SISTAH'S CULTURAL COMMENT
SISTAH'S CULTURAL COMMENT
Liberation is yet to prevail in cultural entities, from the arts & culture industries to the mass media. The intimate way that culture influences each of us and our perceptions makes it essential for enabling liberation. SISTAH zine considers both the oppressive implications of our culture and the efforts of women to oppose this and establish a liberatory culture.
In Conversation with ALOOKINTO
ALOOKINTO is a multimedia platform exploring current cultural and political affairs through a Gen Z lens, providing a space for young writers, photographers, film makers and creatives to showcase their work. SISTAH zine spoke with founders Ophelia O'Sullivan & Asia Ahmed.
KATIE: Could you tell us in a little more detail how ALOOKINTO is different from other media platforms around today?
OPHELIA: ALOOKINTO lies in the grey area between news and creative platforms. It aims to deconstruct the artificial lines that separate fashion and the arts to politics. Providing space to explore different political theories, current affairs and cultural phenomena in an all encompassing way providing information through various mediums, whether that be documentaries, experimental films, photography, poetry and more. You don't need to be vogue or vice, you can be both.
Images courtesy of Jessie Collier
Image courtesy of Asia Ahmed
Image courtesy of Asia Ahmed
K: How do larger and more mainstream media platforms, in your opinion, reinforce systems of oppression (e.g. racism/white supremacy, patriarchy/misogyny) today?
A: The issue with mainstream media publications, especially traditional print publications and TV outlets, is firstly that their news rooms are overwhelmingly white, and when you break that down into other factors - gender, age, sexuality - you realise that the media that is curated for us is not designed by people like us. That creates a bias in how stories are portrayed and what stories are being pursued. We are often not hearing voices that represent our population. Often, young peoples’ stories are pushed aside. How often do you see youth led movements occurring in Bolivia and Ethiopia represented on our major mainstream news platforms? That lack of information being shared on these stories is what we at A Look Into (in our own small way) are trying to shed light on.
K: To a Gen Z reader that might be uninterested in activism/current cultural and political affairs, what would you say?
A: As the effects of Capitalism take its toll on the state of the world and the lives in it, there is too much going on not to be angry, if you have compassion for others' lives. If you feel uninterested in the media that you are being presented with, find first hand stories. It is harder to ignore another person's suffering if they are telling it themselves.
K: Could you tell us a little about some of the projects you are working on/have worked on recently?
O: As a publication and production company we not only curate the work of up and coming creatives, we also produce original content, some projects that we recently have been working on is a series of adverts for a sustainable clothes alterations app called Sojo, a short experimental fashion fil in collaboration with a young designer showcasing her new collection and producing a series of music videos working alongside SBTV and Youtube to empower young directors and musicians.
And in terms of the publication side, we are always looking for new and innovative submissions spanning across multiple media departments, and commissioning articles.
Image courtesy of Asia Ahmed
K: How would you recommend Gen Z consume news today? from where etc?
A: We believe that it's important to consume news from various platforms across the political spectrum to get an idea of other groups/people's opinions and beliefs, always maintaining a critical eye to deconstruct even the most ostensibly liberal information, so that you can always make a constructive evaluation out of the information you are being presented with. Look out for first hand documentation, archive footage/resources, and independent new platforms that run away from the mainstream media. Social media can be a great tool; the past few months have demonstrated its power through the dissemination of information and first hand accounts. However, don't forget your critical eye. As documentaries such as Un-Social show, there is a commodification of this economy.
Here are some of our recommendations: Galdem, Huck Magazine, Novara Media, Vox, Second Thought, Grapevine, Jacobin (Socialist Print Publication), Jubilee
‘Imagine Tomorrow’s World’: A Conversation with TaliaBle
Talia Beale (TaliaBle) is a multidisciplinary artist, creative director and musician. She currently has three singles out, ‘Tender’, ‘Bore Us’ and ‘Muzzled Butterfly’, her poetic rap lyrics shifting from the personal to political and back again, bridging the gap between her emotions and environment. She recently created the ‘Our People’ t-shirt, which highlighted and celebrated 17 creatives of colour while donating 50% of its profits to the domestic violence charity Sistah Space. Hannah Galbraith talks to TaliaBle about her work, the importance of community, and the future of artistic practice in the midst of a pandemic.
H: The ‘Our People’ tees focus heavily on community, specifically young creatives in London. Can you talk more about the importance of having a community, and how this impacts your work as an artist?
T: Community is a key blessing which feeds our roots, shapes our ideas and blossoms our beings. Everybody is longing for belonging and social connection and growth and pure energy and love. If your mind isn’t open to building, sharing as well as confronting other people’s views in a community-based environment then that can’t run. We stand stronger together, there’s no time for stoosh egos anymore, we need to collaborate and invent new ways of being and creating – all the time.
HANNAH: How did you choose the 17 creatives who featured on the ‘Our People’ t-shirt?
TALIA: The creatives featured on the ‘Our People’ t-shirt were chosen due to their persistence at raising awareness in support of the Black Lives Matter movement through their artistic work – from expressing their want for racial change, shedding light on social injustices, to representing voices overlooked within our community and highlighting black excellence. I wanted the t-shirt to be an example to other people of colour that in such an overwhelming time we must remember our art is our creative outlet, we must ensure our views and ideas are stamped within this renaissance.
H: Why did you choose the imagery of a sunflower/growth, what does that represent to you?
T: The sunflower naturally evolved through the process of experimenting with the positioning of the faces, it wasn’t hugely planned: once I saw it forming that’s what it had to be. There’s a unison of suns acting as petals around the faces which are in fact doodles I drew on a costume I made for my Tate Late performance. Those suns are really important to me, I draw them in light of hope in as many formations as I can imagine, they’re always different but carry the same representation. The hands holding the sunflower is from a 35mm shot I took at a BTLM (Black Trans Lives Matter) protest where everyone held up flowers in their fists; mother nature as is black lives; one must always prevail.
H: How has your artistic practice changed due to the lockdown?
T: Lockdown has encrypted a deeper level of purpose within my creative practice. I have a Hundertwasser poster on my bedroom door saying ‘imagine tomorrow’s world’, that’s where my head is at. Hopefully everyone’s bodily, mental, political and creative awareness has collectively shifted into an innovative way of thinking, and a renaissance is truly amongst us. The virtual community’s surge of power is creating a movement and has proven how real social media is. I think it’ll bring people closer together physically just like distance makes the heart grow fonder, human interaction is an instinct.
H: How did your show go the other day? Has the energy of performance changed now that we have social distancing restrictions?
T: The first show myself and my producer, Karl Brinaj, played post-pandemic got locked off on our 3rd track due to a noise complaint. We were turning up on a rooftop at Gallery 46, blaring our new stuff and the neighbours just couldn’t hack it. Everything was socially distanced, which makes it a bit weird, but people were itching for a live show so everyone enjoyed that capsule of energy. It's just sad though because you are a bit on edge with the Covid rules being so wishy washy.
All images courtesy of Talia Beale
H: How long have you been making music for? What inspired or pushed you to put out your first project, ‘Tender’?
T: I released my first track September 2019, I had some severe self growth to fulfil after falling into my first heartbreak. Back then I’d never dare talk about my innate feelings to anyone, so I made it my mission to find a producer who would help me record these lyrics I wrote on a very sad and cold, drunk night out, just for confirmation that I could come outside of my comfort zone. At the time I was interning at KeepHush where I’d talk to Karl who was always on the door whenever I had breaks between filming, and one night I just told him how I don’t know how, but I need to find a producer because I am going to have a song by the end of the month: it was my goal. And he literally took his phone and headphones out and played me this fresh lo-fi jazz beat he’d been playing with the same week, which I instantly fell in love with and it became the template for TENDER, and the rest is history. We started recording a few days later and Karl really instilled his faith in my voice and how I should carry on using it and that he’d ride through this musical journey with me. He really led me into a new form of creating.
H: Has your music practice changed in any way from ‘Tender’ to ‘Bore Us’ and ‘Muzzled Butterfly’, and in what ways?
T: The way I write is more refined now and I’m far more particular with what kind of words I use. I like tongue twists, alliteration, masking a story with metaphors making it into a language a listener has to decode. The way Karl and myself came together for Tender, Bore Us and Muzzled Butterfly were all the same, we bounced off each other in the room, nothing was pre-determined. I’d have random lyrics and we created a fresh sound on the spot and then I’d slot the words in somehow. We’ve always been playful and open-minded with how we make music, anything can run, we just need to try it.
H: Who are your inspirations musically? Who do you have on repeat right now?
T: Musically Young M.A, Rico Nasty, Little Simz, Kojey Radical, Slowthai, Shaybo, of course Lauryn Hill and Amy Winehouse are my musical muses. On a day-to-day basis I listen to a lot of random Reggae and Afrobeat playlists on Soundcloud, It’s the only genre that makes me automatically happy. I also listen to a lot of grassroot musicians like CLBRKS, Lex Amor, Bagge, there’s definitely a lot more but I usually know the cover art over the name of the artist or song.
H: How does the idea of hybridity feed into your work? In terms of identity, but also your multidisciplinary artistic pursuits?
T: I come from art, I’m a visual communicator/artist before anything else. When I write lyrics I write them because I can see the visual, it’s basically a mood board within itself. That’s how poetry works to be fair. I’m an Aries so I like to do everything, all at once and all at the time haha, so I bounce between mediums a lot, I always have. Being and doing one thing has never appealed to me. Why would you want to when there’s so much to experience?
H: What’s next?
T: A visual EP is definitely next on the cards. I’ve started planning the next music video now which is for quite a jazzy/hip hop track featuring Hooson. The video’s going to be in black and white, super minimalist, super contradicting to Muzzled Butterfly. But other than that who knows what's next, hopefully some other opportunities come my way.
“Six Slots, No Female Headliners”
Louis Miller discusses female representation in the music industry, in conversation with music blogger Lucy McCourt.
In 2020, it would be nice to think that gender equality in the music business would come naturally, and that gender disparity would be a thing of the past in the industry. Unfortunately, this is a naïve and unfounded view. Perhaps worse, is that the industry is showing few signs of changing any time soon.
Reading and Leeds Festival, the largest festival put on by Festival Republic, and also the most iconic festival after Glastonbury, was, for obvious reasons, postponed this year. There were a lot of questions surrounding the festival’s setup for next year. Would the same headliners, all male, return? Would the format of the festival be changed to incorporate a larger roster of artists? Melvin Benn, Managing Director of Festival Republic, cleared things up in an August interview with NME, announcing that they had booked six acts as headliners for 2021, spread across two main stages. What a perfect opportunity, I thought, to have an equal amount of male and female headliners and prove everyone wrong about the gender imbalance at the festival. Yet, my daydreaming was in vain. Six acts were announced. All six headliners were either male acts or predominantly male bands. To suggest that Reading and Leeds had achieved a strong gender balance for their 2021 line-up would be utterly irresponsible.
But it’s nothing new. In a now viral tweet, it was highlighted that only two female acts had headlined the festival since 2010 (Arcade Fire in 2010, Paramore in 2014). It is disappointing and upsetting that women have seemingly been side-lined in preference of male headliners, not just once, but consistently. Lucy McCourt, a prominent music blogger, has long been highlighting gender disparity on festival line-ups, sharing edits of line-ups with all the male acts removed to show just how few women were billed to perform at not only Reading and Leeds but also Download, Slam Dunk and Kendal Calling to name a few. Asked why she began photoshopping the festival line-ups, she replied, “What motivated me initially was my own curiosity, I found myself trying to pick out and count the number of female artists and just thought that it would be really cool and visually striking to stick the line-ups into photoshop and edit the men out. The reception to it was way stronger than I ever could have anticipated.” What became very apparent was how women, if featured on the line-up at all, appeared lower down the bill, and female headliners were practically non-existent at all the festivals she was covering.
Image courtesy of Daniela Gil Nieves
Naturally, many tweeted and Instagrammed in horror at this blatant inequality, yet Lucy McCourt was not without her critics. She told me that a huge number of people, particularly men, backed the recent Reading and Leeds line-up, and aggressively defended it, despite its evident flaws. Speaking on the matter, she told me, “The misogynistic abuse that was thrown at me just proves my point that women are still treated like sh*t when they try to speak out about issues they’re passionate about.” But, McCourt is lucky to have stats and musical knowledge on her side, adding, “I’ve found that you’ve got to back your points up, so for example in reaction to all of the messages and comments saying ‘There are just not enough good female artists,’ I released a poster with over 700 amazing examples and sent them to all of the major UK festivals.” So many women on said list would excel in a festival headline spot, which makes the lack of women on next year’s festival billings even more excruciating.
Regarding inequality in the industry, many often cite the 2019 study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, ‘Inclusion in the Recording Studio?’ led by Dr Stacy L. Smith, which reported that, based on the 700 songs which hit the year-end Billboard Hot-100 charts between 2012-18, women make up only 21.7 percent of core artists in popular music. While some may see this as a consumer habit rather than an industry predicament, the study also highlighted a much greater obstacle, perhaps influenced more by societal norms, which too need to be overcome. Over 40 per cent of women in music interviewed for the study said that their work or skills had been dismissed by male colleagues in a very male-dominated industry. On top of that, women are extremely underrepresented on the boards of industry trade bodies, with PPL, the British music copyright collective, having a board make-up of only 6.2 per cent women. Black women are even more unrepresented, with many music industry trade bodies’ boards boasting no black women. Increasing diversity in this sector will, in turn, give women in music a greater opportunity to feature in the charts, as well as on radio and other media platforms, many of which are crucial to artists being discovered by new fans. McCourt suggested that this would also have a positive impact on the imbalanced festival line-ups; “We need more diversity in booking teams, it’s that simple. We also need more male artists speaking out about the inequality because unfortunately, their voices do seem to carry more weight!” Male artists and industry professionals need to be actively involved in pushing for greater gender equality in music; unfortunately, until key male players on labels and world-famous artists stand with women and raise their voices, we are unlikely to see a seismic change to the way things are at present.
So, we might ask what we as consumers or curators can do to ensure that we play our part in bringing greater equality to the music industry. As a blogger and presenter, I am increasingly aware of the gender split in the content I put out. With hopes of being back on air on student radio again, I will, as I hope all student presenters will, strive to have a varied and balanced show. In my eyes, it is not about forcing people to listen to female artists on a fifty-fifty split. Not only is it not that simple, it seems tokenistic. Nevertheless, as consumers, we should understand how demography may have affected an artist’s progression from one thousand streams to one million streams and, more importantly, we should continue to speak out about inequality in the music industry and be outraged: outraged that women are not accurately represented on some record label and music trade organisation boards, outraged that female artists continue to face discrimination within the industry and outraged that far too few women are hopping onstage at some of our biggest festivals.