Continuing our celebration of Black History Month, today we focus on British rapper, journalist, author, activist and poet, Akala.
Kingslee James McLean Daley, aka Akala, was born in Crawley, West Sussex, in 1983 to a Scottish mother and Jamaican father. He grew up with his mother “in the cliched, single-parent working-class family,” in Kentish Town, north London. He remembers the day he realised that his mum was white, and was embarrassed by her whiteness, and that she could “never really ‘get it’” when it came to racism. Daley’s older sister is rapper/vocalist Ms. Dynamite.
However Daley has said “culturally, I had a really rich upbringing growing up in the Hackney Empire”, a theatre where his stepdad was a stage manager and he often visited before his teens. He also attended pan-African Saturday school. “I benefited massively from a specifically black community-led self-education tradition that we don’t talk about very much because it doesn’t fit with the image [of black families],” he says.
When accepting honorary degrees he has said he “would like to thank the entire Caribbean pan-African community that helped me through school and encouraged an intellectual curiosity and self-development from a very young age.”
In 2006, he was voted the Best Hip Hop Act at the MOBO Awards and has been included on the annual Powerlist of the 100 most influential Black British people in the UK. Daley got his stage name from Acala, a Buddhist term for “immovable”, and started releasing music in 2003 from his own independent music label, Illa State Records.
Akala’s first book Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, can be seen as a comprehensive extension of his Fire in the Booth performances, exploring uncomfortable and hard-hitting truths about the toxic relationship between race and class in Britain. The rapper, journalist, author, activist, and poet deconstructs the myth of meritocracy in Natives, through a narrative that is part-biographical, part-polemic.
His poem, A Tale Of Two Puppets, is shown below: