UK Keskidee tour helped fire up NZ indigenous ats   13 Apr 2011

On 7 April 2011, the pioneering Keskidee Centre, Britain’s first arts and cultural centre for the black
community, received a green plaque from the London Borough of Islington to recognise its
contribution to the city’s culture and history. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world a group of
‘kiwis’ remember the watershed time in the late 1970s when traditional barriers were collapsed to
bring the centre’s group of performers, The Keskidee, to New Zealand.

This was a time of worldwide revolution as indigenous and displaced peoples reclaimed identities. For
one man, born in New Zealand of Irish stock, it became a personal mission to bring together the
predominantly Jamaican and African performers of The Keskidee with Maori groups from activists to
gang members.

Denis O’Reilly, a social worker based at the small settlement of Waiohiki on the East Coast of New
Zealand, travelled in 1977 to the UK by way of Jamaica with the help of a Commonwealth Secretariat
scholarship to study the assimilation of transplanted peoples.

In London he met The Keskidee and the impact it had on him firmed his resolve to do whatever it took
to tour Keskidee through New Zealand.

“The Keskidee project was right in the middle of a rising sense of black consciousness.” Denis
O’Reilly explains.

In New Zealand the pocket of people responsible for bringing the Keskidee across the world to share
their dance, poetry, song and theatre called themselves Keskidee Aroha (meaning love).

Denis O’Reilly: “I believe the Keskidee Aroha project provided a useful cultural dynamic at a crucial
time. It helped many people take their anger and frustration and turn it from violent and destructive
outrage into change fostering political theatre.”

The costs were high and it took personal drive, lots of help and financial assistance from groups such
as the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, as well as the personal support of New Zealand
Prime Minister Rob Muldoon, to make the tour happen. But this clash of cultures had a personal and
lasting influence on all concerned. The Keskidee tour of New Zealand lit a fire under indigenous
theatre and contemporary music and is celebrated by the likes of musician Tigilau Ness and his son
Che Fu. The tour was captured in film by the late Merita Mita and Martyn Sanderson.

This month the Keskidee is honoured for its contribution to the fabric of London but the impact of the
group, the place and the movement are felt as richly on the other side of the world

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