Be's UK Tour


So I won a grant and decided to use the money to plan a tour in the UK.

I took the trip with my partner in life and music, Asha Santee.

Here’s the what happened.

DC → London. April 15. 2016

Pack asha’s Cajon (wooden box drum) full of clothes.

Back my suitcase full of equipment, merch, some clothes.

Long flight. Movies. Snacks.

Sleep.

Waiting.

Landing.

Walking. Faster.

Smiling big.

So excited to breathe the air. To feel the ground.

Maybe it won’t feel different at all, but we just can’t wait.

Immigration. Long line.

Walk up to a young immigration officer with flawless eyeliner, long dark hair, serious eyes. Pakistani maybe.

Questions.

Why are you traveling to the UK?

To play music.

Are you selling tickets?

Well…

How many shows?

Um...five?

Do you have a work visa?

No.

You know you need a work visa for this?

No.

This could be a problem.

So. What’s the worst that could happen?

We could send you on a flight back to the US.

….Oh.

I need you to wait in this holding area while I speak with someone.

….Right.

Asha and I walk to a roped-off pen between lines of people. We sit in silence for a moment.

Now I am crying. Sobbing. What am I doing with my life? Did I actually spend all the grant money to fly a million miles away? What if they send us back? Why didn’t we say we were fucking tourists?

This wasn’t worth it.

Why didn’t I just buy a new camera? Or a nice lens.

Why is my “career” an endless string of leaps-of-faith?

This definitely wasn’t worth it.

Asha takes my face in her hands and says something wise and calm and perfect.

I’m still crying.

But now I’m distracted by Asha and wonderful she is.

Serious eyes returns. Leads us back to her station. Asha and I look at her, then each other.

I hold my breath.

The officer stamps our passports.

Giddy. Almost skipping with our luggage.

Uber pool. Me, Asha share the car with a white British woman.

The driver helps white lady with her bag.

Driver watches us lift our bags into the car.

Oh no.

Is this racism?

What does racism look like here?

Don’t think about it.

Look out the window and see what this country looks like. You’re here.

Gray sky.

Gray buildings. White buildings.

Gray streets.

Drizzle.

Brixton.

Pull up to a beautiful, simple row house.

Nick! A six-foot something dude in his forties? Greets us at the door.

His hair stands up everywhere. He looks artsy. Or crazy. But nice.

I’d sent notes back and forth with Nick for weeks. From the notes, I got the impression that Nick was very friendly and very excited to have us as his first airbnb guests.

And he was.

Nick doesn’t stop smiling. Or talking. Or giving advice about South London.

His flat is gorgeous.

Sunlight, simple, small splashes of color.

He gives us a hand-drawn map, two subway cards and two cups of black tea. Perfect.

Change clothes.

Walk.

Rain. Drizzle. Mist.

Cars jetting down narrow streets.

Look left.

Look right.

Brixton village open market.

Delicious lamb. Beer.

Asha and I look at one another and smile.

Walk out into the gray evening.

Drizzled on, damp and happy.

We’re here.

-----------------------------

London. April 16. 2016

Sleep until noon. My body has no idea what time it is.

Nick makes us more tea.

I look for cumin in the cupboard.

Use the leftover lamb to make my new culinary invention-lambled eggs.

Listen to BBC music radio.

Walk around Brixton.

Go to the Chip Shop: a hip-hop shrine of a restaurant specializing in fish and chips.

(Murials of Biggie, Tupac, Ice-Tea, etc litter the walls with a classy black and white theme)

Order fish and chips and beer.

*Later we learn the difference between the more traditional “chip”, a thick chunky cut of the potato, vs the more modern interpretation-which is really just a french fry.

I am a French fry lover, so I’m happy with the modern spin.

Back to the flat.

Sleep.

----------------------------

London. April 17. 2016

Wake at noon again.

Excited.

We have our first set today!

Leave our lovely Air Bnb host Nick for another flat in Brixton.

I’d been emailing someone called Yvonne for a couple months before the trip.

I got an email one day simply stating “I’ve found a flat for you in the UK.”

Yvonne had heard my music before and she had a friend with a spare room

-they offered to host us.

Before this email, I didn’t know who Yvonne was.

I didn’t know if she trustworthy or insane.

She didn’t know if we were murderers. But. I guess we both had a bit of faith.

We knock at the door and Yvonne, a beautiful salt and pepper short-hair, tattooed (don’t want to use the word butch because some people hate the word), masculine leaning woman with a gorgeous smile opens the door.

Yvonne leads us up the narrow staircase to her friend Armelle’s place.

Armelle, we soon learn, lives like a Disney Princess.

There are small synthetic pansies sprouting from every corner of the place.

Everything is white or pale blue or pink.

Everything is neat, and pretty and magical.

Most importantly, it is comfortable and it is free and we are both so grateful.

We melt into the couch, plug in the adapter powerstrip and get to planning our route to the first show on the tour.

Walk into a warehouse space.

You can tell from the feel of the place, it’s full of family.

It feels like home.

It’s Stacie G!

*Stacie is a gorgeous, glowing woman with long locks and a sparkly smile. We met her last year in Durham. She’s lived in Germany, the US and now she lives here. And she’s brilliant.

Stacie is selling “don’t touch my hair” tees and totes.

Meet Xana the event organizer and Kyoko, a fellow musician from DC.

Ask Kyoko to play with us tomorrow night, she seems into it.

Sound check.

Take the stage.

I am oddly calm as I start singing.

Strange.

Usually, I get very nervous before a show. Angsty, rude, sweaty.

I worry about being judged, being mediocre, messing something up.

I figured my anxiety would be worse here, performing for a bunch of British strangers. But it wasn’t. Maybe because these are strangers. Felt like I could completely bomb and it wouldn’t matter because I’m basically on the moon. And that feels amazing.

So I sing.

The audience is quiet, still. Barely swaying in the darkness.

From the stage, I’m not sure if they’re confused, or into it.

Just sing, be.

Just have fun.

After my set, I meet the folks in the audience.

I meet some folks who know my music, and some who don’t. All warm and gracious people, all happy to be there. Happy to share space.

My first experience with what I decided to call quiet london love.

Maybe quiet because they’re polite, or because they’re attentive, or both-but underneath the quiet is a warmth and sincerity that I’ve never experienced at home. They are open.

I never want to get on stage to be an entertainer, or a cheap magician spitting tricks at people.

Ideally, I’d like to share energy and stories, and if there’s no love-it feels empty.

And tOnight felt full.

Asha and I return to Brixton round midnight.

After walking for blocks looking for hot food, we settle for chicken sandwiches from Morley’s- a fast food joint comparable to an old school macdonald’s, or coming to america’s McDowell’s.

Not a healthy choice, but a satisfying one. And the fries were delicious.

Sleep.

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London April 18, 2016

Four months back, I booked a space at Whirled Cinema, a beautiful old brick tunnel-turned- screening space in Brixton. Again, taking a bit of a risk-because (be, you don’t know anyone in London...what are you doing planning events in a country you’ve never been to?).

I searched for a couple weeks online. Looking for screening spaces in London. Finding a space, looking at photographs, googling the address to see if it was accessible, getting a quote, requesting a date. It was tedious.

I found the perfect space and sent the rental fee from my living room in DC.

Hadn’t got the grant money yet. No plane tickets. No place to stay.

But SOMEHOW, we’re screening my film on the 18th of April!

It definitely wasn’t cheap, but it I sold tickets online, and it paid for itself a month before the event.

Most of the day I spent attempting to find an amp for the musical portion of the event.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been sound system-less hours before a show, so I know the moves.

Call everyone you know.

Ask them to call everyone they know.

Check AV rental houses nearby.

Don’t freak out.

Something will stick.

We arrive at the space. It is glorious! The shape really pulls you in. There’s a bar in the corner, nice lighting. The projector’s images are vivid, the sound is crispy. All the colors, textures, sounds were there. Nothing lost. Perfect.

Suddenly the tunnel rumbles ominously like thunder. This, we learn occurs every 10 minutes when a train passes by, which makes me a little nervous-but at this point, I’m more worried about the amp.

Put on the new King album.

Folks file in.

A train thunders by.

Asha smiles at me.

Everyone is quiet.

Kyoko, the musician we met last night arrives.

AND she is toting an AMP!

Spectacular.

Asha, Kyoko and I set up the sound.