On my radar: Lemn Sissay's cultural highlights

Kadish Morris
·4-min read

Lemn Sissay is an author, poet and broadcaster born to an Ethiopian mother in 1967 in London. He has been publishing poetry since 1985, and is the author of five collections. He was appointed MBE for services to literature in 2010 and was the official poet of the 2012 London Olympics. His critically acclaimed memoir, My Name Is Why, was published in 2019. He is supporting WaterAid’s Future on Tap appeal to help transform lives with clean water.

1. Art

Addis Fine Art Gallery

It’s the first Ethiopian art gallery in British history. My tip for investors is to buy Ethiopian art now! It opened in October in west London. I went to their latest exhibition, but it closed three days later because of Covid. The artist they are currently presenting is Tadesse Mesfin. He is a giant of the Ethiopian art scene, he holds a unique position as a figurehead of the Ethiopian modernist movement. The work in this exhibition, called Pillars of Life, is of the women of the markets of Ethiopia working day in day out. He’s exalting the women and depicting the real heroes of Ethiopian society.

2. Fiction

A River Called Time by Courttia Newland

This novel is out in January so you have to preorder it. It’s [set in an alternative world where slavery and colonialism never happened] and is written by the British author Courttia Newland, a co-writer on two of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology films. So if you’re liking these films, try to explore more. We need to seek out stories of the people who are otherwise unseen. If you want to know the story of Britain, it’s really important to read Newland. There’s a reason why the Oscar-winning McQueen is working with him. It’s worth looking at his backlist of novels.

3. Music

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou

She is an Ethiopian nun who plays the piano. Her music is very relaxing. You may have heard it on the Carex advert that came out very recently. I’ve been a fan of hers for years. She uses the Ethopian scales on the piano, which have this powerful and hypnotic effect. I’m sure it would help you fall asleep or calm you in the middle of a hectic day. It’s just beautiful. There’s no better time for soothing music than now. She’s just getting a resurgence at the moment. The song I would ask people to listen to is Mother’s Love, from 1963.

4. Podcast

The Blindboy Podcast

Blindboy [Dave Chambers] boils down big ideas, such as the link between Renaissance art, which he’s an expert in, and the foreskin of Jesus. He deconstructs the state and the church from the 1700s to the present-day tax breaks of Google and Pfizer. Not only is his podcast hilarious, but it dismantles preconceived ideas in such a way as to make them seem bizarre, with infallible logic and a creative flair unmatched in the podcast universe. It’s just incredible what he does. He’s also an artist who works in hyperreality. There is one episode, which is about Donald Trump having women in his hotel room in Russia, and the women are doing an act for him. Did it happen, who recorded it, how was it made? When you hear that episode, it’s mindblowing.

5. Facebook page

500 Acts of Kindness

Actor Julie Hesmondhalgh, creator of the 500 Acts of Kindness Facebook page.
Actor Julie Hesmondhalgh, creator of the 500 Acts of Kindness Facebook page. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

It’s amazing. It was started by actor Julie Hesmondhalgh. Each member, and there are thousands, gives £1 a week to people in crisis or in need. All you need to do to warm your heart about community – and see that there is good in the world and it’s happening all around us all of the time – is to read the stories of the people who receive the donations. You might have a young mother who has got nowhere to live and needs £500 deposit for a flat. You might hear that there was a flood and an 80-year-old man who lives on his own, needs wellington boots and a heater so he can be warm over winter. The page can change their lives at the pivotal moment.

6. Instagram

Banana Bruiser

Every day since the first lockdown, when Anna Chojnicka had to isolate, she has been bruising bananas. There’s no ink involved. She bruises the banana [with the end of a comb or pin], waits for it to darken, then does the next part, so it takes a long time. She is an example of how creativity can help with your wellbeing. There’s a really good BBC World Service video of this. Imagine you do something creative and you put it on Twitter, and then the BBC World Service says: “Hey, we want to broadcast this!” I’m so impressed and it makes me smile.