Born in Zambia in 1987, poet and writer Kayo Chingonyi moved to Newcastle at the age of six. In 2017 he published his first poetry collection, Kumukanda, which won the Dylan Thomas prize and the Somerset Maugham award. His second collection, A Blood Condition, was published last year and in July he became a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He presents Decode, a British version of hit US podcast Dissect, in which he analyses UK rap albums one track at a time. At last month’s British Podcast awards, Decode won gold in the best entertainment and smartest podcast categories.
Now the possibilities of global travel are open-ish to us again, I’ve been dipping back into a former pastime – record shopping in far-flung places. I’ve been particularly satisfied with a recent haul of salsa from Colombia and hard-to-find rap, R&B and disco records from this place. My friend Ron, a Brooklyn native, told me about a black-owned record store, brand new, and therefore, in the mythos of record collecting, a site of pilgrimage. It was beautiful: not too much stock, not too little; somewhere comfortable to sit; and shelves with a lovely rolling mechanism that I keep thinking about recreating in my house.
In lockdown, stripped of the routines and events of my pre-Covid life, I tried putting my running shoes to use but injured myself almost immediately. Feeling itchy for an activity that got me out of the house, I bought a film camera on a whim and returned to something I used to do as a kid: taking photographs on film cameras. As a form that insists on slowness, attention to detail and, above all, patience, it is the kind of mindful practice I’ve been missing for years. These days I rarely leave the house without at least one of my cameras.
This album contains possibly my favourite R&B-inflected pop song, Realize. If you ask me, it’s one of the best recent examples of that hybrid space between the pop song, R&B crooning and hip-hop. The insistent drum groove, ethereal vocals and a focus, in the lyrics, on that perennial of perennials: love lost and the quest to reclaim it. In the sweet, pure voice of Benny Sings a well-worn theme is transformed into something refreshing. I had been looking for this on vinyl (at a reasonable price) for ages. Imagine my delight when it was rereleased by Benny Sings himself.
It was my good fortune to visit the 37d gallery in Kabulonga, Lusaka, on a recent trip back to Zambia. The thing that sticks in my mind is this painting. Wow. The canvas is bright, dominated by a powerful feminine figure gesturing towards the lives of the ancestors and tribal lore, as well as complicating notions of contemporary artistic style. I absolutely love this painting and 37d more generally – I haven’t stopped thinking about the light hitting the tree that grows in the courtyard, which spills onto a cafe, since I saw it.
These Precious Days by Ann Patchett
I get sent a lot (and I mean a lot) of books. It’s difficult to know where to begin. But, by chance, my colleague [Chingonyi is a poetry editor at Bloomsbury] Alexis Kirschbaum sent me this collection of essays by Ann Patchett. Two articles utterly captivated my imagination: one about getting rid of things – something I sorely need to do – and a piece about the author’s three fathers. Patchett writes like an eloquent, sharply intelligent and linguistically gifted friend; one who knows exactly where to place each emphasis.
Medellín international poetry festival
Medellín sits in the crook of two mountains and I immediately fell in love with the place. The festival, run by a team dedicated to creating a context of kinship, crystallised this love. Poets from across the Latinx world read alongside poets from Europe and the African continent, building the sense of a global village – small and yet, through imagination, endlessly expanding. There is something arcane and profoundly human about gathering to test the limits of language in this time-honoured way. I will definitely be back.