“Cooking my mum’s recipes is what grounds me”: Simeh is a heart-warming film preserving community knowledge through food

We talk to the creative duo behind the new music video, discussing everything from the gentrification of Walthamstow to edible props.

Date
20 May 2022

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Super Grows is one of the only Caribbean food shops left in Walthamstow, Daphne Chouliaraki Milner tells It’s Nice That. It’s a shop that Marcel McKenzie has been going to with his mum since he was a kid, and is key to the narrative in Daphne and Marcel’s music video for Simeh, a new track produced by Oma Nata and featuring Portuguese singer Éllàh (released today). The film contemplates the gentrification of Walthamstow by highlighting the crucial role played by shops like Super Grows for communities and families in the area. Through a heartwarming series of scenes, we follow Marcel and his mum as they gather ingredients to make a lamb curry. After carting the goods back home, the pair begin the loving ritual of making the food. Interrupted by joyful outbreaks of dancing and singing, Marcel’s mum carefully teaches him the recipe.

“I moved out of Walthamstow — where I was born and grew up — many years ago, and every time I visit my mum I am always shocked to see how much it has changed,” says Marcel. “It feels like we are losing the places and people that I was surrounded by as a child. So, this story is one I’ve wanted to tell for a while; I see it as a type of homage to the Walthamstow I knew.”

Éllàh’s lyrics in Simeh describe a romantic break-up, Daphne tells us. When they were brain-storming ideas for the narrative, she and Marcel kept returning to a repeated line in the song which translates from Portuguese to: “nowhere to hold on to; nowhere to lean”. Daphne adds: “This lament is applicable not just to romantic heartbreak, but also to the loss of culture, identity, community." By documenting and celebrating the ritual of making Margaret’s lamb curry, the film honours a little fragment of the Caribbean food culture in Walthamstow, even as it is slowly being dismantled through gentrification.

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Marcel Mckenzie & Daphne Chouliaraki Milner: Simeh by Oma Nata ft. Éllàh (Copyright © Marcel Mckenzie & Daphne Chouliaraki Milner, 2022).

Marcel explains: “Growing up, I never really felt like I was “from” anywhere — I didn’t feel “British” nor did tracing my lineage back to, say, where my mum was born or to slavery feel authentic. By contrast it’s always felt that people who have a language or a history that isn’t dictated by colonising powers are grounded in this very strong sense of identity. I made the decision to focus on food — on the practice of making a meal — because it’s what I feel is my 'culture'. Cooking my mum’s recipes is what grounds me and reminds me of 'home' like my family and Walthamstow, even if the demographic is changing and the Caribbean food stores are disappearing.”

The natural way that Marcel and Margaret interact in front of the camera gives the film a powerful sense of authenticity. This was largely down to having small, close-knit team on set. Other than Marcel’s mum, the duo were joined by just one other team member, their cinematographer Iso Atril. Though the small size of the team meant that it took a lot of hard work to get the film off the ground, it meant that the set was intimate, giving way to the spontaneous outbursts of dancing and laughing which make the film so lovable and relatable. It also meant that there was enough lamb curry for the whole team to gobble up after shooting; one of Marcel’s highlights was “being able to eat the props”.

Even if you're not from Walthamstow, it's impossible not to be moved by the playful mother-son relationship celebrated in Simeh. The film hits home as a moving love letter to the strength of community and family knowledge in the face of gentrification. With this being their debut music video, we’re delighted to hear that the duo intend to continue experimenting with visual media in the future. Daphne assures us that we can expect to see more personal projects materialising, as the pair aim to share “stories that are close to our hearts, ones about love, family and connection”.

GalleryMarcel Mckenzie & Daphne Chouliaraki Milner: Simeh by Oma Nata ft. Éllàh (Copyright © Marcel Mckenzie & Daphne Chouliaraki Milner, 2022).

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Marcel Mckenzie & Daphne Chouliaraki Milner: Simeh by Oma Nata ft. Éllàh (Copyright © Marcel Mckenzie & Daphne Chouliaraki Milner, 2022).

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About the Author

Elfie Thomas

Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.

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