HANG: Khaleda Noon & Sami Omar in conversation

Ahead of HANG, Scotland's first ever hip-hop and grime music conference, we speak to Khaleda Noon from Intercultural Youth Scotland and Sami Omar from Up2Stndrd

Feature by Rachel Bowles | 14 Jul 2021
  • HANG

HANG (Hip-hop Aimed Networking with Grime) is Scotland’s first ever grime and hip-hop music conference launching this summer with a one day, can’t miss interdisciplinary line-up of panels, workshops and live music. Featuring the likes of BBC Radio 1Xtra’s Tiffany Calver, 2020 SAY Award winner Nova, and Aberdeen grime artist Ransom FA to name but a few, HANG brings together talent, labels and industry experts from across the UK for a free, all-ages event designed for aspiring artists and fans alike.

To celebrate its inauguration, The Skinny catches up with two of HANG’s finest guests – award-winning Khaleda Noon, executive director and founder of non-profit Intercultural Youth Scotland and pioneering Sami Omar, the man behind Scotland’s premier grime platform Up2Stndrd.

Up2Stndrd are also involved with a new bursary specifically for Scottish artists working to apply for a new bursary to develop their practice and test out new ideas. Delivered by Sunny G Radio in partnership with UP2STNDRD and 644 Studios, these new Creative Scotland funds will open for application during HANG on Sat 31 July. 

(The following has been edited for length and clarity.)

The Skinny: Hi guys! Can you introduce yourselves please?

Sami Omar: I’m Sami, founder of Up2Stndrd. Growing up, I had a big passion for music but we had nowhere to go and record at a professional level. It pushed me to set up our affiliate studios in 2014. As our network grew, we felt there was another gap in the market in terms of infrastructure. We needed a platform for our own community in Scotland, hence the birth of Up2Stndrd. We bridge the gap between the artists’ product and the consumer.

Khaleda Noon: I’m Khaleda Noon, executive director of Intercultural Youth Scotland (IYS), Scotland’s leading charity for young black people, young people of colour and those with intersectional characteristics. We use hip-hop and grime and any sort of youth work as a vehicle to make sure that young people reach a positive destination.

We deliver vital work to support young people overcome disadvantages, asserting human rights and becoming active citizens in Scotland. Our main practice and work includes genuine co-production with young people who are often overlooked, neglected and excluded from public life – creating safe spaces for youth movements and social justice at decision-making tables at Scottish Government. We also deliver direct black, POC-led services and race equality education, Restless Natives Employability, youth arts and music, intersectional gender equity and we also provide a mental health service.

TS: What is HANG and what do you hope to achieve?

SO: I’d say HANG is the first conference/network building event to highlight the hip-hop and grime scene in Scotland and allow conversations around it. We hope to highlight that it’s 2021 and things have changed, the landscape of the music industry is changing. We hope to break the barriers of the music industry, which is so monopolised, by allowing organisations led by people of colour, people that are on the ground, to really connect with the scene as a whole and have seats at decision-making tables. 

I’m on one of the panels like Khaleda and Scottish Alternative Music Awards (SAMAs) have worked hard in putting them together. Some of the guests I’ve got on my panel are from down south and it’s good to see their insight into things as well – in London, it’s a lot different to Scotland! We’re getting to that time now where we are here and we’re working so hard in establishing our brands and our mission and basically just creating. We’re bridging the gap and we’re able to influence the industry. We’re here to show that we’re here, change is here, embrace it! 

KN: It’s a great thing that HANG’s happening; truly bringing together Scotland’s skilled influencers and networks. It’s fantastic that the SAMAs have the willingness to connect communities; bringing together those who already benefit from a system that’s designed to serve them and those who are furthest away from a culture and art form that belongs to them. It’s important that HANG have included speakers and panellists like myself and Sami, as engagement must be informed by an understanding of how intersectionality affects everyday life in that black/people of colour organisations have a platform to be heard and an opportunity to collaborate with those who are already embedded in the music industry in Scotland.

TS: You mentioned briefly about the panel discussions you're taking part in, do you mind telling us a little about that?

SO: I'm part of the [Platforms, Promotion and Pitching] panel. I’ll be speaking about the importance of a platform to bring exposure, and highlighting all the talent that Scotland is brewing at the moment – providing that bridge for content to be well-delivered and really appreciated.

KN: [The Hip-hop and its Multifaceted Role in Communities panel] is a great opportunity for me to present Intercultural Youth Scotland's practice as we consider the intersecting power structures experienced by young, black, POC artists and adapt accordingly with the avoidance of further exclusion and equity as the main goal.

We listen and nurture our upcoming artists such as AD3, Anise, Danny Cliff, Raheel Zaki, Casso, El Richie, who have to juggle cultural expectations and endure racist power structures while building a repertoire. We make sure we provide ongoing opportunities for paid performances and collaborations with folks such as Scottish Ballet, Lighthouse Radical Bookshop, Edinburgh’s Night Light, Young Scot Awards, First Minister’s Advisory Panel for Women and Girls, Developing Youth Workforce events, Edinburgh’s World Heritage, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Paradise Palms, loads of organisations who collaborate.

It’s really important for us to present that and understand that partnerships work and it’s really important for organisations to do that. I’m inspired by young artists in Scotland who continue to develop their talents; from making beats in their bedrooms to coming down to the block and our block beats studio at IYS and having the opportunity to work with our family, Up2Stndrd, considering the ongoing structural inequalities that are faced daily.

TS: What artists are you the most excited about?

SO: There’s Nova, Bemz, AiiTee, just some of the artists Up2Stndrd works closely with. India Ros3 representing Dundee… we’re representing Scotland from every corner under one roof.

TS: It’s awesome to think about the progression of grime, as a (Scottish) fan listening to pirate radio from London in 2003, and now we’re talking about Dundee being represented.

SO: Times are changing now and if we all unite as a front and stick together… You know, me and Khaleda believe in this highly, it’s really about the effort that we’re all putting in together and just once again, tackle it from all angles – the community angle, commercial business angle and that way really get a foot in the door and stay there. 

TS: Khaleda, who are you excited about?

KN: AiiTee who is an absolute star in the making! Please look out for her, she’s a gifted songwriter, singer and musician. She’s also super gorgeous and extremely kind. I always used to say [to her]: "If you don’t make it, then something’s fucking wrong!" And of course our girl Nova who supported the beginning of Intercultural Youth Scotland in 2018 and performed at our events. 

I’m actually looking forward to the whole event, having the opportunity to raise awareness of the intersectional inequalities young black and POC creators face in Scotland and network with some of those who are in the music scene. I personally am not in the music scene and grime and hip-hop, that’s Sami and Up2Stndrd! I’m more on the anti-racist and social justice [side]. I’ve been thrown into the artistic side, I’m just doing it because I know that’s what young people want to do.

It’s about cherishing those two elements, and with Sami being the leader in the grime/hip-hop music scene in Scotland, it’s really important we capture that going forward and it’s invested in heavily. I’m a firm believer in black and POC-owned businesses, social enterprises and charities. Funding is so white, those who apply for the funding is white, those who get funding is white and we’re on a massive campaign to change this right now. It’s always #FundingSoWhite and that has to change. It’s time to pass the mic.

SO: Equal representation across the board, absolutely. As in music of Black origin, equal representation.

KN: And equitable representation when we don’t even get equal. 

TS: It’s the artistic and the political in grime, you almost can’t have one without the other.

SO: Music is a universal language and grime and hip-hop I believe is the language of the young people now. Seeing that, we can lead to, as Khaleda said, positive outcomes, positive outputs with these young kids. In today’s life they can be so easily swayed as there’s so much to influence them out there, so having safe places like Intercultural Youth Scotland’s studios, our studios, bringing them in here, it’s important. Once again reminding them, embrace your culture, bring that into your sound, work on your art. We’re working so hard here to create these spaces to further fulfill our duty in making this available for the young kids because they’re the future. 

KN: And so are you Sami! 

SO: [laughs] Oh, Khaleda we’re in this together! Don’t you worry! 

KN: It is true though because how often do you see black businesses? You just don’t. You’ve got black business [entrepreneurs] who have probably had to face a lot of challenges, challenges growing up and then with your business, of course, COVID happening, the fact that you’re still here and you’re still doing what you need to do. There’s communities looking at other communities with jealousy that they’re not getting a bite of the apple, because there’s not that much opportunity so people are grasping at straws. So it’s important that communities come together. Sami and I do that, we’re close, we’re pals. We come together and that’s when real special work happens. Black and POC communities can actually work together rather than being apart.

SO: Absolutely. We share the same objective. We’re here at the end of the day to provide accessibility, to break those barriers, that system, again, where it’s only THOSE guys or funders, where decisions lie. We need to have a seat at that table.

TS: There’s no need for it to be London-centric.

SO: No, we’ve got the whole thing here and I’m so proud. Moving here 20 years ago – I went to school here, college, university. I started rapping, making music when I was younger, growing up and to see how the sound has evolved, how the scene itself has evolved and I’m proud and it just makes me want to work harder in creating everything that we can to make sure the next generation have the access to really fulfill their dreams by expressing their arts and embracing their culture. We like to promote multicultural dominance in Scotland so it’s all about that and using hip-hop and grime as a language to break those barriers, I believe is the right way, it’s the right direction.

TS: I’ve got goosebumps!

KN: That’s what you do. Conversations can be uncomfortable sometimes but they have to be uncomfortable for change.

TS: What would you say to aspiring youths who want to get involved in the music industry? 

SO: I would say do not fear the system. That’s why we are here. You do not need the companies, the monopoly, the ones that are controlling the organisations, [Khaleda and I] are here to do our due diligence to support you. Embrace yourself, embrace your talent. As much as we all come together, we are also individuals, we’ve got our own sound, our own history to bring into this, to add to the table.

KN: What I’d say to aspiring artists is to collaborate, know your community, reach out to other communities and work together. Use your time wisely with people who share the same dedication, learn where the music and cultural art forms started. To truly appreciate something you need to grasp where it all began. Resist the divide and conquer approaches. Let’s not let inequality and lack of opportunity divide us, let’s unite because when you do, you will lead the way and hold the key to influence change in Scotland’s music scene.

TS: It’s important for people to understand that black origin arts such as grime and hip-hop are crucial to Scottish culture.

KN: Yeah, you have the Scottish hip-hop culture. I think [people should] understand that Scotland has the talent, it is there, it’s just underground. It’s crucial that there’s investment into grassroots organisations to reach and nurture that talent in a positive way. I think also that we must recognise the contribution of young black artists where grime started in London and also those who depend on youth work and youth clubs to nurture their talent, then the hip-hop as a culture, an art movement that was created by African Americans, Latino Americans and Carribean Americans.

We must recognise that hip-hop is more than music, it’s a cultural movement that incorporates different elements of art that is often whitewashed of black led cultures and class appropriation. You can’t enjoy the fruit of something that is rooted in their lived experience without acknowledging where it comes from along with the dedication to invest time and funding into the continuation of grassroot engagement that allows future generations to thrive.

SO: [Khaleda] couldn’t have said it any better. It’s just continuous investment into the grassroot organisations and that is it! That allows us to further nurture the kids that are coming in and further achieve our goals.

KN: And give employment opportunities to Black and POC people who desperately need to have those opportunities because the racial structures that we live in do not allow for that. Also, now I think with the disproportionate impact of COVID [on black and POC communities] and with the backdrop of Black Lives Matter, if not now, when?

TS: Before COVID, we had the Grime 4 Corbyn #JC4PM movement and then during the pandemic a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Do you think events like HANG are important for addressing these kinds of pressing political issues?

SO: It’s the first step towards it and, again, involving grassroot organisations in the planning and execution of these events will further allow a connection. It’s a good start absolutely, a first account, but as we refine the process year on year, I believe eventually we’d be achieving what we set out to do.

KO: This is probably the most important aspect of what we’re talking about here. I think the fact that HANG reached out to me and Intercultural Youth Scotland shows that they’re keen to address issues. I think the creators understand that IYS has Black and POC activists in our team and our community has the expertise and responsibility to influence change. I think they know we stand up for those who are furthest from opportunities and are devoted to making sure there’s absolute equity for young people who don’t realise they have an artistic gift due to isolation and barriers.

We aim to advocate on the protection and opportunities for non-binary and genderqueer artists and include black feminist thoughts on the history and contemporary use of the black female body, offering a human rights perspective on uses of the black female body within patriarchial capitalism. We also raise awareness and advocate for black boys and young black men who face specific dehumanisation and more extreme physical violence and adultification under white supremacy.

HANG is a vehicle for Intercultural Youth Scotland and Up2Stndrd to engage, to raise awareness and collaborate, making absolutely sure that if it involves the lives of young people in Scotland, then they are part of the decision-making processes from the very beginning and throughout. Sorry, I feel a bit like a politician but this is my job! [laughs].

HANG's daytime programme takes place online from 11am-8pm, 31 Jul; HANG's live evening showcase with performances from Nova, Bemz, India Ros3 and mISTAh bOhzE takes place from 8:15-10pm at SWG3, Glasgow, 31 Jul

More info can be found at officialsama.com/hang

Sami Omar will feature on the Platforms, Promotion and Pitching panel, online from 3-4pm; Khaleda Noon will feature on the Hip-hop's Multifaceted Role in Communities panel, online from 5-6pm