Head Wraps with Knots UK

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“On Air” Podcast Show Three: head wraps with Knots UK © 2018 Ayesha Casely-Hayford

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About Afro Archives

Afro Archives explores heritage and identity within UK society. It investigates images of black women through promotion of self-expression and confidence to be who we naturally are. This project seeks to promote and celebrate afro hair by having inclusive discussions about hair and hair-related experiences with people of all ages, backgrounds, cultures and creeds.

Big Thanks to Wandsworth Radio, in Battersea, for hosting us. Wandsworth Radio is a local Community Radio Station. It covers Battersea, Putney, Balham, Southfields, Earlsfield, Wandsworth Town, Roehampton and Tooting. The Station exists to celebrate the borough’s greatness. “Over 300,000 people call Wandsworth home and they deserve a community radio service providing local news and other content showcasing the people who live here”.

Creator Ayesha Casely-Hayford is an actress, award-winning voice artist and employment lawyer of Ghanian descent, born in London and raised in Kent. With her roots in law, specialising in discrimination, and as former chair of the board of trustees for The Act For Change Project, a charity campaigning for greater diversity in the arts, she is uniquely positioned to see the social, performative and legal issues facing black women in the UK today.

Photo credit: Helen Murray Photography

© 2018 Ayesha Casely-Hayford

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Show Three Transcript 16 March 2018 Guest: Sandra Soteriou of Knots UK http://knots-uk.com/ Knots UK is based in London, UK and specialises in head wraps and accessories. Their head wraps come in a range of different fabrics and colours. Read More: https://ayeshacasely-hayford.com/wandsworth-radio/ Listen: https://www.mixcloud.com/ayeshacaselyhayford/head-wraps-with-knots-uk-showthree-afro-archives-16th-march-2018/ Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLKIJpUA_vJKNkMNo4EhRxDdTGnqYfIvhw


ACH: Hello and welcome to this week's Afro Archives. I'm Ayesha Casely-Hayford and I'm delighted to be joined by my first live guest Sandra Soteriou.

Hello Sandra!

SS: Hello!

ACH: before we begin though a big shout out to my co presenters on female Friday Chloe de Save and Nicolette Wilson-Clarke. Thank you so much for your sharings and inspiration ladies. © 2018 Ayesha Casely-Hayford

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So hello Sandra, well we go back about 5 years I calculated did you realise?

SS: No, I thought it was longer for some reason!

ACH: You thought it was longer?! Well Sandra and I met as part of an acting group one of my drama teachers Robyn Moore. I just love the way the universe has brought us back, because here we are all these years later, independently united for a totally different reason, and one we are both so passionate about, hair.

SS: Yeah, that’s right.

ACH: So today’s show is all about Head Wraps. We hope to share about the symbolism of Head Wraps. But firstly to unpack that word “Head Wrap” I don’t know if you are the same listeners, but it is easy to think of the African style Head Wrap when we say “Head Wrap" - but it’s so much wider than this. We are talking about a distinct cloth head covering. It usually completely covers the hair, being held in place by tying the ends into knots close to the skull. Other names are: “head rag” “Head kerchief” head scarf” “turban”, “Hijab” but these really are just but a few other names for this personal and feminine piece of cloth. Head covering holds a distinctive position in the history of many cultures, traditions, and religions.

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As well as getting wound up in Head Wraps, our show today is also all about Sandra, because we will be sharing about her company Knots UK and the whole show is Sandra’s playlist. So let’s bring it.

[Song: “EveryDay People” Arrested Development]

ACH: Hello, I’m Ayesha and I’m here on Wandsworth Radio with Afro Archives and my live guest Sandra Soteriou. Sandra’s company, Knots UK, provides Head Wraps for all. Their wraps are sourced from all around the world. In addition, they offer Head Wrap tying tutorials and beautiful accessories. You can visit their website knots-uk.com

Thank you so much for being here Sandra and may I hand the floor to you? What’s it all about?

SS: Sure, firstly may I say thank to you so much for inviting me here really I'm just so so grateful to be a part of this today thank you for thinking of me and my company.

So I'll tell you how we kind of started so I’ll give you a little bit of history. So I'm from Haiti my family's Haitian I was born in Miami and so I grew up with the women always wearing Head Wraps. My grandmother wore Head Wraps my great grandmother my mother all of the women wore Head Wraps in my family so it was really it was a perfect transition for me to wear a Head Wrap as well and I was always kind of in awe of the way that they looked when they wore a Head Wrap. I swear my mum look like a queen like she could be [Queen] Nefertiti in a Head Wrap she was absolutely stunning. And I just loved the way she look in Head Wrap and I kinda just wanted to have that feeling as I grew up

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you know, as I became an adult, I really wanted to kind of embed that feeling within me that I am a queen as well and I think the Head Wrap kind of help me do that.

So I can have had this idea, so I was buying Head Wraps from women from all over the world, and while I was away I'd contacted a few women to buy a few Head Wraps and they never contacted me and my mum in a roundabout way said “why are you begging people to buy Head Wraps? you could just sell your own Head Wraps”. And I kind of didn't do anything about it then, and this was a couple of years ago, and then my friend became really ill and she lost her hair to chemotherapy. And so she invited me over, she's white British, and said “could you please show me how to wrap my hair you look so beautiful when you wear your Head Wraps” and so I went over and I showed her and it's funny cause when I get there because she's white British I was thinking oh maybe she wants to do it in a way that would suit a white British women, whatever that means, and she said “no I really want to wear it exactly how you were yours” because for her it was more important that she felt like she still had hair. So we build up a Head Wrap and made it look like she had a whole head full of hair and she loved the way she looked in the Head Wrap and I then started to do it for other women who were also going to chemotherapy. And so the company began. © 2018 Ayesha Casely-Hayford

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ACH: That’s beautiful. That's absolutely beautiful. So the company at the moment, it's online and you're selling internationally?

SS: That's right we sell all over the world. We source our Head Wrap material from Nigeria, Kenya, and Zambia. We only buy from women which comes with its own challenges. We buy from women and women cut and sew the fabric here in London. And so it's all about supporting other women businesses as well, so lot of their women and I buy fabric from are like single mums you know over in these countries and they're really working really hard so I try and source my material from them.

ACH: And when you say source what are you looking for, particular patterns? Particular material?

SS: I kind of just like the way the material makes me feel. I mean so I'm buying Ankara and mud cloth prints that sort of thing.

ACH: For our listeners can you explain a bit more about Ankara, what is it about that kind of texture or fibre?

SS: Well it’s cotton but it’s more about the print. Because there’s so many prints I think it's kind of signifies, because there's so many prints coming out right now I think it's difficult to pinpoint one particular print. The prints are being recycled over and over and over again so there are hundreds of prints and the prints go out of stock as well. But you get lots of prints coming back in. But the Ankara print it's kind of used in lots of African countries so very well-known in places like Nigeria which is where the Head © 2018 Ayesha Casely-Hayford

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Wraps, well the head ties, kind of started. And there is a really interesting story which I love, which is when these when women started wearing these Head Wraps in these tribes in Nigeria, and the wives, because you know there were several wives, wife one wife one would wear her Head Wrap in a certain way to depict to wife two how she was feeling that that day, so she’d be like “like girl I'm not feeling it today, I'm gonna to be wife number one today! I'm not feeling it!” So I love the history behind that. Also if you were your Head Wrap really high, it signified how much money you had, what your status was in that community, it’s really really interesting. In the Caribbean if you wear your Head Wrap to the right it means that you're single, you know. So Head Wraps can signify quite a lot depending on where you come from. [Song: “Boogie On Reggae Woman” Stevie Wonder] ACH: We’re on Sandra's playlist today and that was Boogie On Reggae Woman by Stevie Wonder we've been discussing Sandra’s company Knots UK and we're now going to start to really unwrap because yes we really are going to fill a whole hour talking about Head Wraps. So Sandra was just sharing about the Tignon Laws, which I know a bit about but Sandra please take the floor.

SS: ok so the Tignon Laws were a rule that banned black women, this is in America, from displaying their hair. The law was meant as a means to regulate the style of dress and © 2018 Ayesha Casely-Hayford

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appearance of a woman of colour. Black women's features attracted white suitors and their beauty was perceived as a threat to white women. Black women didn’t despair though, they used a fabric and colours to accentuate their beauty even more. So it backfired, there you go!

ACH: So basically their hair was banned and they were told to cover up, but rather than keep it simple they were like, ok...

SS: Yeah exactly, if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it. We’re going do it with style.

ACH: So an attempt to suppress

SS: Absolutely. It became a uniform of rebellion.

ACH: I just love that so much. And that actually leads nicely into our next kind of segment, which is an introduction of our Head Wrap facts. And to be honest, as I was saying to you the more I got into my research the more the Head Wrap world grew and I was like ok I don't even know how we're going to do Justice to this topic. But, you know this intimate and historical symbol, we are going to share a beginning of an introduction and what I hope will be interesting facts.

So the first bit of facts I found which is similar to the Tignon Laws I guess is how the Head Wrap as we see it worn on women of African descent does have a distressing underscore in that during the time of slavery, with overlords, it was imposed as a badge of enslavement they've got some records where is like part the costume that you had it © 2018 Ayesha Casely-Hayford

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as part of your slavery clothing allowance. Later it also evolved into the stereotype that whites held of the “Black Mammy” servant, and you often do see those vintage pictures with the Head Wrap on. But today, here we are, and I think Knots UK really is about this as well, we are celebrating and you'll see a lot of things online with people actually said you know what I'm wearing this to reclaim my heritage

SS: That’s right and I’ll take us back a little bit. So what I found in my own research that when the African women slaves were taken from Africa the beautiful Head Wraps that they were wearing their kind of custom clothing, was stripped away and it was a way of stripping away ethnic identity. So they weren't given elaborate material in fact they were given t-shirts to tie their hair up with and t-shirts with holes in them. So really really changed the way women felt about their hair as well, because black women’s hair was deemed really ugly and in fact it's very very beautiful and very very versatile. So the law of the land said that all slaves had to tie their hair and yeah like I said the afro hair was deemed ugly and nappy and should not have been on display.

ACH: and even more so, covered with a T-Shirt, almost a rag.

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SS: Yeah that’s right. I think it was in Louisiana in the 30s that the women, so the Tignon Laws, that affected those women, it was those women the women from Louisiana and the Caribbean women who decided actually if we're going to have to wear this, we're going to wear it in style, and we’re going to wear it our way.

ACH: That’s resilience, that’s what you call resilience.

SS: That’s right, that's right. And so they decided it we're going to wear it, we’ll wear it our way and that's exactly what they did. And it ended up with them getting a lot more attention.

ACH: I love it. We’ll be back after this. [songs “Four Five Seconds” Rhianna, Kanye West, Paul McCartney and “Send My Love” Adele] ACH: That was Adele with Send My Love. I'm Ayesha sharing Afro Archives for Female Friday and joined by my guest Sandra of Knots UK. We're talking about Head Wraps today and we have now reached our Head Wrap facts. We've just been sharing about the origins of Head Wraps worn by women of African descent and now I'm going to move us into Europe.

You may be familiar with the famous Hermes Scarf. Hermes is a

fashion house steeped in history and tradition. Best known for their handbags, but their headscarves are iconic. Bali Barret, art director at Hermes silks and who I read has 200 headscarves herself says:

“The headscarf is an intimate, personal, accessory you have a relationship, in the way a woman doesn’t even have with a pair of shoes”.

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Now, this is the fact that I found really interesting about the Hermes scarf inspiration. The Hermes head scarf, was inspired by the war. Soldiers were sent into occupied territory with silk scarves printed with maps, and instructions , often cryptically camouflaged by a more elaborate and seemingly innocent design. From this, Hermes took the idea of making a silk scarf for the newly emancipated, active, athletic woman, who, as a feminine propriety, still dictated at that time time, needed to keep her hair in order. This really made me start thinking of something sent to me by a friend on Twitter which was of young African slave girls who had hair braided to show an escape route. So they that these really elaborate head designs. So amazing, our heads are literally life saving.

SS: hmm, that’s really interesting. That’s the first I’ve heard of that. I love that, I love that.

ACH: Secret messages in heads and Head Wrap! It’s so inspirational.

I’m Ayesha and I’m here at Wandsworth Radio for Afro Archives with my guest Sandra Soteriou. We’ve been discussing Head Wraps and fashion, now let’s look at religious connections, starting with Islam. I found this info from “A brief history of the veil in Islam” by a company called Facing History and ourselves” I’ll put the link in the show transcript.

So in Islam, there are 4 types of headscarves in Islam.

the first is the Hijab, which is the style we see most commonly here in the UK: The hijab is one name for a variety of similar headscarves. It is the most popular veil worn in the West. These veils consist of one or two scarves that cover the head and neck. Outside

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the West, this traditional veil is worn by many Muslim women in the Arab world and beyond.

Then there is the Niqab: The Niqab covers the entire body, head and face; however, an opening is left for the eyes.

The two main styles of Niqab are the half-Niqab that consists of a headscarf and facial veil that leaves the eyes and part of the forehead visible and the full, or Gulf. The Niqab that leaves only a narrow slit for the eyes.

Although these veils are popular across the Muslim world, they are most common in the Gulf States. The Niqab is responsible for creating a lot of debate within Europe, as we know. Some politicians have argued for its ban, while others feel that it interferes with communication or creates security concerns. But we’re not interested in that right now.

Third is the Chador: The chador is a full-body-length shawl, which held closed at the neck by hand or pin. It covers the head and the body but leaves the face completely visible. Chadors are most often black and are most common in the Middle East, specifically in Iran. That’s the Chador.

Finally, the Burqa: The Burqa is a full-body veil. The wearer’s entire face and body are covered, and one sees through a mesh screen over the eyes. It is most commonly worn in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (1996–2001), its use was mandated by law.

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I thought that was quite good Sandra to separate them because I think it's labelled under one title, the hijab, quite often, but there’s lots of different types of head scarves.

SS: That's right and we live in London so we have so many Communities wearing a type of head covering on their hair so we have to respect all of us and I think in it is you know and they're part of us as well.

What I found really interesting was when I was in Japan I did a photoshoot with Japanese women and lots of them were saying that out how can you do a photoshoot with Japanese women but funny enough when I was there when I was doing my photo shoot the older women came by while we were shooting and they all said that their mothers wore head coverings not specifically in the way that we wear them but it took them back to their childhood and I thought that was really really interesting. So even though we take ownership of the Head Wrap as black women lots of cultures have their own relationships with head covering and we have to respect those as well.

ACH: Absolutely, because ultimately their also just forms of self-expression.

SS: Absolutely.

ACH: Since we’re talking about Japan, I might as well jump ahead. Sandra and I did have a little touch base earlier, and we talked about Japan. So I did go and look up what was going on in Japan with Head Wraps and I did find some really interesting stuff. I found a name for a Head Wrap called the Tenugui. Did you come across that name?

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SS: That’s right.

ACH: and funny, I’ve actually got one! And you’ll never guess where I got it from.

SS: Where?

ACH: Ghana!

SS: Interesting!

ACH: Yeah! My brother went to the Mokola Market and picked one up for my cousin and myself. So I've got one at home but I thought it was a tea towel. And in my research it did say they are also used for drying hands or for cleaning because the material is like cloth, really absorbent. But my one, the design is so beautiful, and had such a gorgeous design on it I’ve hung it up as a piece of art.

common use. But I’m gonna try and use it as Head Wrap now. © 2018 Ayesha Casely-Hayford

And that also is a

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SS: I’d love to see it!

ACH: You know?! I’m gonna do that. But what I found out was historically, the Tenugui material was actually really expensive and it was made of woven cloths or silk or hemp used in ceremonies and religious rituals.

SS: Yeah that’s right.

ACH: It’s now lower in price, and more affordable and more widespread with versatile use from headwear to belts, wallets and protective and decorative wrapping. So when you were there, were you using the Tenugui material?

SS: I was using African print material because while I was there I only found out about the Tenugui while I was there after speaking to older women who identified when we were shooting, what we were doing. It was just really really interesting. The material itself comes along way. The Egyptians were wearing heavy cloth on their heads a very very a really long time ago. We've been wearing these on our heads for years and years and years. But what we're trying to do now is bring it back and take ownership of it. Were trying to reclaim it. It's kind of like it signifies our pride when we wear it especially for us black women we’re kind of taking that back because of our own history with it, but lots of other cultures have their own history, and they're all really really interesting and as important.

ACH: Absolutely. Let’s go into another song. So we’re on Sandra’s playlist and next up we’ve got some Damien Rice. Here is Damien Rice with Cold Water. © 2018 Ayesha Casely-Hayford

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SS: Enjoy [song: “Cold Water” Damien Rice] ACH: Thank you so much Sandra, for your song choices today, they’re so beautiful.

I'm here with my guest Sandra Soteriou and we've been sharing Head Wrap facts we were looking at the wearing of Head Wraps in Islam and keeping on the religious line we're also going to look at turbans in the Sikh religion. So we've moved from the African continent we’ve done Europe, we’ve even done Japan and now we're with the Sikhs and Southern Asia.

So the turban is the one thing that identifies a Sikh more than any other symbol of their faith. Would you agree?

SS: Yes, that’s right.

ACH: It is known within Sikhism as a Dastar. From my research, I found that it began from an order handed down in 1699 by the 10th Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, requiring Skikhs to not cut their hair. The turban was used to help keep the long hair and protect a Sikh’s head. The turban is something that I have always recognised mostly on men, something © 2018 Ayesha Casely-Hayford

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masculine. But it’s changing now and women are wearing them. I found a great article on the BBC, which had a quote from a British-Indian woman called Devinder and she’s reported as saying about her choice to wear a turban is that “doing this has helped me to stay grounded and focused on what my responsibilities are as a human being”.

can you relate to that?

SS: absolutely yes that’s beautiful!

ACH: I really really love that. I mean, what kind of feeling do you get when you're wearing your Head Wrap?


Whenever I wear my Head Wrap, I feel like...I feel like I've arrived. I command the

room. I'm wearing this Head Wrap because I wanna stand out. I want to be noticed. I don't want to be invisible that's not who I am and that's not what we should be. We should command the room and that's what I believe. I believe black women should be commanding the room and we should be taking up space. And when I wear my Head Wrap right that's exactly how I feel. I want to feel like those strong women who fought for all those things that make everything possible for us today. You know I wear it to pay homage to those women. I wear it to pay homage to my grandmother, my mother all the women in my life who’ve always worn Head Wraps and because of them I am me, and because of that I feel like I could be giving it back to other women as well. What I'm really passionate about is helping other women who have lost their hair through chemotherapy or alopecia or whatever reason I want to be able to install and then that confidence when they wear a Head Wrap as well. So for me that's where the

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passion lies. It’s to be able to help other women feel exactly how I feel. If I'm doing that then I'm getting the job done. I feel really happy about that.

ACH: I feel grounded just hearing about it. That’s lovely. Our last is about the material then. We have now moved back onto African fabrics, and African styles. And Sandra and I also discussed this a bit early, and I found an interesting article in the good old Huff Post by a woman called Nadege Sappou. Title of that article is “The UnAfrican-ness of Africa’s Fabric”. You can see from that title where we’re going with this. As Sandra also told me, the fabric we recognise as African print, is actually Dutch. And what Ms Seppou says:

“During the 1800s Indonesians used a wax resisting dyeing technique for pattern making known as Batik. As a result of colonisation Batik was introduced and quickly gained popularity throughout Europe. Roller print machines allowed for mass production, however, these imitation fabrics never found foot in the Indonesian market. As a result, French, British, and Dutch companies sought new markets, which they found in Africa.”

Ms Seppou goes on to say “European wax prints were not originally intended for African markets, yet Africa became the largest consumer of their imitation Batik styles. By the end of the 19th century European © 2018 Ayesha Casely-Hayford

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fabric companies sold wax fabrics along the Gold Coast on the trading path to Indonesia. These fabrics quickly became synonymous of high quality and fashion throughout West and Central Africa.”

SS: That’s what I found as well in my research so yeah that's absolutely right. Even though we know we take ownership of it, it's ours and rightly so, it actually originated by the Dutch.

ACH: Complicated isn’t it!

SS: It’s not straightforward!

ACH: Because we’ve been talking about reclaiming heritage and ancestry. But then the prints we’re wearing didn’t necessarily originate from the lands that our ancestors came from.

SS: That's right.

ACH: It’s got this commercial undertone there.

SS: yeah that's right, it does. But I'm hoping in buying from these women who are in these countries that I am you know, I am supporting these women in that way, and that you know I'm giving something back to this moment so that's why I am supporting the women that I buy fabric from.

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ACH: Yeah because at the end of the day it’s their love, care and sweat that’s going into now producing these fabrics. And their creativity that goes into selecting the material, that means something to them.

SS: That’s right. So when you buy a Head Wrap from us you’re buying something really really special and we hope that when people buy from us, we hope that they feel like they're buying something really special as well.

ACH: I love that. And on the subject of love I’m going to end with my feature, my T.G.I.F. “That Girl is Fine” an en vogue and mainstream image of afro hair that I found in the media, and this time I found an image of Laetitia Ky from Ivory Coast. So we’re still in West Africa. The image is taken from Vogue’s article by Lauren Valenti titled “These 5 Women are Living Works of Art”. Laetitia’s photo is the fourth on the article.

In the image Laetitia has her afro hair in thick braids. She’s moulded them to create her message. Laetitia’s braids are divided into two big pigtails that hang down and then they turn into arms, at the hair arm elbow they turn up at a right angle and then they become five-fingered hair hands. Are you still with me?! The hair hands are pinched at the thumb and forefinger. Between the thumb and forefinger the hair hands hold beauty © 2018 Ayesha Casely-Hayford

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products. In one hair hand is a red varnish glass container, and in the other, the varnish brush, which rests against Laetitia’s red lips. So basically it’s a really surreal, arty, and a lot of fun hairstyle.

Laetitia says: “It’s important to express my African heritage through my hairstyles. I use myself as a canvas to symbolise self-assurance and self-love. This form of expression lets me be heard.”

That’s really in line with what you were saying, I’m here.

SS: Yeah, I’m not gonna go quietly.

ACH: This is an awesome legacy. Well, that’s it for today on Afro Archives, a big thank you to you Sandra, my first live guest.

SS: Thank you so much for having me,

ACH: Don’t forget to visit Knots-UK and get involved with the Head Wrap and make it just your own.

SS: Yeah. Can I do a quick little shout out?

ACH: Please!

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SS: Cause I’ve got my sisters and my mama, listening over in Miami and my husband’s also listening, so just to should out to them and thank you for supporting me.

ACH: and on that note we’re gonna dedicate the last song to Sandra’s family, ma, sisters and husband. Do you want to announce it?

SS: Sure, because I’m on the radio. It's Open Mike Eagle. [Song: “95 Radios” Open Mike Eagle] References & Links: https://www.vogue.com/article/best-hair-innovators-instagram-shani-crowe-laetitia-kyfalana-mc-soffia-si-oux https://www.facinghistory.org/civic-dilemmas/brief-history-veil-islam h t t p s : / / w w w. h u f f i n g t o n p o s t. c o m / n a d e g e - s e p p o u / t h e - u n a f r i c a n n e s s - o f afri_b_9801874.html http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35563415 https://www.tofugu.com/japan/tenugui/ https://www.theblackloop.com/interesting-fact-slaves-used-hair-braiding-escape/ http://www.howtohairgirl.com/tag/slave-braid-freedom/ https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g293797-d478881-ReviewsMakola_Market-Accra_Greater_Accra.html More about the Tignon Laws and other hair stories from Afro Archives “A Performer’s World” : https://ayeshacasely-hayford.com/afro-archives-episode-two/ https://youtu.be/kp4HgpGmtQw

© 2018 Ayesha Casely-Hayford