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Son of 'Desmond's' creator starts barbering projects

HAIR TODAY: New York barber Mark Bustos will be visiting
the festival

AS I walk in, masked Chinese men and women spray the most intricate patterns on a female’s varnished canvas. Schoolgirls and mothers wait patiently, typing away on their phones looking at their fingers, imagining the grand nail art they will soon have. African women, who people affectionately call 'aunty' wash, plait and weave immaculate hairstyles that take time, money and commitment.

Through the noise and chat you can hear a faint constant buzzing, deep laughter, with Bashment and Afro Beats kicking through the speakers. You see people walking in and out, fist-bumping everyone in the area, rum being poured and stories being shared.

It feels like a party, or a lively pub, filled with locals. But this isn’t a party – it’s a barber shop. It is a centre in the middle of a complex for beauty and grooming, where professionals pay rent by the chair. Their kids run around, comically getting in the way.

In the middle of all of this is a short mixed-race man in his 20s, chatting, watching and waiting. This man is not in a hurry – this man knows from experience that you should be prepared for the waiting game when you come somewhere as popular as this on a Saturday afternoon. And this man knows it’ll be worth it.

This man is me. My name’s Conrad, and I’m a third-generation musical artist from Peckham. My dad, originally a migrant from St. Lucia, made south London his home and later created the TV series, Desmond’s.

This background has helped shape my music. In fact the colour, liveliness and sometimes danger within my surroundings shaped my story. My sound is London: hard, grimy, industrial and colourful. As my area changes, so does my sense of belonging within this gentrified landscape. This makes it even more important as although many of my people have been priced out, there are still strong community institutions like the black barber’s that stand strong. Something for us.

People come in stressed from hectic lives, and leave the chairs transformed into superheroes. In my musical project, Shape Up and a Fade, I explore this feeling of transformation, that feeling of not having to wear a hat any more. I explore the identity crisis of being from a mixed-race heritage, where your hair doesn’t look like your family’s.

No matter what upbringing you have as a mixed-race child, hair will come into it somewhere, what type of hair you have and what to do with it. I was mixed, but as far as my hair was concerned, the black genes had won – and the war against dry hair began at an early age. It was only natural to me that I would go to a black barber’s. They knew about my hair type, and my friends went there, but above all, when I looked in the window, I didn’t just see a business – I saw a culture, one that I felt a part of, yet also felt an outsider.

A student trying to catch up on knowledge and inside jokes I didn’t know. This, however, amplified even more the feeling of acceptance when I got in that chair. Even in younger years, when I would just nod along pretending I understood the patois my barber spoke, feeling too lame to ask what he meant, it still felt like home. The cultural importance of these establishments is why I chose to apply to work for CUT Festival. It’s given me the opportunity to explore my barber shop experience through art.


This is why I can’t wait to see this unprecedented festival take stage in the barbershops of east London and arts spaces like Toynbee Studios and the Archive Gallery in Haggerston. I’m proud to be on a local and international line-up of creatives, such as Brandon Tauszik, exhibiting his celebrated GIF studies of Oakland’s African-American barbers, (I’ve never seen GIFs look so cinematic, by the way), Hick Duarte with his portraits of the freshest fades in the favelas of Brazil throughout CUT Festival at the Archive Gallery.

Esteemed writer Inua Ellams will be giving you a sneak peak of his new play, Barber Shop Chronicles, previewing on Saturday, 25 February.

Barber Mark Bustos from New York City, is a philanthropist who cuts the hair of those affected by homelessness. Mark is now taking his skills and ethos to London. Along with all of this and more will come a free festival magazine, including pictures of 12 diverse barber shops by Paula Harrowing (including my barber shop, Blush!).

There are too many artists to mention, really, but last but not least, there will be my event that I’ve curated, including a screening and live performance of my grime-inspired track/music video, Shape Up and a Fade, and a series of interesting musical artists in a curation of work which will all be performed in E-Street Barbers, 72 Lower Clapton Road E5 0NP, from 4.30pm to 5.30pm on Sunday, 26 February as part of the Next in Line segment.

As a home-grown black artist from London, it’s not every day I see the opportunity to take part in such a culturally rich and diverse project, the type of thing you would be interested in artistically, and as a festival-goer, the type of project where I feel my culture not being tokenised or appropriated, but celebrated and appreciated.

So let’s share stories, crack jokes, dance, make friends, embrace our communities and maybe get our hair cut at the same time, because you never know what will happen at the barber’s.

CUT Festival is a 10-day festival from 24 February to 5 March, bringing together international/ London barbers, artists and activists to explore the history and social relevance of the barber shop.

For more info click here.

For more info on Conrad click here.

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