Since March 2020 the world has not been the same. The global reaction to COVID-19, regardless of its origin or your stance on the propaganda wars, has caused a great many things to change and change dramatically. The arts have been hit emphatically hard, with artists of all disciplines forced to drastically rethink their place within an already precarious field. On top of all the other mental and physical health minefields that have been laid, even those artists blessed with steady income, who have worked hard enough to be professionals were often left battling for hardship and recovery funds, finding alternative means to pay bills and feed themselves and/or their family. In the case of live performers, many had to face the very real situation that their entire sector was, and might remain, locked-off. Artist’s have mourned not only the loss of friends and family, but also their source of income, a career hard earned and, for many, their reason for being, reason to live and purpose.
As individuals, grassroots organisations and major institutions alike struggled, adapted or shut down for good, there was a haven created amidst the chaos. This was an oasis forged in the heart of North London where creatives of all kinds came to express themselves and serve their communities in the way we have for generations. This place is Village101…and this is its story.
In October 2020 I was asked to come to a live streaming event called ‘The News with Jonzi D’. It brought together musicians, dancers, technicians and engineers to respond to the government’s latest self-serving, profit-making, manipulative reaction to the deaths they have caused in mishandling (deliberately or not) the COVID-19 situation. I walked into the repurposed warehouse and was instantly in awe; the glorious sunshine streaming in from the skylights, the sheer space (having spent so much time in my yard), the hard, industrial beauty of the interior. More than anything, I was in awe of the infinite possibilities that such a space held, waiting to be unlocked by the right hands. I knew that the hands holding the key to those possibilities were the right ones; the ones that had made the phone call for me to be there.
One of those hands was a young brother called Muti Musafiri. He is an accomplished dancer, filmmaker and creative director who alongside musician and cultural facilitator Marv Radio founded Village101 in a repurposed Hackney primary school in 2019. The brothers had acquired residence in the space through one of the controversial guardianship schemes currently at large in communities under the siege of gentrification. These schemes were designed to undermine the squatting movement, giving people marginally cheaper rent to live in and ‘guard’ buildings on land bought for ‘new developments’, aka new flats nobody living in the area can afford, forcing prices up and people out.
Instead of just ‘guarding’ the primary school, Muti, Marv and their many collaborators transformed it into a community initiative for local people and artists to express themselves and use as space for their projects, renaming it NuSchool. We all know how valuable and expensive space is in London, so this was immensely appreciated by the community created in that space. The extent of the cultural production was incredible, with a constant flow of live streamed events, including internationally-reaching open mics and African Liberation-themed performances, music recordings, video and photo shoots and much more coming out of the space. At first the guardianship company, Global Guardians, embraced the move and all its creativity, using NuSchool for publicity campaigns, touting Muti and Marv as poster-kids for ‘productive regeneration’…until it was time to kick them out, just as COVID-19 kicked in hard.
With the support of Hackney Council and the direct involvement of the mayor Philip Glanville, the brothers fought hard to hold on to NuSchool at least until the pandemic and lockdown regulations were less intense. The brothers won, and were reluctantly relocated by Global Guardians to a huge warehouse on the border of Tottenham and Edmonton in August 2020. Their farewell event to NuSchool was a community open day, inviting everyone in the local area. Large groups of children ran around over the moon, everything was kept within COVID regulations and the huge climactic drum circle, interactive dance performance and open mic session took energies through the roof. The wonderful outdoors area and permaculture garden at the school was sorely missed, but it soon became clear that the new space in Tottenham was a level up and new world of creative possibilities. Muti and Marv graduated from the NuSchool, ready to build their village.
With Marv deciding to take up a huge opportunity and move to Ibiza, Muti took full control of the project in Autumn 2020. Invigorated by responding to the pandemic and the rejuvenated movement for Black Liberation in 2020, Muti decided not to hoard the blessing that they had fought so hard for. Instead, he opened up Village101 to his community and beyond. Village101 provided invaluable space for broad range of people, from children who needed a new place to hold their painting classes because everywhere else had closed their doors, to giving international, award winning superstars including Tinie, Chip, Ivorian Doll, AJ Tracey and Bugzy Malone locations for their newest music videos and interviews. This simple, immense decision enabled and empowered people on every point along this spectrum the opportunity to flourish in the face of developmental, economic and mental/physical health related disaster.
Champion B‑boy Kofi Mongo, one of the people I worked with on my first time there said, “you could make a movie in here” and months later I did. My upcoming visual album ‘Drummer Warrior Storyteller’ was filmed at Village101. Having access to the space allowed me to secure income, provide work for scores of people and complete a project that otherwise would have been impossible to make. We had originally planned to film on my block; a majority Black cast and crew filming on my estate would have undoubtedly generated phone calls to the police at a time when snitching on your neighbours was actively encouraged more than ever before.
Similar tales can be told by many, many other people, as so much was created in this space; films, music videos, live broadcasts, dance workshops, art projects, community health initiatives, wellness sessions, anti-gun and knife campaigns, Ancestral drumming circles.
Village101 became a safe space for people of all ages to express their ideas, enrich their community, gain space to breathe and help others at a time when fear, manipulation and violence were skyrocketing. While established powers failed, betrayed and fought against communities and their needs, Village101 gave so much to so many, with no funding or backing, just the willingness to say “yes you can use this space that isn’t being used, come in, you’re welcome here”, at a time when so much is being done to keep communities and people divided.
You would think that anyone who saw such powerful work happening, especially people who had power to help it continue, would be thrilled. This is especially true considering the space is sandwiched between two boroughs made up of large African, Caribbean, Asian, migrant and working-class communities hit hardest by the COVID-19 situation. These boroughs and communities are endlessly demonised in the press with biased, reductive crime statistics, that are being ripped apart by gentrification and could really do with some good publicity demonstrating local people supporting each other intergenerationally, in multiple, deeply significant ways. Village101 was empowering and facilitating Black, Brown and working class excellence to unearth itself and in response, Global Guardians did all they could to shut it down.
Global Guardians’ tactics have included threatening Muti with jail time, taking out court orders, sending them to his mother’s home address and building a case against him that will cost him thousands of pounds to defend himself as it is outside of legal aid parameters. As the situation came to a head, Global Guardians even sent private security firms down, one of which set an attack dog on Marv when he returned to collect some of his possessions and tried to allow a dance troupe into the space to hold their weekly rehearsal. The dog was videoed biting Marv, inflicting a wound on his arm that left him hospitalised, all while the NHS was overwhelmed. Global Guardian have made no attempt to investigate this attack, and it’s unclear what the legal consequences are of such an unprovoked attack, but it clearly demonstrates the lengths the company will go to. It’s also worth saying here that the space was barely brought up to living standards; for example, the space was not heated, with only electric heaters ever provided for residents throughout a harsh winter, at a time when all the rhetoric told us that getting sick could prove fatal.
In other words, Global Guardian, a major company complicit in the gentrification of Haringey and Enfield, forcibly drove out the Black, Brown, immigrant and working-class people it took rent money from to live in an industrial space that isn’t safe or fit to live in, then violently attacked and threatened them to stop using the space they paid to live in…because they used it to help their community. It is really disgusting, abhorrent behaviour, especially when surely all they needed to say was “this is great, you’re benefitting loads of people, how can we help?”.
This part of the story becomes even more disturbing when the actual owner of the land and building is Haringey council, arguably the biggest benefactor of the initiatives run by Village101. So much of the work Muti and the movement did improved community relations, mental health and wellbeing in the borough. It would be in the interest of everyone in the community, at Village101, the borough and Global Guardians – everyone except maybe those set to profit financially from the gentrification – to simply give the space to Muti and Village101, or work with them to find a similar space for them to do their work. It feels inconceivable that with everything that has been said about the lessons learned from the COVID-19 situation and post BLM in 2020 about togetherness, wellness, community and anti-Black racism, that anything else could be done. But instead, Global Guardians (and Haringey borough through their silence) is choosing to run with court injunctions, setting dogs on people and violent clampdowns on community work.
Fortunately, this isn’t the end of the story. As is typical of Black Liberation movements, immigrant communities and the creative practitioners they create, Village101 has survived the loss of this space. Village101 is a community and a set of ideals that transcend any specific location. Muti and the movement are working on locating new spaces to build within whilst fighting the battles against Global Guardians. Wider community support is really needed to demonstrate the value of the work they’re doing. As supporters, I Am Hip Hop Magazine are calling on Haringey council, especially it’s mayor Adam Jogee, to engage with Village101 to support what they are doing, in the same way Village101 have supported the community of the borough through this toughest of times. To see more of what Village 101 has done and will do in future, head to their new website — www.village101.org
To end, Muti and the community of Village101 have provided the following statement to demonstrate what Village101 stands for:
Village101 is a testament to how it is possible to create social impact and economic abundance by bringing people together to share their gifts.
In this time of unparalleled disconnection, what we need more than ever are spaces in which we can come together to experience the healing power of creativity and community.
Village101 is not a utopian idea, it is a real-world solution to some of the pressing problems this country is facing, such as:
Violence among marginalised youth
Rising levels of anxiety and depression in young people
These are all symptoms of the multifaceted crisis of disconnection that is playing out on three levels:
1.Within the individual = mental health crisis
2.In society = rising social inequity
3.Globally = the climate and ecological crisis.
We work between levels one and two…bringing people together in local communities for mutual enrichment and economic empowerment that uplifts the individual and the collective.
There are disused buildings in all major cities that could be turned into vibrant centres for learning and expression; London is home to many. We see Village101 as a blueprint that can be replicated across the city and across the country.
We offer a solution to these needs:
lack of spaces in which young, disadvantaged / marginalised people feel safe to fully express themselves
lack of spaces that bring people together interculturally and intergenerationally
lack of platforms and resources for underprivileged young people to experiment artistically and gain experience needed to get into the creative industries
Village101 embodies these principles:
Creativity is a life-giving energy that can generate abundance
A sense of shared intention or mission galvanises people
When people come together and direct their creativity towards a shared goal, we generate cultural capital and social impact.
Essentially, Village101 is harnessing the already existing creativity within individuals by creating spaces in which it can be witnessed and nourished. By offering safe spaces for connection and expression we create a fertile ground of mutual enrichment in which people’s skills and talents can take root and flourish.
For more information, hit the website www.village101.org and follow @Viallage101studios on Instagram. To help, share these details far and wide, write to the mayor of Haringey with your support for us, raise complaints against Global Guardians, and get in contact via the website with messages of support. Please reach out to us if you have access to funding pots or buildings/spaces you know could do with an infusion of Village101 energy.
Much Love, Thanks and Blessings
Written in collaboration with Zack Lewis-Griffiths