Founder of the Edinburgh Caribbean Association, Lisa Williams, and Scottish Jamaican writer, Jeda Pearl, in conversation about how and why the Edinburgh Caribbean Association started, some event highlights from early and recent years and plans for the future.
Upcoming projects include Masked Words 2022 with Edinburgh Festival Carnival; a collaborative project with Museum Galleries Edinburgh, working specifically with collections at the Museum of Childhood and the Museum of Edinburgh, towards an event at the end of June to tie in with Windrush Day; and an exciting project in August for the Fringe.
Please note the transcript has been slightly edited for clarity.
Jeda: Hi, Lisa. I’m so pleased to be talking to you today.
I’m looking forward to hearing a bit more about the Edinburgh Caribbean Association. And, hope we can talk a bit about the early days, and what kind of events and activities the Association got up to. And how the Association came about.
I’m looking forward to maybe talking a bit more about the importance of our Scottish Caribbean connections and why it’s important that we highlight them. Also what we’re going to be looking forward to this year with what the association is doing. So, welcome, Lisa.
Lisa: Thanks, Jeda, looking forward to it too.
Jeda: So, do you want to share a little bit about around the time when and/or why you started to think about, you know, having an association? That would be a good thing to have – that was all about Caribbean culture and Scotland?
Lisa: Sure, yeah. Looking forward to talking to you about it as well.
When I was preparing for chatting with you today, I suddenly realise how many things we’ve actually done, which I’d even forgotten about. We started getting together, probably around 2015. I think it came out of the Commonwealth Games having just happened the year before, seeing what was going on in Glasgow, the Empire café, and so on.
Also being involved in meetings with folks that had come over from the Caribbean as well, like really creative people – the movers and shakers, in a way – a lot of creative people in the Caribbean, which was inspiring. And I suppose I also started to think about when that was over, and when people started to leave, what we could do to keep things going for people here.
“It’s building on some of those initiatives that would have happened in the past… and it came out of also wanting to provide some sort of link with the Caribbean and culture and to create some kind of community that my own children wouldn’t necessarily have access to in a place like Edinburgh compared to somewhere like London.”
I mean, it’s not to say that the Association is something that has never happened before, because there have been versions of it in the past, right?
Because you can go back to let’s say, the 1940s or 50s, there was a really interesting psychiatrist who was studying at Edinburgh University, and then was practising here, who set up an association in East Lothian. And I’ve yet to find people who were, you know, really chat to people who were members of that association to really find out what kinds of things they did, but I think it was pretty active.
And so, it’s building on some of those initiatives that would have happened in the past, but realising around that time, there wasn’t anything really actively happening here. And what I kept finding, is bumping into people – it could be in a Caribbean dance class, it could have been on a bus. It could literally be on a street – we just overhear somebody’s accent, curious to know, like, kind of where are you from? But not in that way, you know? Like: I recognise you, I hear you, I see you, like, get all excited.
Lisa: And it came out of also wanting to provide some sort of link with the Caribbean and culture and to create some kind of community that my own children wouldn’t necessarily have access to in a place like Edinburgh compared to somewhere like London.
So, I think a lot of it kind of emerged from thinking about those things. And literally, some of the very first meetings that we had were just a handful of us from different islands, different countries. Very excited to be together – people have been here for maybe 20 years and hadn’t really connected or managed to find those other folks. It was a chance for us to sort of let our hair down a bit, be a little bit loud, play the kind of music that we like. And just really have fun.
A lot of the more formal events really emerged from talking about the kinds of things that we missed, and the kinds of things that we wanted to do. Also pooling the skills of people who are involved in all sorts of different things, whether that’s in the day-to-day life, whether it’s a business or a hobby and start to bring those together.
Jeda: Oh, thank you. It’s really interesting and also really lovely to imagine. And, yeah, you’re all getting together and creating that community and putting that music on and dancing. [laughs]
Yeah. So, what were the kinds of events that you hosted then and the earlier days when maybe things weren’t so formalised when it was still quite a…
Lisa: I mean, it went that from those really informal sessions, where we’d literally just choose a place to meet, we’d all go and hang out together. Maybe there’d be a show on like, let’s say, Lee Scratch Perry, or some kind of reggae show, or something that would attract us to all go together as a group. That kind of thing.
“We had this amazing finale with Jamaican singer Brina, and performance from Claudius England who works in Scottish schools using his musical skills to inspire, encourage, elevate kids in different classes.”
Actually, what really spearheaded the events, was one of the many tragedies that befallen or natural disasters, that’d befallen Haiti over the years. It was after a big earthquake that happened in 2016. I actually wanted to do something constructive with our community – do something to fundraise, to support, to work in solidarity with people there. And Haiti is a place that often gets left out of Caribbean conversations. But it was an amazing, an amazing event that we managed to pull off at La Belle Angele in central Edinburgh near the museum.
With a two-week turnaround, we managed to – with the real goodwill and energy and time of the performers – we put on a show that probably went on for two to three hours. And we had everything from poetry to solo guitarist. We had dancers. We had more serious talks about Haiti and why it’s in the position that it’s in.
Then we had this amazing finale with Jamaican singer Brina, who’s been here for many years. She did a performance at the end and also, a man called Claudius England who have worked with a fair amount, who had actually been working in Scottish schools for a couple of years previously – going into schools and using his musical skills to really inspire, encourage, elevate some of those kids in different classes.
And people were totally blown away by this because the amount of energy that was generated in that event, and the amount of goodwill – if you just looked around it saw people dancing and smiling. We had not just Caribbean people there, but all kinds of other folks as well.
And people were really quite blown away by one the level, the quality, the talent, but also just the good – that kind of Caribbean vibes that, I don’t know if any other region has, in the same kind of way, you know? That’s been forged out of hardship, and forged out of, you know, terrible history. But that kind of joy and exuberance, and that kind of resistance that comes through. It’s like nowhere else.
I think it really has a massive impact on people. And it’s a very inclusive kind of culture as well. So, even if you’re from somewhere else, people very much have a reputation for being warm and friendly and welcoming, and really involve people in your event, whatever it is, whether it’s at your house or somewhere else. So, I think people appreciate that.
And then we had another one – I was really ambitious with the nights I used to put on back then. I had a lot of help with it as well – it wasn’t just me.
We did another event soon after. At Sugar Dumpling, which is not there anymore – it’s a shame. It was a restaurant run by a Guyanese-British man. And he basically – he was fantastic – he was like, ‘Look, we’re going to provide the food, we’re going to provide the space. This is something for our people. I totally support it.’ And we had musicians who – again, an amazing range of people, from drummers to people playing the trombone to DJ. And that entire restaurant was up and dancing probably about halfway through that event, every single person that restaurants on their feet. They couldn’t help themselves! It was so much fun. And yes, for something important, you know? For good cause as well. So those events, I think really kicked off what we were trying to do to attract people, bring the community together and do something really impactful, really different.
Jeda: Yeah. I think yeah, it’d be good to sort of maybe talk a little bit about, you know, off that… You have sort of shared a little bit, in terms of from a- sharing culturally perspective and what you can do in terms of the impact it can have on the people that are involved and the people that happen to be brought along, or happened to be there and happen to be able to soak up all those great Caribbean vibes. I think it’d be good to share a little bit about why is it important that we highlight Scottish and Caribbean connections? I think a few folk will understand some aspects of that, but I think it’d be good to share, a bit around that.
Lisa: Sure. I mean, I think it’s important as much as you can to understand the different cultural backgrounds of all the different folks in Scotland. I think with the Caribbean – I mean, I’m a little bit biased, clearly – but with the Caribbean, it’s very important to understand the length of the centuries of connection between the two regions.
I know many people have highlighted this over the years, Sir Geoff Palmer being one of them, Dr. June Evans, who isn’t talked about enough, who I’d like to talk about here for a second. Who, in a PhD thesis that she wrote in the 90s, where she highlighted the African, particularly African Caribbean presence in Edinburgh. And that those two people’s work and community outreach, I suppose, really started to inspire me to do my own research and really go into it in a massive amount of depth.
I think, having lived in the Caribbean for almost 20 years, and having taught school across there as well, knowing the syllabus there and teaching the history syllabus there, and seeing the kinds of Scottish names and connections and figures and people who are actually coming from Edinburgh, and knowing folks in Grenada and across the Caribbean, the Scottish names and Scottish heritage and so on.
Then coming to Edinburgh, and realising as you start to go to do your own research, realising how many strong links there were with the Caribbean. Looking at the statues or buildings or names, and starting to find out about how involved Edinburgh men were being part of the military, or, you know being plantation owners or you name it – so different aspects.
Even Glaswegian shipbuilders: 200 were supposed to have left Glasgow in the late 18th century and set up in this little village that I used to go to regularly in a small island, just off Grenada. And pretty much everybody there was a Scottish to say, until quite recently. So there’s pockets of very, very strong Scottish Caribbean connections, which I still don’t think people are really aware of. And it’s about exploring those, at times celebrating them, but also asking some of the hard questions about why these connections came about in the first place.
“I think that’s something that the Edinburgh Caribbean Association does really well in terms of looking at the full spectrum of these connections, unveiling the true history, and celebrating the joy and heroes too.”
Jeda: Absolutely. I think that’s something that the Edinburgh Caribbean Association does really well in terms of looking at the full spectrum of these connections, and not just being kind of weighted only in one way or another. Because it’s important to have the true history unveiled but it’s equally important to talk about other aspects, those connections, and look at the joy and celebrate the heroes and all of that.
And that leads quite nicely into something that you started doing in more recent years, which is your Black history walking tours of Edinburgh. It’d great to hear a bit more about… Firstly, how long have you been doing these for? And secondly, how did that come about? I feel like that’s somewhere where you’ve really been shining, in terms of like presenting the work that you do, and your research and things and as well as involving other people and other local artists. So, it’d be great to hear a bit more about the history of Black history tours.
Lisa: Yeah, sure. The history of it. So, like I said, kind of emerging out of some of those conversations and reading that work that had been done.
I would say, I started to develop these more seriously, in 2017, which is, what, five years ago really. If we go back to a really interesting programme that was put together by Africa In Motion Film Festival, and CRER (the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights) in Glasgow, that I stumbled across this programme that they put on. It was about recovering Scotland’s Black history.
I’d already started to do some research in that area and was already interested and excited. And I knew about the walks in Glasgow. Actually the walk in Glasgow, was looking at, particularly the links of slavery, as part of that programme, I was like, ‘How come no one’s doing this in Edinburgh? This is, this is crazy. There must be so many direct links to Edinburgh itself.’ So, coming at this from two aspects. One is the slavery and colonialism links, and then one, Black history. Obviously connected, but not exactly the same thing. And that’s something I try to highlight.
I started to do test runs with people that are already interested in this area. Let’s say people who have a Caribbean background, or people that are already quite into history. And start to develop a route that I thought would bring in some of the areas of Edinburgh that people think that they know any well.
Starting in the New Town at the Melville monument, which has now become very controversial, and then ending up in the Old Town. So doing test runs and really launching it properly for Black History Month in 2018. And that was when it started to get a lot of attention. People started to get very excited. What was really great, I had a lot of people come who were born in Edinburgh, educated in Edinburgh, lived their whole life, are in their 60s and they’re like, ‘Oh my now I have to go and re-evaluate everything I think about my city. Now I’m going to look at everything in a completely different way.’
“The kind of conversations that you can have, when you’re doing the walks, are really amazing, because every single walk is different, depending on who comes. And that’s what makes it very, very special and really an honour and a privilege for me to be able to do this work as well.“
It attracted people all ages, which is really nice. The regular tour is suitable for people probably 14 and over. But it attracted families, it attracted all kinds of people. And what was great is that it also attracted people who work in heritage organisations. You get people coming from the National Galleries or from the Museum or from different places. People that were just curious and wanted to know. Edinburgh Royal Heritage came from the very early tours, for example. They started to want to find ways to bring this information into their organisation’s as well. So it started to spread out on that kind of way, which has been great.
It affects people in lots of different ways. You get people coming from abroad, maybe from the Caribbean, or people of Caribbean background, who knew they were linked to Scotland, knew they were links with Edinburgh but didn’t know exactly how they were.
Sometimes they come and they will tell me they’ve got some sort of Scottish heritage – often it’s a great grandfather. Sometimes looking at that history can be a bit painful. They don’t always want to look at it. I’ve had conversations with people to say- they told me that they’ve come here to look at the archives and discover their family history and find out exactly where that Scottish lineage is. Then I’ve had people who thought they were Scottish with no African ancestry, no Caribbean ancestry whatsoever, until an elder in the family getting close to the end of their life decided to say well, actually, we are descended from an ancestor, who was brought here from Jamaica. Those people now are having to re-evaluate who they are, as well.
The kind of conversations that you can have, when you’re doing the walks, are really amazing, because every single walk is different, depending on who comes. And that’s what makes it very, very special and really an honour and a privilege for me to be able to do this work as well.
Jeda: Thank you, I think it’s really interesting to hear the variety of people that come along, and how they, how they benefit from, your sharing of the knowledge that you have of the city, and the history there. From the little bit of research I’ve done, there’s a difference in terms of, when you mentioned education in the Caribbean from a historic perspective, compared with over here in Scotland, and the UK, in terms of colonialism and colonial history, and how that’s just really, until very recently, and even still, it’s not really in the general curriculum quite so much yet, unless you take history as a high school student in S4. I’m in my 40s, so growing up it was my dad who gave us this kind of information, which I know in a lot of [Caribbean] families it’s passed down, generation to generation orally. And just knowing how much that side of history is much more open over in the Caribbean, in terms of the knowledge that local people have over there – it’s such a vast difference.
It’d be nice to hear about, thinking back to school education here, in Edinburgh and in Scotland. I know you have worked with high schools, and you do a lot of work with young people. Could you share a little bit about your educational work?
Lisa: Yeah, absolutely. It’s interesting, thinking about the kinds of conversations that are had in the Caribbean on a regular basis, because obviously, if you don’t teach about enslavement, and colonialism, the original peoples as well, a lot of that history is unfortunately left out. Sometimes it’s oversimplified or contested. And actually, indigenous people of the region are also not consulted enough on their own histories – that’s a whole other thing.
When you get to the periods of enslavement, and colonialism, if you’re going to be teaching history in school, if you don’t teach that what are you gonna teach, you know? The thing is as well, you have various issues in the Caribbean where sometimes in Grenada, because of school set up versus often set in place like Jamaican and Barbados, then it depends on your teacher. If your teacher doesn’t know enough about the actual local history of the island, you may not necessarily know all the details of your own island, so you might learn about Jamaica and not even learn about Grenada. There are still things like that, that are being worked on by historians in Grenada and educators, because they realised there’s a gap there.
Sometimes there’s a bit of an issue around tourism. I worked in hotels for years, and there’s a sense of the management will encourage you to try and make everything really nice, really palatable and really wonderful for the visitors and don’t make it uncomfortable for them. Don’t dwell on the hidden uncomfortable history and so on. So there even is that pressure in some sectors in the Caribbean, as well, as how much truth-telling is accepted and encouraged. I think that’s been to change now. Just as an example, I worked in a hotel once where the management would tell you that you had to tell the visitors that it was never going to rain even if you could see the rain cloud coming and you knew it’s gonna rain in like half an hour – you can tell. You had to say, ‘No, no Sir. It’s gonna be sunny all day.’ Just to not disappoint. What happens when they go out without an umbrella now? [Laughing]
Jeda: [laughing] Yeah, there’s a different kind of rain over there, right?!
Lisa: Yeah, but tropical rain doesn’t ruin your holiday. That goes on. But on the whole, I think with the school system here, what I found with teachers when we’ve gone into secondary schools like James Gillespie’s, and like Portobello, and we’ve gone into primary schools – this is also developing on some of the significant work that Claudius England has already been doing. I assisted him to expand that programme going in as a team. We’d go in with a few of us and we do everything from teaching poetry, looking at the historical connections, but do it through poetry, like go into the English classes and encourage them to create poetry around that or start to look at Caribbean poets maybe they’d never heard of before, who may be linked to Edinburgh history directly.
“Food and music and dance always touches people, always encourages people – always a very good way of bringing people together. By the end of it, you’ve created opportunities to sit down, in smaller groups… It’s a chance for the kids themselves to see those connections.”
Food and music and dance always touches people, always encourages people – always a very good way of bringing people together. We try not to go in and make it very dry. We’d go in and, working with a musician who is somebody who can get a crowd up on their feet smiling, really enjoying themselves, when the most (as Scots say) dour headteacher who’s very serious and doesn’t want to dance. By the end, you’ve got the 12-year-old boy who’s trying to look cool, he doesn’t want to dance, up on stage, bruking it down with the head teacher.
And that goes a long way for relations in school, right? You develop a good atmosphere, develop a very positive, energised atmosphere. And you can do this through the food – and if you bring in a chef, then all the teachers of course want to have a taste of that Caribbean food. You work with a chef, you work with a poet, you work with a dancer. And it really immersed that school in Caribbean culture for sometimes up to a whole two days, like almost like a whole ‘takeover.’
By the end of it, you’ve created opportunities to sit down, in smaller groups. It can be done through assemblies, but often done in smaller groups, especially with let’s say, older primary school kids and early secondary kids who may drop history, like you’re saying may drop history in S2. But it’s a chance for the kids themselves to see those connections in things like the way that the Jamaican flag is based on the Scottish, just does different colours and why that is.
Or you see children in national dress in Jamaica up on the screen. They’re like, ‘Oh, it’s tartan, it looks like our dress,’ and they can see for themselves as connections. And then you can talk about the history that’s a little bit more difficult. And you can talk about where racism has come from. How is that prevalent in Scotland. How can you start to break that down.
And it’s fantastic working with children, before their opinions start to get hardened. While they’re still able to ask really good questions. They’re not afraid to ask questions. They’ve got that innate sense of fairness that is very, very fierce and strong eight and nine. Yeah. I really love – I think we all do – love working with kids of that age.
Even when I’ve done tours for slightly older students, and let’s say 12 and 13, they’re still very able to see things very clearly, see things will set to fairness and actually able to think critically unable to make connections, before that kind of almost gets trained out of them when they’re getting ready for exams and learning becomes a bit more of a rote learning thing. So it’s great, it’s fantastic.
What I really want to do, and this is something I encouraged quite a few of the schools to do and some of them really do want to do even like Leith Academy – teachers at Leith Academy who I took out with a group of students the other day. We went around Trinity house. And they now want to link up with a school in Barbados and make a connection. And I think it’s really important, and should be easy enough to do using the tech that we have now, for young people to be able to have those conversations with their peers in the Caribbean talk about these things. It would be brilliant. And maybe even meet, when we can travel easily again between one or the other.
Jeda: I think it’s makes a really big difference if you can reach kids of those ages. Yeah, I totally agree with you in terms of the innate fairness, that sense of right and wrong. And it’s not that they’re impressionable at all. It’s like that kind of morality is generally, yeah, they’ve got a really good sense of morality, at that age, as well as the creative and critical thinking.
“They really took a sense of renewed pride in themselves and who they are.“
Lisa: I loved working with young people of Caribbean background for this project we did called Masked Words, which was in June last year, mostly it was online, but we managed to get together in real life towards the end. And again, we brought in music, we brought in food.
It was really important for those young people, especially after going through the emotional impact of 2020 and all the kinds of conversations that are being had around Black Lives Matter and racism that happens in Scottish schools that isn’t really being addressed in the way that it should be. I saw for myself how important it was for those kids to see themselves in historical figures in the past and know, that have been people from the Caribbean here for centuries, doing some really powerful things. Or even just existing as people you know, in lots of different ways, and the kind of movements that they’ve influenced. They really took a sense of renewed pride in themselves and who they are. And it helped them to get that sense of belonging as being a Caribbean Scottish person and what that means. They’re not the first.
Jeda: Yeah, I was going to actually ask you about that next. In terms of, the way certain aspects of this history is taught to young people, and how we, we need to be careful, because it can be really traumatic for people of African or African Caribbean heritage, and any heritage that intersected with colonialism from different parts of the world. I know, a lot of adults who found 2020 quite traumatic, in addition to the pandemic that was already going on.
It’s fantastic that the Black Lives Matter movement was- that more people were waking up to it. That’s obviously a good thing overall, but I think some people that are quite early on in their journey in anti-racism work, without meaning to can sometimes cause harm. Or people that just don’t have, or don’t yet have a bit more knowledge, in terms of how to contextualise things for young people. Yeah, that’s really great that the schools that you’ve been working with, are mindful of that and they understand that they need to get people in who have the experience and can demonstrate how to go about teaching Black history in a way that’s not going to traumatise and re-traumatise young people.
“Talk about African culture and civilizations before you start talking about slavery. And to think about slavery is an interruption of African history, as Jamaican poet Mutabaruka rightly said… You’re left with a sense of feeling quite powerful – whoever you are, whatever background you’re from – that there are many instances in the past of multiracial coalition.”
Lisa: Exactly. Also, to have dignified images as well, because that’s something that people still use in journalism or maybe in a talk and they haven’t thought through the psychic impact of constantly using degrading images of Black people, even if it’s meant to inspire people to be anti-racist, for example. Those kinds of things are important.
We did a collaboration with author Alex Wheatle the other day as part of Scottish Book Trust, who’s an organisation loved working with we’ve done lots of events with them. We did a couple of collaborative things. I wanted to use this as an example for the teachers, was to talk about African culture and civilizations before you start talking about slavery. And to think about slavery is an interruption of African history, as Jamaican poet Mutabaruka rightly said, to show people how you can frame things. I actually talked about that when we got to the school about why I’ve mention this, and how important it is to do that, to make that point, but also just to create examples for them to be able to follow easily.
What was fantastic the other day is that we did it through zoom, but I actually was the teacher for the entire year group at Broughton High School – all of the history classes in S3. They really enjoyed it, just have someone else to come in and speak and have a slightly different perspective, show different images. And I think for the teachers, it really was helpful for them to see how I frame things, and see the kinds of images that I use and see how you’re left with a sense of feeling quite powerful – whoever you are, whatever background you’re from – that there are many instances in the past of multiracial coalition. So, people come together and they’re fighting for- they obviously affect in different ways. And some much more extremely than others, but everybody is fighting generally for the common cause of liberation and for a better life for all. That can be very useful for young people with different backgrounds to have those examples from the past.
Jeda: I would have loved to have a new my school when I was younger! But you would have been too young [laughs]. You’ve highlighted some of the events and things that you’ve done, but do you have one or two events that are a favourite? A particular person or a particular type of thing that happened at an event, or just ones that you really treasure? I know that’s going to be really difficult [laughs] to choose!
“It’s one of the very first times where they’re in the majority in a place like Edinburgh, in an institution like the Scottish Poetry Library. Everybody felt immediately very much at home, and very much like ‘This is our place.'”on the ECA x Akala event, 2018
Lisa: [Laughs] It is difficult actually! I tell you what, though, there was there is a there was a standout one. I mean, we’ve had fun from literally just going from house to house. That’s a very Caribbean things to do, to have an open house actually. We’ve had a lot of fun just being in each other’s houses, to be honest.
We put on some film events for Africa In Motion, and we did an amazing range of those which has been great. They’ve all involved an element of live music or dance very often, or food. We have a very serious one that we did at the university, because I really wanted to mark the 40th anniversary of the Grenada revolution because it’s so important. For me, that that was an exciting one, because the two speakers we had there, one was Jacob Ross, who is an editor and author, judges various literary panels and so on. But he was actually part of the revolution itself. So, he was able to speak after we show the documentary, about his experiences on the inside of it at the time. We also another speaker, Professor Richard Drayton, who was also there at the same time, talking about kind of international importance of that revolution.
So, we had folks there who were like veteran, anti-apartheid activists who were close to the Mandela family, and they were like, ‘Wow, we never really knew of the importance of this, especially for Black people around the world. And how much of a hub was for Black radical people to be there – everyone from Angela Davis to Harry Belafonte to all kinds of people around the world.’ And that discussion afterwards was so electric, and just so fantastic. I mean, then remember that thing, wonderful, the kinds of conversations we have to have.
The other one that really stands out, actually, was – I remember being so excited that we were chosen to do it – was to host author and rapper Akala (he has Jamaican Scottish heritage himself) at the Scottish Poetry Library. That was a really important event because, for one of the very first times, a lot of those young Black, Scottish Black people – it was targeting people between 16 and 25, living in Edinburgh, of Black and Asian backgrounds, to come and get a chance to perform alongside Akala.
It could be poetry, hip hop or grime, whatever people were into, spoken word, performance. I left it very open as to what people could do, how they wanted to translate that. For so many of those young people walking in, they walked in literally their mouths start to drop open as they came in, because you’ve got Caribbean foods – big spread of food downstairs – you’ve got the music rocking. They walked in, it’s one of the very first times where they’re in the majority in a place like Edinburgh, in an institution like the Poetry Library.
Everybody felt immediately very much at home, and very much like ‘This is our place. We could sprawl on the sofa and feel relaxed, we can go upstairs.’ Obviously, they’re nervous because it’s Akala, and it’s a big deal to perform alongside him. But we had people performing that night who literally got up and spoke in public for the very first time, performed for the very first time and were quite nervous about it, quite shy about it, and have gone on to win awards, have gone on to travel, they’ve gone on to have a really great career. That’s happened for quite a few of them, actually.
To have that opportunity, for one for Akala to be there, in that kind of informal setting, to able to sit down with young people and just talk, was such a wonderful opportunity that we were able to co-create with a lot of those young people. That’s a standout one for me. Even though we’ve done a few things with Scottish Book Trust since then, even they’ve said for them that is actually an event that they’ve never forgotten. It’s like a standout event for them that they all talk about even now, and pull out the photos from that. It was, it was a game-changer, actually, in a lot of ways.
Jeda: A lot of what the Edinburgh Caribbean Association has been doing, the impact you’ve had here in the city and beyond, you’re really making a huge difference. And across so many different age groups as well. Obviously, the work you do with young people is super important for a variety of reasons, but given that you also work within educational environments, in terms within university level, and then with the cultural institutions that you work with. You’ve mentioned, a few people and artists and poets, as we’ve been talking is there anyone you’ve maybe not yet mentioned, that it’s an artist that you’re excited by and/or or who inspires you?
“You must not limit it just to writers, artists, dancers or visual and performing artists. We can look at people doing incredible things with foods too.“
Lisa: Don’t leave out yourself Jeda! [laughs] and your beautiful poetry, and, you know, I’m kind of keeping an eye on you and where you’re heading. There are all sorts of people, I think Brina is somebody who is not getting the kudos that she deserves, the amount of talent that that she has. I’m most excited to see what happens with her career the next couple of years, to be honest.
There’s all kinds of folks doing things. There’s Harry Mould, for example, who has just started getting into art during lockdown to put things on Twitter. It’s really interesting, looking at, inspired by historical figures, particularly women, and you can see the kind of stuff that lends itself to illustrating books, for example.
There’s chefs here as well. I mean, you must not limit it just to, let’s say, writers and artists and dancers and to obvious visual and performing artists. If we look at people doing incredible things with foods, you’ve got a man called Oliver Brown, who’s from Jamaica, who was actually was part of helping to organise that first event that we did in La Belle Angele. I won’t say too much about what he’s going to do, he’s a chef, he’s somebody who’s a professional in hospitality and has been all around the world. I think people are kind of operating quite quietly here with the amounts of skills and knowledge and experience, that I think people will be quite surprised by when they really get a chance to shine, which is starting to happen now.
What I’m hoping to, in the next little while, that we’re going to be highlighting different people working in different genres on the website, so that when people click onto the website, that you can see clearly what people’s contact details, what people are up to, what their plans are, who they might want to work with.
How people can work on collaborations with different institutions, or just on a one-to-one – different artists working in different disciplines or whatever. There’s so many different ways you could go with this.
“It’s important that we’re highlighting people who have all kinds of different backgrounds. People who have migrated as children or adults. Born and bred Scots of Caribbean heritage, folks who’ve also been adopted, perhaps by a non-Caribbean family, students and people who fall in love – there are quite a few people in the group that come here and they fall in love!”
Jeda: Yeah, that’s gonna be really exciting to be able to share a bit more publicly and feature people and the work that they’re doing. So, we’ve talked a little bit about the website, which is in development, and that we’re going to be highlighting people. It’d be nice to talk about what’s coming up in 2022. But before we do that, is there anything else you’d like to share? And just like any kind of reflections from maybe the past couple of years that we haven’t necessarily covered? I feel like we’ve probably covered loads! Reflecting on recent works by Scottish Caribbean artists, orany particular events, cultural institutions, or gallery spaces and things like that?
“Shout out to Hannah Lavery for being selected as the Edinburgh Makar!”
Lisa: Yeah, I’ve got to give a shout out to Hannah Lavery for being selected as the [Edinburgh] city Makar. I met Hannah, a few years ago, when she was just kind of on the beginning of her very public creative journey and career. I’m very excited and always amazed at what she manages to come up with, so just to give a bit of a congrats for being chosen as the city Makar – that’s a big deal.
I think it’s important that we’re highlighting people who have all kinds of different backgrounds. People that have migrated as children or come here as adults. Many people have come here as students and stayed, or they’ve fallen in love – there’s quite a few people in the group that come and they fall in love! [laughs] And that’s, that’s why they stay.
You’ve got people who are born and bred Scots of Caribbean heritage whether that’s one parent or two parents. Then you’ve got folks who’ve also been adopted, perhaps by a non-Caribbean family, who now find the group helpful to find out about the culture that they didn’t know about growing up at all, they didn’t have that connection with it. That’s been important for quite a few folks here as well. And that’s been good for me to sort of understand that experience with some transracial adoptees and the kinds of difficulties that they’ve gone through. How this can be sometimes a bit tricky for people. People might assume from the way that they look that they’re very much connected with their roots, and they grew up with a Caribbean family. For several folks, it’s not the case. Sometimes that can be emotionally difficult for them. People ask these questions, making assumptions. Also we know from chatting with people that they said, it’s been really great for them to, not necessarily knowing exactly where their family’s from, or having that connection, but this feeding a part of them that was missing. That’s been an important part of this as well.
Lockdown made it very difficult especially for people who were just arriving. When we would normally have had events that would have welcomed people, they would have found a place where they felt very much at home, maybe to talk to other people about navigating Scottish society or difficulties that sometimes come along with that. There’s people that haven’t been able to have that experience, which is a shame.
On setting up a regular walking group: “Anyone that’s listening, that’s in the group who wants to volunteer to be a leader, or is interested in walks, we could build this into something that we could get funding for potentially.“
One of the things that I wanted to set up was a regular walking group, which I know other folks have done in different organisations as well. Mentally, physically the fact that it’s COVID friendly. So that’s something I’d like to do a bit more of this year, actually. Anyone that’s listening, that’s in the group who wants to volunteer to be a leader, or is interested in walks, we could build this into something that we could get funding for potentially, because it’s a really important thing.
We know, for mental, physical health and community, and something that is safe for a community is often more effective by COVID, for lots of different reasons, then other communities. So that’s something I would like to do.
One thing we did do, we did try, and I’d like to continue is, we did some online soca dance sessions with a young teacher from Trinidad who was here, who should be coming back soon. We could do that online, or when the weather’s a little bit warmer, we could start doing that outside as well. So that could be something really fun.
Jeda: I think that would be very fun [laughs]. I’d totally be down for those! I really like the idea of having a regular walking group, I think that could be really beneficial for a lot of people.
Unless there’s something else that you’d like to chat about, I’d love to hear a bit more about what’s coming up in 2022. Because I know when we were chatting the other day, there’s a couple of big things this year, that’s really exciting. I don’t know how much you can share at this point. Obviously, keep an eye on the website and the newsletter as well. But if there’s anything you can share about some of these activities, that’d be great.
Upcoming projects include Masked Words 2022 with Edinburgh Festival Carnival; a collaborative project with Museum Galleries Edinburgh, working specifically with collections at the Museum of Childhood and the Museum of Edinburgh, towards an event at the end of June to tie in with Windrush Day; and an exciting project in August for the Fringe.
Lisa: Yeah, sure. Yeah, there’s all sorts of things actually in the pipeline.
One of the big exciting things I am allowed to talk about now, because it’s all been confirmed and about to really kick off soon, is that the Association is going to be working directly in a collaborative project to participatory projects with Museum Galleries Edinburgh. We’re going to be working specifically with collections at the Museum of Childhood, and also at the Museum of Edinburgh. We’re working towards an event at the end of June should tie in with Windrush Day, around that time. We don’t exactly what shape it will take, because it’s all about co-production (it’s not just about my decisions, but the group decisions).
Again, we’ve got a really nice range of people from many different countries, or heritage from those different countries across the Caribbean. And people of different ages from age of 10 upwards, which is really nice. Actually, the younger people were probably the most enthusiastic about getting involved with this project, which is brilliant. So, keep an eye on that it’s going to be exciting to see what we come up with.
“Also remembering we have some folks in our group who have Caribbean background, not necessarily African Caribbean background, but other heritages, particularly with of Asian descent.“
The other thing is starting to bring some more Caribbean influences into some of the National Trust properties. I can’t say too much on that at the moment, but watch this space, because I think there’s going to be some very exciting collaborations on the horizon.
The other thing is… Last year, we partnered with Edinburgh Festival Carnival to do the Masked Words project. And what was great is that we had some other heritage stakeholders jump on board with us, which is fabulous. When we were working with young people, we were looking at poetry, we were looking at traditional carnival masquerade and the meaning behind those. And we were linking this to Edinburgh’s Black history, but particularly Caribbean history as well.
Also remembering that, we have some folks in our group who have Caribbean background, not necessarily African Caribbean background, or other heritage people, particularly with of Asian descent from places like Trinidad and Guyana as well. It’s important in the museum project that we also talk about people’s experiences that crossover those two cultures and are sometimes forgotten about. That don’t always fit into cultures where people come directly from Asia or have that linage directly from Asia, or not necessarily, let’s say in a Caribbean group that’s very much skewed to African Caribbean experiences, and they’re often left out on those things. So that’s something that’s important to link that history. Again, it’s connected with Edinburgh as to why a lot of those people were moved in huge numbers as indentured labourers from places like India and China, across the Caribbean too
Now, we have these plans to work with these organisations. There’ll be more work happening in schools – hopefully, we can start to go back into schools at some point when it’s all safe to do so. Right now, quite a bit of it can be done via Zoom, which is good. Quite a few teachers get in contact just for even training teachers in a lot of this history as well. It doesn’t necessarily have to be directly to the students, it can be the group of teachers or individual teachers as well.
I’m trying to think what else we’ve got planned… We’ve got all sorts of things planned! But that one is that is a big one, just towards the end of June there for sure. Now, something nice, exciting is happening in August for the Fringe – that’s all I’m gonna say at the moment.
Jeda: That’s a good tease [laughs]!
Lisa: Probably earlier on in August, rather than the end of August. So, stick around! If you’re planning to go anywhere, don’t go anywhere that first week in August, because I think it’s gonna be something very exciting.
Jeda: Thank you.
Lisa: Oh, I was gonna say, with the mask words project, we linked up with Edinburgh Festival Carnival. And we’re actually going to do that again, this year. So last year, it was fantastic. Because we had places like The Writers Museum opened up their doors, and actually, they’re normally closed at the moment. We had The Georgian House as part of the National Trust also open up so that we could film with young people inside there, which is brilliant.
And we also had a chance to go after hours behind the scenes and for the National Museum of Scotland to open their doors specially for our little group, which was brilliant – these kids have never forgotten it and I haven’t forgotten it either. We were able to go in with massive costumes and go into some of those areas and be taken on private tours to look at some of the links with carnival masquerade. Hopefully we can continue doing that kind of work with the Masked Words project in different ways, seeing how that goes.
With the Festival Carnival, we have quite a few practitioners coming across from the Caribbean, mainly from Trinidad, who will be working with members of our group. There’ll be free workshops, in dance, in music, performance, in all sorts of stuff, which is brilliant to kind of boost the skills, but also give us something really fun to do. Keep the culture going, you know for the young people who are very much in touch with all the old traditions, but also what’s hot, new and fresh now.
Jeda: Amazing! Thanks so much, Lisa for everything you shared. I’m really excited for the things coming up this year. And it’s been really interesting to hear a bit more about the history of the Edinburgh Caribbean Association, and some of some of the highlights of the events that you’ve done. And, yeah, just thanks much for taking the time today as well.
Lisa: Yeah, thanks very much. It’s been great. Thanks for all your questions. And, yeah, looking forward to this year as well. I’m bringing a bit of life and joy and colour back into all of our lives again.