Our Associate Editor, Durre Shahwar, reflects on the very first session of ‘Where I’m Coming From’, a new series of spoken word and open mic co-organised by her and Hanan Issa, which focuses on BAME writers in Wales.
The idea for this had been mulling around in my head for a while and came after conversations with women of colour based in South Wales who felt that most of the open mic events in Wales didn’t quite cater to them for various reasons, be it time, venue, or simply a lack of other BAME people present. And so ‘Where I’m Coming From’ was born. It is an open mic series that is aimed predominantly but not exclusively at the Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) community of writers and artists in Wales. It is intended to be a safe space where people can share their thoughts/ideas/views through the medium of spoken word, poetry, prose, or something more unconventional.
The aim is to challenge, explore, and deconstruct any topic in an open minded environment. It was while I was looking for a venue to hold the open mic in, that Hanan Issa messaged me about Tramshed Cardiff as a possible option. She set us up a meeting and what followed was one of the smoothest collaborative event organisation that I have ever had.
Hanan is a Cardiff-based, Welsh and Iraqi spoken word poet. She’s an on-the-fence feminist Muslim woman in a hijab and a lot of her work explores those themes. She is a writer for MuslimGirl.com and Huffington Post. She kicked off the evening as a featured writer, sharing a spellbinding and challenging performance about the policing of women’s clothing and bodies, talking us through the piece as part of the performance before launching into it. Hanan’s experience of performing her work for various platforms and radio was obvious with the way that the words seemed to be completely under her command.
Following Hanan was Abeer Ameer, who, having abandoned early plans to be a comedian, and having retired from working as a dentist, has turned her attentions to dabbling in words. She writes mainly poetry, covering a range of subjects. Her writing has been published in Writing Our Lives Anthology, Roath Writers Anthology, I Am Not A Silent Poet. Abeer’s work explored a lot of issues relating to war, violence and displacement. What I especially admired was the way that her words contained no euphemism when dealing with difficult topics. Her delivery was genuine and straightforward, without the need to overemphasise issues that already carry with them a lot of weight, making the performance quite effective.
The third of our featured writers was Selena Caemawr. Selena is child number 9 of 9 by her Jamaican mother and white British father. As an autistic, queer, black, trans-femme, she invited her audience to delve into the world of living on the intersections of oppression. Selena’s bold performance was captivating as her delivery switched throughout her performance according to the subject of each piece. Her work aims to challenge and encourage listeners to look at their own privilege and place in society and it did just that. I managed to record a very short bit of it.
We were all in for a treat with the open mic session that took place after the break. Out of the approximately 12 performers, each had something different to say and a unique way to deliver it. There is so much talent that seems to be hidden in the wider community. When we put the idea together we didn’t quite know what to expect, if anything at all. Searches of BAME writers in Wales in the past have mostly come up dry and empty, but this showed how there are young and new writers that need to be at the forefront of grassroots writing in Wales. Writers that can be bold, push boundaries and bring something fresh to the scene. Their topics ranged from race, current politics, sexual assault, to poems about hands and parents and mental health. For some, it was the first time performing and it was heartwarming to see people come up to the mic and feel comfortable to share pieces knowing that they were in a safe environment.
The idea that this was a safe space was especially reiterated by many I spoke to afterwards; almost everyone was in agreement that this particular setup was needed. The feelings of ‘for us, by us’ reverberated throughout the room, hitting home how, in order to draw the right audience, the right approach must be taken.
The event was attended by nearly 40 people, a great number, in my opinion, and the diversity of the audience and the various communities present was unlike any I have seen at previous open mic events in Wales. We hope that space will become a chance for people to keep performing their work and in time, grow on a wider level, allowing them to see themselves represented in the arts as well as participate in it themselves.
As well as showcasing upcoming BAME creatives, however, the series will also incorporate talks and debates with the aim of bridging the gap between communities, writers, artists, and organisations. While the focus is on BAME writers, all are welcome, especially to perform at the open mic, or to simply network and collaborate.
Thank you to everyone that supported the event in any way, be it through social media, word of mouth, or simply showing up on the night. We’ve already started planning the next one, which will be in October, and will be themed around Black History Month. You can keep track of it via or Facebook page or Twitter. I hope that every performer returns in the future – some even as featured writers for our upcoming sessions. If you are a BAME writer based in Wales and would like to be one of our featured writers, please get in touch with myself or Hanan.