INTERVIEW: Andrew Ogun "I don't feel like the music we make is as respected by the establishment as other genres are" 2

INTERVIEW: Andrew Ogun “I don’t feel like the music we make is as respected by the establishment as other genres are”

Andrew Ogun is a force of nature: a multidisplined artist, a musician, writer, creative director and community organiser from Newport but currently based in Cardiff. He is the main organiser for the Black Lives Matter movement in Gwent and is also the Arts Council of Wales’ Agent for Change.

Following his tweet in July where he stated that “Wales has a serious opportunity to be at the forefront of the movement that’s happening currently with MOBO genres. As we’ve all reiterated time and time again, the talent is here and it’s ripe, but the infrastructure and the platforms are lacking.” I approached him to discuss more of his thoughts on where he thought the gaps in infrastructure and platforms for the vibrant and growing Welsh MOBO scene are. What followed was an important insight into the barriers and lack of representation faced by black artists in Wales and some of the deeper structural reasons for them. He also speaks cogently about the exciting Wales MOBO scene and his forthcoming new material.

There’s not the infrastructure which is multifaceted, there are boards and organizations, there’s elements of what would be the ecology, but there’s not a whole infrastructure.” Ogun explains as we begin our conversation about what is needed to offer a greater platform and support the MOBO scene, one that’s growing rapidly.

I think there’s multiple strands. I think, as an infrastructure, what we have is the fire, but let’s light the pot.” He expands: “the grassroots element is there, we have events that are going on, we’re kind of putting on things in ad hoc places, being seen where we can each week at Porters, every Wednesday, we’re doing Focus, we are doing our shows, you got the Moon, you got Shut Down you got Larynx. We’re starting to have what’s happening down here popping up with all the magazines, platforms or whatever here and there. But they aren’t shifting at the pace we are shifting yet. There’s still the same old faces, they still kind of distil this reluctance. “

There are still these barriers to even put on events with black music, you have to fill the security, you have to provide more. They squeeze way more than they would squeeze others because of the genres of music we make or because of what we look like.” He details.

As far as Ogun is concerned the issue goes beyond the lack of representation and the stubborn and discriminatory barriers associated with promoting black music in a live setting. Although these are very real, the issues are deeper and more structural in the Welsh music and cultural environment.

The representation is lacking, having been afforded a perspective I have been afforded working within the Arts Council, we’re working within the system. I have been in situations where I’ve known if I wasn’t in this room, this outcome will be really drastic, not just a little bit different, drastically different, because of lack of diversity in regard to the voices in the room.” He points out “Especially when it comes to music, especially when it comes to to black music, where you have an all white panel whose predominant expertise is in rock are making decisions on black music, when they don’t really understand the music, they don’t understand the culture, they don’t understand where it’s coming from. And what does that do, you know? So, that’s, that’s the problem as to why we are in this position in the first place.”

I’m the Arts Council of Wales’s agent for change. So my job is just looking at our approach to equity, diversity and inclusivity and ensuring that our processes internally are up to par, and ensuring that we’re putting our best foot forward in terms of the sector in terms of having an equitable and just, you know, arts and culture sector in Wales. My job basically came as a result of the resurgence of the BLM Movement, and organisations are obviously on a journey of soul searching on a journey of trying to address and write historical wrongs. It’s a continuation of my work with Black Lives Matter. Obviously, I’m the main activist and main organiser of Black Lives Matter in the Gwent area. I organised all the protests that happened in 2020, in Newport, and connected with BLM Cardiff and all the BLMs across Wales. Obviously, the movement gained national attention, we were able to liaise with Welsh Government, police all the people at the table, and still continue to campaign and be active as much as I can for our community in that sense as well.”

He speaks powerfully about what inspired his involvement in the moment. “I felt that it was, you know, if it’s within my power to help, I almost always will, and just to be doing more, in my capacity, with my voice to help the community. I believe, you know, I think I’m quite egalitarian, in that sense. I do believe in pushing for social justice. So I guess that lends itself well to the work that I do..”

“My role is really is super broad, covering all bases and not just from a racial perspective, obviously. That’s one element but we’re looking at deaf and disabled communities looking at neuro divergent individualss and communities, LGBTQ, also socio-economic deprivation. So it’s across the whole kind of arc and facet of social justice.”

“I speak for myself, I call it how I see it. It is my job to call these things out, from an organisational perspective, and as a council where we can plug in the gaps where we can help, whether that’s by funding, connecting, mapping or signposting people to the right direction, we will, we will do that. But a lot of pressure that comes with like police or putting on events, you know, I don’t put on events myself, I just know, from the promoters how much they struggle. It’s a case of again, making noise about it, we’re having this conversation as a result of cycle. Everyone raising a point. And that’s how we start bringing awareness to the issue. I’m solution oriented. I’m not trying to keep banging on and banging.” He explains.

He talks constructively about how issues can be addressed “We know the problems. You know, it doesn’t take a genius to recognise that I want to be around the table with people that are solution oriented. I say ‘okay, we’ve identified what what can we do what’s within our power to alleviate this human or get rid of the problem wholly, but we can try and put our pressure where it needs to be to alleviate it.'” .

Another local artist Lemfreck tweeted recently about the lack of black artists on the Radio Wales A list and as others have pointed out the Welsh Spotify playlist is made up predominantly of white acts. I wonder if we need greater platforms for Welsh MOBO music as will as the existing ones having to do better?

I don’t see it as either, build our own thing or we kick the door down of what’s already pre-existing, you need to do both.” He points out: “You need the things that cater to specific audiences. What the producer from BBC was saying, was “our audience our audience”. Yes, I understand with radio there is a specific expectation, you know, you’re not necessarily gonna be playing heavy drum music at 2pm in the afternoon and that’s not what we’re saying. That’s not what we’re saying.” He explains. “But again, you have this Welsh A list and you’re looking at that list surely you yourself are thinking ‘what’s missing here?’ When you’re getting more love getting played on BBC Radio Six, One Extra BBC Radio One, than from our local station, then there is an issue, because we’re getting recognised on platforms even larger, but not our own kind of homegrown platforms. It doesn’t make sense. And again, you have an individual, you have your Adam Walton who will always play artists. But we can’t keep relying on diligent and good people. Because that’s problematic. I’m saying we got to tackle the problem at the root, which is the system.”

He explains before making a pertinent point about representation across Welsh media: “I don’t feel like the music we make is as respected by the establishment as other genres are. I don’t think it’s taken a serious and I think fundamentally, that’s actually the problem – it is either a lack of respect, or lack of understanding, or in some instances both, you know, I’m saying.

There has been progress for Welsh MOBO over the past few years with certain artists gaining the spotlight but Ogun believes the platform could be better and backing deeper accross the scene: “I look across the pond. My cousin grew up in Ireland, he makes music too, they’re heavily invested in Ireland, you got the Spotify playlist, you know, they build that relationship, you got a YouTube playlist, and they really platform their scene. I look over Scotland, they’re doing the same I’m looking at bands, I’m looking at their being platform that are pushed by the establishment. It seems like in Wales, there’s only space for a select few that get attention. Like Juice Menace and I feel like Mace The Great has actually been pushed quite well, here. Yeah, there’s a select few, that breakthrough that barrier.”

I overheard one of the artists talking at Focus Wales saying Welsh hip hop or grime doesn’t even get the respect in London, the YouTube reactions to Welsh artists sometimes putting then down based on where they are from, Ogun agrees its a huge issue. “But it’s inevitable, you know, in Wales you know, you have to earn your stripes. Even within the wider UK ecology. I mean, the music we make was London centric, up until what may be 20 something years ago. Say “she wants a man from boom”, that was at 2012, from whenever Dizzee Rascal dropped his album from 2012. Even Birmingham wasn’t getting a look in, nowhere outside of London that was making this music was being taken seriously let alone from Wales, you know, say, Birmingham, Manchester. Now, Leeds and the northern scenes are only now being able to sustain their own scenes on a national scale. So of course, it’s going to be a while before people will be like ‘okay that’s what you’re doing,’ which is why I say, we got to do it domestically first. I’m thinking that if even your own radio stations aren’t playing your artists, why should I as a London publication or platform take you seriously? If you fellow Welshman don’t then why should we? So until we get in the respect of our own nation of what’s happening here domestically, we’re really going to struggle to be taken seriously out there, you know, as a scene, so we got to as they say with charity, we’ve got to start at home.”

“I don’t have self interest, I don’t care whether it’s me or not, I just want what we do to be on the global stage” He confesses “no matter who is doing it, there are a few, I will say Sage Todz because he represents that intersectionality of the Welsh language, and the black culture, obviously, so there are these great examples here. But these great examples should be showing you that, “wow, look at what these guys are doing!” and there’s not just two or three of them is a whole movement is a whole scene.” He enthuses.

There are groups and organisations within Wales that offer funding for artists from a grassroots level Horizons Cymru, Forte project to name a few, I wonder his thoughts on how these funds are distributed.

“I’m sat on an EP that is 80% done. But I want to get it out in the way I want to get it out and that takes funding. Unfortunately, that’s the problem with you know, public funding and grant-making is difficult. It breeds this sense of competitiveness that probably does more harm than good. There are a lot of issues. But if you are on the receiving end of that money, so like, you know, it can genuinely change the course of your life. But that 2k or 4k, there, could be what genuinely takes your career up a level. So we have to have a balanced view when it comes to funding but to kind of answer the question specifically. Again, from my experience, it’s about diversifying. I’m not concerned with the delivery. I’m not really concerned with who’s getting the money I’m concerned about the decision. What was the rationale behind the decision made behind closed doors? Because I’ve been in rooms where I’m hearing the discourse in a conversation thinking, if I wasn’t in this room, this would be terrible, it would be a terrible outcome. My perspective has afforded me to be the ability to be like, ‘look we are really missing the mark on this.’ It’s not always to do with genre, it could be the sense of, you know, Welsh language music not getting as much support or sometimes if you’re looking at enlisting women or even the geographical spread, everyone’s from South Wales. What about the North Walians? And you know there’s always going to be that kind of puzzle of balance with where the money is going? Yeah, it’s difficult.”

An artist in his own right Ogun released his single ’24 Freestyle’ earlier this year – a superbly well-crafted hip hop song. Shot through with personal, brooding bars over robust skittering beats, reminiscent of early Dave, this is both powerful and profound. “Every word is priceless/I don’t need no Dragons Den” spits Ogun, displaying inner confidence and ambition for how music can change your life, underscored with the wistful reflection of growth through struggle its an extremely impressive cut, that vividly depicts an artist deservedly on the rise.

“But yeah, ‘Renaissance’ is the first in the triology, the next being ‘Trial by Fire’ and the third is called ‘As The Smoke Clears.’ So yeah, the music is about I would say 70% done or pretty much written, I am just still in the process of recording.” He reveals “Before I was of the opinion, I still am to a certain degree, I genuinely believe in art for art’s sake. So if we stripped all of that back there was no money no renown in anything to do with this, I would still do it because I don’t care about all that.”

I’ve had the idea for a long time, but obviously Beyonce released an album called Renaissance which is really annoying me.” He laughs “But it always happens to me when I sit on ideas for so long, I’ll see it manifest in a different way or by different artists.”

“I’m listening to the music I have thinking you know, this is actually genuinely incredible and deserves the release that matches the quality of the music and that requires money man, so I’m just in the process of strategizing how we want to get this up we have to have the bandwidth. I have a lot of ideas so I need the money to put in, to actualize it obviously.”

He sketches out what he has been up to recently “I’ve done I’ve done about 15 shows maybe since from Focus Wales to now, so a lot of getting my performance stripes since then. I’ve got Tiny Rebel festival, Swn festival coming up. I recently appeared on Szwe‘s recent documentary New Voices from Wales and the Honey sessions, I performed on that too. It just won best documentary from It’s My Shout! I’m grateful for him. I am grateful that that was people’s first kind of hint of the music we make that’s great, you know, and then hopefully that piques people’s interest, dig into our scene more.” He adds hopefully.

“I’m generally I’m just giving back.” He continues “I’m helping a lot with my peers in terms of creative direction, I do a lot of creative direction behind the scenes, a couple of people really musically deals, I can executive producer people’s tapes together, etc. I’m just enjoying kind of between my role in Arts Council, I’ve been able to help kind of my community in that way and help us in that way. Whether that be, you know, being on panels where I’m the one signing off on people’s funding, it’s great for me to be able to make a decision that puts money in, in someone, who I care about pockets because they you know, they’re good at what they do.”

Having previously worked with Tonyy under the moniker Afterparty, his early solo work starting out in 2018 with his debut EP ‘In My Own Skin,’ he reveals his new work is taking a different more intensely personal path.

“I think there’s that evolution, obviously, with the music production. I think that first EP was literally just me, you know, dipping my toes into solo music.” He tells me. “I actually started off in a group. So it was very different music which was interesting, but I think I will produce it this time. It was his sound more than it was mine in the group, but it was very multifaceted. Tonyy is playing with bands and doing more electronic stuff now. But yeah, he had this kind of weird amalgamation of like hip hop, jazz, kind of electronic music that gave us that sound at that time.” He contrasts his work in a group with his own solo material “

“Renaissance sounds different again. I think when you can hear with all my music in the past, I never fought. But when I look back at it, I feel like I was, whether consciously or subconsciously, putting my audience at that arm’s length, and saying that you’re not really going to find out much about me through my music as a person. I felt like there was almost this kind of version of myself I was given to the world that was a little bit removed. But with Renaissance, I wanted to embody my real you know, like myself, really, and it made for some, you know, emotional writing, you know, loads of verses on that tape, I was crying because it’s so personal because it’s coming from such a real place. But that’s the music I’m connected to more now. I think, given the madness that is happening in the external world that’s what I’ll provide, everything feels shrouded in smoke and mirrors at the moment. I don’t want my music to be the same fantasy, I want it to be the opposite. I want it to be like a revelation. You know, I want to feel through my music rather than conceal as before. So, Renaissance is very, very personal. A lot of stories about me a lot of my perspective, a lot of what I’m feeling now, a lot of what I’ve gone through, which you don’t really get from my other music.”

INTERVIEW: Andrew Ogun "I don't feel like the music we make is as respected by the establishment as other genres are" 2

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