Transcript: Dauda Ladejobi

Banjo Estate | Photo: Valence House Museum

Interviewee/s: Dauda Ladejobi

Interview Date: 10 October 2019

Interviewer: Nikki Shaill

Q: This is an oral history interview with Dauda Ladejobi, recorded at The White House in Dagenham on the 10th of October 2019. The interviewer is Nikki Shaill, and this is part of The Barking Stink Project for Thames Festival. So, if I can begin by asking you your full name?

A: Dauda – middle name as well? Dauda Ajibola Ladejobi.

Q: And your date of birth?

A: 16th of June 1992.

Q: And your parents’ names?

A: Mmm, my mum is Norat Gafar, my dad is Shamsideen Ladejobi.

Q: And where were you born?

A: I was born in Nigeria. I was born in Lagos and I moved to Dagenham when I was about eight years old.

Q: Eight years old.

A: Yeah.

Q: And how long did you live in Dagenham for?

A: I mean, my dad still lives – basically, my mum still lives in Dagenham, my dad lives in Collier Row, I moved out – 'cos I went to uni and I moved out, and then I lived in Bristol for a while, but then I moved back. So, it’s like – it’s all back and forth. The last time I lived in Dagenham was 2016, but then – yeah, yeah, 2016 I would say is the last time I lived in Dagenham.

Q: Where did you go to school?

A: I went to The Warren School – actually, first I went to Valence School, primary, and then I went to The Warren Primary School for like year six, and then I went to Warren Senior School up until I left for uni, so I went to sixth-form in Warren as well.

Q: So, you spent most of your like childhood, sort of youth years, in Dagenham.

A: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s all I know [laughs].

Q: And how was school for you? Did you enjoy school?

A: I loved school actually. School was a lot of fun for me. Like, I always find it weird when people say they didn’t enjoy school 'cos I just can’t fathom it. I had a lot of fun at school.

Q: What was your favourite thing about it?

A: I think we was quite fortunate at Warren where we had such a mixed group of people. So for me it was just kind of I was like, involved in quite a few different groups of really interesting people. So, like I knew all the kids that did the drama stuff 'cos I was doing – and drama kids are very particular [laughs], and from there I knew like the kids that were doing like the rock/indie stuff, but then I also like, knew all the grime kids and, you know, like so it was just such a – is eclectic the right word I’m looking for? Yeah, and it was just so much to pick from. And also, when we was in Chadwell Heath, I feel like Chadwell Heath was just kind of in the middle of everything, it’s got like – so, you just – different – people from different areas came as well, and it was just – yeah, just that mix of everything. So, yeah, I just really enjoyed that.

Q: And what were your favourite subjects?

A: Favourite subjects was drama and history, hands down, just those two, drama and history.

And then, media.

Q: And are there any teachers you particularly remember?

A: Yeah, a few actually. My history teacher 'cos his last name was Mason, so Mr Mason, and his – I remember a really cool story, he was telling us how his gran – his father was an actual freemason, like a – I just thought that was interesting, Mr Mason who was a mason [laughs].

And then, Mr Farnsworth was our drama – no, our media teacher and I always remember him mostly because of his personality. He just had a lot of personality, like I think he was – he’s head of something now, or maybe even head teacher now or something, but testament to just kind of the energy he had, and he had a lot of care for the kids. And then, my year seven form tutor, Miss Guard 'cos she was very instrumental in just me just growing, I guess. So, yeah, those three.

Q: And so, you were eight when you moved to Dagenham, is that right?

A: Hmm-hmm, yeah.

Q: Do you remember what it was like to move and change country?

A: Do I remember? Not really actually, not that I know. Not really. I just – I feel like I just – it’s all a blur of me just readjusting. One thing I do remember though, is my dad – that was just so – when we first moved to the UK we lived in Hackney for like two/three months and then we lived in Bristol for a tiny bit, and then we moved to Dagenham, and all of that was like between a year. I remember when we moved to Dagenham was when my dad was very much like, ‘You need to like, get your English properly right?’ For some reason, that stuck with me about Dagenham, so I feel like at that time I think it was a place where he knew for us to fit in more we needed to just sound more like we belonged. So, that’s one thing I remember I was just – our dad being very much like, ‘Get your English proper, like your –’ [laughs] like, being in Dagenham [laughs] means you’ve got to speak English the best way. It doesn’t work like that [laughs] but yeah, so that’s one thing I remember is just – yeah, pinning down more on the language side of things and making more of an effort to fit in, I think. Yeah, was a thing there.

Q: So, you don’t remember – do you remember like any other first impressions or how it compared to where you lived before?

A: I don’t think I could even make a comparison at that age, 'cos I came from like Lagos, and the whole UK was different, everything about it was just so different and it was just so – yeah, I think there was a lot to take in at that point. No, I think I was just like – I just remember always being in awe of just kind of how different everything was and how like, big everything was to a certain extent. No, like nothing really – yeah [laughs].

Q: And do you have any siblings?

A: Yeah, yeah. So, I’ve got one older brother, I’ve got a little brother, a little sister, and a little step-brother, and then from my dad’s side I got a little sister and a little brother as well, like half-brother and sister, but little brother and sister. Funny fact, my youngest little sister’s got the exact same birthday as me, so that’s always fun. But yeah, yeah, that’s the family, big old family.

Q: And what – when you weren’t in school, were there any particular places in the area that you’d go to as a child or as a teenager?

A: Beam and Chadwell Heath, so Chadwell Heath Park was – yeah, always there. We – after school I remember we always used to hang out outside the chicken – what was it called? The Chicken Spot? Yeah, I can’t remember what they’re called now. First it was The Dixy, The Dixy was further down the road where Tollgate was, but then Chicken Spot, which was opposite the Sainsbury’s which is still there, we used to hang around there all the time. Me and my friends got into the music and part of that we just basically spent all our time in our friend’s house who had the studio, and that was in Marks Gate, so we spent a lot of time in Marks Gate as well, so those were the areas. Oh, there was a period where we went to Romford skatepark like every Friday, like that was [laughs] – that was a thing, everyone around the areas would be in like Romford skatepark, every Friday that was a spot. And then obviously, is it the Liberty or whatever in Romford, the mall, so yeah.

Q: Can you remember any particular smells from your childhood or being a young person?

A: Mmm –

Q: You mentioned the chicken shop.

A: Yeah, well, yeah, yeah, yeah –

Q: So, it would have had its own smell.

A: That is definitely [laughs] – the smell of fried chicken is like every day after school [laughs] –

that was all of my school years, I guess. What else? There’s – chlorine, like the first time I went to a swimming pool like that smell always kind of stuck with me. It’s weird 'cos like, when I started – my hay fever started kicking up, so like that fresh grass smell is something that is actually like – I think it’s more of a traumatic thing really [laughs], like it just reminds me of when things are going to get bad and I can’t see and, ugh, God. But yeah, that fresh grass smell. What else? What smells – yeah, those are the main ones. Fresh grass smells, chicken shop definitely – yeah, yeah.

Q: Brilliant. And so yeah, we talked a little bit about your school. What did you do after school?

A: As in, when I left school or –

Q: Yeah.

A: Okay, so sixth form and then after sixth form, I went to uni to study drama. So, in sixth form I did history, drama, media. AS levels, I did psychology as well. I did A levels, I didn’t do it, I’d done three. And then uni I went to do drama.

Q: And why did you choose drama?

A: You know what, it was actually – it was a toss-up between history and drama, and it was – I just said to myself, whichever one I get the best grade in is what I’m going to go onto do in uni. And I got an A in drama, I got a B in history, so I went for drama.

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Q: Do you still enjoy history in other ways?

A: Yeah, yeah, like the two are quite mixed to be fair, like art is quite instrumental to history, and history always informs art. So, yeah, even when I was doing my drama degree, learning about – just learning about the history of like, just how certain movements started and what influenced certain playwrights or certain practitioners, it’s all history, it’s all social context, so that never left me. And then when I did my – and then when I did my dissertation, I did mine on the – well, the effects of colonialism on African art, so basically post-colonial art focussing on Nigeria. So, that was all history, all of that was just kind of looking at colonialism and then how it – so, yeah, I still very much enjoy history and it’s something that’s still engrained in everything I do, so yeah.

Q: Did you visit Nigeria as part of your dissertation?

A: No, no, I mean, I’ve just lived experiences, right [laughs]. It was actually after I finished uni

that I went back to Nigeria for the first time since returning, so yeah, and I think part of that was just kind of, it was driven by doing all that research. And I was like actually I need to just find my way back to roots or whatever, [laughs], whatever that was. Yeah, it was quite good.

Q: I’m going to ask you about smells again.

A: Yeah, sure.

Q: Are there any particular smells you associate with your trips there, or that you remember from maybe when you were first there as a child?

A: Food, it’s always food.

Q: [Laughs].

A: So, just that grilled meat, Suya especially, like it’s basically barbecue food on the roadside all the time. Scotch Bonnets, I remember just that kind of burning smell you get in your nose when you smell something really spicy and that cough is coming, but you know it’s going to taste so good. Oh, God, what else? Like, from returning, the sewage [laughs]. When I was first there honestly as a kid, I don’t think I ever noticed that, but yeah, I noticed that more so when I returned now. The sewage is definitely an active thing that is open. And, you know, it’s just food, it’s just food. It’s all of the – like right now – even right now I’m just thinking the smell of the Agege bread is so nice. And then, like the eggs and the seafood that’s there, it’s just food [laughs].

Q: Amazing. You’ve painted, yeah, quite a picture of, yeah, the food. Do you notice any sewage smells in Dagenham ever?

A: Yeah, yeah [laughs] definitely, like obviously there are times when you know a pipe has burst, or maybe something’s flooded, or just a particularly bad street I guess or, you know – well, you know like one smell that I do notice more so, and I think maybe it’s because – more so from Chadwell Heath and Marks Gate actually – no, some bits of Barking as well, but it’s when like the fields get done and the manure, oh my Lord [laughs], like that is one smell that doesn’t leave you. So, yeah, yeah, you do get the –

Q: Could you describe at all what that smells like?

A: Oof – I can’t really describe that. I don’t know, it’s almost like this really intense – it’s going to

sound weird, but like – it’s like on a borderline of a petrolly smell mixed with this kind of grainy mud smell. I don’t know, I don’t know how to explain it, but yeah, it’s just that mixture, and then it’s just so intensified especially when it’s like, the field has just been done or something and it’s so intense. So intense. But yeah, yeah, I think like a petroly, earthy smell.

Q: And – thank you, that’s good descriptions of smells, very evocative.

A: [Laughs].

Q: So, are you still doing – you’re still doing drama now?

A: Yeah, yeah, in fact this morning I was – what I’m doing at the moment, doing shows in schools, so like right now it’s Shakespeare we’re doing. Just did Macbeth in a school this morning. Kids probably don’t understand anything that happened, but it was fun [laughs].

Q: So, yeah, tell – I’d love to hear a bit more about – yeah, how you kind of got into poetry and drama and –

A: Mmm.

Q: What work you do in the area still now with young people or adults.

A: Yeah, so I got into – there’s a bit of an anecdote for how I got into poetry. I used to go to a youth group or – yeah, a youth group called Big Dill which was run by Studio 3 Arts, that was like their youth group at that point. And that one was basically, we would meet up every week, we’d talk about things that are going on in the local area. At that point, stop and search and knife crime was like really – I think it’s when Trident was introduced into the area and stuff like that. So, it was just really – yeah, they were just clamping down on knife crime and there was quite a lot of knife crime in the area at that point. So, we would talk about those issues and then we would basically use – from the conversations, we would draw for stimulus to then put on a show where we’d use our own creative art forms to talk about these issues. So, we have a showcase coming up, and all my friends like I say, we did music, and at that point – this was still like – it’s weird 'cos now like I look back and I realise that actually, it was a very long process. I thought I got English [snaps fingers], very straight-forward, but it was a very long process of me really getting to grasp with English, like outside of just the accent actually using and thinking of the words. So, when I was trying to do music with my friends like, I was still quite – I was still struggling a bit with language, so it wasn’t quite landing, like I wasn’t quite getting it the way they were getting it. And then one day, Eliza, she was rehearsing and she was like, ‘Actually, just take the music element out of it because it’s obviously deterring you from getting your words out properly, and just do – just say the words.’ Did it, and she was like, ‘Look, it sounds better like that. You should try and just pursue it like that.’ Done the show, it felt better, and I was like, okay cool, let me just try write more things like this. And then, just ended up writing more spoken words stuff, and trying to – once I understood what that was as an art form, then kind of really honing in on how to use that. So, that’s been very fortunate and then, like it’s gone from there to now, like I run Spoken Not Stirred, which is a monthly open-mic poetry night, which is actually going on tonight after this workshop which I’m running, which is – so, this workshop started with [coughs], in the summer, myself and

Aislinn who’s another young poet – saying another young poet, she’s a lot younger than me [laughs], but yeah, she’s a young poet who has been affiliated with The White House for a while, and together we put on like a series of workshops where we was teaching young kids about poetry and events, and at the end of that they threw their own event. That’s the poster of the event that they threw, and that’s also an anthology that they put together. So, we got some poets in to run workshops with them and stuff like that and created this anthology, created that night, and then this was a follow-on from that where we’re going to be creating more events and teaching them more art forms. So, yeah, it started with me not being able to do music, and now [laughs] teaching and running nights for it, so.

Q: So, can you describe a bit – yeah, the kind of arts and creative scene that exists in Dagenham?

A: Yeah, I think there’s quite a good mix actually. There was a point where I was a little bit worried, but mostly through the engagement stuff that I’ve had with Studio 3 Arts I’ve been exposed to quite a few different artists and disciplines as well. So, you get quite a lot of visual artists as well in different ways, like creative crafts where they’re actively building stuff, so like pottery and just kind of makeshift stuff. I’m forgetting names and I don’t want to give wrong names. There is one artist, her name’s Griffi, yeah, Griffi . Can’t remember her last name, but she makes like sculptures and ornaments, amazing also – also a local artist. You get – in the poetry side, I’ve been very humbled to see that we’ve got like a collective now, so Spoken Not Stirred’s got like a collective of local poets that really want to just kind of push that scene. There’s Anne Macaulay and Ann Dineen are the two that are really always kind of there and then there’s just like other poets such as [sighs] – I say as and then all their names just kind of – just [blows] right out of my head, so [laughs] – sorry, it’s just so annoying [laughs].

Q: That’s okay, that’s fine.

[0:19:53]

A: Yeah, but Anne Macaulay, Ann Dineen are just kind of great examples of local poets that really push for that. And then music side, I think we’ve got quite a lot of talent.

Another great poet actually locally, apart from Aislinn who I’ve been doing my stuff with, John Akinde, who’s also a musician as well. You know, and he’s also like – I would say he’s quite a social activist in some of the projects he gets himself involved in, so that’s really good to see. And then we’ve got like groups like The White House and Studio 3 Arts who have been just kind of running engagement stuff for artists of all disciplines and ages. So, yeah, it is quite a good mix, it’s growing, the exposure’s definitely getting out there. I think there was a time when it was just quiet, just focussed, like I was fortunate to find Studio 3 Arts, but I don’t think there was much in offering outside of that, but now like you’re seeing so much happening which is really good. Yeah, so there’s a great mix going on.

Q: Amazing. And as well as those changes within, yeah, the cultural and creative scene, are there any other sort of major changes that you’ve noticed in the time you’ve been working and living in this area?

A: [Laughs] I’m laughing because the first thing that comes to my mind is how much the Nigerian community has grown [laughs], like the Nigerian community and – especially in Dagenham, but just in – yeah, Barking and Dagenham, it’s absolutely grown. My dad now has – he’s got two Nigerian restaurants. Mazee’s Kitchen and Mazee’s place, New Road, Dagenham and wherever that is – Oxlow Lane. And it’s like – it’s just testament – and there’s also now another Nigerian shop in Romford, and then there’s one on the Heathway in Dagenham, I think, called Squires. And it’s just like – it’s just testament to how much that is now in demand and people are able to – and it’s just because so many Nigerians have come. And for me, that is just – it’s just built a community, it just felt like more of a community built by us, 'cos I’m Nigerian. So, that’s one, that’s definitely one.

Another one obviously is, you know, the last three/four years with like the Gascoigne Estate coming down in, what I would say was quite a odd bit of displacement where people were getting moved further out to Essex and stuff like that. So,– so yeah, with the – I guess, with so many people being moved out and the actual landscape changing itself, Barking has definitely taken on a new atmosphere, and I think there’s still a little bit of unease because no-one knows – 'cos it hasn’t finished, the project hasn’t finished, like the new blocks haven’t really totally been done even though most of them are up now and that’s – there’s still remnants of Gascoigne and still remnants of some of the people that used to live there. There’s still that unease where it’s just the crossover’s still happening, and yeah, more so in Barking, I feel like you can definitely see that at the moment. And there’s like a – even like it was earlier this year when I think the Costa opened across the road from the station, like even that was a little bit of a thing, so it’s still going through changes, still transforming. But I think there’s one thing that I’m always kind of – always gives me hope when I see how the people who are still here still kind of fight for what’s theirs in a sense like, and not in like a scary national pride way, but more in a like, these are

the things we take pride in in Barking, and we want to make sure people know these things exist. Like, the poetry nights and the social community groups, and it is times like this where these changes are happening where those groups do really kind of come together and show what the strength of the community can look like, so yeah, exciting times.

Q: And our project, the Barking Stink, we’re focussing on the area that’s around Abbey Road and the kind of Riverside area behind that.

A: Yeah.

Q: Have you ever been to that area? Is that an area that you’re kind of aware of?

A: Yeah, yeah, very familiar with that area. So, Studio 3 Arts actually used to be by the The Malthouse, so The Malthouse was like our first – well, my – when I joined Studio 3, so that area we always used to go round there – obviously it’s more accessible now because they’ve actually done something with the space. But yeah, even back then we used to go round there, it’s a nice area, it’s tucked away at the back, so like as a kid you kind of like – bits where you feel a bit mischievous, so it was like a little mischievous bit to go to. It was fun, and then obviously Abbey Road [sighs], I don’t know, like I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Barking and just kind of exploring and these are like main roads and a lot of traffic, and a lot of – there’s a lot that’s going on round there. We used to do a lot of shows in the Barking Broadway as well, so just that area was somewhere we always used to occupy. Yeah, yeah, so it’s just – and the– so, yeah, so just kind of thinking about it now it’s just – it’s interesting that a lot of my engagement with those areas, actually have been through the arts [laughs], 'cos obviously Abbey Road and Broadway is performing, and Malthouse and that bit of the Riverside is just kind of from Studio 3 Arts. Like, I don’t think I would have actually known about that far back in Barking if it weren’t for the fact we had to go there for the – for our training and rehearsals. So, for me those were the things that have driven me to find those areas, and I know for other people it was just different reasons, so yeah, it’s quite interesting in that regard.

Q: Yeah. And I’m just going to ask you one more question which is kind of looking at ahead to the future and I guess, yeah, just what you think – how you sort of see the area kind of developing in the next few years? Or if there’s anything – is there anything you’re worried about for the future of the area?

A: Worried about, not so much worried about, but one thing I always do want to keep my eye on is like I said with that community and when – I feel like the worst of it has happened when displacements have happened and people who’ve got moved out have been moved out now, but it’s just those are the moments where community can very much lose itself and people can feel a bit defeated and not – feel like they don’t actually have the power . That’s something in Barking, because when such big changes are happening, and people in the local area don’t feel engaged and involved in those, they can very much lose that sense of community and that sense of care for their local area because it’s not something that they asked for. So, that’s what I’m a bit worried about is that people will not be able to see themselves and engage with Barking and Dagenham the same way they did when it was – like, if they grew up here and they know the parts and they know – but, I feel like it is a very tenacious area and people always make do, and always kind of find that light at the end of the tunnel in their own different way, whether it be through art, social engagement, or just simply accepting, okay, we’ll move on now, this is how it is now, we’ll move on, power through. So, I’m worried in a sense, but I’m also like, knowing what Barking folks are like, knowing what Dagenham folks are like and that, there’s this pure stubborn way of life, of like no, we’re going to get it done our way, I’m also not worried. And for me as well, seeing the increase of art just in general of all the projects going on, all the different like organisations that are now willing to get involved and see the potential in Barking, as scary as it may be sometimes 'cos you never know everyone’s true intentions, it is also exciting, and it also opens doors, you know, it gives more opportunities, so I am excited, I am excited, and hopeful about the future of Barking, definitely.

Q: Thank you and I said that was my final question, but this is my final question. What’s your – what would you say are your favourite smells now?

A: [Laughs] My favourite smells now, funny enough, even though I complained about it earlier, is

that early morning grass smell. Just 'cos it kind of – it takes me back to that first time I really understood it. I also – [laughs] this is going to sound weird, actually no, it’s not weird, I enjoy the smell of the Caribbean, if we’re talking especially in Barking, on a Saturday there’s this particular woman who does – she has a stall. She’s been there for a while now, and every time I see her there, like I have to get the food 'cos it’s so banging, but it’s just the aroma, it just fills it in. And that walk from Barking Market’s interesting 'cos I know the first bit you’ve got to get through the fish [laughs]. Like, you’re coming from the station, first bit you’ve got – if it’s like a busy day you’ve got, right at the start where there’s the woman that does the crepes or the panini’s or whatever, and then next to her is the trailer that has started doing jollof rice and that, which is so cool. But then if you walk straight through the Market and you’ve got the fish, and then you walk a bit further on and you’ve got like the Turkish thing, and then you walk further down and you’ve got this lovely woman who’s just past all the McDonald’s and that, and she’s got the best Caribbean food going, and it’s – yeah, yeah. So, yeah, especially for Barking, that’s my favourite smell. When I know she’s there, that’s perfect.

Q: Thank you. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

A: No [laughs].

Q: Thank you so much for your time, Dauda.

A: No, thank you, thank you.

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