Most striking about Freedom Festival last year was a radiating sense of optimism from the people of the city. At the moment politicians are talking about the Northern Powerhouse, and looking at Liverpool and Manchester and Newcastle, but people need to start looking towards Hull in the same way. It is evident this city is embracing and is an
inspiration to the people within it. It is exciting to be in a city on the up, not on a plateau or at its peak.
I met with Mark Wigan, whose designs typified the
movement of acid jazz – here in the heart of Hull is a cultural changemaker, having an effect in jazz clubs in London, Manhcester, Tokyo, New York, Hamburg. When a city emraces its culture, the facts of it breathe across the nation. My performance of Martin Luther King’s speech at the festival was one of the most inspirational moments – no, the most inspired moment – of 2013. I was very proud to be connect, even in some small way, to Hull. Freedom Festival resonated deeply with my work. In 2007, on the bicentenary of the Slave Trade Act, I wrote a poem which is sculpted into the eponymous Gilt of Cain monument in central London. Martin Luther
King’s words echoed around that monument.
Cash flow runs deep but spirit deeper
You ask Am I my brothers keeper?
I answer by nature by spirit by rightful laws
My name, my brother, Wilberforce.
– extract from ‘Gilt of Cain’, Lemn Sissay, 2007
Everything that we’ve ever built begins in the imagination. Everything was first imagined, first dreamed. It’s in King’s speech and Wilberforces focus – how are we ever going to make anything happen if we don’t first dream? Somebody imagined the docks, somebody imagined the city centre, somebody imagines all the change in the world. Ultimately, imagination is the engine of humanity inside all of us. Freedom Festival, is a driving force for humanity. Fuel to our future.
Photo: top: Me reading MLK’s speech after the torchlit parade bottom: Craig Charles and I (photo taken by Sheila Ellis)