view counter

Livia Kojo Alour: ‘Living in Britain helped me to kill off the Black Sheep’

Image: Livia Kojo Alour

Livia Kojo Alour regularly graces international stages as a renowned sword swallower, circus artist and dazzling burlesque artist. Livia is also a poet, musician, an in-demand public speaker and theatre maker. Speaking out about the challenges and repercussions facing Black women who dare to ditch stereotypes, Livia reclaims her core power in her latest frank and deeply personal show, Black Sheep as part of Certain Blacks presents Shipbuilding Festival (27 Feb, Rich Mix).

Here, Livia writes for Run Riot, sharing her candid story of being raised as a Black girl in a German white family, those early days before coming to London via Thailand in 2010, jumping to 2017 when she told her story as a TedX talk, then, fast forward to February 2022, where her story evolves into her solo theatre show, Black Sheep. This is a story of personal strength developed through transcending the white gaze, overcoming institutional racism and outperforming all expectations.

I was born in Hamburg, Germany, adopted by a white couple who sheltered me away in a ‘safe’ neighbourhood where I was the only Black person around. I never really met anyone else who was Black before I was about 15. My parents were obsessed with everything British. For example, collecting vinyl from The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. My mom loved Benny Hill and pretended to understand sarcasm. We had loads of British literature at home and I got a private English teacher way before I even went to school officially. Looking back, there was a clear path for me ending up in London. Also, because for the longest time my parents forbade me to visit. The IRA were still throwing bombs at Harrods and my mom declared that travel wasn’t safe for a 15 year old. What she conveniently withheld with this decision was that London was a very diverse place. I could have met Black people. Looking back, I question if that was her ulterior motive in not letting me travel.    

In my late teens I scored a job on the door of the hottest night club in Hamburg called Mojo Club. We had British DJ’s and bands playing every weekend. Portishead, Morcheeba, Kemistry and Storm… I remember we always said Germany was 5 years behind the U.K. in music, fashion and everything really. So, I was always glued to the newest trends that came from the Island via TV. However, I was into all sorts of music from the U.K. and the USA market. Having had a heavy love affair with Grunge in the nineties I then fell in love with Jill Scott and her poetry crossover. If something speaks to my soul I don't really care what genre it belongs to or what country it comes from. Then I started performing and joined the politically charged Performance Art scene in Hamburg. But being the ‘outside the box’ person I always was, I tried my hand as a Hip-Hop DJ at the same time.

My mother’s death a few years earlier lingered over me constantly. It threw our family into turmoil and my father wasn't able to financially support me anymore. After failing to find placements for Performance Art studies I got very depressed and decided to start travelling. My adventures took me to Thailand where I stayed for 6 years studying and teaching yoga. But the crisis I dropped into after losing my mum kept affecting me, questions of identity, belonging and race mixed in. I was longing to learn, heal and express myself. Something I realised I wouldn’t be able to do on the road. One good morning I woke up and decided to go home. I literally got a flight to Germany that very day and once settled I entered therapy, one of the best decisions of my life so far. During this healing process I found the strength to give performing one last try.

I arrived in London in 2010 and envisioned moving to Brixton and spending the rest of my life amongst Black people living the life I never had growing up. I landed in Tottenham instead. It wasn’t so cool. In fact it was still kinda dangerous at night but there was this little warehouse area with loads of Europeans that attracted me. German, Spanish, Italian, French. No diversity in terms of skin colour which is crazy considering that Tottenham is also a Black area but I found a studio space I could afford and that was that. I still live there almost 13 years later.

Image: Livia Kojo Alour, performing Black Sheep. Photograph by Yannick Lalardy.

Building a career as a performer without any formal training was a challenge. I started out in London’s underground scene: fetish clubs and night clubs. I performed anywhere really and it grew from there. I met people, watched where they were working then applied to the gigs. My first costume was completely made of materials from the pound shop. I had no money so just improvised. It was a long way from experimental paint performances to having my work exhibited at a museum.

Britain slowly educated me on race. Something that I’d never discussed with anyone growing up. I started understanding stereotypes, oppression tactics and finally realised that I had been affected by institutional racism too. This ripped off more personal layers. I went on a journey of pinpointing personal behaviour that enables others to treat me unfairly. Unlearning, healing and learning what it really means to be a Black Queer woman in today’s society. And finally I went on a long quest for true love that is still ongoing. Along the way, therapy particulrilly, and my artistic practice helped. I now talk about experiences and issues around identity without re-traumatising myself. This helps to produce decolonising performance work. With every step of overcoming I became more inspired to tell my story and to share it with the world which finally happened with TEDx.

Image: Livia Kojo Alour

After writing the talk I realised that I had used everything in my performance so far but my voice. I started writing the first script of autobiographical theatre called Black Sheep. Seeing myself finally rising as a literal Black Sheep into the metaphorical and into a future beyond such definition. Speaking onstage brought the freedom i searched. It concluded the transformation from reactor into actor within my personal and professional life. I am now able to connect to people on a different level and concluded to build a diverse circle of friends exactly as I always dreamed of. It opened the door to my true self.

Watch the Black Sheep
walk over a hot bed of nails
swallow a flaming sword
that disrupts painful violence
the Black Sheep won’t disappear
through erasure
it rises to live forever
it builds community
promotes coalition
it speaks loud of black liberation
after eating it’s own shell
it displays a raw brown body
the evidence of evolution
that proves the existence of my story

Livia Kojo Alour

Livia Kojo Alour
Black Sheep

Sunday February 27, 7.30pm
As part of
Shipbuilding Festival
Rich Mix
35 - 47 Bethnal Green Road,
London E1 6LA

view counter