the evening such a thrilling one and to Southbank for inviting and funding us to produce such a wonderful event.

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