On my radar: Caleb Azumah Nelson’s cultural highlights | Culture
JWriter and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson was born to Ghanaian parents and grew up in south-east London. He quit a job at the Apple Store in Regent Street to focus on writing and in 2020 he was shortlisted for the BBC Short Story Prize. In February 2021, he publishes his first novel, The wide, which revolves around a love story between two young black Londoners, a photographer and a dancer. Azumah Nelson was named one of the National Book Foundation’s ‘5 under 35’ winners, and last month The wide won the Costa First Novel Award. It is now available in paperback.
Ae Breathe… (Almeida, London)
I went to see this one man show, by the poet and playwright Yomi Ṣode, four times. It was perhaps the most precise and heartbreaking work I have seen on grief. David Jonsson has played a host of characters, but the lead voice is a man in his late twenties or early thirties whose aunt is about to die. He faces both impending death but also the guilt of not feeling like he was there for his family. The show was short, not much more than an hour, but it was so nimble and full of thrills.
Nala Sinephro (Earthh, London)
Nala Sinephro Space 1.8 was one of my favorite albums of the last year, so I was looking forward to his concert in Hackney last November. It ended up being a two and a half hour improv session that was beyond amazing – one of the most special things I’ve ever been part of. It was a quartet – a drummer, a bassist, a saxophonist and Sinephro on harp and synths. She was so close to the music that there were times when she seemed to bow down to the instruments.
Roy De Carava (David Zwirner Gallery, London)
Roy DeCarava is one of my favorite photographers but I had never seen his work in person, always in monographs or online. So it was really special to go to the opening of his show in Mayfair. All images are black and white, showing Harlem in the 50s and 60s, with lots of jazz musicians and jazz concerts. He has always shot with available light, which gives an ethereal quality to his work. Everyday moments become more meaningful through her lens. The picture of Elvin Jones on drumstaken in 1961, is probably my favorite.
I’m really excited about this restaurant opening this spring at the Africa Center in London. The chef, Akwasi Brenya-Mensa, is of Ghanaian descent and I read it saying that Tatale was going to be a hub for conversations about and around food, which to me is such an important thing. I grew up in a fairly large family, and sitting with a lot of people eating was a very common thing at home. I’m a big fan of restaurants, to the point that it’s become a bad habit. If there’s a new place I’m excited about and my partner can’t get there, I’ll end up going alone.
We’re All Alone Together by Dave
This is probably the album I listened to the most last year. There’s something about the tone with which Dave expresses things, as well as the things he expresses, that really touches me. We are both from South London so there is a common experience there. This album felt more vulnerable than his previous work and really personal – in one line he says it was really his creation, and you can really feel it. Heart attack is the standout track.
Summer of the Soul (dir. Quest Love, 2021)
It’s part concert film, part ode to black music. Questlove masterfully wraps a narrative around a series of concerts that took place in Harlem in 1969. There’s real energy to all of the performances, but the one that particularly stood out was a young Stevie Wonder. He had real flair, and even at that age you could tell he was already something special. I was really moved by these musicians and totally immersed in their universe, which I suppose is the strength of cinema.
Transcendent Realm by Yaa Gyasi
I read this in early 2021, and again a few months ago, and I still can’t get the voice out of my head. This is a family across time and continents – they start out as a family of four, but when they move from Ghana to Alabama, four becomes two. What really intrigued me was this idea of stories within families that only emerge too late. The book is quite slow and meditative, but it’s so beautiful and well told – and bolder than his first book, Back home.