At Retro bar on a Tuesday night in February, the room is dimmed but warmly lit with various twinkling lights and the glow of a screen playing looping animations. Various students and creative enthusiasts slowly begin to fill up the tables and benches set out before the small stage. The band is playing jazzy rhythms and settling the guests into a night of spoken word poetry interspersed with jams from the band, hosted by Purple Collective.
Conversations draw to a close as the band quieten, and the lights dim down to a spotlight. There is silence as each poet takes the stage. The open theme of ‘Share’ means that the poets can take on a variety of themes. The first section is all about heartbreak; three poets with varying delivery styles relay stories of love and its agony – classic stories of complex half-relationship fumblings.
Through the vessel of spoken word, stories are carved out by rhythmic delivery as jokes are spliced with poignant revelations and ponderings.
The room hinges on the poets’ every word as each person is joined for a moment together; engaged fully in their work. After the first section, the band re-takes the stage and provides a respite from the sheer artful expression that has just captured the room. The second and third acts follow similar suit, with various themes explored and delicately performed.
Themes are as varied as life itself. Stories of delightfully messy youth. Issues surrounding the complexities of racial and cultural identity are portrayed, dissected and thought through. One poet performs a playful composition where various sweet foodstuffs act as euphemisms for sexual interactions.
By the end of the night, the air was filled with a buzzing excitement. Conversations from the crowd being inspired to write and perform themselves follow the audience out the door.
The Purple Collective is an art collective aimed at cultivating a creative community for people to share and engage in any form of art. So far, their first two events have been based around music and spoken word but have also incorporated various other forms of art into their evenings. Their first event was held in November 2022, and it was named ‘Purple Jam’.
After their most recent event in February, I sat down with the creators David Kayode and Jonah Sharma. We discussed how the collective came into being, where it is going, and why students should care about poetry.
They explained to me the synthesis of the collective. Through both of their creative natures, they ended up in countless conversations about wanting to create a community for art and making it more accessible for themselves and others. The idea to start the collective originated in their kitchen at 6 am after a long night out at The White Hotel.
The main objective was to “mix creative mediums” with the aim of building a community around a variety of collaborators. David and Jonah told me that whilst the collective is rooted in jazz music and poetry, they want the collective to be “all-encompassing”. Jonah explained that “We wanted to be a collective in the sense that we bring in community, to allow for people who have ideas but would not know how to go about making them happen. We wanted to create an infrastructure to make that happen.”
It wouldn’t come up again until November and another late night in the kitchen. This time they decided they would actually put on a live music event with some spoken word poetry. Within two weeks they organised it.
Jonah said they “put every waking moment into putting on this event.” The event was called Purple Jam and took place at Retro bar in mid-December. The house band took centre stage to jam and introduce Purple Collective to the world, alongside the jazz band, poetry accompanied by music was also performed.
David told me that they chose to start with putting on a jazz night because after playing and attending events in London he realised that “there was a gap in the market.”
David and Jonah talked about how keen they are to have a diverse community, including all ages. For David this was particularly important in the jazz scene because whilst it is great to have “younger generations doing it for themselves, it is really important to learn from and be surrounded by the older generations that have been doing it before.” He felt this was something he did not really see in Manchester either.
It is clear from the avid attendees that there is a real thirst for these kinds of events. But for those who are less convinced, I asked Jonah why students should be interested in poetry and art.
“Art as a whole is a way of diffusing emotion and thought into something tangible. With my poetry I have a feeling, thought, emotion or goal and it becomes a question of ‘how do I make this thing comprehensible?’ How do I portray this in a way that can be understood?”
Jonah goes on to explain to any doubters that “writing is a way of sitting with your emotions, and an exploration of how you are feeling, it’s never going to be a bad thing to vocalise how you are feeling. There will be times when you cannot understand or explain things, and art is a good vessel to explore that. All art is expression.”
This seems to be the crux of the creation of Purple Collective: to make space for the innate human desire to express and to be understood.
From this point Jonah and David talk through their frustrations with creativity and the education system, and how they feel it points towards exactly why they want to create the community that they do. Jonah argues that school does not encourage you to be an artist.
He also jokes that “I tell people I am doing English and they say, ‘so are you going to be a teacher then?’ That is not the only thing you have to do, I want to actually try and make a career out of being creative.”
“You are not told that being creative is a viable option, everything pushes you not to do this stuff,” he continues. “We want to create an infrastructure to make these things possible.”
Understanding the birth of the collective, I asked Jonah and David what their next plans are. “For the immediate future, we want to get the spoken word and jam nights up and running on a more regular basis, maybe once a month […] we want it to be a night that people know is on regularly, that they remember to go to,” they tell me.
They also explained that whilst they are doing this at University, and a large part of their audience and performers are students. “We are seeing how it goes but it was never intended just to be a Uni thing, we want to take it past that.” They explained that rooting it in students is helpful as there is already a community and market, but that they want this to go further.
Briefly in the conversation, they mentioned how they paid all of their performers. “Everyone gets base rate for performing.” They also expressed the privilege to be able to pay the visual artists: “Macy, who designed our logo was just designing for fun, and we were like we can pay you for that.” They also paid Emma (@producedbyems) who made the short animations that played in the background of the event.
“We pay what we can, but not what we would like. It is the kind of rate students would be happy with, but not yet what a professional or someone trying a living would like to be paid.”
They explained that they want to help put creatives in contact with potential clients. “Macy was commissioned for work after someone saw it on our Instagram, that was really special and is the exact kind of thing we would like to continue to do.”
They told me they have lots of ideas that are in the woodwork and others that they will return to, but recognise they are still just getting started. It is clear from their dedication to incorporating multitudes of creativity that this is just the beginning for Purple Collective.
David reminds us that “everything that we are doing here, even though it feels innovative, it is not new, it is a copy of things that from my experience already exist in London.” Jonah says that they have other plans already lined up for after summer.
Going forward, they have every reason to be optimistic about the community they are already creating.
To get involved or find upcoming events, follow Purple Collective on Instagram: @purplecollective_mcr
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