Black Grape Live

Posted: Wed Nov 25 2009

Black Grape Live, opened in autumn 2009 , is as a Tottenham venue that aims to bring breakthrough black music and Afro-Caribbean cuisine to the masses. Time Out meets the bright young things who ignored the recession and made it happen

Heard the one about the comedian, the saxophonist and their 25-year-old manager? Looking around their city one day, Eddie Kadi (comedian, 26), YolanDa Brown (saxophonist, 27) and, baby of the group, Adetokunbo 'T' Oyelola noticed a curious thing: despite being young, talented, in possession of a loyal following (from their days performing as the Black Grape Cartel on the university circuit) and living in the world's most multicultural metropolis, they were struggling to get bookings. Mainstream venues preferred to programme more established artists and there weren't any dedicated black music or comedy venues to support their work. So they decided to open their own.

The result is Black Grape Live, a 400-capacity live music venue on West Green Road in Tottenham that also boasts a bar-restaurant serving African, Caribbean and Brazilian cuisine. In an area usually associated with sky-high crime rates and iffy football teams, London's new home for black music serves as a beacon for much of what's great about our capital. The launch on September 11 was attended by David Lammy MP, former Sugababe Mutya Buena and rising hip hop star Bashy, and, over the coming months, it will host performances from some of the biggest names in black British entertainment, including soul legend Omar and comedian Richard Blackwood, as well as new talent such as funky house star Donaeo and comedian Slim. It's not just a gig venue, either. Weekly film screenings will take in commercial releases, black film classics and work from up-and-coming British filmmakers, the venue is licensed until 5am at the weekend for club nights and there are Sunday gospel lunches for the after-church crew.

'People might ask, “Why Tottenham?” but I come from the area and there's a lot of talent here,' says T, the affable son of a Nigerian army brigadier who is the driving force behind Black Grape. 'We wanted to create that uptown feel in north London and also give a platform to artists from all over. It's true you can see these artists perform elsewhere in London. But under one roof? In Tottenham? With a leg of jerk chicken and a bowl of jollof rice?' jokes T. 'Nah! That's what Black Grape is all about: good entertainment, good food and good vibes.'

Despite T's cheeriness, opening the Black Grape has not been easy. If ever there was a time when banks might feel disinclined to lend money for a new black music venue, it'd be now. More ominously, though, until recently the spectre of discrimination in the guise of 'Form 696' hung over many non-white artists. The most controversial aspect of this police assessment form would have forced venue managers to reveal the ethnic origins of their acts and audiences; it was only amended in September following a campaign led by Feargal Sharkey and John McClure from Reverend And The Makers.

It took the trio's concert fees and life-savings - as well as a healthy dose of wing-and-a prayering - but these precocious twentysomethings have succeeded by adopting the philosophy of artists such as Jay-Z (with his Roc-A-Fella music, film and fashion empire) and Lil' Wayne (with his Cash Money label): if the mainstream won't let you in, create your own industry, create your own hype and watch the mainstream come to you.

Tenor saxophonist Brown, for example, isn't signed to a major label and is yet to release a full length album. Still, she has already played to a sold out audience at Jazz Act and has been booked for two shows at the Jazz Café in December. Plus, her neRonnie Scott's, is a popular fixture on the jazz festival circuit, has won two Mobo Awards for Bestw, self-released EP, 'See Me See You', is coming out this month. And she manages to squeeze in all of this around studying for a PhD in management science.

Meanwhile, comedian Eddie Kadi - who moved to Britain from DR Congo aged eight - has completely bypassed what's popularly known as the Time Out (read: white) comedy circuit to secure a 2008 Channel 4 top talent endorsement and a slot on BBC 1Xtra's drive time show alongside Tim Westwood, as well as selling out 2,000 seats at the Indigo O2 - twice - becoming the first black comedian to do so.

In short, the Black Grape crew know all about defying expectations. 'We have always taken audacious steps,' says T. 'The way I see things is you can't take a baby step and expect a giant result. Back in April 2007, when we booked the 600-capacity Mermaid Theatre in Blackfriars for Eddie's first show, people thought we were mad - but it sold out.' Following the release of 'An Audience with Eddie Kadi' on DVD, which features special guest appearances from 'Britain's Got Talent' winners Diversity, Ms Dynamite and Black Grape gospel star Guvna B, the trio are setting their sights even higher. Next year they are planning an arena show at the O2 for Kadi, and Brown will finally release her debut album.

Given the media's incessant doom-mongering and hand-wringing about young people, especially young black men, Black Grape are as refreshing as the syrupy soft drink they were named after. 'We've got big plans, and it's not just about being a powerhouse for black music: we want to become synonymous with all forms of entertainment everywhere. We want a Black Grape in Manhattan, we want YolanDa to win Best Film Score at the Oscars. We want to take over the world, and when we do people will remember that it started here in Tottenham.'

Black Grape Live, 268 West Green Rd, N15 3QR (020 8881 8189/www.blackgrapelive.com).