Zena Edwards

Raised in Tottenham, North London, Zena Edwards originally trained as a theatre stage manager, having studied drama, media and communication at university. Writing and singing begun as a hobby, but soon took over when she became a member of the Rhythm Writers in 1992 as well as joining Shades, a five female Acappella group in 1993. She then went on to co-star in a short film with her own poetry called "Talking the Talk", produced by Tatu Dada which won an award in an American Film Festival. She has since worked with international musicians from South Africa to Sweden.

Zena is a performer with the ability to capture an audience's soul taking them on a journey to the darkest and most splendid plateaus of human nature. Her sometimes humorous and heart clenching approach to poetry tackles issues from body politics to spiritual fulfilment, race and culture, prostitution to old age, and crosses continental boundaries. Zena embraces Asian, East, West and South African, American and of course Black British cultures and this make her writing and performance a pleasurable informative concoction of stories with historical and cultural documentation. She displays her capability to retain and blend such diversity and in doing this, she admirably justifies the title of 'Griot'. Griot is a West African term usually used in reference to traditional musicians who combine storytelling and poetry and music, documenting and commenting on social, political, environmental and spiritual history. They always accompany themselves with traditional instruments from their region.

Zena has worked very closely for the last four years with award winning South African musician Pops Mohamed . She met Pops in South Africa whilst singing with the Shades. He was interested in working with traditional musicians from overseas and the Shades sung on Pops’ superb album How Far Have We Come (BW088). Zena was interested in Pops’ approach to traditional music and the pair subsequently collaborated during various concert tours in Europe. Zena was inspired by their successful tour of Namibia and the trips made to the Kalahari Desert where they spent time with the Khoi-San Bushmen. To date, they are touring with a fusion of ancient traditional instrumentation, chants and songs with ambient African and contemporary grooves, and perform to packed venues in South Africa, Germany (including the Hanover Expo) France and the Netherlands. When performing this work with the Bushmen, which reconnects the Xhosa and the Khoi-San’s music after a period of 150 years, the audience were moved to tears as were Zena and Pops themselves. 

Alongside her collaboration with Pops, Zena is involved in a number of creative projects. She is currently feature vocalist for the Wade Austin group and is co writing a forth coming album with him under the name 2Deep Fusion, as well as being in the process of recording her own album of poetry, vocals and music in a clever and fresh fusion of eclectic soul, funk and African traditional vibrations.

She has also been performing as Shattered Diamonds which are Zena (vocals and poetry) and Oroh Angiama (double and electric bass, keys and vocals). As creative members of the African diaspora, they represent shards of a rich, always birthing whole. "Bass-ically Speaking" (the name of their show) premiered at the Stoke Newington Festival 2000, and stunned audiences as support for Julie Dexter at the Jazz Café.

Influenced by her travels to Namibia, the Transkei (Eastern Cape of South Africa) and Zanzibar (East Africa), her work has taken on the raw quality of traditional music, song and styles from these areas. She accompanies some of her poetry with Mbira, Dzvadzimu and Marimba (Thumb pianos) from Zimbabwe fused with raw Hip-Hop and Jazz grooves. Her poetry recitals in the past and present have been primarily with Apples and Snakes, a well-known British poetry organisation.

In addition to this Zena is a freelance workshop leader working in school and Arts college across Europe facilitating self-devised workshops in performance poetry, story telling, singing and movement for children and young adults age between five and seventeen years old. She is also a member of Moropa Drum Orchestra directed by Master Drummer, Thebe Lipere and sings with The South Africa Gospel Choir and Progress and the South Africa Female A Cappella Group.

Having performed at International Literature Festivals, The World Expo Hanover, Glastonbury Festival, The Zanzibar International Film Festival, Nelson Mandela Day at The Royal Festival Hall and at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Zena is an extremely talented and prolific poet and musician. Her collaborations are evidence of the high calibre of her artistic skills, having performed and/or recorded with Pops Mohamed, Max Lasser, Madala Kunene, Sipho Gumede, Busi Mhlongo, Aldwin Johnson of Funky Zen, Julie Dexter of J-Life, Pogo from Lyrical Lounge London, and Hukwe Zawose from Zimbabwe. She has recorded with Funky Zen productions, MELT2000, Kalamazoo Music and Joyful Noise and continues to touch and inspire audiences around the world with her diverse performances.

Her collaboration with MELT continues this year with her involvement in the SanScape Project. For this Zena has contributed her stunning poetry to the forthcoming album SanScapes - Visions of the Bushmen. She will be performing with Pops, Ngube, Anna, Marcela and Kuela in London during a series of events in May to launch the album.