Urban Prayer

Acti

URBAN PRAYER

If I owned a multinational company, I would choose Activist as my Chief Executive Officer. It’s quite rare to meet somebody who is so focused and determined to make their mark in this world and Activist (real name Jehu, but known to his friends as ‘Acti’ or ‘Jay’) is a man that you would want on your team. He gets an idea and he makes it happen – he achieves results and he makes people sit up and take notice.

I first became aware of his work as a rapper a few years ago when Acti made a track with Lifford Shillingford called ‘Closure’. As I probed to find out more about him, I discovered a multi talented man who has lived through some extremely challenging times in his young life, but has somehow managed to turn it around in the most refreshingly positive way. His most recent project is a series of short films called ‘Urban Prayer’

I met up with Acti and some of the Urban Prayer cast at Tinsel Town in Farringdon. Over mounds of wings, lamb and cheesy chips, we shared jokes, stories, and aspirations for the future, and although I arrived to meet one friend , I felt that I left with six friends whose experiences will resonate with me for the rest of my life.

The Urban Prayer Team with me

The Urban Prayer Team with me

Acti introduced me to Kwame, Fade (also known as Smash), Tommy, JJ and Serena and our first discussion was about how they all met. Acti explained that he has spent most of his life travelling between his mum in Brixton (South London) and his dad in Archway (North London), so the group are a mixture of friends who came together through living on the same housing estates, friends of the family, college, social media and youth work. It’s clear that most of them go back a long way and, the teasing, the in jokes and the knowing glances demonstrate that lifetime bonds are firmly in place here.

Many of the estates were founded by the Peabody Trust, an organisation that provided housing for London’s poor from the 1860’s. All of the guys talked about the violence on the estates, about having to know who everybody was and whether they were for you or against you. There was one way onto the estate and one way off, and you only went out to go to the shop or to fight – there were so many broken noses around. Nobody talked proudly about it – these guys were not showing off – they were just telling me how it was and the description made me think that it wasn’t very far removed from a prison with the lack of freedom, lack of basic personal security, basic conditions, and bullying hierarchy. Fade recalled going into the woods next to the estate with some friends to test guns (which would later be used in firearms offences) by firing them against trees, and at the time it seemed like normal behaviour, but when he thinks about it now he can’t quite believe how dysfunctional the scenario was.

The estates weren’t all about bad times though – Fade and Kwame talked fondly about football matches where everybody would somehow be united and forget the pressures of inner city life (until somebody went in for a bad tackle, and then the fights would resume). JJ indicated that times were changing and he thought that the violence had calmed down a lot in recent times. Fade explained that violence isn’t just something you do without thought – every punch, every wound inflicted – it hurts. If you are going to go in, you have to have a reason, you need to be sure that the consequences are worth it, and sometimes the consequences are just the fact that you survived the situation. Acti also reflected about bad times in his life – he has been stabbed three times, and he mourns a close friend who very recently was murdered for his £300 laptop by an 18 year old. Events like this have been a major source of material for his rap poetry. He explains that the very personal experiences are the ones that he can portray best in rap or film – he knows about other situations through friends, but he can talk about being stabbed because that is a scenario that he identifies closely with.

JJ Boothe

JJ Boothe

Kwame is proud of his Ghanaian heritage and talks in a very entertaining way with expletives, jokes and gems of knowledge all blended together and rolling off his tongue more silkily than the peach smoothie that he is drinking. Together with Fade (who is equally entertaining but in a quieter and more considered way), he discusses how they did time in prison for robbery and firearms offences and how they also found an outlet in rap music, having released tracks in the past. It seems that whatever your situation, and however negative it may seem, artistic expression, and especially music can be a very valuable outlet for dealing with issues and getting your point across. There was also a feeling among the group that it was an advantage to have an older brother to show them the ropes, and how important it can be to have the support of other family members when you are living day to day in a tough situation.

Kwame, Fade, Acti and Tommy

Kwame, Fade, Acti and Tommy

Acti discussed his childhood and the level of poverty that he, his mum and sister dealt with on a daily basis. He felt the need to rob to survive and spoke of the moral dilemma that his mother felt – knowing that the money he gave her was the result of petty theft, but also knowing that it would be enough to put a chicken on the table to feed them all. I found this story one of the most confronting, to think that in a presumably civilised country like the UK, there are children living in abject poverty while others casually sip prosecco – the price of a glass of prosecco would provide a roast chicken dinner for a family of four. Putting this into perspective makes the world seem truly crazy.

Acti doesn’t smoke or drink. A long while ago he decided that those activities were a waste of money and were not going to help him buy new trainers or a car. He soon realised though that robbery was not the path that he wanted to pursue, being stabbed made him think long and hard about his future and helped with the decision that there must be a different path to follow. All of the members of the group who had a challenging past have now turned their lives around and are using their experiences to help young people. Many of them do youth work either as a paid job or on a voluntary basis, and they talk animatedly about how they have helped some of the capital’s most vulnerable youngsters. While telling a story about one particular youth with an overload of attitude, Acti stated that he has ‘zero tolerance for disrespect’ which gives an idea of his direct and candid approach, but he does appreciate that you can’t help every one of them, you can only use your personal life experiences to challenge their thinking, and then let them find their own way.

JJ talks about how he spoke to one youngster , a wannabe drugs dealer, and explained to him that he already had a business brain, albeit for illegal activity, so why not transfer that business skillset to developing property – something straight that could set him up for life – and this is a key point – the ability to explain to young people how they can make a positive change, and doing it in terms that they can relate to.

There is a general feeling that the system is still failing its pupils in some areas. We spoke about how some schools are run with money being the driving factor, especially schools for children with special needs and mental disorders (such as ADHD). The teachers feel that they are not encouraged to try too hard to help the pupils reform because less pupils means less school income, and the owners of the school, whether private or government, want to keep it going so that they can keep making money. I found this quite sad that children could have their potential suppressed, while somebody else gets rich as a result.

urban prayer still 2

I asked them about the filming process for Urban Prayer and Tommy said that it was filmed in areas of North London that they were all familiar with. Calmly confident Tommy is the member of the group who is an officially ‘trained actor’ and he recalls them filming a scene in episode two, after a fight where he had been stripped down to his underpants, and was sitting by a garage. The passers-by seemed quite alarmed at what was happening and kept asking if he was okay, not realising that they were making a film. This gives an idea of the realism involved in this project.

urban prayer still

It was clear that the whole group are passionate about the filming process – their faces come alive when they discuss it and it’s good to see the enthusiasm and warmth for what they are creating. The cameraman and director is a guy called Mark Potter, and Acti stresses that although everybody has ideas, Mark is very much the man responsible for the finished visual.

They all talk about how Acti has the concept for the film in his mind and he knows exactly what he wants to achieve, and even if they try a different approach, they usually end up being directed by Acti because he is determined to get the effect and the audience reaction that he has conceived in his mind. The whole group have a massive amount of respect for Acti. JJ, a smart, charismatic guy who up to now has been talking relatively light heartedly, adopts an air of seriousness as he exemplifies this with the comment that he has had ideas in the past which he started for a while, then put them on hold, and would never get back to them, but Acti is a man who sees things through – he has a strong motivation to push his ideas forward and achieve results.

A few years ago Acti released a track called ‘Something in the Air’ (ft Dom B) which tells the story of how his younger brother goes out to the shop and doesn’t come back. He gets set upon and killed by another youth. Urban Prayer is the follow up to this and tells the story of how Acti wants revenge for what happened. It is gritty, confronting and powerful, but very real – it is a horrible story but a story that you can imagine actually happening. He has big plans for the ending, but he is keeping those ideas close to his chest at the moment.

The films also feature Siobhan McInnes, Jay Marsh, and Jaype Omotosho.

Serena is a friend of the group and sat fairly quietly throughout, as I did, listening to the tales and being entertained by the guys. At one point Acti declared that he was going to marry a girl like Serena – he states that he is tired of women who are obsessed with shoes, hair and eyelashes – he wants a woman with much more substance, someone who will challenge him mentally, and Serena is already thinking about college and education and where she is going in the world.

Serena and Acti

Serena and Acti

The time whizzed by and I felt honoured to get an insight into the minds of this charismatic and passionate group of friends. I would love to see this project develop into something much bigger – maybe a TV two-parter, or even a mini series. It is certainly well constructed and I know that the team have invested part of themselves in every frame. As we said our goodbyes and left the restaurant I hugged Serena and whispered “I’ll come to the wedding”. “You’re definitely invited” she replied.

Did You Ever – Wipe The Needle, Alex Lattimore

Did You Ever

Wipe the Needle – a name that is synonymous with quality production is spearheaded by talented London producer Lee Gomez. Originating in 2005, Wipe The Needle primarily focused on the dance music scene, making quality house beats, and merging styles and moods, such as soulful, deep, dark, tech, and covering a wide range of house subgenres. Wipe the Needle productions made an immediate impact on the London house scene and began to feature on various labels including Defected, 4th Floor, Restless Soul, Deeply Rooted House, Raw Fusion, Groove Odyssey, Solid Ground, Broadcite, Slip n Slide, and Soundmen on Wax. Respected London DJs Neil Pierce and Aaron Ross featured several releases in their sets, and the word soon spread that Wipe The Needle had arrived – a heavyweight force on the dance scene. The productions went from strength to strength and Wipe The Needle is now an established act worldwide, featuring regularly on radio, top DJ sets and in the charts.

Wipe The Needle productions include artists such as Lifford Shillingford, Michael Proctor, Eddie Stockley, CT Martin, Gary Bardouille, Pauline Henry, Michelle Weeks, Tshaka Campbell, Xavier, Gregory Purnell, Circle of Funk, Soulful Session, Dawn Tallman, Tascha Johnson, Fred Triplett and Foremost Poets to name a few.

Chicago native Alex Lattimore has loved music since he could walk and talk. He showed an aptitude for music at a very early age and absorbed knowledge quickly becoming an accomplished musician skilled in piano and trumpet, and went on to perform with various bands including Chicago Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, Roosevelt University Jazz Band, and the University of Chicago Chamber Orchestra. Having been deeply involved in the art for many years, he has become a respected songwriter, producer and arranger as well as an outstanding vocalist. Alex has shared a stage with the likes of Tina Turner, Luther Vandross, Michael McDonald, The Impressions, Eddie Levert, India Arie, Earl Klugh, Roy Ayers, Loose Ends, and Maysa Leak and his performances have featured on several albums. Alex released his first solo album called “Promise” in 2008, and he continues to go from strength to strength with his talents very much in demand throughout the worldwide music community.

The lyrics of “Did You Ever” follow the romantic dialogue of a man yearning to be together with a long awaited love, and Alex delivers the vocals with ease and heartfelt passion. His voice is smooth and natural, soothing the listener with its honey tones and outstanding clarity.

Wipe The Needle’s production is upbeat and lively with gorgeous piano, mesmerising percussion and a bouncy samba vibe which is versatile enough for any audience to enjoy. Keys are provided by the supremely talented and classically trained Italian musician Michele Chiavarini who has made a huge contribution to the music scene in recent years.

Wipe The Needle and Alex Lattimore have created a wonderful partnership here, the quality production a perfect backdrop to the exquisite vocals and storyline. This is definitely a track which will appeal to audiences wide and far.

SUS021 Did You Ever – Wipe The Needle, Alex Lattimore – released on Slapped Up Soul

Available now on Traxsource promo – general release on 30 Oct 2015

Click here to buy/listen to the track

Hallelujah (Josh Emman Remix) – Knox, Aaron K Gray

hallelujah

Hallelujah (Josh Emman Remix) – Knox, Aaron K Gray

Graham ‘Knox’ Frazier is a native New Yorker. Born in the late 60’s he spent his youth listening to Soul, Disco, Hip Hop and Dance music and built up an impressive vinyl collection, which he used to learn the ropes of mixing and DJing from the age of 12. His skills were in demand at parties,fashion shows and Manhattan clubs including Tattoo, The Supper Club, Doubles and The Hayden Planetarium. He began producing in 1991 after meeting John ‘Roc’ Mateo (Mateo and Matos) and he was signed by Todd Terry in 1996. Knox has also worked as a TV editor for Sony and MTV and he currently works for the Daily Show. Music production is more than a hobby for Knox, it’s a real passion that shines through in the quality of his work.

 
Aaron Kendall Gray was raised in Delray Beach Florida, the youngest of six children, and having been brought up in a spiritual environment, Gospel has been a huge influence in Aaron’s life. He began singing in church at the age of 5, and has excelled in the performing arts, becoming a proficient dancer and hair and make up artist. In 2001 he released the R & B album titled “Body Rain”, and his rich vocals brought him to the attention of the music world. He collaborated with Tony Humphries, Junior White and Noelle Barbera on the much acclaimed Soulful/Gospel House hit ‘Wonder Why’. This led to the collaboration with Knox and Scott Wozniak which resulted in the original release of ‘Hallelujah’, ‘That Feeling’ and ‘Remind Myself’. Aaron has performed with some of the world’s top Gospel artists such as Vickie Winans, John P. Kee, Donnie McClurkin, and Karen Clark Sheard to name a few. He is a born entertainer, and his sweet soulful voice warms the heart of every listener.

 

Josh Emman (Aries Audio Music) belongs to a family of performers and musicians and is a seasoned member of the music scene. A lover of all genres including Soul, Disco, Jazz, Rare Groove, Motown, Two-Tone, 80’s Soul, Electro and Rave, Josh has built up an impressive music collection over the years. He has a sophisticated ear for production, having studied Music Technology and Sound Engineering at college. Josh has performed as a DJ at many prestigious venues including Babalou, Turnmills, Ministry of Sound, Bournemouth’s Opera House, and The End, and he has presented on radio for many years, most recently on Back2Back fm. Production is an outlet for Josh’s inspiration in all walks of life and his productions radiate quality. Past works include Love on The Line featuring Nina Provencal, the instrumental Refreshing EP, and a remix of Luka’s Love Is Freedom. Josh strives for excellence and has created a unique soulful sound which is the framework to many of his tracks.

The KHM (Knox House Music) label was established in 1997 and has hosted more than 140 releases. The original Hallelujah release took place in December 2014.

There is no doubt that Aaron is devoted to his faith and he delivers the lyrics of “Hallelujah” with heartfelt emotion and joy. The song really does reflect his ethos and pure joy at being alive, making it an anthem for love and life. His pure and soulful voice has power, maturity and subtlety which Aaron controls with expertise.

 
Josh’s remix is a four to the floor House beat with a deep sophisticated vibe that builds in complexity. The vocals are perfectly placed around the rich percussion and atmospheric keys, and this is a track that will move the body from the opening bars, enchanting, bringing joy and dazzling the dancers among us with its warmth and rhythmic flow. This version provides a whole new contrast to the original and will be the must have track for every DJ and dance floor this Christmas.

KHM 145 Hallelujah (Josh Emman Remix) – Knox, Aaron K Gray release date 22 November 2015

Oba – Deep Tenor City

Oba

Oba – Deep Tenor City

Deep Tenor City is the production partnership of Dan Stillit and Oli Savill. The duo also present the Tenor City Radio show on Back2Back fm. Oli is an accomplished musician who is the live and studio percussionist with Basement Jaxx, and he has featured with a number of acts, including Kaidi Tatham and Dayme Arocena, to name a few. He has also appeared on many releases as an original percussionist with Da Lata, as well as being a producer in his own right. Dan teamed up with Oli in 2003, and the duo have a unique synergy based on Oli’s experience, percussion and production skills along with Dan’s knowledge of the business, and everything Soul, Jazz, Disco, and House, especially Deep House. Dan has always loved percussion and Oli was one of his teachers. They initiated the Love and Courage project, bringing together a celebrated group of musicians from New York, London and Miami including Sammy Figueroa (twice grammy nominated), Jose Claussell (timbales playing brother of DJ Joe Claussell), Robby Ameen, Dele Sosimi, Graeme Flowers, John Crawford, Femi Elias, Ricoh Scott, Nick Newall, Virginia McLean, Ebony, Imani and Hannah. The contributors have an impressive musical pedigree having worked with quality established artists including the likes of Chaka Khan, Roy Ayers, Roberta Flack, Dizzie Gillespie and Quincy Jones. Oba was originally created back in 2003 and distributed and sold hand-to-hand via CD, but was never commercially released at the time despite being well-received. Recently DJ Harv and Shep Kennedy showed interest in the track and it received very positive feedback from listeners. Oba was rediscovered, and is now being released on the BBE label with remixes from Josh Emman and Opolopo.

Josh Emman (Aries Audio Music) has been on the music scene for many years, belonging to a family of performers and musicians. His father was a regular performer on the Midlands reggae scene in the 80’s and 90’s and his uncles are lovers of many genres including Soul, Disco, Jazz, Rare Groove, Motown, Two-Tone, 80’s Soul, Electro and Rave. Josh has a sophisticated ear for production, having studied Music Technology and Sound Engineering at college. He has presented on radio for many years, most recently on Back2Back fm and has performed as a DJ at many prestigious venues including Babalou, Turnmills, Ministry of Sound, Bournemouth’s Opera House, and The End. His productions radiate quality and include Love on The Line featuring Nina Provencal, the instrumental Refreshing EP, a remix of Luka’s Love Is Freedom, and as the sole featured remixer on Knox’s Hallelujah featuring Aaron K Gray. Josh strives for excellence and has produced a signature soulful sound which is the key to many of his productions.

Opolopo (Peter Major) is a man with Hungarian and Swedish heritage, a long time music lover with a passion for many genres and the influence of an accomplished, keyboard playing father. He absorbed the sounds of Electronica, Fusion, Funk, Soul and Disco in the eighties, and is now an international well-loved DJ and producer, never being afraid to experiment and bring unique facets to his trademark funky sound. Opolopo is a Yoruban word meaning ‘plenty’ and he certainly lives up to his name, being prolific in his releases and performances. He recently featured at number 2 in the Traxsource chart of the most influential Soulful House Artists of 2015 so far. Notable releases and remixes include Shea Soul’s Be Enough, Luka’s Love Glow, Taliwa’s Music For My Sun, Portia Monique’s Ain’t Scared of You, and Jarrod Lawson’s Sleepwalkers.

The BBE label (Barely Breaking Even), established by Pete Adarkwah and Ben Jolly, marketed their first track in 2001 and have over 300 releases under their belt covering many genres including Soul, Funk, Disco, Deep House, Soulful House, and Broken Beat. The label goes from strength to strength marketing and supporting quality acts in the dance music arena.

Oba is a Yoruban word meaning King, and is a fitting title for this majestic afro track. The track is deep, complex, jazzy and funky with Afro-Cuban influences, layered with mesmerising vocals, brass and clever percussion. All analogue. The original track is highly Jazz influenced with a vibe reminiscent of early Carlos Santana, and an abstract freeform feel. Josh Emman’s remix has a traditional House beat with deep vocals from NYC’s Ricoh Scott, laced with sweet flute touches, congas and harmonious keys that will make you want to move from the opening bars. Opolopo digresses from his usual form with a broken remix that highlights the Jazz elements with a carnival atmosphere and just an undertone of his trademark funkiness.

Three very different versions make sure that there is something for everybody, whether you want to relax, dance or salsa – this track is versatile enough to transition from a chill out lounge to a dance floor and is sure to touch the heart of every listener.

Oba – Deep Tenor City – released on BBE