Out of Africa and on the road to Wolverhampton – that’s the route taken by Midland soul star Beverley Knight.
The 38-year-old recently went to Malawi with Christian Aid but she’s now back to her day job, entertaining on stage
Born in Wolverhampton, she plays a home-town gig at the Civic Hall on November 22, but she’s still full of enthusiasm for her experiences in Malawi in September.
Beverley visited HIV projects run by Christian Aid partner organisations and was encouraged to see faith groups combining to battle the threat of the disease using both medicine and education.
And she’s thrilled the Malawi people remain positive despite the health problems the country faces.
‘‘Everywhere I went people greeted us with song, the spirit was just incredible,’’ she says.
‘‘It was like, OK we’ve got this thing going on but our spirits are not broken, we’re fighting back. The message I came home with was one of hope.’’
Beverley is a Christian Aid HIV ambassador and had previously visited the charity’s projects in Brazil in 2002. She lost her best friend, Tyrone Jamison, to the virus the following year.
“I know from personal experience that the effects of HIV can be catastrophic,’’ she says.
‘‘Looking at a country like Malawi, where there is no free healthcare and 11 per cent of the population is living with the virus, makes Christian Aid’s work all the more vital. The scale of the pandemic is huge, but Christian Aid and its partners are trying to slow it down.’’
She adds that the UK could even learn something from the initiatives in Malawi.
‘‘The one that took me by surprise the most was a federation of religious leaders – Muslim, Christian, all kinds – who had got together and said, look we’ve got to do something about this HIV business, we’ve got to do something as faith groups.’’
Beverley met one Christian bishop who had turned his chapel into a ‘‘one stop shop’’ for learning about HIV.
As well as providing medicine, there was a supply of male and female condoms, with instructions on how to use them.
‘‘These guys in the developing world are light years ahead of our own religious groups over here, many of whom are still stuck in the dark ages,’’ claims Beverley. ‘‘These guys are totally putting them to shame.’’
Unfortunately, the five day-trip also had its downside for the singer who experienced health issues of her own. On the last day she was invited to perform at the Lake Of Stars music festival and despite her precautions her face was bitten by, she believes, a mosquito.
The area around her eyes swelled up and specialists back in Britain diagnosed an allergic reaction to the bite and put Bev on a course of anti-histamines and steroids.
The drugs made the usually bright and bubbly singer tired and listless, forcing her to cancel a string of engagements, including collecting an Urban Music Award for Best Album for her current covers record Soul UK and an invitation to the Pride Of Britain awards.
‘‘I don’t drink and I don’t smoke so my body’s not used to stuff like that. It just knocked me out completely,’’ she admits.
‘‘The steroids got to work immediately to bring down a huge amount of the swelling because, honestly, I looked like Mike Tyson had had a go. I looked crazy so I hid away.’’
To add insult to injury she had her suitcase broken into as she as she journeyed home via South Africa.
‘‘They took clothes and my driving licence which was inside my make-up bag inside the suitcase,’’ she recalls. ‘‘But it doesn’t change how I feel about the trip, which was incredible. Malawi was a real culture shock. From the air I was looking down thinking, it’s just red earth everywhere, with flashes of green trees. It just looked barren.
‘‘And then you get down there and see what people call houses or homes but I’ve seen garden sheds built in a day that look more stable than that. A real eye-opener.’’
Now fully recovered from her illness, Bev is back on tour and is already looking forward to her next record which she says will contain African influences.
‘‘There will definitely be something on my next record which will clearly be influenced by my experiences in Malawi,’’ she says. ‘‘I feel I’ve taken a little piece of Malawi with me and that piece is definitely the music. It really has a hold on you once you get into that spirit. The only way that I can express how I feel, and how I felt when I was there, is through music.’’
l If you would like to donate to Christian Aid’s Christmas Appeal, or find out more about its work, visit www.christianaid.org.uk/christmas