A group of five women or girls, wearing black, singing in a purple-lit space. Most of them are wearing accessories that recall traditional African necklaces or headbands and sashes in colourful print.
Members of Nawi Collective singing in the Serpentine Pavilion, 2022. Photo: Harry Richards.

Speaking to Support Structures: Nawi Collective

Collective work gives us a space to co-exist, play, experiment, and be in ways that may not be supported in other parts of our lives.

Nawi Collective

The members of Nawi Collective consider how they foster care and connection through listening, voicing and responding to one another’s needs.

Support Structures for Support Structures is a fellowship which nurtures London-based artists and collectives working with spatial, social and community practices. Initiated with Sumayya Vally – architect of the Serpentine Pavilion 2021 – the programme offers financial support and mentorship, and forms a supportive network of peers.

For this series, we asked each of the fellows in the 2021 Support Structures cohort to reflect on their work in the context of community. Nawi Collective is a London-based vocal collective for Black women, femmes and non-binary people who sing for justice and to reclaim their joy. Nawi is rooted in different Afro-centred practices, improvisation and other modes of collective vocal connection and healing.

UK Black Pride, 8 July 2018. Photo: Chris Jepson Photography

Can you tell us about your practice?

We utilise song to be in connection with our ancestors and with each other. The spaces we create when we sing together offer a powerful healing against a world that does not value or give space to Black people and our abundant possibilities, experiences, and collective imaginations. Since we formed, this Collective has become a community of artists, activists and creatives – people who collaborate together to heal, grow, and learn. We sing at protests, collaborate with aligned groups, and lend support to local and global struggles. Our practice is centred on the needs of our members, as well as those we seek to serve. We use our time together to care for ourselves and each other.

What is support in practice?

Many elements aid in the long-term sustainability of a supportive practice when working and growing together as collectives and groups. As nuanced and fluid needs arise, it is foundational to have politics and practices of care that meet the needs of the collective’s members, and those we serve and connect with. One aspect of this is accessibility and making space to financially, emotionally and practically be present with access needs. Another is ensuring that people can turn up in ways that are real for them, and the full lives they lead. Support helps us when it is rooted in care, deep listening and efforts to meet people where they are now, as well as where they are working towards.

In a capitalist society, money and consistent access to accessible spaces would deeply support our practice and ability to create the works we seek to create. It would mean we would not have to divest most of our energy from our collective care and creative work into the struggle of handling structural and logistical concerns which become more pressing when many of us have one or more jobs, children, care responsibilities, and our own wellbeing to tend.

Why is collective work important?

We define a collective as individuals assembling to work together towards fulfilling common projects. We do not rely on hierarchies, and we act as one voice. Nawi Collective started with the aims of uniting and honouring ancestral traditions of vocal assemblage, and embracing the healing that comes from singing, gathering and supporting ourselves and one another. Recently, we have been figuring out what it means to meet and support each other within systems that harm our communities by denying the seriousness of the pandemic, climate change, racism, and more.

Collective work can be a means of addressing the isolation, over-work, and disconnection experienced under white supremacy and capitalism. During the continued pandemic, rising fascism and everyday colonial realities, collective work is especially important as it gives us a space to co-exist, play, experiment and be in ways that may not be supported in many other parts of our lives. By collectively working together and tending to the group, we create fertile space to imagine and connect with creative possibilities that emerge when we dream, sing and commune.

Collective work gives us a space to co-exist, play, experiment, and be in ways that may not be supported in other parts of our lives.

Nawi Collective


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