Show me the happy: art, theatre and music that celebrates Black joy

From lovers at Pride to side-splitting comedy to a rallying rap, our critics rejoice in a variety of joyful Black art


Black joy is, to me, ubiquitous and everyday, not rarefied or anomalous as the term itself may sometimes imply. It simply is, in spite of a lot and despite a media landscape that often suggests otherwise. This is why I will forever sing the praises of Michaela Coel’s 2015 series Chewing Gum, a show synonymous with Black joy not just because of its hilarity, but its ability to depict joy in the everyday, the mundane and even the difficult. Set on a council estate, it remains unlike many depictions of Black working-class life in Britain that predate it, resembling Black British coming-of-age as myself and many others know it to be: chock-a-block with laughs, nights to remember and great friends. YA



Gay Pride in Kennington Park, 1992.
Gay Pride in Kennington Park, 1992. Photograph: Ajamu X/DACS

A Black British renaissance compels us to not only look at what is new, but renew our interest in the old. Over the summer, the photographer Ajamu X put on the exhibition Archival Sensoria at the Cubitt gallery. As an artist he treasures intergenerational dialogue, creating a living archive where young Black queer people can flick through and encounter ourselves through time. New portraits were hung so as to gaze down on installations of videotapes, old rave flyers and sex toys, while contact sheets traced Black gay life in the 80s and 90s. On one of those contact sheets lay this image of two Black gay men at Pride in 1992. This image captures the intimacy and joy in Black queer communities, the love between these two friends, and the love Ajamu has for them. It reminds me that I create joyful Black art myself, waving my phone and snapping photos in the gay club every Saturday night. JO



Kemah Bob.
Kemah Bob. Photograph: Shane Anthony Sinclair/Getty

Sometimes Black joy is just about letting go and having a bit of a laugh – so where better to find it than a comedy club? FOC It Up (FOC is short for Femmes of Colour) is a side-splitting night that exclusively shines a light on the comedic work of women and non-binary people of colour. It’s a mainstay for Black British comedians including Sophie Duker, Athena Kugblenu and Thanyia Moore. Founded in 2018 by the turquoise-haired comic Kemah Bob, FOC It Up is shaking up the British comedy scene from London to the Edinburgh fringe. MFC



Girl, Woman, Other

The best stories recognise that, in every life, joy and pain sit side by side, which is why I’m wary of literary attempts to homogenise the lives of Black people in either direction. However, when all you ever hear about is pain, artistic expressions of joy become essential. Literature restores the balance that history disrupts. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo is the best book in recent years to have embodied the idea that there are as many ways to be joyful as there are to be Black. Polyphonic and nuanced, it celebrates the lives of Black British women rather than commiserating with them, which is a crucial – and rare – distinction. SC



There is no rhythm without the corresponding blues, but Enny’s breakout single Peng Black Girls (featuring Amia Brave) shows that true joy can be found in feeling seen. With humour and warmth, the south-east London rapper’s tribute to her homegrown inspirations (“Want a fat booty like Kardashians? (No) / Want a fat booty like my aunty got, yo”) thrives on a summer beat, reaching out to her area code with a rallying message as simple as it is stirring: “We gon’ be all right, OK, all right, OK.” With Black visibility still regularly mediated through colourist notions of beauty, Peng Black Girls is a welcome reminder to celebrate each and every shade. JW


Yomi Adegoke, Sara Collins, Micha Frazer-Carroll, Jason Okundaye and Jenessa Williams

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Down but not out: film, theatre, art and more to help deal with failure
From Oscar Isaac’s underperforming folk singer to The Good Place, Guardian critics offer up bittersweet culture for when success eludes you

Jessica Kiang, Kate Wyver, Phil Harrison, Alison Flood and Jonathan Jones

29, Nov, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
True romance: film, music and art to fall in love with on Valentine’s Day
From a mind-scrambling breakup drama to a tender video game, our critics suggest popular culture inspired by matters of the heart

Jessica Kiang, Brian Logan, Keza MacDonald , Skye Sherwin and Jenessa Williams

14, Feb, 2022 @10:00 AM

Article image
Get bent: music, film, books and more about corruption
From murky goings-on within Fifa to warring media scions, our critics select culture that delights in degradation

Jonathan Jones, Sam Jordison, Rebecca Liu, Hollie Richardson and Jenessa Williams

12, Sep, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
From the Beano to Katherine Ryan: 31 ways to beat the January blues
Each week, our critics choose the best music, film, theatre, art and games – so who better to ask to help us through a whole month?

Andrew Clements, Ryan Gilbey, Ammar Kalia, Danny Leigh, Brian Logan, Dale Berning Sawa, Skye Sherwin, Keith Stuart, Jenessa Williams, Nicholas Wroe & Kate Wyver

01, Jan, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
Surviving a setback: books, music, films and more about dealing with disappointment
From James Acaster’s lowest ebb to encouraging words from Radiohead, our critics suggest popular culture about picking yourself up and carrying on

Jessica Kiang, Brian Logan, Jason Okundaye, Jenessa Williams and Imogen Russell Williams

25, Apr, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Power to the people! Film, music, books and more about collective action
From a vast anti-war statement by Pablo Picasso to a powerful treatise on section 28, our critics showcase culture that reminds us what we can achieve when we come together

21, Aug, 2023 @9:00 AM

Article image
Trouble in mind: the best film, music, TV, literature and drama for a guilty conscience
From My Name Is Earl’s journey of redemption to Dave’s stirring origin story, our critics recommend art that deals with shame and regret

Miriam Gillinson, Sam Jordison, Jessica Kiang, Danny Leigh Jason Okundaye and Jenessa Williams

04, Jul, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Kindred spirits: books, music, art and more about seeing family
From an unconventional depiction of maternal holiness to weird, festive murder-thrillers, our critics select culture for coping with the clan

12, Dec, 2022 @10:00 AM

Article image
Feeling lonely? Film, music, art and more that will put you in good company
From the stark horror of Hamsun’s novel to Fassbinder’s commentary on love and racism, our critics choose great cultural works about being alone

Sam Jordison, Jenessa Williams, Danny Leigh, Jonathan Jones and Hannah J Davies

06, Dec, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Darling buds: books, music, theatre and more with spring in their hearts
From Chaucer’s elemental epic to Gnarls Barkley’s alternative take on gospel, our critics suggest popular culture inspired by the return of sunnier skies

Miriam Gillinson, Jonathan Jones, Sam Jordison, Jessica Kiang and Christine Ochefu

28, Mar, 2022 @9:00 AM