Black Jam: An envelope-pushing show to rock the Abbey to its foundations
A night of hip-hop, Afro-punk and trad music with roots in Nigeria, Angola and Zimbabwe
Amanda Azams aka Osaro. Photograph: Kristina Collender
Relocating Black Jam to The Abbey Theatre feels like a big deal. Hard-rock chapel Fibber Magees was a fine venue for last year’s visceral line-up of Afro diaspora music, but putting the upcoming event in the national theatre has extra significance; an institution that represents cultural elitism will open its doors and warmly welcome some of Ireland’s most unshielded communities. Free tickets are being provided to asylum seekers and homeless people, with complimentary transport to and from direct-provision centres even being organized to help facilitate access for residents.
In the deepest spirit of cultural exchange, Black Jam – taking place on September 7th as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival – is a night of music and performance that brings together a veritable smorgasbord of sounds and styles. Expect artists to amalgamate punk, trad, hip hop, grime, spoken word and more into an envelope-pushing show to rock the Abbey to its foundations.
Supporting vulnerable communities is burned into the ethos of Black Jam, an event described by organiser Amanda Azams, aka Osaro, as “half community development, half a mini-sesh”. For Azams, making the show free for some of Irish society’s most marginalised groups was a form of direct action and a symbol of solidarity.
“Ireland is a very sociable community of people and to be stuck in a place where you can’t really do things, because financially you can’t really do things, is bullsh*t,” Azams tell me. “It f**ks up your mental health”
Azams knows what she’s talking about. Born in Nigeria, she first came to Ireland at around age 12 and briefly spent time in a direct-provision centre. The 29-year-old’s journey has also included a stint living in a homeless shelter.
“I just remember how depressed me and my family were and how depressed other people we were living with slowly became,” she says of her time in direct provision. “Most of us [involved in Black Jam] would have started out of immigrants when our parents moved us to the country so it’s important that we support people who are that status in the country as well.
“With the state of affairs in the world right now, a lot of immigrants and people who are politically unsettled don’t really feel welcome anywhere. We’re just trying to create an atmosphere [of support] and not forgetting where we come from and our struggles.”
The forthcoming Black Jam is the fourth edition of the event. As well as Fibbers, it has previously been held in The Complex in Smithfield, with performances from the likes of UK feminist punks Big Joanie and the sadly recently deceased poet Raven Aflakete. This year’s line-up features the returning Blackfish Experience, a sizeable Dublin-formed hip-hop collective with origins in Nigeria, Angola and Zimbabwe.
Also on the bill are post-punk trad group The Deadlians, punk-rap mixers Bob Vylan and performance artists Spooky Beure. There will also be a merch table of African-inspired jewellery by local designers, adding extra personality to the night.
“It made sense naturally when [Azams] asked us to do it,” says Demigosh of Blackfish Experience. “We stand for the culture within the country itself and its evolution through influences outside of Ireland – musically, politically – and then the state of affairs at home as well. From an artistic point of view, [we want] to showcase our individuality, and things that make us genuinely different from everything else that’s going on out there, so it made natural sense to be part of Black Jam.”
Bob Vylan encapsulate Black Jam’s sonic ethos. The British duo – whose members go by Bobby Vylan and Bobb13 Vylan – blend classic punk music with modern grime. In doing so, the pair evoke the spirit of classic anti-establishment punk, fusing it with the rebelliousness of grime, a genre that has evolved into a voice of some of London’s most repressed communities.
“You have Stormzy, for example, performing at Glastonbury at the main stage in a stab-proof vest with the Union Jack on it,” says Bobby Vylan. “That’s a political statement. But now you look at punk music and it’s not what it once was.
“For us, it’s about marrying the two genres. At times they’ve both said the same thing and they embody the same attitude.
“It’s mixing the two genres together and bringing that message back to punk music and carry that message forward from grime music.”
Into the future, Azams is hopeful that Black Jam can become a more regular event. And as for the venue switch, she’s “happy and humbled” that the Abbey is throwing its support behind this latest iteration.
“I’ve been telling friends this is your chance if you’ve ever wanted to go to an Afro-Irish trad-punk night at the Abbey,” she says. “This is your chance to mosh at the Abbey with a bunch of Irish and English hip-hop lads and ladies of the punk aesthetic as well.”
Black Jam takes place at The Abbey Theatre, Dublin on September 7th, tickets €10.