Maya Angelou. Wouldn’t she be proud, this giant on whose shoulders many of us have reverentially climbed. Wouldn’t she be proud that her Cabaret of Freedom has been so inspirationally brought through to the next generations? It is there as the platform for discovering emerging talents, mixing creative juices, for kindling the geyser out of the sleeping waters. It is there as the inherent belief in the positive power within each of us to emancipate into the best of ourselves, through creative expression. And beyond, it is there to present diversity a humanity, and to give back for the blessing of thi opportunity, in this case for refugees and asylum seekers.
And that is what host Shirley May has done with event manager James Walmsley and the volunteers at St John’s Church. The evening did not just bring together artists to celebrate the wonderful literary artisan that is Maya Angelou. It cultivated the legacy of this poetess to inspire the youth within, the boiling imagination as a catalyst to its artistic explosion.
Young identity, a group of next generation poets, demonstrated this from the outset. It is a feeling of deep gratefulness to be part of such performances. The listener is thankful to have been invited to play. But even more so, in every word uttered by these young poets, there is a proclamation that confirms any longed hope in the next generation.
I had to perform Silence No More. The first line of the song completely stems, after all, from an explicit bow to the great woman. “Silence is golden but my cage soul needs to sing (silence off her chest and free my inner string)”. But it is also true, once given the opportunity to sing another song, that The Unscripted – the song’s working title – in all that it contains of feelings and inner truths, was the song that was most going to reflect one of my most treasured saying from the legend –
‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.‘
I always strive for my music to be about connecting the world to itself so that no one ever feels alone again, especially in the midst of pain or loss. But the way that Cabaret of Freedom, this particular celebration, albeit set in the middle of Black History Month brought everyone as one, independently from religion, sexual orientation, gender or anything else, got my whole heart dancing with happiness.
The event is directly inspired by Maya Angelou’s own 1960 event Cabaret For Freedom which raised funds for the civil rights campaign of Martin Luther King Jr. It was only suiting that this time, proceeds from the event were donated to the St John’s Centre towards their work with refugees and asylum seekers living in Old Trafford.
The evening was presented in partnership with Black History Month and Manchester Literature Festival. The audience witnessed performances from Shirley May, SuAndi, Isaiah Hull, Segun Lee-French and Young Identity writers alongside special guests including myself. The following compilation gives a great insight into the amazing night and its beautiful performances.