A Celebration of Culture: IYS and Scotland in Colour

As their Scotland in Colour festival returns for its fourth year, we chat with Chidera Chukwujekwu and Sara Elbashir from Intercultural Youth Scotland to find out more

Feature by Anita Bhadani | 29 Aug 2022
  • Scotland in Colour

This September sees the fourth annual Scotland in Colour festival return to Edinburgh. A celebration of the creativity of young Black and people of colour in Scotland, this year over 20 acclaimed and emerging music acts will take to the stage in the ornate Pianodrome venue, currently housed in the Old Royal High School on Calton Hill.

“The festival is an opportunity to bring different communities together,” Asistant Producer Sara Elbashir tells us. Fostering community and a sense of belonging are at the heart of organisers Intercultural Youth Scotland’s remit, and this annual festival is a culmination of their ongoing wider work engaging young Black and people of colour in Scotland with creative futures to this end.

“We identified quite quickly through our work that the young people we work with have this interest in performance and music and art,” Chidera Chukwujekwu, Head of Communications tells us. “There were just not enough opportunities for young people of colour to express their talent or get on a stage.”

Giving young people of colour in Scotland a platform to express themselves and share their talents with a wider audience was the driving force behind the inception of Scotland in Colour, Chukwujekwu tells us. “We don’t just want this to be a gig – it’s so much more than that. It’s a whole celebration of culture." They continue: “It’s about giving young people of colour a chance to connect and meet people that might be like-minded and see where that feeds into the rest of their life. It’s really inspiring to see people who are like you on stage with people around them and sounding great. You think, ‘maybe I could do that too’, you know?”

Scotland in Colour boasts an eclectic lineup this year, from rapper Bemz (BBC Introducing’s Scottish Act of 2022), to lauded jazz outfit Grace & The Flat Boys, rising artist Billy Got Waves and a host of performers from Intercultural Youth Scotland's various programmes playing throughout the day. 

Later, drawing the evening to a close are an enviable selection of DJs making waves through Scotland’s club scene. These include Glasgow-based ISO YSO, whose sets take inspiration from orchestral compositions and video game soundtracks, to underground Afrohouse and Afrotech DJ and producer Optimistic Soul (aka Sibusiso Mpofu), to emerging KTAB, the Moroccan-Scottish DJ/producer soon to make his debut as a recording artist.

“When booking artists, we considered: Who’s visible? Who are people listening to? Who would the young people in our groups want to see?" Chukwujekwu says. “We try to book slightly larger people each year to mark a progression for the festival itself and the visibility of what we’re trying to do.”

Building leadership in the creative sector is especially important, Elbashir and Chukwujekwu tell us, from finding ways to facilitate artists of colour, to creating the larger frameworks that can support artists of colour throughout their journey. While events such as Scotland in Colour are exemplary of the exciting grassroots work being done to make Scotland’s music scene and wider creative industries more representative of our society as a whole, there is always more work to be done.

“There are some great creative opportunities out there for young people of colour – internships and all of these things. But there’s also an issue with a lot of organisations not being able to see between the lines of why some of these young people can’t take these up,” Elbashir says. “Their parents might not want them to get into a creative industry, or they might not be able to drive, or they may not be able to afford things like travel costs to get there. At Intercultural Youth Scotland, we try to provide all these things and find connection – truly work with the young person and maybe even get to know their family, and try to find an avenue for this work.” 

“Unpaid internships especially can pose a barrier," Chukwujekwu adds. "We’ve always pushed for – if you’re going to offer an internship there has to be an access budget so they can get there. There has to also be a form of support throughout.”

Chukwujekwu continues: “The reality is that we do live in a racist world, as much as we try to avoid people experiencing that. We see our role as being the conduit for the ‘what ifs’ – trying to recognise the barriers to these creative fields and creating ways to get more people into these things.” 

Indeed, Scotland in Colour is as much a catalyst for ongoing change for young people of colour in Scotland today as it is a celebration of new and emerging talent in Scotland today. “We don’t do the festival to make money,” Chukwujekwu reflects. “We do it to connect with young people... Come along because we want you there, 'cause it’s fun, 'cause it’s good. Just come along.”

Scotland in Colour takes place at the Pianodrome, Old Royal High School, Edinburgh, 3 Sep; tickets available via Eventbrite