Black History Month in Norfolk

It’s October, so that means it’s Norfolk Black History Month, an annual celebration of the cultural contribution made by black people to society. KEIRON PIM spoke to organiser Finbarr Carter to find out how black history is part of everyone’s history.

Some people might think that because Norfolk has historically had a relatively small black population, there would be little need for an annual event in the county celebrating black history - but they would be wrong.

That is the message behind Norfolk Black History Month, which is becoming established as a fixture in the region's cultural calendar, as this is the fourth successive October to be designated as such.

“Some people joke about 'Why do we have Black History Month in somewhere that has such a low proportion of black people?'” says Finbarr Carter, of Norfolk Education & Action for Development (Nead).

“We are trying to get people to understand that black history is just a part of history overall. It's like saying that Shakespeare is white history.”


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Black people have lived in Norfolk for centuries and have made numerous notable contributions to the region's development.

For instance, in 1904, Dr Allan Glaisyer Minns became Britain's first black mayor. He didn't come from London, Birmingham or Manchester, or any other part of the country with a sizeable ethnic minority population, but from Thetford. And anyone who has heard The Beatles' song Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite will recall the line “the Hendersons will all be there, late of Pablo Fanque's fair”, but they may not know that 18th century circus owner Pablo Fanque was born William Darby, a black man raised on Ber Street in Norwich.

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As well as showing that Norfolk has a richer black history than one might realise, the underlying ethos of the event is to show how all our histories are inter-related, and how black history has influenced areas of British culture in ways you might never expect.

“For instance, the word 'chemistry' comes from 'khemet'. That was the name used for ancient Egypt,” says Finbarr. 'Khemet' means 'land of the black people' and, he explains: “When you translate it the word 'chemistry means 'black people's science'.”

This year's Norfolk Black History Month is the biggest yet, and runs over six weeks. Finbarr said there were many highlights still to come.

“During the six-week period we have got more than 70 events scheduled, and they are more diverse than ever. That's something we are really proud of. The African Market in Norwich, on the weekend of October 21, will be a really nice way for people to come into contact with African culture.

“My personal favourite, being a massive reggae fan, is Tena Stelin at the Locks Inn, Geldeston, on October 21. He is a reggae legend.”

Finbarr says that as the annual event has become more established, more and more people have become involved, showing their willingness to support the idea of a Black History Month in Norfolk.

“This year is the biggest and best year ever. It's interesting that it's being put on by a partnership between Nead and Norfolk & Norwich Racial Equality Council, but a lot of the events are being run by independent organisations, so it's great to see a growing commitment of a number of organisations. All sorts of groups are coming together.”

And if the concept behind the event is a noble one, making people think again about history, Black History Month also promises the simple pleasure of great music, theatre and dance. “So often we get to hear about the history of rich men fighting wars, but not about women, gay people, disabled people or black people. It's a process of re-examining history. All our histories are important.”

WHAT'S ON

There are more than 70 events taking place this year throughout October and early November. Performers will include gifted artists, musicians, writers, dancers, singers and speakers - from veteran roots legend Tena Stelin to R&B diva Ruby Turner.

Here are just a few of the highlights:

t Zimbabwean-born Norwich based dancer and singer Anna Mudeka performs at King's Lynn on Saturday, October 14, at 8pm. The venue is King's Lynn Arts Centre in King Street, and tickets are £12.50. Call 01553 764864.

t Master Juba, the true story of a brilliant young black dancer from a slave background who was brought to England to perform for Queen Victoria in 1854. The acclaimed show is coming to Norwich Playhouse on November 7-8. Tickets are £10 or £8 for concessions, and £6 for school groups. Contact the Theatre Royal box office on 01603 598598.

t Trans-mission, performed by State of Emergency, represents the new dynamic face of black British dance, and comes to the Garage in Chapel Field North in Norwich this Thursday, October 12 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £6 in advance (£5 concessions), and £7 on the door (£6 concessions). Email boxoffice@norwichartscentre.co.uk or call Norwich Arts Centre on 01603 660352.

t Mask and jewellery-making are also on offer, as are singing, drumming, painting and ceramics workshops.

t Locally trained artist Gloria Ojulari Sule is exhibiting at the Bally Shoe Factory in Norwich.

t There will be plenty of bargains to be found at the African Markets in Yarmouth, Norwich and Chedgrave, and there will also be a range of thought-provoking debates and dialogues, talks and discussions to choose from.

The programme is available online to download at www.norfolkblackhistorymonth.org.uk

Printed versions of the programme are available from the World shop on Exchange Street, Norwich, or from Finbarr Carter at Norfolk Education & Action for Development. Telephone 01603 610993 or, alternatively, e-mail finbarr@nead.org.uk

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