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Actor, poet, author, singer: 4 creatives on finding passion and inspiration

From how their appreciation of the arts first formed to where they draw their greatest ideas and inspirations from, four creatives reflect on their craft and career, as part of Black History Month UK. As told to KATIE BERRINGTON

Lifestyle
Singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas

Lianne La Havas

Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, whose self-titled third studio album came out to critical acclaim earlier this year

“My passion for music started early, when I was seven years old, singing the music from Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Then at 11, I started to write my own songs as an angsty adolescent. I loved Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill at the time, so I wanted to emulate what they were doing.

“Some of my greatest musical inspirations are Little Dragon, Lauryn Hill, Solange, Erykah Badu and Joni Mitchell. For ideas in my music, I look to my life: my relationships and my own struggles making sense of this world.

“I hope to make people feel good when they listen to my music. I hope it will make them dance and sing and feel less alone.

“When I am sad or exhausted, I can find it difficult to play, but these are also the times when I find it uplifting and energizing. So, I have to strike a balance.

“The proudest moments of my career so far include being nominated for a Grammy award in 2016, and meeting Stevie Wonder and Prince.

“What I wish I could tell myself when I was first starting out? Exercise and don’t smoke.

“In my daily life I am constantly inspired by art, film, different cultures, my own culture as a Jamaican-Greek-British person, and fashion.”

“I hope to make people feel good when they listen to my music. I hope it will make them dance and sing and feel less alone”

Theresa Lola

Poet and writer, who was 2019’s Young People’s Laureate for London

“I loved reading books as a child and found the power and possibilities in telling a story fascinating. Later, in secondary school, I attended a school trip to a poetry festival where I was struck by the emotional capacity of a poem and began writing more.

“I have met different people at different points who have inspired me. Early on, I would say Jacob Sam-La Rose, who was my tutor on the Barbican Young Poets program. His work ethic, commitment to sharing knowledge and his love for poetry was and is inspiring.

“Our experiences in life are often filled with good and bad memories, complicated or smooth situations, exciting or mundane moments, and each one is a poem-in-waiting.

“I hope my work takes people to a place of reflection, to think of life as a series of doors we enter and learn from.

“I struggle to pick just one proud moment, as different moments mean different things to me, but I would say getting the role as Young People’s Laureate for London in 2019. Writing can feel solitary sometimes, but to have had a role focused on finding ways to engage others with the beauty of writing is a dream in itself.

“If I could give my younger self advice, I would tell her to know her worth and to be OK with saying no when the opportunity isn’t right.

“I spend a lot of time with my family – they inspire me; their desire to do good, take good risks and to choose laughter.”

Poet and writer Theresa Lola
“If I could give my younger self advice, I would tell her to know her worth and to be OK with saying no when the opportunity isn’t right”
Actor Noma Dumezweni

Noma Dumezweni

Two-time Olivier Award-winning actor, who appears in upcoming HBO drama ‘The Undoing’

“I always think my passion for the arts was as an accumulation of moments. My mom remembers being me being glued to the TV as a kid. I loved watching films and being made to laugh. Meeting my mentor, Antony Singleton, at the age of 25 consolidated it. He absolutely gave me the confidence. I’ve got a big thing about mentors in any walk of life; if you’re lucky enough to find one, hold on to them.

“Developing a character is first and foremost a collaboration. Inspiration comes from images, memories, but the character is very much in the writing. Who is this person? How do they exist at this time? Costume, too, plays a huge part in how a character moves in the world. A denim jacket does a very different thing to a structured suit.

“A moment in my career that really stands out was playing the titular role in Linda at the Royal Court [in London]. I started on a Friday and we were on stage doing the show the following Thursday.

“Of course, playing Hermione onstage in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has absolutely shifted how my career has gone. I always say that a career in acting happens to you, and that’s where mine shifted. I’m curious where the next stage is going to be. I’m now exploring more TV and film because I have the luck to do that. Hopefully, there will be more.

“The biggest advice I would give to myself when I was starting out is to get out of your head; to stop competing with other people, or your version of what you think other people are achieving. Trust yourself and be honest in the moment.

“I have a very deep passion for the Kahlil Gibran poem On Children. There’s a wonderful line that says: ‘You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.’

“I am inspired by my 13-year-old daughter and watching her grow. What’s happening in the world now, seeing youth inspires me. What’s going on with Black Lives Matter inspires me, how people’s voices are opening up is inspiring me to be much more honest. I’m inspired by the hope amidst the chaos of what the world is.”

“I’ve got a big thing about mentors in any walk of life; if you’re lucky enough to find one, hold on to them”

Jordan Ifueko

Author of 2020 bestselling fantasy fiction novel ‘Raybearer’

“Like a lot of writers, I started out as a voracious reader. I was home-schooled until high school, which left a lot of time to devour stacks of books.

“As a kid, I had so much confidence in my ability, and then, the moment I hit adolescence, it just kind of plummeted. I still loved it, but there’s that fearlessness that comes with having not been exposed to much of the world yet. I’m still in awe of my younger self – she knew she would write, she knew she would get books published.

“I always describe Raybearer as the sum of my tangle of cultural influences. My parents were Nigerian immigrants, and Nigeria was a British colony until the mid-1960s, so they were raised in a cultural intersection of rich West African storytelling traditions and British literature, which they passed down to me. I was born and raised in the US on American literature and media, but also at the dawn of the internet boom. I think the more global access we have to each other, the more pluralized the lens is that we see the world with.

“I think publishing as an industry, and people in general, find it easy to categorize things. Raybearer has strong West African influences, but it is a global fantasy. There are still some people who, if they were expecting to read a book about a ‘primitive society’ because that’s the historically inaccurate conception they have of a West African society, will find it weird to read a fantasy novel in which the dynasty – which is loosely based on the Yoruba – has palaces and castles, even though those things existed.

“I wrote this book in part because it was a book I needed when I was growing up, so I hope that people who are not used to seeing themselves represented in fantasy get to see themselves. But I also love that stories can be a shoe that fits to the form of whoever tries it on.

“I’m deeply inspired by the community of writers that I get to be part of. Just seeing the resilience and selflessness of writers – especially Black women who have overcome so many obstacles in an industry that doesn’t represent them and have been rejected for racist reasons or have released a book in a global pandemic – still being willing to support each other passionately and genuinely, when it could have so easily gone the other way. We know that we all deserve to be here.

“The genre has always belonged to all of us; we have always had magical stories to tell and we have always had young people worthy of going on adventures. The mistake made over and over again is that ‘stories that aren’t white won’t sell’ and ‘stories that aren’t Eurocentric won’t sell’, and it’s simply not true.”

Writer Jordan Ifueko
“Seeing the resilience and selflessness of writers – especially Black women who have overcome so many obstacles in an industry that doesn’t represent them – and still being willing to support each other passionately and genuinely… It could have so easily gone the other way. We know that we all deserve to be here”

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