BBC Radio 1Xtra and Asian Network announce Lady Leshurr as Words First 2021 ambassador

BBC Radio 1Xtra and Asian Network announce Lady Leshurr as Words First 2021 ambassador

British rapper, songwriter and 1Xtra DJ Lady Leshurr, has been announced as the ambassador for this year’s Words First spoken word competition


I can’t wait to hear and see the talent we find through this year’s Words First competition. Whether it’s spoken word, rap or poetry – it will be amazing and I am honoured to be this year’s ambassador. — Lady Leshurr

Poets, lyricists, rappers and those interested in developing their writing and spoken word skills are now invited to apply to be a part of the nationwide search for new and emerging spoken word talent.

Supported by BBC Radio 1Xtra and BBC Asian Network alongside BBC Arts and Contains Strong Language Festival, Lady Leshhur will be working together with poetry organisations across the UK to deliver this year’s initiative. As part of the talent development programme, shortlisted candidates will have an opportunity to benefit from workshops and one-to-one mentoring, with six finalists getting a chance to perform to a live audience at BBC Arts’ Contains Strong Language festival later this year.

Lady Leshurr says: “I can’t wait to hear and see the talent we find through this year’s Words First project. Whether it’s spoken word, rap or poetry – it will be amazing and I am honoured to be this year’s ambassador.”  

Continuing from the first year of a digital-focused competition in 2020, a series of virtual workshops will take place with poetry organisations including Apples & Snakes, Young Identity, Neu! Reekie!, New Writing North and Nine Arches Press. Semi-finalists will be invited to talent led masterclasses, including a workshop delivered by poet Malika Booker. Words First alumni including Isaiah Hull will also hold a masterclass providing motivation, advice and guidance to the brand new finalists.

In 2020, BBC Arts commissioned a series of films showcasing brand new work by the 2020 winning artists including Nine McCartney, Saili Katebe, John Bernard, Jardel Rodrigues, P.A. Bitez and Sanjna Yechareddy, who were challenged to write about ’protest’, ally-ship and anti-racism.

Sue Roberts, Director of BBC Arts’ Contains Strong Language Festival, says: “I’m really looking forward to seeing the new poets who come to light through this scheme perform. Every year, Words First has unearthed extraordinary talent and helped to give young writers a platform, and I know our year in Coventry as part of City of Culture will be no different.” 

BBC Radio 1Xtra and BBC Asian Network are broadcast partners for Words First and will be encouraging their listeners to take part in the competition, as well as broadcasting highlights from the BBC Contains Strong Language Festival in September 2021. BBC Arts’ Contains Strong Language Festival won Best Outside Broadcast at the Radio & Music Awards 2020.

Ahmed Hussain, Head of BBC Asian Network and Faron McKenzie, Head of BBC Radio 1Xtra say: “Once again we’re pleased to support and provide a platform to help new and emerging talent find their voice with the Words First initiative. Partnering across networks we’re able to reach underserved audiences and we can’t wait to showcase the work of the finalists across our stations and to celebrate the artistry they’re able to produce with the help of this invaluable scheme.” 

In previous year’s poets and rappers including George the Poet, Hussain Manawer, Kojey Radical and Avelino have supported the BBC Arts funded talent development scheme, with finalists including Isaiah Hull, Amina Jama and Asma Elbadawi performing at The Roundhouse and Isaiah going on to perform at Radio 1’s Big Weekend in 2016.

For more information about how to enter and full terms and conditions, visit the Words First website.


About our Poetry Partners…

Apples and Snakes

Apples and Snakes is England’s leading spoken word poetry organisation, with artists at its heart. Spoken word trailblazers, we exist to champion the development of extraordinary artists, amplify ignored voices and to challenge expectations of what poetry is and can be. We put artists at the heart of everything we do, from ground-breaking artist development opportunities to flagship projects bringing extraordinary poets into local communities. By bringing together important voices in interesting ways, Apples and Snakes regularly create inspiring experiences for audiences across the UK. 

Neu! Reekie!

(Scotland’s favourite avant-garde noisemakers) Neu! Reekie! are a prize-winning literary production house that have been curating cross-cultural events for over ten years now. We unfurl ’iconic’ core shows as well as producing take-overs for National Galleries, National Museums and major festivals. With anchors in poetry, music, animation, film, performance, Neu! Reekie! has become a fertile breeding ground for collaboration and one of the fastest moving grassroots arts organisations in the U.K. We have produced shows all over the globe (including: Spain, New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, United States, Malawi); house a micro publishing house and DIY record label; and have hosted with the likes of: Irvine Welsh, Margaret Atwood, Jackie Kay, Hollie McNish, Charlotte Church, Akala, Young Fathers, Liz Lochhead, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Lydia Lunch, Primal Scream and many more.

New Writing North

New Writing North is the development agency for creative writing and reading in the North of England, and an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. The organisation works in partnership with regional and national partners to produce a range of literary and performance activities including flagship projects such as New Writing North Young Writers, the Northern Writers’ Awards, the Gordon Burn Prize, Read Regional, and Durham Book Festival. New Writing North specialises in developing and investing in writers of all ages and act as a dynamic broker between writers, producers, publishers and broadcasters across the creative industries. Partners include BBC Radio 3, Channel 4 Drama, Faber & Faber, Sky Studios and higher education partners including Durham University, Northumbria University and University of York. As a producer of new work, New Writing North commissions a wide range of writing from topical essays and publications to award-winning dance theatre productions, short films, live literature and broadcast projects.  

Nine Arches Press

Nine Arches Press was founded in 2008 to provide a platform for new and emerging poets. Our titles have been widely acclaimed and shortlisted for prizes including the Forward Prizes Best First Collection, the TS Eliot Poetry Prize, the Ted Hughes Award, the Michael Murphy Prize and the Polari Prize. Nine Arches have published over one hundred poetry publications and over 25 issues of Under the Radar magazine. We provide a year-round programme of workshops, events, writer development and mentoring opportunities. Based in Rugby, Warwickshire, we are a member of Inpress. Our Director/Editor is Jane Commane. In 2018 Nine Arches became an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation securing four years of funding.

Young Identity

Young Identity’s voice cuts through the noise. We believe in the transformative power of the arts in young peoples’ lives. Our mission is accessibility for all to the arts, writing and performance. A dynamic and innovative organisation, we nurture the talent of tomorrow, empowering disadvantaged and under-represented young people to fulfil their artistic potential. Young Identity has worked with artists such as Lemn Sissay, international spoken word icon Saul Williams, dub poetry legend Linton Kwesi Johnson, Ted Hughes Prize Winner Kate Tempest and the late Amiri Baraka. The work of Young Identity has also featured at Manchester International Festival – ALPHABUS. Young Identity have performed all over the UK, from the South Bank Centre to Birmingham Hippodrome to Hay Festival. As well as internationally at The Schaubühne  in Berlin to Frankfurt International School Youth Poetry Slam in Germany to America Young Identity has performed at Brave New Voices to Nuyorican Poetry Café.

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