It’s the most glamourous culture event of the year, and King’s Afro-Caribbean Society (ACS) kicked off the beginning of spring with another spectacular performance at this year’s Culture Shock.
“Destiny” was the word on everyone’s lips at Greenwood Theatre as the venue was packed full to the brim and the audience was treated to two nights of witty sketches, a plethora of dances from South Africa, Senegal, even Bollywood and hip hop dances.
To top it all off, the nights invariably ended with special acts from big-name grime, hip-hop and R&B artists, and a trip to Guy’s Bar for the after-party.
King’s ACS is renowned throughout the country for its Culture Shock performances, having run consecutively for at least 12 years.
The proceeds for the event were donated to the African-Caribbean Leukemia Trust (ACLT), a charity for a cause collectively agreed by the members of the group.
“Culture Shock is about exploring and celebrating Afro-Caribbean culture. It’s not really out there, but we celebrate our difference.” Shares Ayo Olukoya, a second-year Political Economy student and publicity officer for ACS.
Tackling a complex issue
Culture-shock is a term meaning detachment or the feeling of being disoriented when one moves to a cultural environment different to one’s own, and this year’s play revolved around the shock of coming to university for the first time as its central theme.
The play follows the protagonist Bukky “BK” Kwarteng – a half-Ghanian, half-Nigerian girl conflicted between chasing her dreams of being a chef and her family’s expectations for her to be a doctor.
With scenes spanning from her receiving GCSE results, to meeting the sleazy pastor’s son in a fresher’s party, to choosing her careers in university, the audience is taken through a whirlwind trip of a transitional period in everyone’s life – and in BK’s case also one that places her in a culturally different environment.
BK’s best friend Rose disapproves of her decision to become a chef, and this causes BK to doubt herself: “My mum and my friends think I’m being stupid and irrational… I think I might be depressed.”
“I have, of late,” Hamlet tells us, “but wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth.” Everyone living has ocassionally experienced that feeling, and Stormzy was not one shy to reveal it in Lay Me Bare, the final track of his debut album Gang Signs & Prayer.
BK’s character reflects what other bi-cultural people, particularly those coming from Africa, have to struggle with – wanting to pursue their own passions yet at the same time having to please their parents.
“It’s interesting to navigate the different conflicts she has.” shares Mentenso Kotomah, a first-year advertising student and the actress who plays the protagonist BK.
“I’ve discovered that there are universal things that us as Africans and as black people have to experience. Even between the Ghanian/Nigerian division, we all go through very similar things. Just be kind to one another because you don’t know what anyone else is going through.”
A family away from home
For many of its members, ACS presents a social community for its members that gives African-Caribbean students a voice and a platform.
Meg Wamithi agrees and says “The higher you get up to the league tables in university, the harder it is to find people who look like you. I learnt a lot about myself in ACS and it gives me the potential to say ‘yeah I can do that’.”
Rayana Weyerstahl, a first-year Psychology undergrad part of the Afrobeats performance, praised the Society’s involvement with raising issues that are not usually talked about in African-Caribbean cultures, such as men’s mental health and depression.
She added: “I feel less lost in London because I’m from Africa, and it has been great to find people from home.”
Choreographer Maaha Suleiman said: “Afro-Caribbean people come from a completely different background and culture, and these differences can make one feel homesick. Coming to ACS, I feel less homesick and people are like back home.”
However the society is far from exclusive only to Afro-Caribbean students. Ayo Olukoya says: “It’s inclusive for anyone to come, and we’re not exclusive at all.”
When words can’t express… CULTURE SHOCK
In addition to the popular Francophone dances, which featured traditional sets from French-speaking Afro-Caribbean countries, the audience was wowed by the energetic Bollywood and hip-hop mix-up, which gave a diverse edge to the Afro-Caribbean performances. The spectacular traditional South African rain dance celebrating womanhood with a blend of Khosa and Botswanian music, complimented the modern hip-hop dance routine.
The catwalk shows featured models dressed in traditional Ethiopian attire, fitted and designed by students. Behind the stage Maaha Suleiman, a second-year in Global Health and Social Medicine, prepared models for the catwalk. It was her first time ever choreographing, but she said: “Before I was stressed about it, but now I see it on stage, and when you see it come to life it’s all worth it!”
Audience members would well remember last year’s Culture Shock, when grime star Stormzy made a surprise appearance alongside Bonkaz, and members of the ACS were treated to a star-struck show of the duo.
This year’s special acts included Tion Wayne and Kojo Funds on Thursday, with West-London artist Donae’O joining the stage on the last night. The performances ended with the whole theatre on their feet in a rousing chorus of applause.
Directing Culture Shock is a huge role – how did you manage that?
It was a lot of work! I was a fresher last year and the experience was so good that I was already thinking ideas for this year.
Over the summer I came up with the storyline for the play, and over Christmas I wrote the script.
What was going on through your head when you first learnt of Culture Shock?
I was excited, but I didn’t know how big it was. I think it was actually until I did it last year – I was in the opening act and they were saying ‘Oh, Stormzy’s in the audience’ and I was like ‘Oh my god!’ It’s crazy.
That was when I realised that Culture Shock was a big deal. And even now, even when I go to law firms and tell people I’m from King’s, they say “I’ve come to King’s before to see Culture Shock.”
These are people from Leicester, or Manchester, so it’s nice to know that ACS has such a big rep.
This year’s play talked about mental health and depression. Do you think it helps to talk about these things?
I think that it’s relatable to a lot of people. One thing I’ve noticed was that I met many people saying they wanted to do something different from their parents.
Since Culture Shock is such a huge platform I felt it was important to highlight important issues such as mental health and depression, and also dealing with the pressures of the cultural barrier between the parents and us, and getting them to understand our viewpoint.
When you come to university and you meet a lot of people and there are so many people who are so driven and focused already that perhaps it makes it harder for you.
It’s easy to see what other people are doing and trying to compare yourself, especially when studying isn’t cheap there’s an extra drive to get a secure job.
And since this is a university paper, many people reading this will be considering directing their own Culture Shock show. How do they do that?
Not gonna lie, I had no idea where to start. I felt like I was thrown in the deep end, but I think that’s the best way to learn.
You just learn from trial-and-error, just don’t be afraid to try new things out. If they go wrong it’s fine, because you always have time to amend it.
And the earlier you start, the better. If I didn’t start working on this during summer, there’s no way it could’ve gone ahead.
Thank you for watching, hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed creating it!