On my radar: Bolu Babalola’s cultural highlights

·4 min read

Born in London to a British-Nigerian family in 1991, Bolu Babalola studied law at Reading and did a masters degree in American politics and history at UCL before getting her start as a comedy writer at the BBC. Her debut short story collection, Love in Colour, a retelling of historical and mythological love stories, was published in 2020 and made the Waterstones book of the year shortlist. Her novel Honey & Spice, a romcom set in the African-Caribbean society of a UK university, is published in hardback by Headline on 5 July.

1. TV

Abbott Elementary (Disney+)

I love sitcoms and I recently discovered this show created by Quinta Brunson, an amazing American comedian. It’s a mockumentary set in an inner-city school in Philadelphia, reminiscent of shows such as The Office but with its own rhythm. Brunson’s plucky character, Janine, really wants to make school a wonderland for the kids, while trying to find her confidence as a teacher. Crucially, it’s very funny and refreshing that it’s led by a black woman. I can already tell I’m going to watch it over and over again.

2. Song

Sungba by Asake (feat Burna Boy)

This is the song of the summer for Nigerian kids, African kids, the black diaspora in general. It has Yoruba words in it, my ancestral language, which is amazing to hear on mainstream radio in the UK. Whenever you’re at a party and Sungba comes on, everyone’s rushing to the dancefloor and singing the chorus out loud. It’s such a moment of community and joy and a feeling of oneness and it’s going to remind me of this summer for ever.

3. Novel

You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

Akwaeke Emezi is an exquisite writer generally but this is the first time they’ve written romance. It’s a tale of a young woman who goes through a loss and is on a journey of discovering herself. There are many twists and turns and questioning of taboos, with black female desire woven beautifully into the experience. It’s really sexy and funny, but also emotionally tight and vivid, taking you from New York to an exotic Caribbean island. I’m always looking for things that challenge me and make me think in a different way and this does both.

4. Film

Everything Everywhere All at Once (Dir Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)

Michelle Yeoh, left, and Jing Li in Everything Everywhere All At Once.
Michelle Yeoh, left, and Jing Li in Everything Everywhere All At Once. Photograph: Allyson Riggs/AP

The first time I went back to the cinema since the pandemic – by myself, with lots of popcorn – I saw this. It’s glorious, funny, absurd and Michelle Yeoh’s performance is so beautiful. It’s a tale about mothers and daughters and family, about community and our connections to each other and how to traverse those, which just happens to involve infinite multiverses. I cried so many times. I love movies that balance humour and emotional catharsis and I believed every second of it.

5. Theatre

House of Ife (Bush theatre, London)

Lynette Linton is such a wonderful director – we’re the same age and people think I’m accomplished, but she’s incredible. This was an exploration of a British-Ethiopian family that’s going through difficult times. Secrets are revealed, they have to do a lot of introspection and the loss forces them to be open to each other in a way that they weren’t before. It was brilliantly acted – Michael Workeye was really good in it – and it was beautiful and healing to see this very different perspective on black British life.

6. Art

Kehinde Wiley (National Gallery, London)

This exhibition at the National Gallery was so brilliant. Through paintings, photos and video, it showed black people in settings that we’re not usually depicted in, such as a snowy wasteland, and we’re conquering it. Wiley really shows the beauty in our skin and in our features. There’s a regality to his paintings and the texture is just so gorgeous and vivid – it’s as if you’re there. I don’t know a huge amount about art, so if he can elicit strong emotions from someone like me, I assume that he’s very talented.

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