Finding survival through poetry with Amaal Said

Khadisha Thomas the Somali poet and photographer about journals being the one thing she can’t live without, lack of diversity in literature, covid impact on arts and the BBC.

After the hustle and bustle of a moving weekend, Amaal Said is a friendly face on Zoom. She sips her Starbucks, excited about how she is preparing to live with her soon to be husband. However, when she isn’t getting ready for the big changes in her life, her poetry and photography takes centre stage.

Amaal is a Danish-born Somali poet and photographer based in London. Her photography has been featured in Vogue, The Guardian and The New Yorker. She is the winner of the Wasafiri Magazine New writing prize for poetry. Her photographs have been exhibited in Ghana for the fourth volume of the African Lens and exhibited in LA. Amaal grew up in a town called Odense in Denmark and then lived in Copenhagen for a few years. She moved to London at the age of eight.

For her, getting accustomed to her new surroundings was difficult at first because she didn’t know any English.

“I’m really grateful that I came over when I was young because I think when your younger language is a lot easier for you as opposed to being older… I was put in one of those classes that you’re put in when you don’t know English,” she says.

Writing was Amaal’s passion, growing up she would buy multiple journals for different purposes. In her office surrounded by shelves and boxes of books, she laughs as she lists her god, family and her books as something she can’t live without.

“I have all my books everywhere, they keep me sane.”

After stumbling across Tumblr she saw people posting their writing and realized she could do the same.

“I was always writing stories and I would keep diaries. I would keep one for my general thoughts, I would plan out blogs so one journal was for that and I had another journal that was for short stories.”

Watching people tag their writing gave Amaal the courage to share her writing. She was shocked to see so many people like her poetry. This gave her the confidence to apply for the Barbican Young Poets programme.

“I’m from a little corner in London, I’m on the border so I never used to travel to Central, I never went to art galleries, I didn’t have any link to art apart from the internet,” Amaal says.

She submitted her portfolio of poems to the scheme and to her surprise she was selected. This was when her digital bubble perished, and the once mystical world of art opened up to her. Amaal finally got to travel, go to events and meet like-minded individuals, however, she still felt out of place.

“It was mostly a shock because I wore a hijab and when I started there weren’t many poets of colour in that group. You just kinda see each other across the room and stick together. I felt like I didn’t belong, people like me don’t come here. The friends I grew up with had no idea what I was doing on the weekends,” she says.

For Amaal her poetry is inspired by family and mental health.

“I would use my phone and ask my mum questions, ‘tell me this story’ and I would go back and write about it. I was a really nosy child so I would listen to my mum’s phone convos.”

As a teenager growing up poetry became her way to express her feelings and deal with her issues. “It was a mixture of dealing with mental health as a young anxious girl and also things happening with family and trying to write through that muddled history and trauma.”

She thinks the poetry and works of women of colour are not widely consumed and she has always made a conscious effort to seek out and gain influence from women of colour. One of her favourite poets is Warsan Shire, who is also Somali British.

“She would write really beautiful poems about Somali women and Somali people and I had never seen that before.

“Things that were going on in my own home which I had never seen before. It was so sick!”

Amaal believes it’s important to read poetry from women of colour and that in the past poets of colour weren’t widely available because they were thought to not be marketable.

“I remember going to the library and literally searching out peoples names who look ethnic, because for me it was a political thing because if you’re not providing it I need to go out and support and read their work.”

She is part of Octavia, a poetry collective for women of colour. It was set up by her friend in response to the lack of representation of women of colour in literature and the academy.

With a freind, she attended a poetry collective where they were the minority and due to the ignorant comments and lack of understanding from other poets, they felt a space needed to be created where women of colour can feel celebrated.

“Of course it’s incredible you get to do poetry in these collectives but at the same time the type of questions, or feedback or conversations you get, are not conversations you’d be having if it was another woman of colour reading your work, there would be a general understanding because we’re dealing with similar struggles,” she says.

Since the coronavirus, working in the arts has been incredibly difficult and Amaal can attest to how this has affected her as a poet and a photographer. Due to travel restrictions she has lost out on work abroad. Lockdown has also hindered her from doing photoshoots as her job isn’t essential.

Expression through photography: Portrait by Amaal Said

“It’s really difficult, I think you just need to have faith in yourself and belief in yourself, but also to figure out how to have a presence online.”

Despite this, she feels lucky that other opportunities have been presented to her . Unlike other creatives that rely on one sole talent to stream income she can switch back and forth between being a poet and a photographer.

“Funding is opening back up for artists to be able to do their own projects and right now I’m getting ready to start a Adobe artist development fund project, so I feel incredibly lucky to still be able to do what I do even though it hit me really hard in the beginning,” Amaal says.

She was part of the BBC 1Extra Words First, a partnership with Roundhouse that seeks to find the hottest and freshest spoken word talent from across the country. Amaal gave performances alongside amazing British poets such as George the Poet and Holly Poetry.

“We had a showcase and that was really beautiful because a lot of us got to write together and perform together. There was a film on BBC iplayer for a little while,” she Amaal.

Amaal’s most memorable moment from this experience was reading an important poem she wrote about her mother’s miscarriages.

“I remember reading that to her and her being like ‘oh I’m really grateful you wrote that because I don’t want to forget because it meant something and it’s good to remember even if it hurt.”

From a shy Somali girl as she describes herself, tapping away at a keyboard or scribbling down on a page, to a poet who’s performed on stages across the country. Amaal’s words have definitely made a lasting impact. What was once a coping mechanism, has now changed her life beyond imagination.

“Poetry for me means survival, I wrote poetry when I couldn’t write anything else… I was around a lot of people who didn’t understand me so I took it to the internet, blogs and then I took it to perform, and it became a way for people to connect to me.”

For her, the idea of making a career out of what she loved to do the most seem unimaginable so she’s delighted that she’s been able to.
She aims to continue living her dreams as an artist in all regards.

“When the pandemic started I was like ‘oh my god, what am I gonna do? Am I gonna have to put my politics degree to use and sit in an office?’, but no I really wanna be out there and chatting to people getting their stories,” Amaal says.

With hopes that things will go back to some sense of normality, we don’t doubt that she will be out there with her camera and powerful voice, championing the stories of women of colour.


ItzKeisha changes YouTube with a single video

Whilst chasing her dreams of being a singer and YouTube influencer, Keisha Shadè, was able to kick-start a positive transformation within the YouTube community. Savannah Duncan hears her story.

Keisha’s words began to spill from her mouth as she spoke. You could tell she had a lot to say but wasn’t able to completely accommodate the speed at which she remembered. Her words stumbled over one another, each fighting to be heard.

“Do you know what’s crazy?” she says, “I actually didn’t realise it at the time, at the time I was so nervous to put that video out.”

YouTube commentator and singer Keisha Shadè, 20, created a video titled ‘Where is the diversity on YouTube’ in 2019, tackling the controversial topic of racial segregation between YouTube influencers whilst they were on a brand trip.

It sparked a conversation within the platform on the racial concerns that were occurring. Eventually, enough people began to speak up which encouraged the brand to completely abandon ship and close its business.
This brand was a popular shopping app that allowed its users to shop for clothes and accessories from multiple stores. They provided all-expense-paid trips to various countries for Influencers of their choosing, with the condition that they promote and support their app with vlogs, videos, and pictures.

Racial awareness: Where is the DIVERSITY on YouTube?

Within August 2019, they invited a group of female influencers to Fiji. However, their choice in influencers were thin, white, females with only four being women of colour.

“So those four girls were in a room by themselves,” said Keisha in her video, “it didn’t look like a room, it looked like it was connected to the living room.”

At first, she had doubts about speaking on the situation, because no one had made a statement including the girls on that trip.

“I was like do I post this or not because I feel like I was being a bit too vulnerable.

“And I feel like maybe it’s not my place to speak on these things, because other people of colour on the trip didn’t say anything.

“My brother was saying Keisha just post it, he didn’t watch it, he just said Kiesha just post it,” she says slightly chuckling. You can tell she was grateful for her brothers’ encouragement.

After uploading the video Keisha quickly noticed the unusual amount of attraction it gained within just an hour of being on YouTube.

“I was like ‘oh wow, people probably felt this but didn’t say anything or people were looking for a video where someone will talk about this’.”

She began to realise the positive impact her video made on the platform as more people began creating videos supporting the same topic.
Influencers on the trip started reaching out to Keisha thanking her for raising awareness.

“A creator called Vereena, who was also on the trip,” she says, “she watched the video and then she messaged me personally.

“She was like Keisha, I wanted to speak on it, but I don’t really make content surrounding race and being like an outcast and stuff like that.

“I said just do it and honestly she did it, and I feel like everybody who made a video at that time made a difference.”

It’s funny how Keisha didn’t create her channel to improve the YouTube community but was still able to succeed in kick-starting that positive difference.

She first started YouTube at age 16 in 2016, whilst she went to an all-girls secondary school.

“I can talk on a topic for days if you gave me that opportunity. I thought you know what, let me just stick the camera on and just rant.”

At first, Kiesha only made content for fun and as something she could enjoy in her spare time, whenever she had the chance.

“People started latching onto it and they were like can you talk about this next, it didn’t feel like a chore,” she says.

She never saw herself to be within the position she is in now, seeing as she started her channel creating fashion videos.

“I didn’t know I was gonna be here. I didn’t know what I thought I was gonna do but I didn’t think I was gonna be here.”

Commentary isn’t the only type of content Keisha creates as she is also a singer. She knew that her music wouldn’t take off as easily if it were uploaded to YouTube directly on a second channel, as it might not be found by her viewers due to the YouTube algorithm.

“I was like you know what let me be smart about this, lets do commentary, but let’s also find a way to try and blend the both of them together. It hasn’t been done before. I remember people telling me Keisha are you sure you want to do music and commentary, they don’t blend.

“I remember in my head just saying no, before I release my first one I’m just gonna put it on my main channel… it’s just not me.”

Music has always been one of Keisha’s passions and she’s grateful to be able to achieve it alongside her commentary and music channel theme mashup.

“In primary school, we had these mini journals in year six and we get to write down what our passions are and what we wanted to be in the future and I still have mine now it still says singer.”

Her latest song ‘Freak’ surprisingly turned out to be her least favourite song she created whilst making music.

“Freak is not my favourite song and I can wholeheartedly say that,” she says.

“I wrote it just to say I tapped into a different genre, so that’s definitely not it for me. I think it was only good for the fact that it gave me Melanie Martinez or Billie Eilish vibes, like creepy vibes, so I don’t regret that.”

However, her favourite song out of her collection is ‘Get Over It’ because she likes the funky radio style that the song has.

“My inspirations from music as of recently have been Dua Lipa and a little bit of Doja Cat meshed together and I feel like both their sounds are sick honestly,” Keisha says.

Despite being a small artist and content creator Kiesha still has huge aspirations and goals for her future.

“The goal is radio, honestly and truly ‘Get Over It’ is the definition of radio.”

Keisha’s musical side: ‘Get Over It’

Keisha Shadè started her YouTube channel to create fun homemade videos and to be able to chase her dreams. However, she achieved more than just her dreams and in turn, was able to kick start bringing the YouTube community together by providing a voice for those who didn’t feel they were able to speak up.


Introducing CLAVIS7EVEN

The up and coming artist talks to Khadisha Thomas about his religious influence, migrating from Congo, musicians he looks up to and his tracks.

CLAVIS7EVEN is a 21-year-old Wolverhampton based singer and rapper. He attends Birmingham City University, where he studies a degree in computing. When he’s not staring at a computer CLAVIS7EVEN is in the studio working on music. In 2019 he decided to make the conscious effort to produce and release music onto platforms such as apple music, YouTube and Spotify. Two years on, he has slowly accumulated listeners in 36 countries and has been played on BBC West Midlands Radio Introducing. As CLAVIS7EVEN strives to grow bigger as a new artist he recognizes his Christian faith as the foundation of his musical being.

His name for starters has a religious meaning.

“Clavis means key in Latin… so I was like yep I’m taking that and seven is my favourite number, and it just has a lot of symbolic meaning. I have a lot of affiliations with my religious aspect of life and in the bible seven is the number of completion and perfection,” CLAVIS7EVEN says.

Before settling on his name, like a lot of budding artists he did go through the online name generator phase.

“I went through a plethora of names and some of them were absolutely atrocious. We’re not doing that, that’s what we’re not doing,” he says with a cheeky laugh.

He has always felt a connection to God. Going to church was something he grew up with as he comes from a close-knit family that are heavily involved in the church choir. All members of his family sing play instruments and produce.

In the church choir, CLAVIS7EVEN is the bassist and his younger brother plays the piano.

“We pretty much dedicated and developed all of those gifts in church. Essentially my family and church first got me into music, that’s where it all stemmed from,” he says.

His music is an amalgamation of genres, namely gospel, hip hop and RnB, but the word CLAVIS7EVEN would use to describe the music he desires to make is ‘truth’, and this is supported by his belief in God.

“All of the music I make I like to make sure there’s a meaning behind it. I need to make sure someone will listen to it and gain a truth that can hopefully set them free. I like to make introspective music, so the one word I’m trying to say is ‘truth’. And I get a lot of that from my faith and my faith does a lot in terms of being able to line me up and the moral of where I do my music.”

His strongest childhood memory is from when he moved to England at the age of 3 to reunite with his family who were building a new life in the UK. He came to the UK with his uncle, as his parents and older siblings were already settled in the UK. CLAVIS7EVEN was the last of his family to come to the UK, so whilst he was separated from his immediate family he lived with relatives and spent a year in Zambia.

“I remember the day that in Congo my dad was leaving because of a few complications that he had to sort out, so he left me with my aunties. I hadn’t seen my family in a while. I remember landing in Heathrow, and I remembered exactly who my mum was and I ran to her and gave her a big hug.”

CLAVIS7EVEN smiles as he reminisces about how impatient he was on the long journey from the airport to his home in Wolverhampton, and the first time he ever ate skittles.

“Listen, I’m fresh from Africa, fresh off the boat, I’ve never seen these snacks in my life.”

He recalls bothering his mother the entire ride home and the moment when he knocked on his new front door and everyone welcomed him.

“I was reunited with my whole family and I was just looking for my big brother and although obviously in Africa your with your family, this was the family I knew of.”

There are many artists the young musician looks up. One of his ultimate inspirations and someone he would love to collaborate with if he ever got the chance is Kanye West. His eyes light up and a massive grin spreads across his face just at the possibility of it.

“At that point I’d quit music if I can’t even go Tesco anymore,” he says.

His other influences include Wretch32 and Stormzy.

The reason he’s attracted to these artists is that he believes they push boundaries and are not afraid to do break the mould and be individual.

“Being a writer is a different skill entirely and the concept of being able to weave words together to convey a certain narrative and emotion is such a skill. And I’m in awe of these people’s writing abilities. Wretch 32 is an incredible writer,” he says.

In April 2020 CLAVIS7EVEN released his debut EP ‘A Master’s Piece’ which includes songs such as ‘Wisesman Smartman’, a track that starts off slow but catches you off guard rapping kicks in and becomes more powerful. Is showcases his incredible lyricism, ability to rhyme and use of symbolism.

CLAVIS7EVEN says: “Wiseman Smartman shows the different aspects of me. I’m rapping for five minutes so I’m just going, going, going.”

A Master’s Piece: Wiseman Smartman

His second EP dropped later that year and features songs such as ‘Safe To Say (Love Sick)’, which was written and recorded at a time when he was ill. The track is a stripped down almost acoustic song with a soulful melody.

“I haven’t got the strongest immune system- shout out to corona.

“I literally heard the guitar, and I was like ‘wow, I like that and I wrote my raps’. That’s a really special one because I was able to make it even in these conditions, I’m not doing it again tho. Really hurt my throat.”

His song ‘Le, Le, Le’ features a smooth afro beat. It is the type of song you can dance to and the riffs in it are so tantalizing.

“Le, le, le shows my more commercial side, making tunes for parties, clubs. You’re not just gonna be taking me in introspectively, sometimes you’re gonna have a vibe and I can make that.”

This year CLAVIS7EVEN has put out the EP ‘Care Package’ which landed him a spot on BBC Radio West Midlands Introducing.

“I’ve really challenged myself and experimented. I’ve taken time with regards to the artwork, the songs themselves and you need to listen to it in chronological order to get the point. I’d say with this project it’s a story,” he says.

However, the journey is just beginning for CLAVIS7EVEN. He is determined to continue putting out projects and has got the charisma, talent and positive mindset to make it all happen.

He hopes this year he can do gigs and reach more people, making music that sends out a vital message or plain and simply energizes you.

“I don’t have control of which person sees me, or which person notices me, but what I have control of is making good music,” CLAVIS7EVEN says.

We will be eagerly listening.