James Baldwin filmed in Paris


What an incredible example of challenging the 'white gaze'!! 

"I think you think I'm an exotic surviver..." James Baldwin told this filmmaker completely misunderstanding him. 

Incredible to see him in Barbès as well, talking to Algerian men in cafés I used to haunt when living in the neighbourhood up until 3 years ago,  where my father might have been hanging out with these men a decade before he married my mother, who left Algiers for Paris to live with him...

'Meeting The Man' - James Baldwin filmed in Paris (1970)

Directed by Terence Dixon United Kingdom, France, 1970

A documentary portrait of James Baldwin, one of the towering figures of 20th-century American literature, Black culture and political thought, filmed in Paris. The iconic writer is captured in many symbolic locations in the city, where he was living at the time, including the Place de la Bastille.

Mubi wrote: "Tense, combative, discursive: A meeting with James Baldwin doesn’t quite go according to plan for a group of presumptuous white filmmakers in this rarely seen, Paris-set short film. An illuminating snapshot of Baldwin’s intellectual worldview that bristles with friction and ideas."

Bristol Palestinian Film Festival: 4-12 December 2021



On BBC Radio 4's 'Soul Music'


I was at the band's homecoming show on The Downs in Bristol, and I remember crossing paths with Giles Duley Photographer in the mud, under pouring rain...

I smiled at him. I wanted to go to him and say how much I admire his work but decided not to interrupt his day at the festival...

Here he is telling his story about that day on BBC Radio 4, on a 'Soul Music' episode about 'Unfinished Sympathy'. With a few other lovely people from different places in the world... and myself.

Listen here:

Soul Music - BBC Radio 4

Unfinished Sympathy

Personal stories inspired by Massive Attack's breakthrough single. Featuring the vocals of Shara Nelson, the track together with its iconic video would help catapult this band from Bristol onto the global stage. Stories include the photographer Giles Duley whose work was displayed during the song at the band's 2016 homecoming show in Bristol. Mountaineer Dmitry Golovchenko who named an attempt on the Nepalese mountain of Jannu after the track, and solicitor Marti Burgess who saw early sets from The Wild Bunch, the collective from which Massive Attack emerged, and for whom 'Unfinished Sympathy' helped crystallise her identity. Music Producer Ski Oakenfull deconstructs the track, peeling back the layers of beats, bells and samples. Belgian singer Liz Aku recorded a version of the track during lockdown, bringing back memories of her first love. Melissa Chemam, author of 'Massive Attack Out Of The Comfort Zone' explains the origins of Massive Attack, how 'Unfinished Sympathy' was written and why, when the track was released in 1991, the band had to drop the word 'Attack' from their name. A radio producer and DJ who spent New Year's Eve in a detox centre in London was asked to pick the tune to be played at midnight, and she chose 'Unfinished Sympathy'.

Produced for BBC Audio in Bristol by Toby Field


New Music Column

 Hello everyone.

Pardon my absence, I have much more work outside of writing now that I'm teaching 4 days a week this year...

Meanwhile, here is a new prospect: the first column as part of a new monthly series for The Markaz Review, in which I'll explore icons of Arab music and how they influence music production around the world.

Electronic Music in Riyadh?

22 November, 2021 • 

Electronic music is trending in the Arab world and Iran, but is Riyadh the best place to showcase it?

Ready to host the electronic dance music (EDM) festival SOUNDSTORM from December 16th to the 19th, the Saudi capital sounds triumphant. The event promises to feature a world-leading line-up with more than 150 superstar headliners and international dance acts, alongside regional and local talents. But if many DJs and producers are delighted to fly to Riyadh, others have questions about important social and political issues.

The big names include the über-famous Armin Van Buuren, David Guetta, Nina Kraviz, but also the Dutch-Moroccan DJ R3hab. Born in 1983, he was ranked at number 12 on the DJ Mag Top 100 DJs in 2018. He said of the event: “What I like about this festival is that it’s very different — it’s a complete fusion, some Arab artists and a lot of international DJs and it all works really well. I think that’s very special and I’ve never seen that before.” The inaugural event took place in 2019, sponsored by the Middle Eastern lifestyle and entertainment brand MDLBEAST, and this second edition marks a return after a pandemic-related hiatus.

If EDM has for long been associated only with Western names, the past two decades have seen wonderful electro artists emerge from all over the Middle East. The Head of Talent Booking of the festival, Talal Albahiti, said in September, “We’re happy with the first announcement of the SOUNDSTORM ‘21 line up. We will soon announce a second phase that includes a wide variety of musical genres that will take attendees on a journey they won’t forget. We are ready to welcome all music enthusiasts to become part of this immersive 4‑day experience.”

For the occasion, one of the most favored names in Saudi Arabia’s underground scene, Mohanned Nassar (aka Vinyl Mode) presented his latest release in October, “Eshg Alsamar” on MDLBEAST Records. To him, it’s “an indicator that it’s time for the rest of the world to hear what sounds are spilling out of the Arabian kingdom.” Vinyl Mode has been offering deep house and techno to local dance floor enthusiasts for over a decade now.

You’d think that SOUNDSTORM would be the epitome of success of the Middle East when it comes to electronic music — a scene that went airborne from Beirut to Marrakesh in the past decade…

Since the rise of incredibly successful Arab DJs, like Tunisian-Palestinian-French soundcutters from Checkpoint 303, Beirut artists Thoom and Jessika Khazrik, Tunis-born/Paris-based techno star Deena Abdelwahed, Palestinian DJ Sama Abdulhadi, rising producer from Morocco Manar Fegrouch aka Glitter, Nouf Sufyani aka Cosmicat — Saudi Arabia’s first female professional electronic music artist, and many others, Middle Eastern music has become a hit, but hasn’t had its own major festival in its region yet. SOUNDSTORM hopes to be the one.

In December 2019, Cosmicat for instance participated in the MDL Beast Festival targeted at EDM lovers, performing alongside headliners like David Guetta and Steve Aoki — and without wearing an abaya, veil or headscarf. She was later invited by Boiler Room to DJ in Tunis.

Ramadan Alharatani, the CEO of MDLBEAST, has said about his related conference on EDM XP: “[This] is a first for the region and will serve as the foundation for a thriving music industry across the Middle East. Providing a platform to authenticate and further build the music industry in the [Arab world], local and international guests will be embraced by the wealth of possibility offered by this exciting new market over the three days. Through XP, we aim to join the global conversation…”

However, though the first MDL festival in Riyadh in 2019 was a success in many ways, it was concerning in others. Dozens of influencers invited out to promote the festival dealt with some  backlash for supporting a government that — among other things — murdered journalist Jamal Kashoggi in 2018, and committed human rights crimes against women and the LGBTQ community. 24 individuals were also arrested in relation to sexual harassment incidents during the festival.

From the rise of new young stars from Beirut and North Africa, it would seem like a great idea to help a festival come about in Tunis, Marrakesh or the Lebanese capital, to acknowledge their creativity in the nightlife economy and EDM, but also to support places that went on to difficult times. Saudi Arabia may have the financial means to host major festivals, but is the place a fair representation of the authentic roots of Arab EDM, and beyond, the Arab music that informed it for decade?

Lebanon has long been a pioneering city for Arabic music, since disco created some roots in the Levant. Electronic music and clubbing have been a part of Beiruti culture since the 1990s. Thoom (real name: Zeynab Ghandour) said in January 2020 to RedBull’s cultural website that the changing political landscape in Beirut was “sparking interest in new electronic sounds, spurred on amid the backdrop of the protests which have been ongoing in the city since October 2019, in frustration with the country’s stalling economy.” Then of course, the pandemic put the cultural scene on hold, and the terrible Beirut Port explosion ripped through the city last summer. But the music scene is still active and only waits to grow further.

Whether Riyadh gets positive or negative support this year, Arab electronic music isn’t going anywhere; it sounds on the contrary stronger than ever and can only soon find its center. I intend to discuss the impact of this festival on Arab and Middle Eastern musicians, producers and DJs, and to keep this conversation going.


Melissa Chemam is the author of a book on Bristol’s music scene, Massive Attack – Out of the Comfort Zone. In the following iterations of this column, every month, she will explore more in depth some incredible trajectories of the icons of Arab music, including the electronic scene of the greater Middle East, and how they influenced music production around the world.


'Can Words Truly Inspire a Better World?'

Here is the recording from our pane, for the Working-Class Writers Festival, Bristol, October 2021

Writing for Change: 
Can Words Truly Inspire a Better World? 

Award-winning writer and broadcaster Cole Moreton discusses whether words can inspire a better world and, if so, how we can go about it. 

Guests include Melissa Chemam, Craig Johnston and Wanda Wyporska. 

Part of the 2021 Working-Class Writers Festival: https://www.bristolideas.co.uk/projects/class/

Twitter: @classfestival 

Instagram: @classfestival


October > November News//Letter - Algerian Thoughts, New Book and Old Stories

Dear friends, colleagues, culture & art lovers,

I hope this email finds you well!
October disappeared in a loop of time, didn't it?

My end of the Channel, it was warm, busy and very interesting! Focusing on book events, writing and pursuing the conversations on issues such as the "class war", Black History Month, colonial history, but also beauty and creativity...

Here are a few texts and audio programmes - all available for free as usual - I'd love to share with you all.

May November 2021 be as rich and progressive... 

On #Decolonising
17 October 1961 / 2021 - My opinion piece for AJE

Meanwhile, other ghosts from the past were haunting me... 
It's the first time I find the courage to write about this 
part of my family's history... You can read it here

And the American radio NPR asked me to pursue the conversation. 

Here, There... Evenwhere:
African & Diaspora Artists at Arnolfini 
In other news, my art book on African & Diaspora artists  at Arnolfini is out too! I worked for a year for the art gallery Arnolfini, here in Bristol, as their writer in residence. I'm so excited to share the result!

The book is available in PDF for educational purposes, and a few physical copies will be available in November, at Arnolfini's bookshop

We also recorded an online discussion with Dr Anne Harbin from UWE, to generate a wider discussion: it'll soon be on Arnolfini's website and on their YouTube Channel. 

Do get in touch if you're interested in reading and/or taking part in our wider discussion! 


ART UK asked me to focus on the work of one of the key artists I interviewed for the aforementioned book: Keith Piper. 

A key member of the Black Art Group in the UK from the early 1980s, he then exhibited worldwide and never ceased to innovate and provoke inspiring art and reflections, relevant for the time. 

His next exhibition will open at the New Art Gallery in Walsall in January 2022.

You can read our conversation here

Journalist in Africa

Timely, I was also recently asked to chat about previous travels by the amazing journalist Chika Oduah, currently based in Nigeria, about our experiences as reporters on the continent and on Western-African relations, one of my favourite subjects... 

It is a very long one, but feel free to have a read:

I AM History

As you know October is also the time of 'Black History Month' in the UK, but I write about different communities' art and history all year long... 

There is so much to see and listen to but here's my latest little contribution: 

The Eyes Magazine - Issue #12

With Johny Pitts as guest curator

We interviewed the one and only Mad Professor together.

'Soul Music' 
on BBC Radio 4

Finally, I was invited to talk about the song that should be our national anthem, really... 
'Unfinished Sympathy' by Massive Attack, from their debut album 'Blue Lines', released 30 years ago.

This fantastic programme is indeed produced in Bristol and this specific episode will be available from early December.
You'll be able to listen from here:  

A few words about my book on the band here, about 'Blue Lines' here and here


I still have a few projects coming up... More about them next year.

My next article, before the end of the year, will be about Lubaina Himid and a piece on contemporary Algerian artists who are dear to my heart... It's for a brand new magazine: the Journal of Creative Pursuit

In the meantime, I'm now teaching 5 different modules in journalism, media production and working in the creative industries - including lectures about films/moving images productions and critique, news programmes, music journalism... I'm grateful to be trusted in these tasks, to learn so much along the way.


Feel free to get in touch if any of these ideas above speak to you.
For more on my writing and reflections about art, multiculturalism, post-colonial history, activism, you can also follow my work on TwitterLinkedIn, on my website or via my blog

Many thanks for your attention! 

With my very best wishes,


Melissa Chemam
Writer, Journalist, Researcher
Writer in residence at Arnolfini Art Gallery
Senior Lecturer in Media & Journalism (Bristol, UK) 


Interview with 'Black Art Group' founder Keith Piper

New piece for ART UK

Keith Piper: on the history of the Black Art Group

Posted 25 Oct 2021, by Melissa Chemam


Born in 1960 on the Mediterranean island of Malta, a British colony from 1814 to 1964, Keith Piper comes from a family who is originally from Antigua, in the Caribbean. His dad came to England in the 1950s, settling in Birmingham, and was posted on the island's British military base just before the birth of Keith and his second sister. Piper was six-month-old when he arrived in Britain.

A painter, draughtsman as much as an artist in slides, photomontage, text and all sort of mixed media, he was a key member of the Black Art Group in the UK, then exhibited worldwide and never ceased to innovate and provoke inspiring art and reflections, relevant for the time.

Read on here:



BOMBIN’, 36 years on


Souvenir from Arnolfini Art Gallery event with GOLDIE today in Bristol, talking about Dick Fontaine’s film BOMBIN’, the early 1980s graffiti in the US/UK, about the artists Brim, Bio, 3D and their collectives Tats Cru / Transatlantic Federation / Wild Bunch:  


'Here, There... Evenwhere'


'Here, There... Evenwhere'

- Africa at Arnolfini

Art book dedicated to all the African, Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean British artists Arnolfini has invited to exhibit over the years since 1961…

I'm so happy this artbook is now almost ready!! It was so wonderful to work with Arnolfini, especially Phil Owen.

I had such a great time as their writer in residence and the gallery really feels like my home. The book will be out in PDF and a few physically copies later this month. Thanks to all the mesmerising artists for their inspiring creativity !

More soon here: https://arnolfini.org.uk/category/writer-in-residence/

Some of the artists of Caribbean and African descent invited to exhibit at Arnolfini over the years: Veronica Ryan, Keith Piper, John Akomfrah, and many more.

Arnolfini’s Writer in Residence is freelance journalist/reporter, radio producer, researcher and writer, Melissa Chemam.

Melissa writes for many publications such as Art UK, I AM History, The Markaz Review, Reader's Digest, The Public Art Review, Transfuge Magazine, Le Figaro, Le Monde, Skin Deep, The Bristol Cable, Bristol 24/7, CIRCA Art Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement, The Independent, Byline Times and Public Pressure.

From 2010 to 2014, she was based in East and Central Africa, working as a reporter and communication specialist from Kenya, Uganda, Somalia/Somaliland, Ethiopia, Liberia, Senegal, Niger, and Central African Republic, also travelling to North Africa regularly (Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco). She reported mostly for the BBC World Service (BBC Afrique) and DW. From Paris and London, she also covered African affairs for Vox Africa, Al Qarra TV, RFI, TV5, iTélé, and various magazines...

Since 2015, she has been focusing on African music and visual arts, as much as culture from diverse diasporas.

She is author of Out of The Comfort Zone, a book on Massive Attack and Bristol, of a book chapter on reggae in Bristol (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), another chapter on graffiti culture (in Vanguard, 2021), and this coming art book.

Read more about the residency here: https://arnolfini.org.uk/category/writer-in-residence/