Farewell for now, Live Magazine

Yesterday was my last day as Senior Editorial Mentor at Live Magazine in Brixton, which is run by social enterprise Livity. Here’s some of the team past and present.

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Live is a brilliant, morphing series of platforms where young people make content with the support of a professional mentor. It was a magazine, then a website and soon it’ll be two new YouTube channels. I worked at Live on and off, and in various capacities, for seven years, which is as long as I was at secondary school. It’s a long time.

I can’t convey all of the funny, brilliant, profound things I witnessed – we’d be here all day (or for the next seven years) but I can tell you that I’ve seen a lot of transition and transformation of individuals, of myself and my co-mentors, and of ourselves as an entity. We’ve been secret agents of change, a journalism project with an agenda to empower and enthuse the young people who’ve passed through our doors. Without sounding too soppy, it’s family. It’s about love.

Most transitions take time and I’m lucky enough to have a long view. I know individuals as they are now, working at Westfield or doing well at college, or working for national news media, and I remember where they were when we first met them. Often, this was very far away from the future they subsequently invented for themselves. Some of the biggest successes appear minuscule by mainstream standards but are epic given the challenges facing the individuals concerned. I’m thinking about the person who managed to get herself back into education after being kicked out and ended up with a brace of GCSEs. Or the 16 year old  who was out of school for years but harnessed a natural talent for social media – and who’s now applying to college.

It’s not just individuals who have changed. Live itself has changed, too. When I joined to run journalism workshops in 2006 it was very local and often very frontline. We were working with young people who were light years away from the mainstream. These were economic boom times elsewhere in society but not behind the steel shutters of Tunstall Road. We were youth workers who didn’t think we were youth workers, doing things we weren’t qualified to do, but doing them anyway. Take this film that Livity co-founder Sam Conniff made over four Saturdays with a group of young people. It’s a deceivingly raw satire on the trend for wearing gang-affiliated bandanas dominant at the time.

Warning: this clip is very sweary.

 

Our videos have evolved. This is future star Eve-Yasmin interviewing MC Mic Righteous. Our new channels that we’ll be launching in the autumn are even more ambitious.

 

 

Live’s now a place where almost everyone is a highly impressive young creative. In the picture at the top of the piece you’ve got writers, film-makers, artists, activists, musicians and a Forex trader. The landscape has changed, and so have we.

Some observations:

Live’s done a great job of trusting young people to make interesting decisions, and to create a fun and safe place in which you can make mistakes. Mistakes are good. But they’re costly if you make them in the real workplace, especially with youth unemployment running at 20%.

Mentoring isn’t about helping anyone. If we’re being honest, no-one can help anyone. Not really. But we can create the space in which people can succeed in a way that’s real and organic, on their own terms. The benefit is entirely two-way. I have got at least as much out of mentoring at Live as anyone has got from me.

I believe there’s something radical at the heart of Live – and of any organisation that genuinely creates opportunities for young people. That might be a youth club, or an arts college, or in our case, a business. We’ve opened up privileged opportunities to people who don’t have them in their family network and supported them in making the most of the door we’re jamming open. Equally importantly, we’ve created a space where broadly privileged people can work in alliance with young people who from a different class background. It’s healthy to test your assumptions. Where else can you do that?

I’m suddenly reminded of a moment from around 2009 where myself and a young man from Live went up to 10 Downing St to attend a reception. The young man was as impressive as he always is and gave a speech to the great and the good and their crystal decanters. A wealthy-looking lady came up afterwards. “Oh that was wonderful!” she said. “Are there more like you?”

The answer, lady, is yes. There are.

Up The Woods #3

I’ve been writing each month about learning about trees. This third column first appeared on Caught By The River, as will each of the monthly posts. Illustration Matt Sewell.

I am now on first name terms with a whole swathe of common and everyday trees and a number of not-so-common ones growing in my part of south east London. I’m on nodding terms with the copper beech on the road to Lewisham; with the ubiquitous rabbit-eared horse chestnut; and even the frog-footed (distinctly non-native) ginkgo that sits on the hill that takes you out of Blackheath and back down to Lee Green. I’m now at the tree-language equivalent of being able to say please, thank you and ‘two bottles of beer’.

In my notebook, I’ve been keeping a list of trees I now recognise and the list is growing. I’m pretty confident with ash, and can almost tell an oak from a distance. It’s something about the slightly diffuse shape of the leaves that makes it look hazy against the horizon, unlike a beech, whose rounded leaves cup and curve the light more softly.

This week I grasped an important technical point: tree people describe leaves as ‘pinnate’ or ‘palmate’. It took me a while but I get it now: palmate just means that the leaf is shaped like your hand, with five fat fingers radiating out from a palm, like horse chestnut, or sycamore. Pinnate describes leaves that grow with their own little stalks off a long pin-like stalk, like ash or rowan.

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It really helps to understand this, because it’s a way of sorting and seeing families of tree types. Imagine for a minute you’re standing under a tree and it’s got palmate leaves that look a bit like a sycamore. It could be a sycamore or maybe a London plane, or perhaps a maple. Once you’re in the right general area (big tree, palmate leaves) you can start to find the detail. If you can see round, brown spheres hanging from the branches like woodland baubles, then it’s a plane. If it’s got seeds shaped like dolls-house coat hangers then it’s a sycamore, and if it’s got neither, and slightly smallish leaves then it’s a maple. I gave myself major bonus points when I stuffed a sycamore-ish leaf with a red stalk into my bag and worked out that it was probably a red maple. They’re all over the place in Lewisham! Who knew that the blue borough was a hotspot for Canada’s national treasure? If I’d have known earlier in the year, I’d have been up Mountsfield Park, fighting off the Staffie owners who hoist their dogs onto trees to strengthen their jaws, to do a bit of sap-tapping for my Saturday pancakes. I am told, also, that early birch leaves are good for a nibble, but that particular experiment will have to wait until next spring.

I’ve taken a scatter-fire approach to learning what the trees are called, using different resources including badgering people I know. I haven’t yet found a British tree book I really like, although I did get an excellent guide to New York’s wooded inhabitants when I was in that city last month. The trip included a feverish, flu-dosed afternoon lying on the grass in Central Park underneath a tree with paper-round seed pods which I eventually discovered was an elm. This felt like a bittersweet win: not only did I solve the puzzle of this particular tree, but it was an English tree in New York, and one that’s almost gone from our landscape, bar the 15,000 trees saved by Brighton Council during the Dutch Elm Disease epidemic of the 1970s.

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My New York book has been surprisingly useful, along with my trusty, basic Woodland Trust swatch of obvious trees, and a bit of internet, despite the fact that most tree ID websites are crap. There’s also my newly-developed habit of borrowing leaves to take home. I have a growing collection of faded leaves in small piles around the house, like chlorophyll cairns.

The problem with tree books is that the specimen they photograph is just one tree on one day and it’ll look different in June than it will in January. Young trees look different from old trees. No two trees look exactly the same so it’s hard to identify a tree from one single picture. I’m sure there are good apps but I left my iPhone in Rwanda (it’s a long story) and have been using a second-hand blackberry in the interim – a phone whose crappiness is perversely attractive in a world where the internet is everywhere all the time, hence still using it a month down the line even though it drives me mad.

One tree that’s hard to miss in south London is the sycamore. In fact, so many of these have self-seeded that they’re mostly considered a weed. Consequently, I had no qualms uprooting the skinny specimen on the builders hardcore and inch of soil on the side of my ’60s maisonette, where weeds fight (and win) a battle against the random plants I’ve chucked at the ground.

I have to make a confession here: I am no stranger to arborcide. When I moved in, I cut down three massive leyandii that were growing in my tiny yard because they provided so much shade that not even ivy grew. It was my own personal Scandi forest that turned my sunny and optimistic abode into permanent gothic gloaming, and they had to go. The trees had the last laugh, though. A year after they were felled, I got a man called Andy to come round with his stump grinder. One of the tree-shards flew up like a wooden Cruise missile and struck the middle of the patio doors, transforming the pane into a spiders web of shattered glass.

Learning about trees has made me notice more than just the species. I am suddenly aware of bad pollarding, like the leylandii in front of my house – yes, another one – where my neighbour hacked the top third off, leaving a jig-jag of brutalised trunk exposed on one side. On the other hand, I find myself noticing a particularly beautiful crown, like the tree on the corner of my friend’s road. I don’t what it is, but it’s in flower now and reminds me of a pretty child’s head after she’s had curlers and ribbons put into her hair. I’m not sure I’d have even noticed it before.

I remember now that I had the same experience of clarity increasing with knowledge when I decided to learn about clouds a few years ago. I had no handle on them apart from in the broadest sense (that one looks like a dog; those ones are orange and well emotional) and then after a few months they took on their individual beauty. Look how that Lenticularis sits in the sky, just there by itself like a gorgeous, soft UFO! Or, see that pretty piece of Vellum lounging next to a bunch of puffy Cumulus! Naming allows you to engage, and to like things more. It’s probably the same with people. I remember talking to a community worker on an East London estate who’d dealt with tensions simply by introducing residents to each other. The renegade kids became people with names, and the shouty, aggressive adults became people with names and everyone got on a whole lot better.

One final thing: I just read Jay Griffiths’s book, Kith. Some of her prose is a touch too pixie for me, but she has some wonderful things to say about childhood, the woods, and the roots and routes of words. The words tree, endure, tryst, trust and truth, she says, are all related to the common Indo-European, doru or dreu.

Trees, you see. They’re at the root of everything.

Creat_ED ‘unconference’ at The Barbican

Some things I learned from the Creat_ED ‘unconference’ at The Barbican.

1. Creat_ED exists because of an absence, that of Learning Without Frontiers. When the latter was cancelled, Creat_ED popped into existence in a foundational example of doing. You can read more about the genesis of the event here.

2. An ‘unconference’ is quite like a conference, but more democratic. In the case of Creat_ED, this meant a room up on the fourth floor of the Barbican, looking out into the jungly centre of the conservatory, where we were encouraged by host Eylan Ezekiel to comment, share and do.

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3. The opening speaker Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino made an interesting point that learning. It is, she said, ‘a community’ and spoke about some of the people who’d schooled her. It made me wonder: is it possible to curate your own teachers outside of the people you encountered at school? If I think about the people who really taught me something I’d include my dad, my Primary School teacher Mrs Skinner who got us dissecting lambs eyes (it was the ’80s, you could do stuff like that), and the music editor at Select Magazine who took to me to one side and explained exactly why my album reviews weren’t really working.

4. Deschamps-Sonsino also introduced us to her lovely Good Night Lamps. These are internet connected lamps that comprise a big lamp and little lamps. When the big lamp is turned on, the little lamps turn on, too. They’re designed to allow families, particularly those that live in different countries, to keep in touch, and it’s a very cute idea. Harpist and music educator Stephanie, who was sitting next to me, pointed out that the lamps would equally be useful to people who collaborate remotely. Musicians, for example.

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5. She rocketed through a number of other very cool items that could be described as part of the internet of things. These include the Little Printer which dispenses you cute receipt-sized, personalised printed content from your friends or through the apps you’ve selected on your phone and Molly, which gives you a gumball every time you get a retweet.

 

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6. Fred Garnett was one of the people who spoke up after Alexandra’s talk. He said we needed to move away from pedagogy – the act of teaching – and into heutagogy and andragogy. This involved some furtive googling on my part. The former means ‘self-determined learning’, the latter is about how to engage with adult learners. Follow Fred @fredgarnett to find out more.

7. Second speaker was Simon Raymonde, founder of Bella Union records and one-time bassist with Cocteau Twins. Frou Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires remains one of my favourite records ever, but that’s beside the point. Raymonde started his talk with a tune by Bella Union’s John Grant, ‘GMF’. It’s safe to say that the average conference doesn’t involve playing songs which have a prominent use of the word ‘motherfucker’.

He told the story of how Midlake nursed John Grant back into physical and musical health through the making of his album Queen of Denmark and went on to cover the digital transformation of the music industry, and why people should be asking themselves ‘did I do something today to help a creative person?’. Then he ended on John Grant’s ‘Glacier’ which played all the way through to the final resonant note.

8. Stevyn Colgan was the third ‘provocateur’ or speaker. He joined the Met police after drunkenly signing a bet with his dad that he couldn’t last six months and ended up staying 30 years, eventually as part of the Met’s Problem Solving Unit. He told a though-provoking story about an estate in Scotland which had two football pitches for the kids, on either side of a dual carriageway – one of which wasn’t being used, and one of which had become a magnet for problems. He and his colleagues realised that there were actually three sets of kids – small kids who just wanted to kick a ball about, medium-aged kids who didn’t want to play with the small kids, and older kids who wanted to do their own thing. They solved the problems by spending £25 on white paint and creating two smaller pitches. Crime went down accordingly. The police, he said, are always focused on solving crime, when they should be focusing on the prevention of crime. “The people who know why a problem happens are the people who are causing the problem but no-one will talk to them because they’re the ‘bad guys”

 

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9. The Wall of Do was a space to share thoughts and requests, and had some good ideas on it. These included taking students out to Fab Labs and MakerSpaces, asking how to inculcate learning habits and loads more that escape me, but that fed into the afternoon’s workshop sessions.

 

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10. Creat_ED was all about risk, agility and making connections. There should be more like it.

Gove and why schools are a ‘dragnet for lost feeling’

In the topsy-turvy, highly politicised world of British education, there are a dizzying array of contradictory accusations. Today, it’s Michael Wilshaw’s assertion that schools ‘fail’ two-thirds of the brightest pupils, which hovers awkwardly over his organisation’s own assertion that two thirds of schools in the UK are good or outstanding.

Ah well, so it goes as Kurt Vonnegut once said.

The detail of the current round of contradictory unpleasantness coming from the DfE and Ofsted is less interesting than the underlying idea revealed in the exchange between Gove and Dianne Abbott during the GCSE debate.

“No-one needs academic rigour more than working-class children,” said Abbott, writing the next day in The Guardian. “I owe everything in life to my string of A Grades and O- and A-Level and my Cambridge degree.”

The important word in that sentence is ‘I’.

Politicians seem incapable of seeing beyond their own individual experiences at school. They regularly confuse what worked for them with what might work for thousands of young people from an entirely different generation. “It worked for me” appears to be the basis of policy and responses to policy and it’s just not good enough.

I once heard an Assistant Head turned leadership coach explain this phenomenon. “Whenever any adult goes into schools, they bring their school bag with them. And their school bag is full of shit.”

For politicians, the shit is usually good shit. Most of them will have been successful at school, and will have felt the halo glow of achievement. Parents who don’t turn up to parents evening, or who kick off when they do come into school, are also responding to their school experiences, which were probably poor. And it’s the same for the rest of us. We can only put our own experiences into their rightful historic place by either spending a lot of time in schools (like teachers do) or by recognising the tidal emotional pull of our own school days.

School is intense and time-specific. The five years or so we all spent as pupils at secondary school will have contained a lifetimes-worth of friendships, fallings out, stress, comedy, drama and occasionally, the kind of teaching you remember for ever. Schools are huge, complex, emotional machines with many different moving parts that exert a lasting effect.

It’s powerful stuff. Michael Gove, for example, had a wonderful time at school. I once read a piece in which his mother described a teacher giving up and just letting him lead class. Gove himself even wrote an open letter of apology to his French teacher, saying that he cringes when he thinks of his ‘clever-dick questions’ and ‘pathetic showing-off’. The precocious schoolboy lingers in Gove’s pronouncements, and he needs to be replaced with a wiser adult who can survey the landscape without always allowing himself to be psychologically pinged back to his own experience at school.

To paraphrase Carson McCullers, schools are a ‘dragnet for lost feeling’. Politicians, however, should be able to get beyond that.

Up The Woods with Caught By The River

I’m very proud to be part of Caught By The River and very proud to be part of their summer festival events. Usually we’d all be heading down to Cornwall for Port Eliot but this year the good people of St Germans are taking a break. Instead, we’ll be at the new Open East festival at the Olympic Park and I’ll be hosting a panel on London’s influential pirate broadcasters.

I’ve also been writing a column for them on my mission to learn about trees. It’s called Up The Woods and you can read the first two here and here with lovely illustration from Matt Sewell. Column #3 coming next week.

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Litefeet NYC

It’s Friday afternoon on Union Square, NYC. There’s a guy in a gold crown holding a crappy handmade sign inked with the legend ‘Butt Man’. He makes half-hearted attempts to engage with the tourists and with the school kids zigzagging around with their backpacks but it’s no use. Something much more interesting is happening on the concrete flat that divides the street from the tree-dappled heart of the park: two dozen dancers have magnetically appeared, drawn by the power of a new Kid The Wiz joint barking out of some speakers and the impromptu Litefeet cypher that’s popping off.

Litefeet is a dance that was born in Harlem and the Bronx in the mid 2000s and is part of a family tree that includes the real Harlem Shake, the Chicken Noodle Soup and popping. Over the last few years it has been adopted and adapted city-wide, and there are Litefeet outposts in Conneticut, Virginia and Florida. It’s spread internationally, to London and to Tokyo where the XYZ Boys run battles and shows under the slightly mangled tagline: ‘Since 2010, Litefeet 4 ever!!’

I’ve come down because of a conversation I had at the screening of rare hip hop documentaries at the Sunshine Cinema. One of the films was Dian Martel’s awesome ‘Wreckin’ Shop Live From Brooklyn’, which shone a light on hip hop and house dancers including MOPTOP and Misfits, whose freestyle moves added extra swagger and verve to ’90s hip hop. Where’s that swagger and verve now, I asked panel member and MOPTOP founder Buddha Stretch. “Litefeet,” he said, suggesting I might find dancers riding the D train, or perhaps on Union Square after school. The former sounded a little unlikely– this Londoner reckons MTA subway experiences come to you, not the other way round – so I headed up to Union Square mid-afternoon on a sunny May Friday.

And there they were, hanging out on the southerly edge. The first five dancers I randomly collar all turn out to be YouTube fairly-famous. There’s Boy Aero, 18, from Brooklyn, Sha Smoove, 19, from Far Rockaway, Queens, 17 year old Lady Slic, 18 year old Sonic from The Bronx, and 19 year old WAFFLE crew founder Goofy (it stands for We Are Family For Life Entertainment). They all have water-tight rep online, particularly the latter, who also appears in mini doc ‘Getting Lite Under New York City’ and who just performed the original Harlem Shake at MoMa. “There might only be five or six crews,” says Goofy, “but there are hundreds of dancers. And there’s a lot of history behind us.”

Naturally, there’s bespoke music. Ruling producer Kid The Wiz makes ultra-raw tracks designed to provide sonic architecture for litefeet moves. Tracks like ‘Dark Gospel’ share a drilled down tuffness with grime or ghetto house whilst ‘Beverages Are Needed’ speaks to the comic side of Lite. “We have our own producers,” says Sha Smoove. “Adele, she got ‘Set Fire To The Rain’. We got our own version. We got Kid the Wiz, Tykestar, Krypto. We working with geniuses in the making.”

They dance, one by one, with the incrementally-growing circle providing vibes. There’s buffered popping and locking, balletic toe sweeps, contortion and cartoonish facial expressions. Dancer tip-tap their bodies, they slide and lunge forwards, dropping 1930s jazz moves and even tiny slivers of what looks like strobe-staggered vogueing. It’s a unique, beguiling combination of athleticism, physical comedy and serious groove.

“Lite feet is hip hop dance,” says Sonic. “It is hip hop.”

Litefeet dancers have a mean line in hat and shoe tricks, where outer apparel becomes part of the show. Dancers slide a sneaker down their chest like it’s on string, or catch a baseball cap on a perfectly-posed elbow, tricks honed as part of dancers’ sideline busking on the subway (there are thousands of clips online). “We’re getting more recognition,” says Goofy. “A lot of people are taking notice. Us being on the trains, it gets the whole city to know us.”

It’s a proper self-sufficient culture of dancers, producers and DJs, teams like WAFFLE, Brotherhood, 2Real Boyz and Teams Rocket and Demon, as well as YouTube entrepreneurs and community leaders who have created a vibrant and evolving world around impossibly wavy moves. And as ever, the dancers lead the way for new musical hybrids: like house, disco and jazz before it, this is music rooted in a rich conversation between feet and ears, dance floor and DJ booth, dancer and producer.

Back in Union Square, there’s an old dude watching as the dancers fall away and the circle reshapes into groups of teens just hanging out. I ask him what he thought of their skills.  “Got to keep the wheels on the wagon,” he says gnomically, and walks off.

This post appeared originally on the RBMA site as part of their New York stories series.

Rwanda: “empowering women changes their relationships with men”

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We’re back at Addis transit lounge, on our way back from Rwanda after a week working with the young journalists at Ni Nymapinga. This time we’re in the modern part of the airport and the mix of passengers is much closer to what you’d normally see. There are tourists, business people, families travelling – not the slightly surreal, smoky NGO-ness of our transit stop off on the way out. There is one connection point though: the video screens are still showing a photo gallery titled ‘Endemic birds of Ethiopia’ and we still can’t remember any of them.

The airport lounge is a kind of decompression chamber between Kigali and London and to be honest, there’s a lot to process. We got to see exactly how Ni Nymapinga create their youth-run magazine and highly popular radio show, and we got to see how it exists within Rwandan culture. Ni Nympinga isn’t just something for young people to do – it’s part of a concerted attempt to build a more positive future by empowering girls in a culture where the ideas like men-only foods (mostly high-status meats like chicken or beef) existed in the relatively recent past.

In Rwandan culture girls are expected to be shy and many of the girls we met out in the villages spoke so softly that it was almost hard to hear them. Ni Nymapinga, which is run by Girl Hub is designed to create a conversation between Rwandan girls, delivered in a tone that Rwandan girls will be inclined to hear and absorb. It starts a conversation in a way that respects Rwandan culture, and highlights the brilliant things that girls are doing in the country: the unusual and brave girl who has taken the traditionally-male job as a motorbike taxi driver, or a girl who built her grandmother a house.

The focus is on interesting and inspirational girls rather than celebrities, and the absence of the background status anxiety that so much of our media generates is palpable. The large-scale format of the magazine is more than just an artistic decision: it’s designed to sit over two people’s laps so they can both read it at once. Ni Nyampinga is a complex and multi-layered medium for promoting and supporting pride and positivity amongst Rwandan young people. It might be primarily for and about girls, but the team are now thinking about how they can connect with boys too, and the pieces we created with them included vox pops with boys about their friendships with girls.

This point about connecting with boys is an important one. We met the lady behind Gahaya Links, a social enterprise that supplies woven baskets and jewellery to Macey’s in the US. They were founded by two sisters after the genocide left a gender imbalance, with many women widowed or left alone after their husbands, sons or brother fled the country or received long jail sentences in genocide-related cases. The lady who showed us around the workshops said that empowering women economically had a positive impact on their relationships, too. Men saw that local women were learning skills and were bringing in money and they began to relate to them differently. They saw the women had value – and began to ask if they could learn to weave or sew, too. If Ni Nymapinga want to improve the lives of Rwandan girls then they’re aware they have to do it in the context of talking to everyone, and that includes the boys.

We had such a great week and there’s way too much to communicate in one, or probably a hundred blog posts. A few snapshots: the day when Live Editor Celeste and our International Editor Keisha learned a local dance where girls mimic the movement of a cow, with the last girl still dancing and smiling being named ‘best cow’ – a compliment in a country where those sweet beasts are held in high regard. Or our encounter with the security guard outside the Rwandan Agricultural Bureau where we tried to ask for directions to a food place and confused the word for ‘where’ with the Rwandan word that represents the sound of laughing. Or our glimpse into Kigali high society at a club at the Mille Collines hotel where the DJ played Tinie Tempah and CEOs danced with ballons at a party run by a Rwandan who grew up in Canada, or any of the hundreds of conversations we had with the girls about the differences between their lives, and average lives in London. Or the fact that there’s so much more to Rwanda than the genocide, but that it’s there, waiting behind almost every conversation, because it affected everyone, and still affects everyone. How could it not, when over a million people were killed and the country destroyed, less than two decades ago?

The cultural exchange will continue to colour our thoughts and actions here in London, and hopefully it’s just the start of a beautiful friendship between the teams at Live and at Ni Nyampinga. I think we have a lot to learn from each other.

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‘A girl who is beautiful inside and out’

Team at work II

We’re half way through our week-long collaboration with the girls of Ni Nyampinga. The magazine and radio show might only be two years old but it’s already famous in Rwanda. The degree to which Ni Nyampinga is a household name became clear when we went to visit Marie Adelaide school in Gihara, just east of Kigali. We’d gone to get content for the two features and two radio packages that we are making during our week here, and specifically, we’d gone to find content for a story about how new Rwandan music by artists like Knowless and King James were bringing young people together in friendship.

When we arrived, the whole school was lined up for an al fresco assembly in the yard.

the school yard

Ni Nyampinga girls Cecile, 22, Beni, 19,  Glorious, 24 and Christine, 15 took to the stage and were greeted with cheers and whistles. The story required an interview with a musician so they asked the students if there were any musicians among them. Two candidates were quickly pushed to the front: a rapper and a very shy girl who was described as a gospel singer. The former is already a school star and his peers were enthusiastic in singing back the chorus to his track. The girl performed a version of Rwandan teen favourite Knowless’ song Nzabampari and everyone responded, soft voices dropping then rising, like a Rwandan village version of Donny Hathaway Live In New York.

It was a vibrant welcome for the team who have become slightly famous themselves. Girls and boys throughout the country read the articles in the quarterly magazine, now on issue 7, and hear them weekly on their live radio show which has been running for two years.  The magazine is designed to be shared (“not kept in one person’s bag”, says Girl Co-ordinator Pacifique) but still it’s at a premium: the head teacher of the school, a softly-spoken lady who radiated a quiet authority, explained that the magazine is so popular they have to ration it, and only students who are processing well get their hands on the new issue.

Celeste and Keisha took their team off to a youth club south of Kigali to make a story about that perennial question – whether boys and girls can ever really just be friends – and had their own adventures. Back in the office, we collected all the audio, pictures and notes we’d made from our various excursions and finished for the day, dusty, tired, but pretty sure we had the seeds of some very good stories.

Work in progress

And in case you’re wondering, Ni Nyampinga is a Rwandan concept which describes a girl who is beautiful inside and out. A Nyampinga is confident and happy, she makes good decisions, and she knows she is valued because of who she is.

It’s a concept we think might just be useful back in the UK, too.

Enter Rwanda

Technically, it’s about 3am. Live Editor Celeste and our international Editor Keisha and myself are sitting in the aptly named London cafe in the Addis Ababa transit lounge, waiting for our flight to Kigali, Rwanda.

We’re going because of a partnership we’ve developed with the team at Ni Nyampinga, a magazine and radio show run by girls aged 10-19 in Rwanda. They came to visit us in Brixton a few months ago, and we realised we had a lot in common. There were the obvious things: Live’s run by young people, and so is Ni Nyampinga. Both publications aim to do more than just sell stuff. And both publications have an innovative creation and distribution model. For Ni Nyampinga, innovative doesn’t quite cover it: two years ago, when they started, there was no distribution network in the country. They created one, from scratch.

We met in Brixton, sat round the kitchen table in the office and realised we had a lot to learn from each other. One simple example is that both publications are working out how to integrate their platforms: Live as we focus on our website and YouTube channel, and NN as they try and bring their radio and magazine teams closer together.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, a trip coalesced into reality. We worked out what we needed to do. We got jabs (wow, Typhoid hurts) and our very cool Yellow Fever passes. We learned a few words of Kinyrwandan (watch out for us saying ‘murakoze’ every time you offer us a cup of tea on our return). And we whizzed up a workshop and content creation plan that we hope will allow us to share the best of what Live knows and to find out how things run Kigali-style.

It’s not that Live knows everything and Ni Nyampinga need to learn from us – we know what we know and we can definitely learn a lot from them. In fact we already have. Brand Manager Afrika’s powerpoint issue outlines are definitely a step up from our google doc-based efforts.

So, it’s 3am at Addis Ababa Transit Lounge. It’s a strange mix of people waiting here, many of whom we think are probably working for NGOs, because we keep hearing words like ‘refugee camp’ and ‘south Sudan’. There are a few of the obligatory kids crying, and a lot of people sleeping. It smells of incense and rose petals. There’s a smoking room comprised of an open glass square in the corner of the lounge. There a brilliant film on loop titled Endemic Birds of Ethiopia, which include the squat looking Ankober Serin and the Blue Winged Goose. Keisha’s asleep, thanks mostly to the fact she had to hand in her final uni assignment the night before we left and reckons she slept a full three hours in the previous 90. Celeste is reading a feature on Rwanda’s successful fight against corruption in New Africa and I’m tapping this out.

Phase one, done. Phase two, we’re ready to go.

Diagrams

Oooh, this is lovely.

I can’t decide which is my favourite diagram from Scott Christianson’s new book, 100 Diagrams That Changed The World.

This gorgeous image of the phases of the moon made in 1016 by Abu Rayhan Al-Biruni

Screen shot 2013-01-05 at 14.47.00

or Moses Harris’ colour wheel, from 1766.

Screen shot 2013-01-05 at 14.48.26

Thank you to Brainpickings for the tip.

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