Three Lessons I Learnt on Black British History From Evelyn Dove’s Biography

This year has been my year of understanding more about the black British community. I moved to England six years ago and I feel knowing more about the people in my community is important. Evelyn Dove’s biography was one of the books I read this year that helped me learn more about the black community in Britain.

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You may be wondering who Evelyn Dove is. She was the first black female singer on BBC radio and the first black British female singer to work in America.

Here’s the blurb about her biography, Evelyn Dove: Britain’s Black Cabaret Queen.

A pioneer and a trailblazer, Evelyn Dove left a mark in the arts industry. She was the first black female singer on BBC Radio and the first black British female singer to work in America, a quarter of a century before Shirley Bassey.

In a career lasting five decades, from the 1920s to the 1960s, Evelyn Dove embraced the worlds of jazz, musical theatre and cabaret. Refusing to be constrained by her race or middle-class West African and English backgrounds, she thrilled audiences around the world, courted admirers and fans wherever she performed and scandalized her family by appearing on stage semi-naked. Her mesmerising movie star looks and grace captivated those in her presence, yet her extraordinary career was one of many highs and lows.

Evelyn Dove – Britain’s Black Cabaret Queen is illustrated with over fifty rare and unpublished photographs from Evelyn’s private collection, now in the possession of the author.

There isn’t a lot of literature on black British musicians from her time and the author of her biography, Stephen Bourne mentioned in the book, “When I was growing up in the 1970s there weren’t that many books about black British history and next to nothing about black British singers and entertainers.”

I feel this book is necessary because it’s helped me understand the diversity of the black British experience. My grandmother was a Nigerian nurse in the England in the 1960s and I would hear stories from her perspective but reading this helped understand others who worked in other professions like the arts.

What did I learn about black British history from Evelyn Dove – Britain’s Black Cabaret Queen?

Black British history did not begin when the Empire Windrush arrived in England in 1948. I knew quite a bit about the migration from the West Indies and Africa in the 1940s to 1960s but I didn’t know much about earlier migration before this period.

Evelyn’s father, Frank Dove was a man of West African heritage, born in Sierra Leone. He trained as a lawyer in England in the late 1800s. Stephen Bourne describes Evelyn’s father and other Africans who had a similar experience to him as middle class West Africans who were more at home in England than in their home countries.

Frank Dove married an English woman, Augusta Winchester. Frank and Augusta were Evelyn’s parents. Their marriage was interracial but was not illegal. I wondered if their marriage was accepted in English society.

Leading roles for black actresses on British television in the 1950s were almost non-existent. Directors would not cast Evelyn as a middle class English woman, even though she could act the part. Times have changed now and black actresses can apply for mainstream roles.

However, there is a lot of discussion on the under-representation of black and minority communities in the creative industries. That was why I was happy when I was able to support the Black Ballad crowd fund which is a media platform tailored to the black British female audience. I didn’t just want to talk about the under-representation of black people in the media but I wanted to do something about it.

It was difficult for black people in Britain in Evelyn’s time to run arts organisations to represent their work. One of the organisations in the biography, the Edric Connor Agency was set up to represent actors, artists and writers of colour but struggled to convince casting directors that black actors could act.

Our pioneers faced challenges and black arts and media organisations continue to face their unique challenges in the 21st century. I’ll give the example of Black Ballad. Their major challenge was funding and having to depend on advertisers for revenue. They have now created a membership platform where you pay to subscribe to their content.

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Evelyn Dove faced her challenges working in the arts and left a mark in the industry. I would recommend reading her biography if you are interested in black British history. Plus, it has pretty pictures from Evelyn’s life in it.

*Evelyn Dove: Britain’s Black Cabaret Queen was sent to me from Jacaranda Books. 

Books on my Christmas Wish List

I created a mental list of the books I wanted to get at the end of the year. But because, it was a list in my head, I would add new titles each time. This was making it difficult for me to decide what books to get. Also, it wasn’t going to be good for my bank account. Writing the list on the blog should help with my book shopping at Christmas and help me not go overboard with my spending on books. (Click the book titles to read the blurbs of each book on my wish list on Goodreads).

Not Working by Lisa Owens is a novel I first heard about on Emma Gannon’s podcast Ctrl Alt Delete. It’s a book about a young lady who quits her job to find her purpose. I am interested in this as I’ve always thought about the idea of work and our career interests. I’ve heard the book is really funny and it’s been compared to Bridget Jones so I’m looking forward to reading this.

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi was one of the most talked about books by an author of African descent in 2016. I read blog reviews about Homegoing, listened to a podcast on Homegoing and watched a YouTube review of Homegoing. I also came across a twitter chat about the novel too. Having heard so much about the novel, I want to read it for myself. Darkowaa from African Book Addict recommended that I read Homegoing before any of the books on my wish list.

Homegoing is a novel that tackles a big topic- slavery as it explores a family that is split by slavery where one sister is sold as a slave and ends up in the United States and the other sister stays in Ghana. It traces the experiences of the descendants of each sister in Ghana and in America. It’s a book I’m looking forward to reading based on the great reviews it has received.

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The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell is a  non-fiction book on my wish list. Jen Campbell is an author and booktuber. I watch her videos on books on YouTube from time to time and would love to read her work. The Bookshop Book is a book about bookshops around the world. As I love books, I would love to read the bookshops and how they have survived over the years. I also see it as a way of supporting Jen’s channel.

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My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal is about a young mixed-race boy whose white brother is adopted and Leon isn’t. Leon family is falling apart and the book explores their experience of social services and foster care. Leon’s experience on not being adopted is an important issue as sometimes white babies are preferred in adoption over black children.

I think reading My Name is Leon would help me understand what it’s like to require social services. Most of the discussion I hear on social services are from documentaries on people depending on benefits and I want to listen to a different perspective from people who genuinely need the social support that the state provides.

my-name-is-leon-by-kit-de-waal

While compiling the list, I went on Book Depository to gauge whether my budget would be able to cover all the books. Hopefully, I’m able to get all the books on the list.

Let me know in the comments what books are on your Christmas wish list.

Non-Fiction November: Reads + Lit links

Fiction has always been my go-to. But recently, I’ve developed an interest in non-fiction books. I’ve read more non-fiction works this year and I’ll be discussing some of the books I read this year as well as the ones on my TBR (to be read) list.

I read  The Elephant and The Bee by Jess de Boer in the summer. It’s the story of a young Kenyan woman who’s trying to discover herself and her career interests. Jess tries her hands at different things from insect farming in Thailand to working as a chef in Switzerland and New Zealand before becoming a beekeeper. She also participated as an athlete in the Commonwealth Games and while reading her book, I wondered how she got to do everything she did.

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Then, I read Safe House edited by  Ellah Wakatama Allfrey which is a collection of creative essays from across Africa. My favourite stories in the book were on the experiences of second-generation Chinese immigrants in Senegal and the chapter on living in Liberia during the Ebola crisis. Safe House explored stories beyond what the media tells us. When the Ebola crisis happened, there was a lot in the news but what was it like for the people who lived in Liberia at the time.

I liked the story on Chinese immigrants in Senegal as a lot of the media coverage is on African migrants in the West but it’s important to know the stories of people who migrate to Africa.

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I was sent some lovely non-fiction titles from Jacaranda Books recently which I’ll be reading over the next few weeks – Beyond the Pale by Emily Urquhart and a biography, Evelyn Dove: The Black Cabaret Queen by Stephen Bourne. In Beyond the Pale, Emily writes about her experience  as a mother to a daughter diagnosed with albinism. She also explores cultural beliefs associated with albinism in the book.

Evelyn Dove: The Black Cabaret Queen is a biography of Evelyn Dove, who was the first black female singer on BBC Radio. I received the biography a few days after watching Young, Gifted and Classical on the BBC, which is a documentary on Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who is the first black winner of the BBC Young Musician competition. Sheku plays classical music and his story can be compared to Evelyn Dove’s as they are both minorities on the musical scenes that they appear on.

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A non-fiction essay, I would recommend checking out is This is Personal by Benjamin Zephaniah.  He writes on his experiences of racism in England and the opinions of others towards immigration within the country. His writing is amazing.

As someone who loves to know what’s happening in the world, non-fiction keeps me informed. Non-fiction covers stories on disability, history, immigration, everything really and it deserves our recognition.

Let me know in the comments if there are any non-fiction books you would love to read.

Bookish Chat with Eniola

Eniola and I have been friends since we were 10. We met at secondary school. Eniola lives across the pond from me in the US so we mainly have our discussions about books over FaceTime. I remember Eniola once told me that the story of Ifemelu in Chimamanda’s Americanah was similar to her story, just that she didn’t have the interesting love life that Ifemelu had. Eniola completed a year at university in Nigeria before moving to the US. Ifemelu also spent a year at university in Nigeria, before moving to America. In terms of Ifemelu’s love life, it had to be exciting to get people interested in the story.

Recently, Eniola and I had a chat about books and that was the inspiration for this post.

Eniola and I

How did you get into reading?

I started reading at an early age. I was an only child for five years. My parents would take me to the British Council library in Ibadan every Saturday and I would read there. I had a typical reading childhood where I read a lot of novels by Enid Blyton and the Babysitters’ Club series. However, my favourite things to read were the Archie Comics. My best friend in primary school always had Archie Comics so I read them a lot. There were always books around me and I didn’t have many friends so I read.  My first exposure to African books was in secondary school where I read Mother’s Choice by Agbo Areo.
Do you have any authors that stand out to you?
Lola Shoneyin, Ada Tricia Nwaubani and Chimamanda Adichie. My favourite books from Chimamanda were Americanah and The Thing Around Your Neck.

A lot of people say they struggle to find time to read. How are you able to balance reading for pleasure, alongside your day job?
To be honest, I haven’t found time to finish a book since I started working in January, this year. I started reading From Pasta to Pigfoot and The Kite Runner and I haven’t finished both. I’m nearly done with The Kite Runner though. Before, I could finish a book in two to three days but now I don’t. 
What are your top recommendations to someone who is new to African literature?
I would say it is important to start by looking for books that are easy to read. My recommendations are: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin, Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie and From Pasta to Pigfoot by Frances Mensah Williams.



Do you have any books you would like to read in the near future?
Any books from Cassava Republic (they are an independent publishing company that produce titles mainly by African authors).

Beyond the questions, Eniola mentioned how it’s easier to access books living in the West. The British Council Library she visited frequently in Ibadan as a child, has been shut down. Eniola lives in Illinois and she mentioned how many of the popular titles by African authors are found in her local library. I know living in England makes it easier for me to get books that I enjoy. Blogging about books may not be an option for me, if I lived in certain parts of the world.

Do let me know in the comments section if there are any books on your reading wish list. 

Top 6 Podcast Recommendations

Listening to podcasts reminds me of listening to the radio. The major difference being that anyone can start a podcast while being on air at a radio station involves formal procedures. There was a time I wanted to delete the podcasts app on my phone because I never used it but I was unable to. The podcasts app is in-built on my phone. I started listening to podcasts when I realised that some bloggers behind the blogs I read had podcasts.

Today, I decided to share six of my favourite podcasts.

1) This Afropolitan Life: It is hosted by Clarissa Bannor, a Ghanaian-American. I discovered her podcast while reading one of her articles on She Leads Africa. She included her site in her bio on the platform. I checked it out and saw that she interviewed an actress from a web series I love, An African City. The actress she interviewed was Maame Adjei and I listened to it. From then, I’ve been a regular listener to Clarissa’s podcasts. She focuses on the stories and experiences of Africans both in the diaspora and on the continent. One of my favourite episodes was on weddings. She had an events planner, Maame on the show and they spoke about planning an African wedding. Maame mentioned how brides would see something pretty on Instagram and would only want to pay $500 for that beautiful thing they saw on Insta. If you want the fancy decor you saw on Pinterest, you have to pay for it.

Clarissa is vegan and she had an episode on being vegan and African. One of Clarissa’s friends was on the podcast and she’s vegan too. It was interesting to hear what it’s like being vegan in a household where all your family members are eating jollof rice (which has meat stock) and fried fish at a family gathering.

2) The Pool: They have episodes such as Dear Viv which is like an agony aunty show. People send in questions like- what happens when you move in with your homeowner boyfriend and you break up. They also interview authors so I listen to them for book recommendations. They interviewed Kit de Waal, the author of My Name is Leon and immediately I was sold on reading her book. It’s on my Goodreads list now. It’s a book about a boy who is mixed race and comes from a poor family. The story explores how it can be difficult for young black boys to be adopted. Leon has a younger half- brother who is white and he got adopted but Leon wasn’t.

3) The Pandolly Podcast: This is a popular culture, fashion and entertainment podcast hosted by two British ladies, Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton. It’s the Sunday Times Style podcast. On one of the podcasts, they spoke how much they had stalked a wedding on social media. Then, they saw one of the guests at that wedding in real life and they were about to say hello. They then realised that they didn’t know the guest.However, because they had looked at the wedding pictures a lot, they felt for a moment that they knew the guest. Dolly and Pandora are interesting to listen to so check them out.

4) Ctrl Alt Delete: This is hosted by Emma Gannon, who is a British blogger, author and podcaster. Her podcast has the same name as her book. I think that was a brilliant marketing strategy as the name of her book sticks quickly in people’s mind once you begin to listen to her. She has had popular YouTubers- Zoella and Tanya Burr as guests on her podcast. It’s interesting how social media has shaped people’s careers and lives. My little cousin once told me, he wants to be a YouTuber. Social media has changed our aspirations and Emma talks about how lives are different now that we are online a lot more.

5) Not Your African Cliche(NYAC): Four young Nigerian ladies run this podcast. I like that I can relate to their discussions. Their latest episode was about going back to school and they shared their memories of returning to boarding school in Nigeria after the holidays. It brought back many memories for me. They mentioned how people felt under pressure to say they went abroad (when they didn’t go) during their summer holidays in order to fit in. One of my memories of returning to secondary school after the holidays was ironing my clothes and hanging them in the car, rather than folding them in  my suitcase so they would not get rumpled. I remember going to the tailor and telling how many house wears I needed for school. Also, I always had tummy ache on resumption day because I didn’t want to go to school. I really identify with NYAC podcast and if you’re looking for a podcast where you get to hear the voice of young Nigerians, NYAC would be my top recommendation

6) MyTaughtYou: This is hosted by Myleik Teele, who is the founder of Curlbox, a beauty subscription service in the US. Myleik is really down to earth and she says it as it is. She answers questions from listeners and shares her experiences as an entrepreneur in the natural haircare industry. I like that she not only runs Curlbox but she connects with people in a different way through running her podcast.

In all, podcasts allow me to discover the world in a different way. One minute, I’m listening to a podcast about weddings and the next minute I’m listening to a podcast on whether Pippa Middleton is a socialite or not. I like stories so I think that’s part of the reason why I love podcasts.

Do let me know in the comments if you listen to podcasts and which ones you recommend.

Photo Credit: This Afropolitan Life, Emma Gannon, Myleik, The Pool, The Pandolly Podcast and Not Your African Cliche.

On Travelling Light as a Young Woman

You know those times when you pack your makeup bag with all your makeup products for one weekend and wonder why your travelling bag is heavy. I’ve come to realise that I don’t need so many products on a weekend away.  I tend to wear eyeliner, mascara and a bold lipstick as my typical everyday makeup look so those are the only makeup products I take with me. The only time I take my products for a full made up face is when I’m going for a wedding or an event. I know not everyone will be able to do with just 3-4 items but “do you boo.”(Side note: my cousin questions my ability to wear lipstick without any foundation. She said I can get away with it because I wear bold lip colours and she has advised me to never wear a nude lip colour without foundation).

On holiday in Skegness wearing lipstick and mascara. I can’t be carrying many makeup products. Who is looking at me? 

When I’m done with sorting out my makeup, I move on to my hair. I have  to plan well when my hair is out. Do I need to take my leave-in conditioner with me? The last time I travelled down to London, I moisturised my hair before travelling so I wouldn’t have to for the next couple of days. I was staying over at my cousins’ that weekend so if my hair got dry, I could always ask them for a moisturiser. 

Then what would I read while I’m away? I have to take a book with me. If my book is too big and I don’t want to take it with me, I reread one of my kindle books on my phone. My favourite hard copy books to take with me while travelling are my Ankara Press novels, They are small in size and fit and I feel like I’m carrying nothing when I have one with me. I didn’t think twice when I put one of their novels- Black Sparkle Romance in my overnight bag when I last travelled to London  because it wasn’t going to be a burden for me to carry.

Train ride to London with my novel and overnight bag

My hair is sorted. Books are sorted and makeup, I gatchu but what about my clothes. My grandma would say, “you only need one pair of trousers and two tops for your break.” That advice wasn’t for me. I would take clothes I don’t need and end up staring at them and questioning why I brought them. In winter, packing gets tougher because of the thick clothes I wear during that season that fill my bag in no time. However, I’ve learnt to manage this. No need for five jumpers just because I’m going away for a week.

On holiday in Skegness last autumn

I would end with my favourite excerpt on travelling from a novel, From Pasta to Pigfoot.  It’s a scene where the main character, Faye is travelling from Ghana to London and there are a lot of people travelling with huge amounts of luggage.

“‘Dad, have you seen the amount of luggage some people are taking?’…Directly in front of them, a young couple had two trolleys, each laden with suitcases, canvas tote bags and cardboard boxes firmly secured with masking tape. The woman was carrying a handbag on top of an even larger shoulder bag while trying to push a smaller wheeled suitcase… When Ghanaians are returning home, they always take huge amounts of luggage.”– From Pasta to Pigfoot by Frances Mensah Williams

Do you find travelling light difficult or easy? 

Book Review: Love’s Persuasion by Ola Awonubi

Love’s Persuasion is a romance novel where two characters, Ada and Tony meet and the story explores their relationship and other situations they face as young people at work who have to deal with expectations from their families.

Tony was sent abroad to study in England at the age of 10. When he was 28,  his parents asked that he return back to Lagos to head his father’s finance company. Tony had other career interests in writing but his father wasn’t keen about that.

“I have spent my life building up my businesses for you and all you want is to do is to stay in London doing this writing thing…Do you think I sent you to London to become the next Chinua Achebe? You have a degree in business and finance and your ACCA for a reason, you know.”

Ada, on the other hand was from a low-income family and was expected to marry a rich husband to take care of her family. The story looks at whether Ada would succumb to that to raise her family’s living standards or if she would choose to work hard to build a well-paying career for herself. Ada had extensive financial responsibilities towards her family and she was also paying her university fees and working alongside her studies. An excerpt on her experience was,

‘Books call Ada’. ‘Money call Ada’. ‘The roof is falling down call Ada’. How many pieces do you want me to divide myself into?’

Tony and Ada are from different social backgrounds so we see if their love survives the class differences between them.

I think Ola, the author explored a different returnee experience when she wrote about Tony moving back to Lagos. I watched An African City, which is a web series about five female women who had lived in the West and moved back to Ghana. It was nice to read about a man’s returnee experience which maybe a bit different from a woman’s.

Exploring how Tony schooled abroad from a young age and turned out fine was interesting as I’ve listened to conversations on how going to boarding school overseas at a very young age can affect a child negatively. I once read a novel, Mother’s Choice by Agbo Areo (it was required reading in secondary school) and was about a boy who left Nigeria to school in England and how he joined bad friendship groups in England and didn’t turn out great. Love’s Persuasion offers a different perspective on still being able to excel in life, even though the child’s faraway from home.

I met Ola, the author at the Africa Writes literary festival and that was where I bought a signed copy of her book.

Ola Awonubi and I

There’s a video review to the book as well.

Do you read romance novels? And what’s your favourite genre to read?