Black History month has been celebrated right here in the UK for more than 30 years. This celebration takes place from the start to the end of October. Throughout history, black people have made huge contributions to society in many fields and areas, so up and down the country events are held to highlight and celebrate the achievements and contributions of the black community. Black African women have played a central role in British history for centuries too, yet still, our stories are frequently left untold. And if they are, the historical narratives are “watered down” to versions that please the non-black gatekeepers.
The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has brought a thirst into campaigners who want to reclaim the stories and experiences of black people, particularly those of black women in this country. For centuries, black women’s lives have embodied the qualities of courage, intelligence and independence; they have built communities, raised families, and against often overwhelming odds, they have carved out identities as pioneers, activists and artists. On the inclusion of Black women in our history, historian Jade Bentil says; “When black women are positioned not at the margins of history, not as onlookers, but as the original point of radical movements and events, a completely new vision of the world is made possible”. I agree, and below I celebrate the glass ceiling shattering efforts of 5 phenomenal African British women that everyone should acquaint themselves with this Black History month.
Sade: Born in Ibadan, her father was a Nigerian university teacher of economics and mother was an English nurse. When their daughter was born, nobody locally called her by her English name, and so a shortened version of Folasade stuck. Helen Folasade Adu is aBritish singer, songwriter and producer who has gained worldwide fame as the lead vocalist of the English band Sade. She’s not just one of Britain’s most successful solo artists in history, with hip hop legends such as Missy Elliott and R&B legends Beyonce and Aaliyah all citing Sade as their influence, but she’s totally underrated. Sade grew up listening to American soul music, particularly the wave led in the 1970’s by artists such as Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, and Bill Withers. As a teenager, she saw the Jackson 5 at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, London where she worked behind the bar at weekends. “I was more fascinated by the audience than by anything that was going on on the stage. They’d attracted kids, mothers with children, old people, white, black. I was really moved. That’s the audience I’ve always aimed for”.
Margaret Busby: Ghanaian-born Margaret is an extremely influential name in the world of publishing. That’s because she was Britain’s youngest and first black female book publisher, when she co-founded the publishing company Allison & Busby in 1967, alongside a man called Clive Allison. The company didn’t only publish work by black writers, but it did help to make the names of many black writers more well-known. Talking about writing today, Margaret says: “Technology permits you to be your own publisher and editor, which should encourage a lot of us – especially young people – to write and express themselves”. “Write because you really enjoy it and learn to be a good reader because the best writers read voraciously. Get to know the best books out there”.
Dr. Olivette Otele: Dr Otele is a French-Cameroonian academic. In 2018, Otele, a colonial and postcolonial historian, became the first black woman in the UK to become a history professor. On Twitter she commented, “May this open the door 2many v hard working women, especially WoC, even + specifically Black women, in academia in general & in History in particular. In strength, peace and love my ppl.” A study by Advance HE shows that, in the year leading up to this milestone (2016-17), only 25 black women were recorded to be professors out of around 19,000 across the country. Within that number, 14,000 of the professors were white men. The fact that Otele managed to take up space in academia is monumental, and it will hopefully encourage other black women to do the same.
Evelyn Dove: Evelyn was the daughter of a lawyer from Sierra Leone and his English wife. Following her dreams, Dove studied piano, voice, and elocution at the Royal Academy of Music – but realised when she graduated that the classical music scene at the time was not welcoming to a female singer of mixed race, despite her incredible voice. She became famous all over the world, at a time when black female performers would struggle to get the same recognition as white entertainers because of racial prejudices. But the height of her career began in 1939 when she joined folk singer Edric Connor on BBC Radio’s Serenade in Sepia. The series was so popular that it lasted for a decade before becoming a TV show, during which Dove also appeared as a singer on other popular radio programmes such as Caribbean Carnival, Mississippi Nights and Calling the West Indies.
Taponeswa Mavunga: Born in Zimbabwe and rightfully acknowledged as one of the best in the field, Tapaneswa was recently appointed Director of Africa at Sony Music UK, a newly created position that will expand the company’s scope within African music. She will report directly to Jason Iley, Chairman and CEO of Sony Music UK & Ireland. Mavunga will be responsible for amplifying UK signed artists across Africa, as well as supporting artists within Africa to develop relationships, identify opportunities and increase visibility within the UK. She will work in close alignment with Mark Collen (EVP of UK International), the Sony Music UK labels and Sony Music Africa on artist strategy and will be the UK gateway for identifying local talent and opportunities within the region. Mavunga joined Sony Music as Head of Publicity for Columbia UK in 2015, where she oversaw press strategy across the label’s roster and spearheaded campaigns for artists including Childish Gambino, Koffee, Wizkid, Davido and Rosalia.