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In Conversation: Lemn Sissay On His New Book About Re-claiming the Ethiopian Heritage Stolen From Him by England’s Foster Care System

In 'My Name Is Why,' the 2019 PEN Pinter award winner passionately advocates for children in the institutional care system, and in turn tells a unique story of identity and the power in discovering one's heritage.

It took the author Lemn Sissay almost two decades to learn his real name. As an Ethiopian child growing up in England's care system, his cultural identity was systematically stripped from him at an early age. "For the first 18 years of my life I thought that my name was Norman," Sissay tells OkayAfrica. "I didn't meet a person of color until I was 10 years of age. I didn't know a person of color until I was 16. I didn't know I was Ethiopian until I was 16 years of age. They stole the memory of me from me. That is a land grab, you know? That is post-colonial, hallucinatory madness."

Sissay was not alone in this experience. As he notes in his powerful new memoir My Name Is Why, during the 1960s, tens of thousands of children in the UK were taken from their parents under dubious circumstances and put up for adoption. Sometimes, these placements were a matter of need, but other times, as was the case with Sissay, it was a result of the system preying on vulnerable parents. His case records, which he obtained in 2015 after a hardfought 30 year campaign, show that his mother was a victim of child "harvesting," in which young, single women were often forced into giving their children up for adoption before being sent back to their native countries. She tried to regain custody of young Sissay, but was unsuccessful.

Whether they end up in the foster system out of need or by mistake, Sissay says that most institutionalized children face the same fate of abuse under an inadequate and mismanaged system that fails to recognize their full humanity. For black children who are sent to white homes, it often means detachment from a culturally-sensitive environment. "There are too many brilliant people that I know who have been adopted by white parents for me to say that it just doesn't work," says Sissay. "But the problem is the amount of children that it doesn't work for."

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(Screenshot from "Every Woman" video)

Check out Cameroonian Crooner Vagabon’s New Ode to Female Power

The singer dropped a video for new single "Every Woman" today, shot by fellow Cameroonian director Lino Asana.

Cameroonian-born singer-songwriter Laetitia Tamko, better known as her stage name Vagabon, has been spoiling us with delights as of late. First, the crooner teased us with two singles, "Flood" and "Water Me Down" from her forthcoming sophomore album, Vagabon, a work she wrote and produced herself. And today, she surprised us with a new single and video for "Every Woman"—a track Tamko claims is the "thesis of the album," as per a press statement reported by The Fader magazine

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Photos: Mr Eazi, Efya and Blinky Bill Brought the Heat to SummerStage In NYC

Here's what went down at the unforgettable show this past Sunday.

Everyone knows that summer time in NYC means sun, rooftops, good times, and a plethora of memorable live shows and concert series.

This past Sunday was no different, as Nigeria's Mr Eazi, Ghanaian singer Efya and Kenya's own Blinky Bill put on an unforgettable show at SummerStage in Central Park.

With several fans and music lovers gathered at the venue for the free show, headliner Mr Eazi ran through standout tracks from Lagos to London Volumes 1 and 2 with heightened energy. He also performed his latest single "Supernova" for an excited and engaged crowd.

DJ Mahogany brought the Kenyan vibes in between sets as the artists prepared to grace the stage. The night also featured art by the talented, Dapo—we handed out 700 limited edition copies of his original poster art during the show.

Not only were the performances ones to remember—but the impeccably dressed crowd stole the show as well. Check out some of the action below, with pictures from Apmworld.

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Mr Eazi Performs a FREE Show at SummerStage in Central Park This Sunday, July 7!

join us for this must-see show featuring Efya, Blinky Bill and DJ Mohogany.

Mr Eazi describes his laid-back bops as his pioneering Banku music—named after the heavy Ghanian comfort food—and while the Afropop artist makes soundtracks for good times, he also represents the cultural exchange between African neighbors Nigeria and Ghana.

Born in the former and educated in the latter, the recent Mad Decent signee often touches on themes of migration, and can be seen on the cover of his 2017 mixtape Life Is Eazi, Vol. 1 – Accra To Lagos in a suit tailored in the fashion of a Ghana Must Go bag, a symbol of the link between the two countries.

He's joined by Efya, the Ghanaian pop singer from Kumasi who won four consecutive Ghana Music Awards for Best Female Vocal Performance (2011-2014) and collaborated with Mr Eazi on their breakout hit "Skin Tight."

The show will also feature the stylings of Blinky Bill Sellanga, the Red Bull Music Academy alumnus and Kenyan frontman for the house/funk/disco group Just a Band, with support from DJ Mohogany, a Brooklyn-bred DJ currently spinning unpredictable genre-defying sets in Europe.

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