-’We need to keep on ‘keepin on’ with positivity until the world becomes a better place.’- Ras Shango Baku
Shades of Noir in conversation with Ras Shango Baku Co-curator of the current exhibition ‘Rastafari in Motion’ at the Black Cultural Archives.
Rastafari In Motion is a current exhibition exhibited at the BCA. (14 June – 10 September 2016) Co-curated in partnership with the Rastafari Regal Livity (RRL), Rastafari in Motion tells the rarely told story of the presence of Emperor Haile Selassie I and the emergence of the Rastafari movement in Britain. Black Cultural Archives will be the first to present Rastafari in Motion to UK audiences. – Black Cultural Archives
Shades of Noir visited the exhibition in the vibrant heart of Brixton and we were lucky enough to get an interview with Ras Shango Baku; one of the co-curators of the exhibition alongside Dr. Robert Gillingham and members of the Rastafari Regal Livity (RRL).
Who is Ras Shango Baku ?
Ras Shango Baku is a Rastafari journalist, author, dramatist, activist, and editor of Thunder; a Rastafari magazine, one of the few in circulation in Britain at the moment. Produced by the Nyabingi National Council UK; it talks about Rastafari locally and internationally. Currently sold in printed format and distributed on a one-to-one basis, they are currently in the process of building an online platform to make it more accessible.
Ras Shango Baku’s background:
– ‘I’ll try to be brief’- He laughs resoundingly..-‘where shall I start?’-.
-‘I’ve been around for a long time’- he begins, Baku, now in his seventies talked about his identity as a Rastafari: ‘as Bob Marley used to say ‘You’re Rastafari from birth, so it’s difficult to pinpoint at what age you really become Rasta’. I am originally from Trinidad and Tobago, a very cosmopolitan country we have people from all over, predominantly from African descent, but there is quite a mix of Asian and South Americans now.’
Baku went to university in Ireland (of all places) *he chuckles* because we were taught by a catholic priest in Trinidad and that’s how we came to Britain. He then decided that he wanted to become a writer. ‘Which is easier said than done,’ he says.
He also got into the acting world around this period. He goes on to say, –’So it’s been a mixed bag of creative writing, acting and then I went into Rastafari journalism’-. Baku states that the activism is what links all these things together.
On the importance of the Arts
For years Baku ran school workshops, usually in black history month, focusing on African history and discussing things that were not well known or were not publicised in the school curriculum, and he created small plays within the schools.
-’I think you have to keep alive that interest in life to keep the creative flows going.’-
Getting young people to learn about a history that they would not otherwise have heard about; based on role models that were introduced to them.
-’It’s very important to be able to communicate, to be able to change the minds of people and to bring new things into being. I think that the arts are an important medium of communication and information.-’
On the importance of mentors for our youth and intergenerational dialogue
When SON asked Baku on his thoughts on the importance of mentoring within our young BAME communities especially, his reply was : -’It’s essential, that we do that. That we fulfil that gap of leadership and example in whatever way we can. Where young black youth particularly may not have role models close to them, who can inspire them to fulfil their potential.’-
In one of Baku’s books, ‘Beacons of Liberation’, he speaks briefly about six great historical men and women in a format that is accessible to schools and young people. He believes that it is important for this age group to read about leaders and changemakers, such as Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, etc.
-’It’s very important to help to turn around that negativity by getting people actively involved in self-searching or informing themselves about black history, African history. I think it’s a way to inspire young people to realise that they can do the impossible, whatever their dreams are- to fulfil those dreams or those visions that they have of a better world and to do their utmost to fulfil them.’-
Leading on from the mentoring subject that flowed onto the topic of Intergenerational dialogue, Baku mentioned this as – ‘an important factor, the continuity, and development of that dialogue.’-
-’The exhibition has done that to an extent, alongside the workshops and talks such as ‘Beyond Babylon an intergenerational dialogue’ It stimulates dialogue in the community and that has been one of the great successes of the exhibition.-
Currently, the Nyahbinghi National Council UK put on events and talks covering these topics in a series called ‘Come that I and I reason’ which explores the day to day aspects of our liberty, and holds intergenerational conversations.
On Baku’s experience of Co-curation of the Rastafari in Motion exhibition
-’It’s interesting. It’s been a journey that’s continuing.’-
Baku spoke on the importance of the group having a vision about the curation of this exhibition that they would bring together the majesty and the movement in a single vision.
-’so we were able to put together a chronological interpretation of the movement of the Rastafari on the ground and also to reassess the work of his majesty in Bath and with the league of nations and the conquering of fascism, which is such an important thing to happen at that time.’-
They began to put together something that looked at the Rastafari movement in the UK in decades so it started in the 1960’s, they then traced it into the 70’s (at it’s high point), when a lot of black youths were looking for inspiration and finding it in Rastafari music and lyrics and philosophy and into the 80’s –‘when the sisters became strong in the movement’- he adds, in the 90’s where repatriation came about, and people really started leaving the UK and the Caribbean, America and other parts of the world and going to Africa and to Ethiopia. Finally into the 21st century;
-’It was a very enlightening journey for those who were involved in that, we found out so many things from going into the archives from all these different places that had records of his majesty and of the Rastafari movement and it was a bit of a rollercoaster ride, it has been a journey.’-
On the Rastafari movement now , and movements such as the Black Lives Matter
SON asked what Baku’s thoughts were on this movement and the current climate with the recent outpouring of anger and frustration amongst the black community in particular and the recent protests.
RSB: -’Well hopefully the exhibition and that new movement which is happening (BLM) within communities, not just in Britain, but across the world moves in a positive direction. Get up stand up, stand up for your rights Equality and Justice, it hasn’t just gone into the black community but world communities have been inspired by the works of Rastafari , leaders, and Rastafari concepts and so forth, to say ‘we can do it, we can rise up and be ourselves’. Everyone has the right to write their own destiny. Until the philosophy that holds, one man superior and one man inferior is totally and finally discredited and abandoned, that fight for equal rights and justice continues.’-
To conclude SON’s interview with Ras Shango Baku, he ended with this final thought:
Perhaps the exhibition can open up the minds of the young people to start thinking positively. We need to keep on ‘keepin on’ with positivity until the world becomes a better place.
Rastafari in Motion at the BCA:
14 June – 10 September 2016
Opening times: Tues-Sat, 10am – 5.30pm (last entry)
Twitter: @bcaheritage #RastafariMotion #ReclaimingHeritage