54Lights with Kondwani Mwase
54Lights with Kondwani Mwase

Episode 63 · 10 months ago

House of Leads with Rheima Robinson

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

The next episode is our final guest-led conversation for Season III. It features the formidable poet, author and activist Rheima Robinson. We were privileged to have Rheima join us in our virtual studios and walk us through her work, approach and motivation. 

Rheima walked us through her early forays into writing - drawing inspiration and guidance from her mother and grandmother. As women and newcomers to the UK, they both helped pave the way for Rheima to succeed. 

Rheima also spoke eloquently about her work and her perspectives on activism. From her talents as a spoken word artist to her creation of spaces for artists to thrive, she takes us behind the pen and into the mind and motivation of a great writer and activist. 

The following is brought to you by brated media. Good morning, good day or good evening, and welcome to fifty four lights. This show is designed to elevate black voices through authentically told stories of Africans, African descendants or allies of the community. Our work is done in service of rewriting the African narrative and reclaiming the brand that represents people of color. My name is condawanti Wa say, Ethiopian born, Canadian raised and proudly Mallowian. I live in the world of business, but find inspiration, energy and purpose in creative spaces. This show is my passionate pursuit to better understand what shapes and defines culture. It is the manifestation, if you will, of my curiosity. The next episode is our final guest led conversation for season three. Over the past year or so, we've had the privilege of talking with a number of creators, from artists in traditional spaces to those leading within their fields. From the kitchen to the boardroom, I've had the pleasure of speaking with culture creators whose impact is international and, in most cases, immeasurable. Today that tradition continues with my guest Rehema Robinson. Rehima is undeniably impressive as a leader in the artistic space. She's a poet, a teacher and a creative entrepreneur. She comes from a formidable pedigree, but has blazed a trail that's all her own. Her voice is striking, making spaces for youth and paving paths or progressive movements alike. Fittingly, she'll help us close the show, well this season anyways, in style. Without further a ramble, the next episode is House of leads. My name is Rehema. It BEHEIM Robinson walkings and is my family name, my father's name, and it really is my given name, because...

...my family and Muslim and so human. is also a Muslim or an Arabic name rather, and it means it roughly translates to the most kind and merciful. And so when I give the introduction, many people are supplied to find out that I'm Caribbean, because, I guess, says, it's assumption that there's not many black, there's not many colored bean Muslim people, but I am one of them. They're a big contingent of Jamaicans, Muslim Jamaicans, even if you will where you are now in in London. I'm in Leeds which is north England, and I do know of a community of Caribbean, specifically Muslims. I've got extended family myself that I'm Muslim with sons, and they moved abroad to to Islamic countries and to continue their lives with their wives and everything like that. So I definitely know that it wasn't something that my mother just kind of decided. I think maybe there was an influence around her. But Jamaica is predominantly Christie and I will say, and then their heavy under lust of fairialism and but for Shaw and Jamaica and across the Kababban, you will find some Muslims there. Yeah, of course, of course. So in terms of your background, your name, your Jamaican heritage, how much of that is is a big part of your life or is it a big part of your life as a question? Well, the Islam now in my adulthood, it isn't a major part of my personal life. I did go to an Islamic school when I was younger, private girls school, and I have to say I didn't really enjoy it, but that might have been more to do with the demographic of the UK, just being literally the early black person in the school. But then it turned out I was stand it. That was a experience I haven't had the younger book growing up. I just realize I'm probably always going to be one of the only black people doom in the UK, and so that wasn't specific to Islam, but that's just the experience that I have in my younger years and it felt quite personal at that time. So I don't practice Islam in my otherthood, other my brothers do. But as for my kwabean heritage, I'd say that's definitely a big part of my my life and just the way the way I eat, the way I taught or the beliefs that I have the way I want to raise my family, especially coming from my grandmother who migrated to England in like the S, I think, late s I'm her being kind of like the METRIAC...

...of the family. I've read some stuff online about your your mother, being, I think, a writer and being associated to leads as well. You know, correct me if I'm wrong there, but can you tell me about the relationship you have your mother and maybe your grandmother as well well? I know my mom has a very special I had a very special relationship with her grandparents when she was growing up, and so I think she was part of promoting kind of the closeness between me and my grandmother. You know, grandparents, grandparents are everything. For sure, grandparents everything, and my mother is a right to herself. She's a poet, published author, and so she's definitely had a big impact on kind of just some choices I've made in life, professionally and personally, to do with and kind of influence in my interests as well. I guess it's a bit of nature and nurture, and so some would say I followed in my mother's footsteps. It definitely wasn't planned, but somehow I'm here and being a writer. It helps having a mother who is a writer because you know, she knows people and also she's able to give me advice on how it was for her. Of course it's a change and evolving well, so going up in the UK, it was a different experiments for me going up in the UK, but it's just something that she's been able to advise them and something that we can share. I'm also something that goes back to my grandmother, like three generations of black women having these experiences of being black in Britain. Yeah, it's I can imagine that could be really inform your work your experience in that lineage there. I think what I'm curious about, as well as you're mentioning it, is there is something I've experienced a few of your pieces and what I think is really kind of bubbled to the top is this idea of a really strong black woman, you know, and I'm going to underline the woman there. Where do you think that comes from? You think that comes from the fact that you are such a close relationship from your your mother and your grandmother, or do you think it's just a part of what Rhema you've always innately had in you? I probably say a lot of it is to do with, maybe more to do my grandmother. I'm a lot to do just societist exception of black women, like I am that black woman who who kind end of doesn't always want to be the strong black woman, like I want to be soft and I want to be looked after and I want to be sensitive and I want to cry, and you don't always find that you're welcome to be that person. I don't find the space to be that person all the time and I know that...

...was definitely the same for my grandmother. My greeting into England in her S. I think just seeing my grandmother settle into a country, raise all of her children and then raise her grandchildren. And you can imagine the environment and the climate that England was in the S for black people and people of color versus how it is now, the same as it was probably in the United States. There was so much civil resistance going on. My grandmother was just a woman of Girl in her twenty is just trying to have a different life. I don't want see a better life, just trying to like find a different life for herself, and so I think just, yeah, being a leader is something that I've watched my grandmother too, but she's probably the person that's also given me the space to be a bit so soft because she's held a lot of way for the family right and you know, that's given me permission, as second their generation, to kind of find a bit more softness. You know, that's that's beautiful and I love the way you phrase that because it is. It is really respectful of what you know, the generations have done the previously for us all. You know and the the shoes that they had to walk in were far more difficult than the ones we are walking in. But certainly we do live in contentious times and it does flow through in some of your writing. And I will say writing because I I do see you as a writer or but but it doesn't really matter how I see you. How do you see yourself? These days I prefer right, just because I feel like it encompasses so much more elements of of writing. But for a long time, all of my teenagers, when I got into poetry at thirteen, probably into my twenties, I would upset that I was a spoken word artist simply because I came up through slam poetry. That was my introduction to poetry. So I don't know if the listeners now but that's kind of like a competitive of shure. They know a competitive form of poetry which is heavy on the performance aspect, and so I would have definitely considered myself a spoken word and when I finished with kind of the competition side of everything, I started to adopt poets because I just wasn't so heavy on the performance, although my joy is standing on the stage and delivering the piece to a live audience. But these days, mostly because I completed my I just completed my master's degree, that I've allowed myself to say, Hey, I am a writer, I can I can deliver in many types of writing, from...

...academic writing to creative writing, poetry to spoken with whatever you want to call itself. Yeah, I think writer is that is the more yeah, is the more appropriate one because of the broadness of what you do. Know, I love it. I love it. This is going to sound like a silly question, but but why writing? And I think in a previous conversation we had you would mentioned a little bit of a love or affection for architecture. You know, so you know. I guess what I'm trying to say is, you know why? Why write? Why do you write? And I think I'm, as a person, quite introspective, and so writing just allows me to venture into all of the spaces that I have inside of my head, in inside of my body, of the all the things I think and all the people that I am. I think writing allows allows me to kind of exploit all of those faces and wherever, all of those hats, and I think it was just a tool. Like I like I mentioned earlier about my mother being a writer, I definitely would say it's nature and nurture. I always loved reading and literature and short stories ever since I was young, ever since I'd I could read and love. I loved reading and I was always ahead of the kids, that other kids in class when we get homework and the teachers are to give me extra reading to do and I just loved it. And so I think writing kind of follow up naturally. And then my mother being a writer and recognizing that in me. Of course she's she's probably a static and definitely nurtured that in me and a lot of the slum poetry that I did when came to a youth group. You've got that my mother ran. It was a youth writing group, and so I would attend those classes with her. Initially it was just her taking me to work because they were after school sessions, and then I just found myself taking part in the classes, engaging in the workshops, and next thing you know I'm finding around the world. So yeah, probably probably that as well. The experience is that writing has afforded me have been have been priceless. That's amazing. Sounds like a sounds like a really enriching personal journey, but I like to I like to ask, it's not a butt and rather, and what I love to ask people in the creative space, such as yourself, whether they be writers or other types of perform performers, is, you know, there's this interesting thing that happens when you create a piece of art, whether it's a poem or you perform slam poetry or whatnot. Is this interaction with...

...the audience. You are they are on the other side, if you will, so to speak, receiving this when you are going through your process, do you write, do you create rather with the audience in mind, or do you create, or are you just creating internally and then sort of putting it out there to the world and sort of like the audience will will be what it is. Yeah, that's a good question, because I I've been both. At the moment, I said like internally, but having and I probably started writing from that internal, introspective place, but I would I wouldn't be honest if I did it say that I started to write for the audience reaction. Like I loved getting those snots and everything that comes along with slam poetry. I wanted to like I wanted that and also, when you're competing one hit ten turned yeah, right. Slump poetry kind of created like a whole different atmosphere of writing for me and then again, when I left that kind of world, I'd say definitely return to just being writing from a very personal place. Like the audience. I will say they didn't matter, but it wasn't. It was for me the writing. The writing was the me. But because I have that relationship, because I've had that relationship with audiences and I understand them, it was that theory that actually influenced my degree, which is in audiences, engagement and participation. That's the name of my master's degree, because I've always just been fascinated with the way audiences engage with any artworks, writing, visual works, and they're the only way that any creative could exist as a professional creative and monetize their work is on the audience. How many people you can get into a Gig, how many people are museum can get through the Dawn. So I've always been fascinated with the partisan participast to each side of that, and that might have come from slum poetry, like the hawing about just yearning for that relationship with the Audias. But today I definitely write. I write for me. My writing looks a lot different than it did ten years ago. Interesting. So it would you see it? Would you say it's an evolution or it's just different? That's also a good question. I'm going to pay both because I don't want to engage in the poetry was like it is of literature. But I definitely I think I just evolved as a person and just be a just being through gone through the emotions. You know, it's like if I was a person that fiction, maybe I want to move on from Vermont and maybe starting to write sci Fi. I kind of just see it like that's just a challenge for yourself,...

...a personal challenge. No, I love it. No, it's not a safe response. That's a that's a that's a good response. So I like it. I like it. I've also read a little bit about something that I think you've you started at at leads called the Sunday practice. I believe it is or was on hold because of Covid can you, can you tell me about the Sunday practice and maybe you know, hopefully there's some good news about it coming back or not. If the if the stoppage was was covid prompted. Yeah, well, the sonar practice was is an event that I started kind of but accident, because I never intended to have an event really, but some circumstances happened where a bunch of creatives were like hey, the as a space at about and you can have it for free one day a month. I was like well, okay, and if do something with it, and then I was like me, and we're like yeah, do something with it. And I think again because of the reputation that I built locally from slam poetry and working in schools and colleges as a slam coach. So I think people this kind of wanted me to create that kind of atmosphere that was accessible to everybody outside of slam as. I just took the opportunity and wow, did it just take it just took on the life of its own and seven years later and I've been running this event once a month. That has afforded me again, many other opportunities in producing and programming for larger festivals and events and theaters programming poets for their shows and collaborating on larger events. I took a team of poets and season the word team. It took a group of poets to Miami. Food is on their practice, like an international collaboration and software was on that trip with as. That was really cool. Performed at there and Hampton House in Miami. So you have done lots of cool things through this on their practice as well. It definitely did go on hope because of covid could you know, we couldn't put on any life shows. We did do some inst the ground lives, but I I wasn't feeling it. The audience was fine, but I just I think like a little message on the instagram stars. I like. I think I'm just going to take a break because it was covered. It was hard that the pandemic because hard and I just it just didn't have the mental capacitive. I'm being if I'm being absolutely transparent, and so we haven't done we didn't do anything for a few months and I'd like to think the Sundar practice is just organicly just going to take a different shit because we have collaborated with some people throughout the pandemic on digital events. We did a show with the British light every which...

...was amazing and if I had to say there was a silver lining to the pandemic. It is being able to have that national reach and that maybe we haven't had before. So being able to collaborate with the British library, which is in the title, you know it's the British library, was amazing. I want you've got some work coming up at the end of the year with a different literature festival the end of this year, and so for me I feel like the Sunday practice is just might look like that for a little while, just doing these one off collaborations with larger festivals who will basically give me money to do what I want. But I have to say running the Sunday practice events monthly, it was a passion project. It never paid me. We got the venue for free. The bad made money from from people coming in. I called like yeah, it was an absolute passion project. If I didn't make any money, was in the collaboration with these organizations and so the fact that they still exist, I'm happy for that. And that is what the solid practice looks like. But now, but now, yeah, yeah, but you know what it's really and that's that. I mean that really speaks to the heart of being a creative artist, right, is that you see you start something in some cases it's done for free, it's done out of passion and you never know where those fruits will blossom and grow. Right. So I believe I read that you had said that. You know you see artists as activists. Can you elaborate on that? If that a if that's true and be why do you think that? Yeah, I do believe that. So you probably did read it so well. Yeah, the writer was not making that up. And just because it depends on the content of the for example, I mentioned fiction, I'm actually why I was going to say is not even going to be true, because then I just thought of writers like Chinua chape be, Nigerian writer, and then even Tony My wison. So I was going to say maybe you get some artwhere they're just it's but the joy of the of the leader, of the person participating with it. But no matter how, no matter for what reason it's created, twenty years down the line, decades down the line, where we're looking to those pieces of work, like as historians, and I mentioned Tony Morrison there. I remember watching something in her recent film, the film they made about her, the pieces I am and they were asking her if she felt like an activist, and I can't remember she actually said yes or no, but even even before a rap she she was an editor firs, even before she published works as a writer. Think her her very work we're seen as activism because she was advocating for for black people, are African Americans at that time,...

...and sower. That's just so. She's an example of why I would always see a creative as an activist. Activism doesn't have to look like picket signs and these days hashtags are. However people choose to be activist, it can just be. It can just be like what is your passion in life? What is driving your work? And automatically are you are rallying for a group of people, whoever that might be, black people, lgbt rights, whatever it is. If you believe in the rights of those people and you want to make a daily want to make a daily contribution to whatever that is, then you're being an activist. And so for me I see art as that because where usually on myself as a poet, I'm usually covering whatever is going on in the world. I'm just yeah, whatever it is. I kind of like think of that of the reasons, but it just you are being you are being an activist, and this is just a thought. I've revived that in the last two years and never considered myself an activist, but food conversations I've had with people and even speaking at the black lives matter valley in needs last year, that kind of cemented it for me. When I was called as a poet to speak to what turned out to be Fifteenzero people, I bought well, I guess this is I guess I'm an activist now. Yeah, but if I wanted to, I'm not. I guess it. As you step to the MIC in this Fifteenzero, I guess so. I guess so. Yeah, so, but I like I like that because it and it. I think it takes a little bit of a creative mind and perspective to understand that nuance of yeah, you can participate in whatever campaign or fight or advocacy and in your own way you become an advocate and activist rather for that. Yeah, I think that you are definitely on the on the side of maybe a more traditional especially if you're grabbing a mic in there fifteenzero people listening to but maybe maybe, maybe not. I don't know. I don't know, but is it? I got like two more questions for your few if you have a few more minutes. This is I feel like I could chat with you for quite a while, but I want to be respectful of time. Okay, so two more questions. One is is that I'm going to try and explain this way I'm thinking, but I typically see art. Sorry, how do you see art? You see art as a reflection of culture, as a historical like documentation of culture or, in a sense, setting the tone for culture, like being ahead. Yeah, I think I can be buff of those things in general. I think they can be reflective of the times are. You get some artists that are just super...

...innovative and they've they started something absolutely from you, I'll tend you know, a form of out on its head and everybody was to be doing it that way now. But for me, I would I would just say my work is probably reflective of the Times. I definitely write about and how I'm feeling and, unusually feeling, whatever I'm feeling in relation to whatever world event has been happening. I could be a really personal event, but that's again, that's still writing my own history. I look at my writing from ten years ago and I'm like wow, I was that person and I probably wouldn't have remembered having and that specific feeling that that specific time, and it helps me to reflect on how I revolved as a person and also just looking back at what was the things that I found interested in at that time of things that I was writing about, is really is really cool to see. So I think I would definitely say I am a historian in that sense. My work is definitely reflective of the times and I like it and I give that way. But how does your culture show up in your work, or how do you want it to show up in your work? HMM, how do my culture show in my work? That's a good question. Probably when I'm talking about my work being will be something that could because that's his historical in the future, I guess when it's pleasant, it's not history. Yet even now I'm even I'm trying to create a body of work. I've got a commission which is to do with identity and being British and what that looks like for me. And there's someone with the same there's a point with the same condition and he's Irishish. I know that he's talking about the Irish migration to the UK. And so yeah, I've just really been thinking about my own funding migration and my own history, and so I'm specific typically right in a lot of pieces, not necessarily poems, but I'm just kind of like se writing. But then they've all been about my my grandmother and who is the person that migrated here from Jamaica. I'm because I've had the conversation with the Irish poet and I know that the Irish and the Jamaicans, with the two migrant groups that kind of came together in the UK. And if, if there is the slogan back then was no blocks, no Irish dogs as I'm thinking a lot about that. So I would just probably that would be an example of how my culture shows up in my work, which is a very literal example, and if that would probably be the best example I could give right now. I'm sure it shows up in lots of ways, even in my performance, like the way I use the right you know, like yeah, wow, that we do. So sure it's I've never thought about it until...

...you've asked me now. So no, but you know what, it's a really good point and I love the way you hit on the end of it too. There's there is that little bit of a swag, a little bit of that, that that groove that happened as you're talking. And some of it, I know, for for some people or from for everybody who's listening to this, or we'll listen to this. This is an auditory only experience. But you know, you were, you were really will was swaying a little bit back and forth as if there were some music, and she was, you know, she was back in Jamaica a little bit talking. So it does, it does flow through part in the pun which what just human mean. Again, I was going to ask you. You you already mentioned it, but I'd forgot. To do them the most kind, I'm the most Merciful. So each first in the Karamo up will be smilart he. So if you heard the hem there at the end right is the male version. It means God, the most kind, most beneficial, the most merciful, amazing. Do you think that is a supremely appropriate name and meaning for how you live your life? For sure, I think I definitely mercyfel. I have a lot of patients, but people and different types of people and opinions. I enjoy listening and observing. But my mom did said to me a lot when I was younger that I should be kind of my little put as. I don't know about work in progress. It could be like a what is that one meal that we humer saying, like no put but everything else aside. This is my number one who. But okay, as of today, be a shod listen is this might change, but if I have to choose one food right now, it's not a dish, just one specific food. Is going to be smart peppered maquel. Again to the same thing as of today. Are you feeling that you would like to perform or participate in some would you like to be wrapping that mic with Fifteenzero people, or would you like to be down there with a fifteen thousand Mike? I want to pick up in a MIC, as you put question on my whole I wouldn't know what to give. Like to be in the audience. Of course. I've been spectatorve of musicians and artists that I enjoy and I love that feeling like gigging. Attending my events is my favorite sting in the world. And but I mean I have to be on the stage while you are eating your dinner or if you if you're maybe deserved. What are you watching? What is on the telly? Well, on my TV? Yeah, I forgot to ask that was but I'm going to do it to speak with you.

It's housewive for real housewives of PTOMA. Oh No, yeah, so there you have it. The conversation continues. Part of our show was recorded and produced at the sound stage and auditory office of fifty four lights. Music for this show was composed, played and enjoyed, with permission, by our friends and multiformats. Special thanks, as always, to my guest, Rehima. Thank you for being such a great interview to the listeners, if you like what you've heard, remember that there's more. As I mentioned earlier, we are closing our season three. I'll have one more episode with thoughts on the year and the season that was then, after a slight pause, will be kicking off our final, ambitious and somewhat extended season four. But until then I invite you to go into our archives and listen or re listen the new to previous shows. Be Sure to subscribe so you will miss the season finale and, of course, the launch of season four, which is up coming in the next few months. Never forget that if you enjoy some social sprinkled in with your experience, please follow us on instagram under our handle crowd fifty four. On it you'll find updates, previews and perspectives on the year and the season to come. Listen like share. As always, this is your privileged host and Duannimoisse a, until we meet again. Thank you for listening.

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