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diari: telling the stories of the city through voices that have not been heard

diari seeks not to speak on behalf of the african diaspora community in sheffield. it seeks, instead, to give people a platform from which to tell their stories.

City centre panorama
Rachel Rae Photography

sheffield has a rich and storied history of struggle, reinvention and thriving - not despite, but because of change. its face has changed with its many seasons. many peoples, cultures, and traditions have added to the tapestry to forge the city.

but, even as we continue to tell our story as we make it, some voices have been heard more than others, some faces seen more than others, and so some stories are heard more than others.

the story of who we are as a city has, for the most part, been half told.

two of the oldest and continuously operational african diaspora community organizations (SADACCA, after the success of their bantu archive project, and SACMHA, with their wealth of knowledge about mental health within the african diaspora community), have teamed up for a new project: diari.

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The SADACCA building on The Wicker

a role of a diari, also known as griot, jeli, or arokin for the soninke people (from senegal, ivory coast, the gambia, mauritania, guinea-bissau, guinea and ghana.) of west africa was to preserve the genealogies and oral traditions of the tribe.

diari seeks not to speak on behalf of the african diaspora community in the city. it seeks, instead, to give people a platform from which to tell their stories.

all involved will tell it as they will: ink on paper, brush on canvas, bars over beats, stanzas and rhymes, spice and fire, tales with hints of sheffield accents sneaking onto mother tongues. whatever voice they choose to use, they will tell their story, in their words, about their city, their home: our city, our home.

those among us who were born here may tell that story in metaphors of roses growing in concrete. some may tell it in the ‘telephone voice’ used at work and others in the patois they use among those with whom they feel at home. yet others tell it, beginning invariably with a wistful, ‘in my day’.

others among us who were born elsewhere will tell it in the food they cook; when they add a dash of hendo's to the pepper stew grandma made in the old country. a few will tell it when they walk the peaks and, in just the right light, feel the grass of their motherland beneath their feet. they tell it in the nursery rhymes they sing to their second-generation children and in the ‘made in sheffield’ gifts they take back on visits to the old countries.

the goal of diari is not to tell a different story of sheffield, revise the one already told, or refute it: it is to tell the same story, about the same city, and the same history from the eyes, mouths, and hearts of those whose voice has not always been heard. it is to add to the symphony of cultures, histories, and traditions that make this city a melting pot.

it is only when the city is seen through the eyes of all, and its story told in the voices of all who live in it and call it home, that its real story can ever be told.

that undeniable fact; that understanding; that hope, is diari.

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