If there was ever a time we needed a WOW festival, it’s in 2018. Women of the World celebrates women and girls and takes a frank and at times challenging look at the obstacles faced by women.
It’s a global movement akin to the ‘V Day’ celebrations I have been lucky enough to be a part of elsewhere in the globe. This would be the first ‘full-blown’ version of the festival to take place in Wales (between 24th-25th November) and the first bilingual version of the festival. Both V Day and Women of the World celebrations aren’t purely about one topic, one issue – this year’s WOW Fest held everything from workshops on fixing bicycles to polemical clowning and talks/workshops on homelessness, self-care, black women’s hair, boxing, movement and storytelling.
This is very much about helping women to discover something new, finding solutions and new ideas to tackle problems old and new. It’s not a conference or a symposium, but a place you come to meet, connect with others and be inspired to take part.
Founded in 2010 by Southbank Centre’s Artistic Director, Jude Kelly CBE, it’s the biggest gathering of women and girls around the globe, reaching over 2 million people in 20 cities across 5 continents. It cooks up a series of varied, entertaining and challenging talks, debates, live music and performance, activism and comedy, along with mentoring and pop up events to create an eclectic and localised version of the larger global movement.
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The second episode of "Breaking Glass" the series I directed for @artsy is up. Jude Kelly, "As a woman you're constantly auditioning to prove that you are entitled to have that dream and make it real". Click the link in my bio for the complete film. #breakingglass #judekelly #wowfestival @marinakcashdan DP @shanesigler produced by @cabiriafilms music @petermmurray editing Antonio Sanchez @consulatenyc
The 2018 WOW experience in Wales took place at Chapter Arts Centre, a smaller but perhaps more homely venue than a previous version of the festival was held in 2016 – at the Wales Millennium Centre. This year’s version featured a line up including Gwenno Saunders, Charlotte Church, Sian Evans, Lula Mehbratu (The Digital Migrant), Sahar Al-Faifi, Sian James former MP, Gemma Price (Boxing Pretty), Anna Hursey, Shahien Taj OBE, Lucy Owen (BBC Wales) and LayFullStop.
The staff handling the festival were wonderful, everyone from the lively chap checking me in, despite my apparent lack of ability to talk and articulate sentences that day, the ‘caped crusader’ volunteers donning glittery WOW capes, who brought so much pep and joy to the proceedings and helping headless chicken types like me navigate their way around. Then of course the regular Chapter staff who do so much to make everyone feel welcome.
It’s a lovely open space, but intimate enough not to feel intimidating unlike the labyrinth-like WMC, in which even the most regular of customers can still feel a bit lost and overwhelmed. Due to my Thanksgiving celebrations that weekend (perhaps this had something to do with my not being able to speak when I arrived), I unfortunately missed the majority of the festival and arrived towards the end of the final day, around 3.30pm.
There was still lots to see, lots going on and there was no sign of anyone’s enthusiasm waning. There was a lively, energetic atmosphere in Chapter’s Café Bar and members of the ‘Only Menopause Allowed’ choir were getting ready to perform. I caught the majority of the moving accounts of women affected by the Grenfell and Aberfan disasters during a panel discussion in Chapter’s Cinema 1 space.
— Chapter Arts Centre (@chaptertweets) November 25, 2018
Hosted by festival founder Jude Kelly, this was a sensitive but ultimately eye-opening account of the experiences of the women at the centre of both tragedies. We heard the terrible story of a panelist’s sibling whose family were torn apart by the death of her sister who went to school on the last day of term over 50 years ago and never came home.
Her father had been Chair of the Aberfan Memorial Site and spent his entire life fighting for justice for families in Aberfan after the NCB decided that £500 was a sufficient amount to compensate for the lost life of a child. To add insult to injury, the victims were forced to pay from their own fundraising fund for the NCB to remove the slurry and waste that had killed and injured so many.
This was a sobering account of both tragedies, where the guest speakers spoke with grace, real compassion for the other panelists and determination to see justice for the victims. They were not giving up the fight – and 52 years later, the daughter of the Chair of the Aberfan Memorial site had taken up the baton from her father and continues to campaign.
The Grenfell representatives who’d come down from London to tell their story spoke of being side-lined by local authorities, abandoned by the Government and belittled by large global charities. Theirs was a story of women the world over – organisers, do-ers, campaigners, nurturers – being rendered voiceless by individuals and organisations that assumed they knew better.
Like Aberfan, the fundraising efforts in Grenfell were mishandled by outside forces. Donations which had poured in from the public disappeared without trace, no explanation given about their whereabouts. Families struggled to gain access to funds and slowly – another community lost faith in those who were meant to protect them, more than 50 years after this happened to a community over 200 miles away.
The kinship these survivors and campaigners showed on stage was clear and their dignity and fortitude was incredibly moving. After leaving the Cinema/discussion, it was clear that the content of the talk had clearly affected some audience members, who left the Cinema weeping or being comforted by friends and relatives.
With limited time remaining, I decided to explore upstairs in the hopes of catching an act which had caught my attention in the programme. LayFullStop (I’d never heard of her before) is a female hip-hop/soul artist from Manchester via Birmingham. Accompanied on Stage by Woddy Green, who she has collaborated with on a number of tracks, I was surprised that such a small and unassuming young girl could possess such an incredible sultry voice and ferocious bars.
She’s been honing her talents with well-known collectives Cul De Sac and Roots Raddix and has built a cult following since 2016. It’s been a while since I have been in the loop when it comes to music and musical trends and probably more than 20 years (or more!) since I actively bought hip-hop music or read about it in ‘The Source.’ Apart from attending a Biggie Smalls Memorial Concert in my late teens and listening to Snoop Dog on Spotify now and again, that’s about as far as my knowledge goes these days.
LayFullStop amazed me, I had only intended to pop in for a quick listen but watched her entire set from start to finish. If you’ve ever had a passing appreciation for Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill or Lil Kim, you will love her. This was an utterly refreshing musical style and approach for those who like me find the ‘style over substance’ direction of hip-hop and music in general, a bit distasteful, fake or even tiresome. Her sound is slick – and far from the blingy, flashy humble (or not-so-humble) bragging which tends to dominate hip-hop performed by men, LayFullStop lets the music do the talking, rather than her style.
Her tracks are a sweet fusion of silky jazz, nostalgic soul and UK hip-hop, delivered with wit and panache from a small but fierce Mancunian. It’s rare for artists to skip so effortlessly from punchy hip-hop to sweet singing voice, but more than that – her lyrics are gold, focusing not on the more material and shallow aspects you tend to find in popular culture, but of the life-enhancing elements we can all identify with: finding your inner voice and power, enjoying touch and sensual experiences as a woman, growing intellectually and spiritually.
This to me is true influence and I felt richer for being part of it…she’s been on repeat on Soundcloud since the weekend. Women: I urge you to listen to this phenomenal woman from Manchester.
When you listen to her singing ‘Intact (Cradle Me)’, ‘Kansas’ and ‘Bohemian Queen’ you will be fixing your crown and sitting up a little straighter before facing the world.
Even in such a small snippet, this festival was a tonic for the sisterly soul. Thank you LayFullStop and WOW Fest for giving me some courage and hope on a rainy, grey weekend – if this is what the future looks like, then we’re in good hands.