Eastenders star, Ellen Thomas was recently in Accra for vacation and I caught up with her to find out what she has been up to; her memories of former EastEnders actress, Sian Blake (who’s alleged killer was found and arrested in Ghana), her take on diversity in British film and Television among others.
Ellen Thomas who was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone and emigrated to the UK at the age of 9, has had many television and film roles. She is perhaps best known for her recurring role in Bristol-based comedy, Teachers and of course her record setting appearances in Britain’s most loved Drama, EastEnders – where she is on record as one of the few people to have played 3 different characters.
Ellen first appeared on EastEnders in 1990 as Pearl Chadwick, a Jamaican grandmother trying to abduct her granddaughter back to Jamaica. In 2011, she returned as a Nigerian, Grace Olubunmi, the grandmother of Mercy and Faith. In 2015 Ellen Thomas returned to EastEnders yet again this time as the steely matriarch Claudette Hubbard.
In the 30 years history of EastEnders, the BBC for the first time did a feature story trailer with a Black family, which is headed by Claudette Hubbard, the character played by Ellen. Excited by the feat, she commented, “I love her character. A lot of the times, audiences say to me that there has never been a black woman playing a character like that on British television.”
On the trending issues if diversity in film and television, Ellen believes the situation is getting better in the UK. She said, “I think it is getting better in the UK, it is not there yet, but it is getting better. The things that happen in America whether we believe it or not is influencing the way UK thinks and works. For instance, for the character I play in EastEnders, a few years ago they just wouldn’t be brave enough to take it up. I remember the challenges they had with the Nigerian character I played previously – any storyline that was recommended, they were like that was too controversial. I think they are gradually moving away from that to bottomline, what audiences what to see.”
She also believes that independent web-based productions have also contributed to the change in tides.“Also a lot of things have happened on online, a lot of young people are doing things on their own and not waiting anymore to be given the opportunity. They are taking the bull by the horn so to speak, and making stuff and putting them online. TV producers now go online to have a look at these products and a lot of actors get cast from online shows, a lot of story ideas generate from online shows. So in a way, the internet has done a lot to improve things,” she added.
On the phenomenon of black British actors excelling in Hollywood, she believes it is down to the talents and work ethics of such British actors. She opined, “As actors we go where the opportunity is, and America is where the opportunity is. A lot of Americans say that the difference between their actors and British actors is the work ethics because a lot of us in the UK have unbelievable and amazing work ethics – you really do just get down to the work, you learn your lines, you turn up on time and you just do it.Thats what we have been trained to do. But in America people something get political forgetting they are there to work. These talented British actors are getting opportunities in America that they wouldn’t get in the UK. I was planning to go there also until the call came from EastEnders.”
Sharing her memories of former EastEnders actress Sian Blake who was murdered along with her two children Ellen described Sian as a lovely young lady full of confidence. She said, “The time Sian was on EastEnders, I didn’t have any scenes with her but I saw her on set and she seemed like a really lovely woman. The time I actually worked with her was during a play reading at the Almeida Theatre in London. She seemed like a a confident and lovely woman so we were all really shocked to hear the sad news…and her beautiful children, it is really sad and unthinkable.”
Don’t forget to watch the full interview with the award-winning Ellen Thomas as she shares her journey of over 25 years in the film and TV. She also revealed her favourite roles which include Claudette Hubbard in EastEnders and Liz Webb in ‘Teachers’. According to Ellen, one of her least favourite characters ever was Grace Olubunmi in EastEnders because the character wasn’t well written and her storylines weren’t very strong.
Do keep an eye out for Ellen Thomas, she may soon be in an African movie production as she hints of her interest to work with multiple award-winning Ghanaian film maker, Shirley Frimpong-Manso. She can also be seen this year in ‘Mount Pleasant’ a comedy on Sky 1 in which she plays a Jamaican grandmother new to the neighbourhood. ‘Golden Years’ a movie which she shot last year also opens in UK cinemas in March
Asari Music highlights new single ‘Like Dat’, balancing college with music and more
Week-in week-out I get to interview one of the many faces in showbiz and this week on Ameyaw Meets, Asari Music is the one. She’s a young, upcoming and very talented Ghanaian-American singer – who in case you haven’t heard, is out with the hottest song you might hear all week. (more…)
I single-handedly popularized Shea Butter in the United States – Margaret Andega
He went from cooking on Instagram to owning a food truck in Atlanta and more… the story of Quabena’s Kitchen
The COVID-19 pandemic birthed many opportunities for people all over the globe. For one Ghanaian living in the US, the pandemic reconnected him with his passion which has now become a full-time job.
Quabena’s Kitchen shared with me his story about how he went from cooking for family and friends, to sharing content of his cooking on Instagram page at the height of the pandemic, which has now transformed into a thriving catering business in Atlanta, Georgia.
Quabena’s Kitchen services now include a food truck providing Ghanaian and West African delicacies to Africans and non-Africans alike, with ambitions of a restaurant on the cards!
Watch this exciting story on Ameyaw TV below:
The chef behind Fufu Pizza is about to open Afro-Fusion Cafe in Atlanta
Why Ghanaian-American Jeffrey Ampratwum is the menswear expert to watch in fashion!
At the start of the Victoria era, early 19th century – the English began to tone down the royal style dressing of the French army, namely those adorned in prestigious regalia and heavy embroidery. It was a sign of English nationalism and sparked a new wave of appearance in men. A few decades later, the suit was born and heavily influenced those in Italy and America. The British and the Americans have a rich revolutionary history, of course, and coincidentally the British colonized the African country – Gold Coast – until 1957 when they declared their independence and changed their name to Ghana.
As part of an independent Ghana, a host of individuals began to exercise new freedoms and venture out of the country into new territories. Many Ghanaians set their eyes on American travel and a wave of trail blazers left the country and settled in the infamous New York City. For most, it was an opportunity to plant new seeds in the hopes that their children would be afforded even more opportunities for a prosperous life.
One of these children of the diaspora is Bronx-born Jeffrey Ampratwum. The only child to Kate Bampoe and Eugene Asante-Ampratwum Mpere, who met in the Bronx after immigrating from Ghana. The dynamics of having African parents and being raised in a heavily eclectic environment gave rise to Jeffrey’s style and prose. More importantly, we can honestly say that there are only a handful of Ghanaian-Americans living in the states that can exhibit a special presentation that reflects both their African heritage married with the esthetic of their nationality. We recently caught up with Jeffrey to discuss how his early influences provided him with a framework to now become such a strong force in the menswear industry in fashion.
AD: Jeffrey, Ɛte sɛn?
Jeff: Haha, Eye.
AD: I had to test your Twi really quick! You know most Ghanaians who are born in the states don’t have a clue about the language unless it’s spoken fiercely in the home.
Jeff: You are 100% correct with that. Ha. But for me, I was lucky in that my mother took me to Ghana before I even knew how to use words. So, in actuality, Twi was the first language and vocabulary I learned, and in essence, English is my second language. So, I’m really decent when it comes to using Twi. I’m a cheat code! But keep that quiet. Ha.
AD: How much of the remnants of the Ghanaian culture factored into your approach to your style and presentation?
Jeff: When I was younger and in school, particularly in the Bronx – it wasn’t always your proudest moment to be from Africa or to say your family was African. Part of the silly embarrassment was perhaps from the narratives that were spinning on television. Americans were being indoctrinated with visuals of “feed the children” which only highlighted the extreme poverty in a few Africans countries. The images and broadcasts were all the same, for decades. So called philanthropist and humanitarians took camera crews into ravaged areas and televised starving children for us to see here in the states. I believe that had a profound effect on young boys and girls born from African parents.
However, as for me – I always looked at being dark skinned and being deeply rooted into my African culture as a super power. I liked the idea of being different, even though all the kids in all my classes were also children of immigrants. They just couldn’t grasp the concept of it at that time. So, from there, it was showtime. My Uncle, Joseph Ken Mintah – was the pioneer as the first in the family to travel to the states – he had extreme style. My mother also is very detailed with her sense of jewelry and fragrances. I adsorbed it all.
AD: Did you start dressing in traditional African attire? What do you mean exactly?
Jeff: Not exactly! But, being an only child really allowed for me to sit deep in thought for long periods of time. Being left-handed allowed for me to be extremely dexterous and detailed. And being raised solely by my mother further allowed me to pay attention to the importance of clothing and accessories – as she dressed herself each morning. It was the ultimate cocktail and I was already drunk with creativity. I started customizing all the clothes I had. By no means were we wealthy, so I had to manage just a few outfits for school.
My styling began when I would turn 5 outfits into 15 – so essentially, a 5-day school week became New York Fashion Week for me. I would airbrush my sneakers, turn Old Navy sweaters inside out for a fleece appeal, and cuff my jeans in 4 different ways depending on my footwear. This soon became a bad habit and made me late for school many mornings.
AD: You see, if you are late to school in Ghana back then – you might as well have sat by the road to hide from both your mother and headmaster! What was college like for you then?
Jeff: Right! Ha. It grew legs during my undergrad. Now all the pretty girls were around, I had more freedom to come and go, and more importantly – I had a stage to showcase my style. I joined a student club in the SEEK Program, and soon became the President and started hosting a string of events based around fashion. 4 years and a bachelors degree later, there were 6 fashion shows and 3 beauty pageants under my belt. Huge successes. I started to doubt my real educational reason for attending college, which was to become a dentist. Fashion was dancing on one shoulder and dentistry on the other. But somehow, I figured out how to still involve the two. My best buddy, Kenny – whom I met at the college on the road to become dentists – made it through. So, I live vicariously through him. And now, coincidentally – together we’ve developed a brand – a service of bespoke mens luxury shoes and women’s handbags, and ready to wear womenswear shoes as well. Named, Kenjeffreys. It is serendipitous because all of the products are sourced and handcrafted in Haiti and infused with Ghanaian culture. As Kenny is from Haiti, we properly employ artisans within the community and focus heavily on our social impact.
Following undergrad, I then began at FIT as student, really just trying to test my styling hand – and to learn more about the industry. While there, I came across extremely talented and knowledgeable fashion professionals that have really guided me. Namely, Sadia Seymour and Joseph DeAcetis. Both wildly experienced, patient and embedded with a wealth of information. Respectfully in womenswear and menswear. You cannot beat that, and I am grateful for it.
AD: That is strangely unique and admirable. Talk to us about how all those experiences and inspirations give rise to the Jeffrey or Che we see today and ultimately, where that places you in your field of fashion and menswear.
Jeff: Sure. Great point. I have been indoctrinated by the basic principles of creativity as an adolescent – with respect to clothing. That is extremely hard to shake. Innately, styling was my ultimate form of communication, seeing that I was a shy introvert. So now, I still revert back to those same feelings…. the feeling of home, warmth, memories, great food and innocent fun. My approach now is exactly the same in the sense that when I am dressing, styling or designing for someone – I am taking into account their entire repertoire and holding a mirror in front of them which reflects the items that they love most. It is a skill that perhaps only empaths are only able to exhibit.
Having the ability to read into thoughts and connecting with the motivating spirits that drives people – is a gift. I ran the New York City marathon three times, and the 2nd time I ran it in a tuxedo! It was my ultimate homage and pledging of allegiance to fashion. Ha.
I also believe my extensive traveling experience has aided to the arsenal. Recent trips to Ghana always resets a creative instinct with me, as I look around and arrive back to a place of self-awareness. It feels right. My cousin Harry knows where to be to capture the real essence of the land. And, coincidentally enough, I am often back and forth to the UK as well. Savile row in London, England -as you know – is a menswear connoisseur’s Disney Land. It is the traditional hub for the world’s best tailored-bespoke suits. Naples and Florence are a close second. However, sartorially, the British have etched their names in the fine-art making of the suit. I do though spend most of my time in Brighton, UK. It’s where my love is and also like a second home for me. The culture there is infused with various styles and the community is inviting. The Duchess of Brighton-Hove, Lady Donna and her amazing friends will assure that you have a great time!
AB: Finally, talk to us about your styling approach with respect to specific talent that you work with.
Jeff: Definitely. This is perhaps an area you cannot teach. It is learned with years of experience and even reading the room wrong most times. I tell my fashion students often that they have to continue shooting airballs at the basket. Get out the miss shots, now – and properly learn your subjects. For example, if I am styling a celebrity for the red carpet – several nuances are to be considered before arriving at a dress or a tuxedo. Such as, what stages in life is your talent currently in, how body conscious are they and what are they most nostalgic about. These (and some of my other secrets that I cannot give away) are the pillars to nailing great style, image and presentation.
Baaba Lin chats about her new single ‘Famame’, going solo and RnM amid more juicy bits
US-based vocal sensation from years prior, Stephanie Baaba Lindsay recently made her official mark as one of the new and exciting voices to ignite the Ghanaian music scene under her new alias Baaba Lin and we couldn’t help but reach out for a session with her to play catch up on today’s episode of Ameyaw Meets.
The new song ‘Famame’ slots in an Afrobeat release which immerses listeners into the joys of one deeply in love, and tops it all off as the kind of dashing debut one would expect from a familiar face like Baaba Lin’s. All in all, it’s a smooth song effortless in reminding fans what they have been missing out on; the rebranded star’s radiant vocals!
But before all this new buzz, Baaba Lin was already a star. She was a part of the female group, RnM together with Denise, January and Tasha – the underdogs who went on to win the first ever Vodafone Icons “Divas Edition” back in 2011. The group also earned relevant nominations for “Best Group” at the 4syte TV Music Video Awards (2012) and Ghana Music Awards (2013) which made it the resounding success story of its time.
Today, the same legend lives on and Baaba Lin seeks to be the industry’s next underdog, and we get to ask her about her new debut ‘Famame’, going solo and what lies ahead for her this year amid more juicy bits.
Dive into the interview below and share your reviews with us after listening to ‘Famame’ here: https://linktr.ee/baabalinofficial
1. Hello Baaba Lin. Kindly, introduce yourself and brand of music.
Hello, I am Baaba Lin and my brand of music is Afrobeat & Afro-fusion.
2. And out of nowhere you’re out with a dashing new single ‘Famame’ to kickstart your solo career. Tell us everything there is to know about it.
Lol, it wasn’t out of nowhere. I took a hiatus from music after I had my son and just wanted to focus on him during his formative years, but I never left music. I was always writing and recording and waiting for the right time to return as a solo act.
3. How many years has this move to go solo been in the making?
I would say about 5 years, because I had always thought our group was going to get back together at some point, because we were great together, but I also realized that distance as well as our individual lives evolving will make that difficult. So, I started thinking of the solo route.
4. RnM was a big deal in its day, as some will remember. Mind giving fans closure on why you feel it disbanded after so many years? You all still talk?
Awwwwww, first of all, I would like to say, I love and appreciate our fans. I’m sure we all do as a group and I want to thank them for their continued love and support after all these years. It’s remarkable and I hope they will continue to support us individually. RnM disbanded like I said earlier, due to distance and our individual lives evolving. I was in the States, Tasha was in and out of Ghana and January was in and out of Ghana as well, so it was quite difficult scheduling around each other and thus we had to move on but with love and yes, we all still talk to this day and support each other. I love them so much.
5. Between then and now there’s been lots of lost years. What was going on all this while behind the scenes?
Well, I was being a mom, recording, writing, working and performing at small local events, you know, just lowkey.
6. The Ghanaian music scene may seem so familiar to you, yet so different to the likes of us and with streaming being a game changer, next to plenty new faces. How do you think you’d fit in?
The Ghanaian music scene has definitely advanced tremendously since our time because streaming platforms and social media wasn’t as big and prominent as it is now and there’s so many amazing artists out as well which is remarkable and I love that for us because it makes us as artist want to work harder and be better with our craft. So, I believe I will absolutely fit in just fine because it motivates me to hone in on my craft and keep bringing my audience and Ghanaians great music.
7. Before you go, what’s the remainder of 2022 looking like for you? More releases, features, an EP?
2022 is not yet over so expect more releases. I’m working on my EP but I don’t know if I want it out this year or next year either way, I will keep everyone posted and they can keep up with me on all my socials – Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, but it’s coming. And God willing a video as well. Fingers crossed.
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