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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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Photo by Nickii Kane.

Lila Iké Is Blooming Into the Powerful New Voice of Jamaican Music

We chat with the rising singer on her journey to stardom and her new music video for "Where I'm Coming From."

It's the closing set at BRIC's Celebrate Brooklyn during a summer evening in Prospect Park. Jamaica's very own Protoje pauses to give Sevana and Lila Iké, two members of his new collective, In.Digg.Nation, their moment to shine on stage.

Iké, born Alecia Grey, shows herself to be a force and light as she dons an all-white suit with her curly afro roaming freely. Not introducing herself until she concludes, there's a clear energy shift in the park as her vibrato nods to the reggae of the past.

Just a few days later, she visits the OkayAfrica offices and her chill demeanor and casual threads beg the question of how she could make sense of who she blooms into when it's time to perform. "I don't even know myself on stage, to be honest," she says. "I don't even think it's 100 percent me."

Sharing how she came to settle into her stage name, she notes that Lila was coined from pet names folks called her from her first name, Alecia. Iké, on the other hand, is usually short for the Nigerian name Ikechukwu in the Igbo language. She also came across an Ikechukwu when she moved to Kingston who's mind, she says, was one to remember. Meaning "God is powerful" or "power of God," it struck her that names such as that can be since she's been surrounded by Johns, Pauls or Marks.

Photo by Nickii Kane.

"I wanted to use Ikechukwu as my stage name," she explains. "I remember I did my very first performance, introduced myself as such and people were calling me all sorts of things and I knew it wasn't going to work. My friend later suggested Lila Ike and I could see it on an album cover. I recently found out that Lila means lilac in Italian and it also means 'the everblooming flower' or 'to bloom.' Words are powerful—I really believe music is the power of God and I wanted to attribute that to my music and my whole being."

Iké's newest music video "Where I'm Coming From" recently dropped and both the song and visual is an ode to her journey from her neighborhood of Christiana in Manchester, Jamaica, to Kingston. With the legacy of Ijahman Levi and Garnett Silk, two hometown heroes, behind her—she's well on her way to be the new face of not only her people, but reggae music, to the world. For Iké, "Where I'm Coming From" is also her way of encouraging people to stay working on themselves and their goals—and to be real.

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Listen to Mr Eazi’s New Mixtape ‘Lagos to London (Vol. 2)’ Featuring Giggs, Chronixx, Distruction Boyz, 2Baba and More

New Mr Eazi is here.

Nigerian Afrobeats star Mr Eazi just dropped a new mixtape. Titled Lagos To London (Vol. 2), the project is the artist's third offering after Life Is Eazi Vol. 1 and 2.

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