Tayo Olowo-Okere on the Festival in France

Tayo is one of the UK project participants and she wrote this blog about her experience at the ID: Babylon Festival in France earlier this year.

ID: Babylon is a European collaboration with 5 European partners – France, Germany, Slovenia, Italy and the UK. From each country young artists and performers were chosen to create a performance in response to their own meaning of Babylon and how that expresses what being European means to them. Our piece, named after the project, explored belonging and what it means to be British while Black and was performed in France, London and Amsterdam.

ID: Babylon for me was more than an experience to travel and perform. I gained so much more than I imagined. The process of preparing to perform our piece was really insightful for me. I was able to work with other young, talented writers to talk about something really important – race. With guidance from rapper and spoken word artist Potent Whisper, we learnt about the structure of spoken word and rhyming. As a group we were given the freedom to explore our British and European identity and we began to explore the theme of racism, injustice and borders.

 As a British Nigerian, these topics are not entirely new to me but I had never written and performed about them. It felt so daring and provocative. Each week I felt nervous about my own words, unsure about how audiences will receive it. But unlike other projects and performances, it began to feel bigger than me. Our words were important, our experiences and feelings were valid and deserved to have a voice. I was able to honour my family and culture while also critiquing the injustice and racist systems in this country. It felt empowering to speak my truth. I can admit that there was a part of me that was still nervous, but another part of me felt proud. I wasn’t relying on the audience for feedback or approval, I was expressing myself as an artist and it felt brilliant.

What was also amazing and unexpected was the response from audiences. When we performed for the first time in France I had no idea how it was going to be received. But it was so fascinating to speak to people as they were so interested in the topic and how we had created it. It garnered such an emotional reaction that led to some great conversations about what we had been through and why it meant a lot to us to share.

Having the opportunity to leave your country is a huge privilege in the right circumstances. Being able to explore more of the world and connecting with other young people was amazing. It was so inspiring to see them perform and see the many different and creative ways Babylon was defined and showcased. It was apparent to see that there were so many similar themes to do with identity, culture and migration in many of the performances from these groups. It definitely showed that many of us have had similar experiences despite being from different nations and cultures.

Projects like ID Babylon are extremely important as they highlight the importance of the arts as a tool that connects and allows us to express our opinions and feelings about the world. I’m very honoured to have been granted this opportunity by the Albany as I have grown as a writer and performer. Most of all I gained more confidence in expressing many ideas and topics that relate to who I am as a British Nigerian woman.

Tayo Olowo-Okere, June 2019

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