We speak to gal-dem about their upcoming Jazz Cafe takeover, artists they’re backing to be huge in 2018 and their advice for making it in the media.
From humble beginnings, gal-dem – the magazine and creative collective comprised of over 70 women and non-binary people of colour – have gone on to be a vital force in championing much-needed diversity in the media. Founded in September 2015, in less than two and a half years, the collective has grown into a multi-faceted media project spanning online, print and events, covering aspects of politics, music, arts & culture, lifestyle and more not regularly explored by mainstream media.
To celebrate International Women’s Day this year on 8th March, the collective have teamed up with the Jazz Cafe to present a night of some of London’s best new artists in the fields of soul, R’n’B and jazz, featuring performances from Denai Moore, KOKOROKO and Miryam Solomon.
We had a chat with the team about what we can expect, their thoughts on the future of music journalism, the resurgence of jazz and the role of music in politics. Plus, they share their advice for getting ahead in the media.
You’ve recently announced a Jazz Cafe takeover on International Women’s Day 2018 feat. Denai Moore, KOKOROKO and Miryam Solomon. What drew you to these artists?
They are acts which have women with a strong identity that many of the gal-dem team and readers can relate to. They are artists who have made an impression during 2017 and have a trajectory for a huge 2018.
KOKOROKO are an exciting group of musicians working the jazz scene individually and come together to form this irresistible afrobeats collective. They have been performing covers of highlife musician Pat Thomas and Fela Kuti and have their own original music on the way.
Denai Moore turned heads during 2017 with her sophomore album We Used to Bloom. Building on her past work with SBTRKT, Moore has demonstrated she’s not new to this and has truly stepped out into her own with an (almost) flawless album. She touches on themes of love, personal growth and anxieties that hold her back.
Miryam Solomon merges folk textures with jazz melodies. Her Magnolia EP was an impressive follow up from her 2014 debut supported by PRS For Music and with contributions from Shabaka Hutchings. We’re looking forward to seeing what 2018 holds for Miryam. (Antonia Odunlami)
Jazz has seemed to have somewhat of a revival over the past year – for example, in June of 2017, the genre received 56% more plays on Spotify in the UK compared to the same period in 2016. Why do you think this might be?
Jazz is timeless; the genre has always been able to reinvent itself and in turn broaden the audience, an example being the output of Acid Jazz during the late 80s/90s. Traditionally, jazz has been associated with an older demographic. In this example, Spotify generally has a younger listenership, and therefore this statistic would point towards a potential conclusion of more young people engaging with jazz.
I think this refreshed interest in jazz has its roots in musical moments such as the overt references in Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly. This album reached young audiences that previously may not have listened to jazz and softly introduced ears to a genre that many might have immediately written off due to the ‘inaccessible’ and ‘hard listen’ stereotypes jazz often attracts.
Also, Flying Lotus’ label Brainfeeder has been a hugely important influence in engaging younger audiences. Brainfeeder has released a wide range of music ranging from forward thinking electronic music such as Iglooghost to jazz from Kamasi Washington. The integration of jazz artists alongside electronic producers on the roster has meant that curious fans of the label are again more likely to stumble across the likes of Kamasi Washington or the heavily jazz-influenced Thundercat. In turn, both of these albums have sold incredibly well, with Thundercat earning inclusion in many ‘Best of the Year’ album lists in 2017.
The South London jazz scene has been thriving for a few years, nights like Touching Bass, STEEZ and Rhythm Section have consistently championed talent, and outlets such as Boiler Room have broadcasted live sessions worldwide. 2017 has seen the rise of talent such as Moses Boyd, Poppy Ajudha and the no-longer-operating Yussef Kamaal. With bigger venues, festivals and promoters starting to book emerging talent from the scene, I can only foresee interest expanding for one of music’s only ever-evolving genres. (Jasmine Srih)
There seemed to be a point a few years ago where some artists were distancing themselves from politics but that seems to be changing. Grime4Corbyn is one obvious recent example. What role do you think music has to play in politics going forward?
In the past few years, as we’ve seen the rise of the right-wing and overt racism and with major political events like Brexit, Trump and Grenfell, it’s become harder to just stand by and not stand up for what you believe in. Music has always had a role to play in politics through underground and resistance forms, normally arising as a cultural (and political) alternative to the mainstream, which has the tendency to neglect, silence and misappropriate voices that are already marginalised. The Grime4Corbyn was a small example of mainstream politics actually bothering to listen and give space to those voices, and the result speaks for itself.
I also think now it’s much easier for musicians to spread their message online without having to depend on record labels and major radio stations. That means people – especially musicians of colour – don’t have to bow down to the demands of labels and can put out music that is undiluted in its unapologetically and overtly political message. Genres like jazz, hip-hop, and grime are, by their very nature, resistance music, and musicians will continue to evolve, innovate and engage audiences in new ways to stand up and make a difference. (Roshni Goyate)
“Jazz, hip-hop, and grime are, by their very nature, resistance music, and musicians will continue to evolve and engage audiences in new ways to make a difference.”
Mainstream media is still largely white, male and middle class. What do you think music publications in particular can do better to ensure greater diversity?
In recent years, at least the intention to address diversity has grown within the industry. However, execution of these kind of initiatives is often still sorely lacking. There seems to be a standard approach of spot-commissioning a few people of colour to write or speak on topics of race, gender or hip-hop a few times a month, with not much progress beyond that. But unfortunately, this does very little for the wider landscape of music journalism, especially when the entire team of permanent staff remains starkly white and homogenous.
More effort needs to be made to improve representation in all aspects of these infrastructures, not just when it’s convenient or obvious. And it’s the job of editors and those in positions of power to constantly interrogate, educate and demand more than the status quo on a daily basis in this regard. Publications should be doing research and finding voices beyond their own immediate points of reference because they’re guaranteed to be out there. And when they do find them, they should pay them and build relationships, not exploit them or tokenise them. (As a writer of colour, even the process of commissioning and establishing a fair fee for your work can feel like a deeply political minefield.)
With regards to class, again a simple and immediate solution is to treat writing like any other exchange of goods. It’s a common misconception that exposure constitutes payment, particularly in the early or vulnerable stage of a person’s career. And so often, those at the short end of that stick are already the most disadvantaged, through unpaid internships, short-term work experience and low-ball article fees. We cannot take for granted that being able to sustain yourself without earning money (especially in a city, i.e. where the jobs are) is a privilege that most cannot afford. It’s a known fact that no one is opting to be a journalist for the pay cheque but by constantly asking people to work for free, publications already substantially narrow the scope of their intake and the range of their voices. (Natty Kasambala)
What advice do you have for young women and non-binary people of colour who want to break into the creative industries?
Going out and meeting power players who can help you get your foot in the door is important. But it’s just as important to build your own community. If you build a creative network around you with like minded-people — who you’re already in touch with — you have something that no one can take away from you. You’ll also be a lot more comfortable with sharing ideas and collaborating.
From Apple products to grime to gal-dem, all of these things came about through groups of friends who collaborated and made something that was important to them. As long as you’re making something you’re proud of, it won’t matter whether the ‘right people’ are taking notice. The chances are that by the time you no longer want input from industry people, the ones you were trying to get in touch will be getting in touch with you. (Grace Shutti)
– Photo by @Yvarne.