My favourite things: Joshua Virasami

The Black Lives Matter activist and author of guide How to Change It reveals the award-winning documentary and “salt-of-the-earth” podcast that are moving him these days.

Joshua Virasami, author of How to Change It
Image: Penguin

Joshua Virasami is an artist, writer and political activist whose work across a spectrum of mediums – film, music and the written word ­– aims to educate, illuminate, and push against social injustice.

Having grown up in Hounslow, West London, Virasami has long made political activism in the UK a key component not just of his art but his life, playing a passionate role in both the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter protests.

This month, he’ll help inform the next generation of world-shapers with the release of How to Change It, an introduction to social activism and the latest in #Merky Books’ ongoing ‘How to…’ series. We got in touch with Virasami to ask about the culture that inspires him, from stage to televised tales of macho ineptitude.

Film: Harlan County, USA

I recently watched Harlan County, USA, an Academy Award-winning film about a longstanding dispute between the mining community in Harlan County and Duke Power Company, in 1976. The film is a gripping reflection on the bleak reality and profound tenacity of a local community up against the odds. The music hits you in the belly, and the bravery of the film crew, often facing down loaded weapons, draws you deep into the struggle for decent working conditions. A masterclass in documentary filmmaking, but also one in how to fight back against tyrannical bosses.

TV: Don’t Tell the Bride

Don’t Tell the Bride is a TV show where a soon-to-be-wedded couple get £14,000 and are then separated, leaving the potential husband three weeks to plan the whole thing. I cannot get enough of it. For all the ills of British TV, I still love it – I love watching it, I loved growing up watching it and I love watching people watching it (Gogglebox was a close second here). Don’t Tell the Bride has all the best bits of reality TV: tears, cringe, complete disbelief at the heights of man-child behaviour.

Art: Tamara-Jade Kaz

I often catch Tamara-Jade Kaz’s artwork on a friend’s wall, or in the backdrop of a Zoom call, in all its unapologetic and colourful glory. I’m particularly thinking about “we see / we remember / we are black” and “protect health workers”, pieces she was commissioned to create by Channel 4 and Amnesty International, respectively. Created in the midst of the George Floyd Uprising and Covid-19 pandemic, they helped me and many others remember the beauty and power in our communities.

Music: Victory Lap by Nipsey Hussle

I keep returning to Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap, released just over a year before he was gunned down on the same parking lot he rose up through. Victory Lap was Nipsey’s first studio album, following a long catalogue of mixtapes over 13 years, which cemented his legacy. The album is prophetic, everything it was destined to be: uplifting, gritty, West Coast. Hussle’s flow is effortless, whether giving life advice or recounting tales from Crenshaw, the hood he never left but instead lifted up with his rise. Victory Lap is seminal, and will inspire generations to come.

Theatre: Les Blancs

A close first to Inua Ellam’s Barber Shop Chronicles, Les Blancs recounts stories against the backdrop of decolonisation, exploring the reality of life in an African settler colony, and the promise of revolutionary Pan-Africanism. Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote most of the original play, is a truly astounding political activist and writer whose life’s works I highly recommend looking into. Lichtenberg and Farber’s production with National Theatre is haunting and mesmerising, the traditional Xhosa overtone singing and dimly lit, large wooden missionary drawing us deep into the recesses of the many characters.

Podcast: Surviving Society

I picked Surviving Society because of that unparalleled excited feeling I get when a new episode is released. I was a bit late to the podcast scene but Surviving Society, now 100 episodes in, showcases some of the most brilliant minds working on some of the most pressing issues in British society, and you can’t help but fall in love with the salt-of-the-earth realness, and sharpness, of hosts Chantelle and T.

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