Three weeks ago I landed in London to clear and blue skies. The pilot informed us that the temperature would reach 75 degrees. This was when I knew I had made the right decision. My journey to London started ten months earlier with an innocent post on Facebook. I asked friends to chime in on the city that would best fit my personality. A friend from my Beijing days read my post and sent me a private message telling me that she was ending her time in London and would I consider interviewing for her teaching position at the American school. Fast forward to August of 2017 and London will be home for two years. London was never on my short list of places to live but every single event in the past year led me to this amazing, fast paced city.
Two weeks into my move and my social schedule was already bulging. I was making friends easily and in fact, had connected with another young African American lady, Nicole, who had moved to London the same day I did. We instantly clicked and spent our first weekend eating at Shake Shack and trying to figure out the difference between a double bed and a king. Nicole helped me pick out sheets, pillows, bath mats and comforters. She stopped me from buying frivolous things and kept my jet-lagged mind focused. We became fast friends.
So, it was no surprise that Nicole and I went on jaunts around the city. We were both new and were wide eyed with all the sights, bright lights and gritty bits. On London’s August bank holiday weekend, we were faced with a superfluity of activities to choose from. This holiday weekend marked the end of summer, and the weather was forecast to be in the 80s. We wanted to run the streets of London! We could attend shows in the West End, attend an arts filled, night-time cultural exploration through urban areas, shake it up at Notting Hill Carnival or wander down to the Tate Modern for the Soul of a Nation exhibit. Choosing was difficult, but we were enthusiastic about the abundance of black cultural events taking place.
Motown: The Musical
We ultimately decided to see our first West End play, Motown: The Musical and to join millions of others at Notting Hill Carnival.
Motown: The Musical was simply magical. There wasn’t a single moment where we weren’t snapping our fingers, singing and bouncing around in our seats. The icons of our parents’ generations entranced us. Even though this was not our music, we knew all the words and felt every single emotion sang in the songs. The musical paid homage to Berry Gordy’s autobiography, To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown and it took us on a sensual voyage through the history of the iconic label. Personal relationships with Diana Ross, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and dozens of others were explored.
On the eve of Motown’s 25th Anniversary, Berry Gordy, via flashbacks, takes the audience back to the streets of Detroit and the inception of Motown. We are witness to the sweet and bright beginnings of so many favorites. When Diana and Barry took to the stage and sang, You’re All I Need To Get By, well there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. This single song encapsulated all the feelings and emotion of a gilded and love filled era. As the show closed it was abundantly clear why the audience was filled with people of every age and ethnicity; music transcends barriers and love always wins. Berry Gordy had the vision to bring the whole world together and moving to a single beat. And, while Motown as we know it, isn’t with us, it’s evident that Berry got his wish.
Notting Hill Carnival
In keeping with our theme of music and celebration, Nicole and I headed to Notting Hill Carnival two days later. Carnival has been taking place every year since 1966 with its roots deep in the British West Indian community. History tells us that in 1959, after UK’s first widespread race riot, Carnival was born in an effort to ease race tensions. It now an event that draws over a million spectators and participants a year!
As we exited the infamous Underground, we were met with a mosaic of sounds, colors, and smells. Carnival is reminiscent of Jamaican dancehall sessions, not unlike other carnival events in Trinidad or Toronto. We couldn’t walk two steps without wanting to wine to the latest soca or calypso beats. We were caught up in the majesty of vibrant costumes, hypnotic African drummers and the intoxicating flavors of new dishes. We took peoples advice to come with as little as possible. Pickpockets’ were plentiful and with the immense crowds, it quickly made sense why leaving everything at home was advised.
The best part of carnival was people watching. Having the opportunity to watch the parade and see over 60 bands play mas was amazing! Getting caught up in the party atmosphere will be a definite highlight of my time in London.
There are not enough hours in the day to see all that London has to offer. The black culture scene is blazing, and on any given day you have plenty to see and experience. Several events put on hold until later include the Soul of a Nation exhibit at the Tate Modern and the Midnight Run art journey. Thankfully, tickets are still available, and soon I will be exploring the contribution of black artists in the 1960s and the vibrant art scene in Brixton.