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.

Advertisements

Interview with Mr Nugget

Mr Nugget

It was an absolute pleasure to interview Mr Nugget. He answered all of my questions fully and with great enthusiasm – what a nice guy. Thank you very much Mr Nugget – I am delighted to publish the full interview here on my blog.

1. How old were you when you started DJing? Where was your 1st gig?

Truthfully, I was 11 years old. I used to sneak on my dads turntable/stereo system when he was at work doing the mid evening shift. I would get my sisters, to keep a look out for me in case he got home whilst I was in full swing, scratching on his 7″ inch reggae vinyl. My 1st gig was an under 16s hip hop rave in Birmingham. I practiced for weeks for that, and my hands shook continuously for 30 mins.

2. What was the first record you bought for yourself ?

Eric B and Rakim, Paid in Full, the album – I was and still am a massive hip-hop fan.

3. I see that you have been part of the hip hop/house/dnb/garage scenes – is dance music your main genre or do you have other tastes which would surprise your fans ?

To tell you the truth, I just love music as a whole. I find Jazz very therapeutic, Boney James and Jose James being ideal front-runners in that field for me. I also dig certain indie bands such as, red hot chilly peppers, kasabian and 80s pop, you gotta love a bit of Michael McDonald, Ultravox and Bill Withers.

4. You have worked with some heavyweights in the business, which 5 artists have inspired you the most ?

I would have to say all the people that have assisted me in my journey in creating and expressing myself as a lover of music. There are way too many to count as an inspiration, so to name 5 would be extremely difficult.

5. I see that you like travel – is there anywhere that you would love to visit, and why – also where is your perfect holiday destination?

I absolutely love travelling, and I have been very fortunate over the past 10 years to visit some wonderful countries and cities. As a keen fanatic of history and ancient artifacts, I would love to visit Egypt to see the pyramids, Tutankhamun, The Sphinx, The Temple of Luxor. My perfect holiday destination would be Necker Island, living the life of a king, soaking up sunshine rays, eating the best food, a barrage of soulful music bumping from my vacation home, laughing at the shite weather in the UK.

6. When did you start producing? Tell me something about your creative process. Where is your studio?

I have a home studio, and I also visit others dotted around the UK for engineering. I started producing about 6 years ago, I dabbled as a youngster, but I always got side tracked into doing something else. When I relocated to London and my dj gigs came more frequently, I felt music production was the way forward for me to progress as an artist. Creatively I take influence from producers who I can relate to such as Atjazz, Louie Vega, Josh Milan and a few others. I believe I am still growing in that aspect of my musical career, and there is definitely room for growth. You should never want to stop learning, that’s when you get ahead of yourself and slip up. I don’t churn out music for the sake of it, or for the love of adulation – I do it simply because I have a genuine passion for music and creativity, and whatever comes of it is simply a blessing. Sometimes it can take me while to get an idea off the ground, simply because I usually have a million and one ideas running through my head – that is why I have to dedicate time to do this, but when I do focus, and get myself into gear, the laws of attraction step into forward motion, and keep helping me create more goodness.

7. How did you get Pete Simpson on board for ‘Tell Me Something’ – were you acquaintances beforehand ?

I was in Asia at the time djing for MTV when I heard the Jon Cutler Ft Pete Simpson track ‘Running’ I remember asking the dj who this was. From that day I instantly became a fan. There is nothing better than hearing someone who can sing so effortlessly, and Pete’s voice just oozes soul in abundance. I was looking for a vocalist for my instrumental and I asked Natasha Watts (with whom I previously produced 2 tracks for) if she could hook up an introduction, as she had previously recorded with him. I sent Pete the track, and within a few days he had recorded and written the song himself, a true professional.

8. If you had to choose between production, DJing and MCing, which one would you choose ?

Oooooo!! That’s a tricky one. Honestly, I started off as a bedroom hip hop dj, and I love every aspect of turning up and rocking a crowd behind turntables. There is also the satisfaction of hearing one of your productions on the radio or being played in a club and people dancing to it, or leaving great reviews – that is also a buzz. As for mcing, I discovered that from the reggae sound system days and mcing for garage crews back in my youth. Getting thousands of people to sing along with you is the ultimate high, and that is something I have experienced. It’s a hard one, but I would probably say Djing, playing my own records and mcing over the top of them, all at the same time lol

9. I have asked about which artists have inspired you, what else inspires you to make music ?

I would say I am a leader and not a follower; no one really inspires me to make music, that was just a general progression for me. As inspiration for artists go, I would say Dwele, Kerri Chandler, Tony Momrelle, Julie Mcknight, Amel Laurrieux, Nas, Atjazz, Dj spen, Kenny Dope, Sean Mccabe, Al Green, Robert Glasper, Common, J Dilla, Jah Cure, James Brown, D’Angelo plus many more for their commitment to making music with rhythm and soul.

10. You collect art and sneakers I see. Tell me about your collections.

Yes I do, I have 12 prints and 2 paintings from street artists such as K Guy, and Goldie. As for my sneakers, I had over 60 pairs of Adidas and Nike, but one day I realized I hardly ever wore any of them, probably about 4-5 on a regular basis, so I ebayed most of them and bought some bad boys I really like and actually wear, and the rest I gave to a cancer research charity.

11. I think that most of your tracks have a real classic house feel but with a very soulful edge. I love the soulful samba feel of Free – that has me doing a wiggle from the start. Tell me about your tracks, which one are you most proud of?

I am glad you like to wiggle, wiggling is good and thank you for your appreciation for my debut track, you’re welcome. I was pretty proud of Free, as it was my 1st ever solo production, and everything kind of fell into place. The keyboard player was on point, as was the guitarist – plus as a then 17 year old, Brooke Bailey done a splendid job writing and singing her socks off. It got me noticed, and it featured in in many underground djs top ten hit list in 2009.

12. Are you a good dancer ? Or more of a foot tapping head bobber ?

I would like to think that I am a decent dancer, with a tendency to bob my head if the spirit lifts me. I cannot over exert myself, I have to retain my energy for my productions.

13. Is there something you can tell me that would really surprise your fans ? Are you an expert flower arranger or a secret trainspotter ?

I am really an alien.

14. You seem to have a very refreshing approach to life, taking on challenges and succeeding and always looking forward with new ideas. What is next for Mr Nugget ? Where will your music career take you next ?

Yes, I do believe life is for living, accepting change, allowing oneself to grow, aiming and achieving. Most people go throughout life not realizing what their purpose or passion is. To have no aspirations, goals or dreams, just living day to day to me is possibly the scariest thing I could imagine. I strive for challenges, and continually push myself,.What’s next for me, who knows – I will just continue to do the best I can, keep aiming for my long term ambition, which is to be fully self sufficient, and able to live my life to fullest doing all the things I love to do.

15. Do you have any words of wisdom to end your interview. stories/experiences that have stayed with you for life ?

Words Of Wisdom:

Always believe in yourself, as no one else will
You will not know, unless you try
Fortune favours the brave
You have to invest time and money in achieving your dreams
Having big muscles does not make you strong, mental strength is key in this world
A lot of kids are sucked into this get rich quick way of thinking, and they miss the point in harvesting their creativity and passion to see a fruitful outcome. Hard work, dedication and perseverance always pays. Even if it is not of monetary gain, the experiences will last with you for a lifetime – and you cannot put a price on that.