Connecting the African diaspora through creativity with brother portrait
Not so long ago we had an opportunity to chop it up with the brother portrait and we discussed topics such as the black British experience, London’s creative scene and its collaborative energy, his upbringing and his music and poetry.
We first caught wind of brother portrait through an unusual sequence of events which followed after crate digging at a local record shop in Brooklyn, Pretoria. We got 5 records namely, Nat King Cole’s Greatest hits, Gloria Gaynor’s Love Tracks and a compilation album called ‘Black Is Beautiful’ which included hits by Gladys Knight. Out of intrigue, we were quite curious about what the ‘Black Is Beautiful’ album was about because at the time, we did not have a record player so we chose to go on an online search for the compilation album and the first platform we used for searching was Youtube and we typed in the name of the compilation of the album and to our surprise the results of the search came up with Windmills by the Black/Other. After a few plays of the song, the Nusoulhub Radio team was compelled to find out more about these three amazing artists. The first thing we did was to do research about the members of the group and we didn’t know that the universe was plotting something that we weren’t aware of, a week or two after finding out Black/Other, brother portrait released a video which combined two of his songs called Seeview and Rearview to create a powerful cinematic story. The video was directed by Nadira Amrani and it was effort to depict the dual experience of being a migrant in Britain.
Talking about his upbringing and whether he, like most creatives and artists, has struggled to strike a balance between his work life and creative life he said the following “ I try not to separate the two too much, because I need those two aspects of my life to work together”. One’s upbringing shapes how one makes sense of the world and brother portrait, real name Hadiru Mahdi, has always had the avenues to include art in his life as he has parents who had been active in art.“Being involved in art has never been a problem, even in school and my academics I made sure that I made an effort and I did quite well. My dad was involved in the arts and music back in the day in various musical outfits and they played around the UK”.
“I try not to separate the two too much, because I need those two aspects of my life to work together” – brother portrait touching on how he balances his work life and his creative life.
We unpacked some of the experiences of being a young and black British individual in an attempt to understand some of the experiences that the diaspora face in the first world. Drawing parallels between the black British experience and the black Southern African experience and how we evidently express ourselves. Interestingly enough, most of the content that brother portrait raps about and the music that he makes can easily become a soundtrack to movements like FeesMustFall in South Africa, where black bodies are continually experiencing violence as they call for free education. Understanding the experiences of the African diaspora is crucial and it is important to document the narratives that we have as a people. Touching on the topic of the creative experiences that are seen in the diaspora, brother portrait said the following “There are guys in France that are doing amazing work, artists predominantly from the Congo are finding interesting ways to express themselves and tell their stories.”
Expression lies at the core of most things that brother portrait involves himself in and through his own personal expression and his interactions with other creatives in South East London, a creative movement was born.
One of the things that brother portrait stressed was the importance of owning and sharing our own stories. With the rise of de-colonial rhetoric in black movements in various parts of the world, the stance that brother portrait chooses to take with his music comes at a time where conversations about black identity are taking the forefront and his music aids, strengthens and furthers the conversations about the ownership of one’s blackness and black narratives. Brother portrait is relentless with his depictions of his experiences as being a black artist in the first world.
“Being involved in art has never been a problem, even in school and my academics I made sure that I made an effort and I did quite well. My dad was involved in the arts and music back in the day in various musical outfits and they played around the UK”
“I am fortunate and blessed to be surrounded by really amazing artists and I am blessed to call most of them my friends. Most of what we come up with is a result of jam sessions with friends” he said. Beyond the music, brother portrait is really good friends with Theo and Josh who are the other members Black/Other and this friendships shows in the creative chemistry that we witness in their work. Brother portrait is able to draw inspiration from his Sierra Leonean background and Theo and Josh are able to draw from their Mauritian and Sierra Leonean backgrounds respectively.
Photo credit: Nadira Amrani
It is evident that the creative scene in South London has a great collaborative energy as the creative efforts of some of the active participants in the scene are producing amazing work. “I honestly didn’t think that our work would reach this far and that it would have such an impact” he said. What is more interesting is the level of independence that artists in London have and how they are able to come together and create amazing work. “Collaboration is very important, I would like to work with other artists in Europe, West Africa and even South Africa “. The model that is used in the South London music scene to get things happening independently is fuelled by the willingness of artists to work together.
“Collaboration is very important, I would like to work with other artists in Europe, West Africa and even South Africa “.
Every great artist is influenced by great artists that came before them and this is also the case with brother portrait as he mentioned growing up listening to African musical pioneers like Lucky Dube and Fela Kuti. When it comes to producing creative work, we cannot limit brother portrait to just spoken word poetry and Hip Hop as he also expresses his creativity using other creative mediums such as photography and other visual aids. The bigger goal is keep working and delivering quality work for the masses to enjoy and judging by the successes of the work that he has put out, it is without doubt that brother portrait is soon to be a landmark in British creative scenes.
Photo credit: Nadira Amrani
His ability to create work that transcends borders and work that has a positive impact on people which also allows them to relate and connect his work with their own experiences is quite amazing. From the look of things, 2017 is set out to be a year of great things for brother portrait and we will surely be following up on his movements.
From random jam sessions with friends and other like-minded individuals, work that proves to have a replay-effect is created. When it comes to the work created, expect no compromise in the content as you are geared to hear sincerity, genuineness and an unrivalled honesty.
Brother portrait is cut from a different cloth when it comes to creativity, particularly in music and spoken word poetry. The angles he chooses to take up in his writing act as windows into his life and his experiences.
We’re looking forward to all the projects that he will be involved in and releasing as time goes.
Being surrounded by and having access to great artists like Shabaka Hutchings, Yussef Kamaal and James Massiah, just to name a few, can result in interesting collaborations which me might get to hear in the mixtape dropping later on this year or the other projects brother portrait is working on.
A positive individual who stands for self-love, creativity, truth, sincerity and unbounded expression is needed in a time where a lot of crazy and confusing things are happening in the world. Brother portrait is one of those individuals and he is spearheading a rise in honest expression within the greater black body.
Keep your eyes locked on his movement as he is sure to be delivering work that will grip whoever gets to come across it. The Nusoulhub Radio team will be constantly engaging with brother portrait to keep you updated on new releases from the South East London creative.