For The Love Of Owen Money

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The world lost a great man on Good Friday. Owen Money – 8 months after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, passed away in his home surrounded by the friends who loved and supported him.

I first became aware of Owen approx 3-4 years ago. He was part of the Nyumba Deep crew performing Deep House gigs and radio shows, and a mainstay of the London House music scene. Whenever I went back to London (almost annually) and took the opportunity to go out clubbing, Owen (aka Snakehips) would be there with his camera, taking photos of everybody having a good time. He had a smile that lit up the room and he knew how to bring out the best in people.

I got to know more about Owen through social media – he once asked for help with deactivating an old Facebook account, but he couldn’t remember the password. I helped him with this, not hacking it exactly, but giving him the clues that he needed to enable him to log in and do the necessary, and he was very grateful. We both liked our food and would show mutual appreciation for food pics, and this became much more emphasized in more recent times when we shared vegan recipes and ideas.

When Owen was diagnosed, it was a terrible shock to him and everybody who knew him – a very serious situation. He had a tumour in one lung, a blood clot in the other, and tumours in his shoulder and neck. He had gone to the doctor with a sore shoulder, and come back with a death sentence. Very early on he decided to go public with his journey – telling us all the story of every stage on Facebook. He definitely didn’t want chemotherapy – he felt that it would poison his body and he wanted to try an alternative approach. Arming himself with as much information about natural treatments as possible, he went vegetarian almost straight away – dairy free, sugar free, gluten free, meat free. He read that these ingredients were likely to feed cancer and he wanted to starve his tumours so that they would stop growing and reduce. He also aimed for an alkaline diet and decided that he would love to visit Dr Sebi in the Honduras for an assessment and the best natural herbal treatment in the world. The thing is, a trip to the Honduras doesn’t come cheap, and Owen needed help to make this a reality.

Mark Hyman (Sparky) came up with the idea of organising a benefit night (For The Love Of Money or FTLOM) and Lloyd Allen (Lloyd Life) secured the Qube Project venue for free. The date of September 18th 2015 was set and everybody got to work organising the event. Owen himself took charge of the DJ organisation. So many DJs wanted to help – there were 3 different rooms organised with a total of around 50 DJs like Rhemi, Phil Asher, Martin Lodge, Booker T, Clemy Riley, Peter Borg, Ricky Morrison, Amethyst, Aluku Rebels, Shaun Ashby, Beyond Tone, Fiddla, Sy Sez…. the list went on and on. HanLei and Sabrina Chyld agreed to perform live PAs. Then there was the ‘street team’, as well as selling tickets for the event itself, Tee shirts, wristbands and fans were on sale, and I feel honoured that I was able to help with making a donation to set up the print run for the first set of tee shirts. Shazza and Geoff, Charlie, Junior, Jeni, Elvin, Carlos and many more gave their spare time freely to raise as much as possible with a target of around £10,000.

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Owen let on that the Rhemi and HanLei track Diamond meant a lot to him – the lyrics “let the pressure make a diamond out of you” were particularly poignant. Talented artist Richard Wilson designed the logo for the FTLOM, featuring all things symbolic to Owen – a vinyl deck, the middle of a 45, cameras, and those Diamonds associated with the song that Owen loved.

Pascal Morais and Rancido very generously made a song ft Tellaman and Maikal X called ‘For The Love of Money’ and gave the proceeds to the cause. Click here to listen/buy.

He continued to post video diaries whenever he had radiotherapy or a CT scan, keeping us updated with his progress and thanking the endless supply of friends who would go to the hospital with him and hold his hand. There must have been some painful and bleak times for him, but he never ever let this show – with incredible strength of character, he continued as normal as much as he could, doing his radio show (now called the 120BPM show), attending events and gigs. Everybody got to hear about his situation and by now, people all around the world who hadn’t met him were following his story on Facebook and gaining inspiration from him. Big name DJs from everywhere made videos to encourage people to donate and attend the FTLOM event, even Louie Vega got involved.

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On the night of the event, I was shattered. I had just flown in from Spain having spent the previous week at Vocal Booth Weekender which involved lots of late night partying, but nothing was going to stop me. I put my tee shirt on, got the bus to Victoria and danced the night away. It was packed, and every DJ was on point. The afro room was bouncing, the live vocal performances were amazing, and everybody had a brilliant time. Owen arrived and made his way around the crowds hugging and greeting everybody, a bit overwhelmed and humbled by the experience. His family attended too. I couldn’t stay until the very end, but many did, and it is a unique night that I will treasure forever.

In the week after, when the calculations were done, we had raised enough money to send Owen to the Honduras twice over. The effort was outstanding, an outpouring of love and kindness from a community to help one of their own, and everybody felt good.

Owen organized his trip, starting in Florida with a visit to family, and then flying on to the Honduras to Dr Sebi’s Usha Village. Every day he would post a video diary to show us the tranquility, beauty and purity of the environment with its natural alkaline hot spring. Every day Owen would take the pink kettle from his room and walk to the spring to fill it, talking us through the herbs, fruits and vegetables that he was given, how he felt, and how the treatment was going. He was clearly very at home there and loved the experience. Not many patients get to meet Dr Sebi himself as he is a very busy man, but Owen managed to meet him and bagged a rare selfie with the doctor. Everybody looked forward to the ‘pink kettle diaries’.

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Before Owen travelled to the Honduras he said hello to me at a Deep Into Soul night at the Prince of Wales in Brixton, and invited me to provide a guest mix for his show. I felt very honoured to be asked, and while he was away, a few of us covered his 120BPM show every week. I created a special afro mix of tracks that I thought might appeal to Owen and remember the buzz that I got when he said “Smooth Sue, very smooth”. It was broadcast on 21 October 2015 with Josh Grooves presenting the show – such a highlight for me.

Click here to listen to my guest mix

When he returned he seemed invigorated by the experience and took his personal healthcare to a new level – he went completely Vegan and measured his urine pH every day to maintain and alkaline level. He continued with radiotherapy and regular assessments at the hospital. At first the cancer seemed to be contained, but as time went on his condition worsened and after discussion with his medical team he decided to take a drug called Tarceva which is a targeted cancer drug. He continued to go out and party as much as possible, but his breathing became a problem and made life quite difficult.

Just a month before he died, Owen performed at an event in Brussels with Josh Milan called a Celebration of Life and Friends and he did everybody proud with his DJ set. It must have been really hard for him, but supported by his beautiful partner Mary, he enjoyed the weekend, taking a rare break from his strict diet and sampling the beer and food of Belgium as well as performing and enjoying the music.

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He had been making his own vegan food at home and doing the odd dinner party, and we often messaged each other about recipes. He taught me how to make cashew cream (I am dairy intolerant), and I am not a vegan, but we discussed how to make vegan alternatives to some of the meal photos that I posted on Facebook. He made exquisite cheesecakes and tarts which became quite a talking point on social media. A week after Belgium he launched his very first Vegan & Vinyl night – an idea that he had to combine vegan food with spinning vinyl – two loves of his life that he could share with friends and family. It was a roaring success and the lucky attendees had a very unique experience that night. Everybody was hoping to attend a Vegan & Vinyl night but we didn’t know that Owen’s time was so short.

His breathing got really bad and he ended up in hospital with fluid on his lungs. When the fluid had been drained and CT scans performed it was revealed that the cancer had now spread to both lungs, liver, lymph system and to his brain. The Tarceva had not worked as hoped. Owen was made comfortable and discharged from hospital. He announced his short prognosis on Facebook and proclaimed that he was not going to take this ‘lying down’. In the last week at home he had an ‘open house’ where everybody was welcome – and every day saw a stream of visits from friends and family. He would even get up to spin some vinyl despite having to wear breathing apparatus and take morphine.

On Good Friday 25 March 2016, surrounded by people who loved him, Owen passed away.

We all miss him terribly. Owen was an inspirational, positive, caring, kind, fun loving man, part of our House music community, and a well loved family man. His brave and open journey has helped many others who are trying to deal with cancer. He was somebody very special. Such is the calibre of the man that his favourite artists have all paid tribute to him including Glenn Underground and Black Coffee.

OWEN MADE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE. Rest In Peace brother x

Donations are still being accepted to help Owen’s family and 3 children. Click here to donate.

Click here to purchase a tee shirt

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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.

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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.

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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.

Impact Barnet Youth Project

acti

One of my favourite up and coming artists, Jay Henry (who performs as ‘Activist’) is working on a youth film project called Impact Barnet.

This project aims to candidly challenge people’s perceptions of issues which surround today’s youth including

  • Bullying
  • Knife Crime
  • Racism
  • Substance Abuse
  • Drugs
  • Gang Culture
  • Peer Pressure
  • Sex
  • Discrimination
  • Stereotypes

Jay’s music is inspired by his own real life situations and experiences and is always delivered with raw passion – he is not afraid to push back the boundaries and tell the story as it is. He is a man who has turned some extremely negative experiences in his life into positives by sharing his knowledge and survival techniques with others, and helping them to see that anything is possible if you have the drive and ambition to overcome your problems.

As part of the youth group and film project he brings a wealth of experience from the entertainment sphere, having already made several gritty videos to accompany his music. Jay emphasises that he works as part of a team with co workers Kat, Shelley and Sade who contribute enormously to the project and also appear as actors in the films.

This project is particularly poignant for Jay due to a recent tragic experience where a friend was murdered for his laptop.

The youth group started three years ago with 12 participants – this number has now increased to approximately 60, which speaks volumes about the good work being done here.

The film episodes walk through some of the issues that young people face and challenge the public stereotypes that exist, but they also show that there are very positive aspects to inner city life and how many young people are making a significant contribution to overcome their challenges and help others. All of the actors in the film are members of the youth group.

This is a project that will turn your perceptions upside down, and make you realise that appearances mean nothing – everybody has something positive to give the world.