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Q&A with British Black veteran Kwaku

MAN WITH A PLAN: Kwaku, founder of British Black, the Black Music Congress and more

A KEY player on the black British entertainment scene, Kwaku has become expert at fusing business acumen, an encyclopedic knowledge of all things musical pertaining to the African and Caribbean diasporas and an undeniable passion for connecting and uplifting people.

Always on the go, Kwaku, who founded British Black (BBM), the Black Music Congress (BMC) and British Black Music Month (held in June), works around the clock to promote events all year-round, a familiar and supportive face at gatherings held by other promotors and organisations.

To mark the end of British Black Music Month, Kwaku will host International Reggae Day with dignitaries and goodies for attendees at an event in central London tomorrow. Whilst seeing to the final touches for tomorrow, he took the time out to speak to The Voice about his journey so far.

Q: You've been faithful to your vision, holding events for and the Black Music Congress for years now - how long have you been doing what you do?

A: The website was started in 2002 as a means of providing information focused on domestic black music and music industry information; but we quickly realised we needed to be involved offline. So in 2003 we started the Black Music Congress as a forum for discussing issues, networking and also providing pathways to music industry education. Our earliest events took place at City University London.

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER: Founder of British Black Kwaku, third from left, with delegates at the Monetising Your Music in the Digitalsphere seminar earlier this year

Q: For those who haven't attended one of your events or seen your marketing, what does BBM and BMC aim to do within the community?

A: The primary aim is to encourage British music fans to look to and support British black music. We also hope through our discussions, seminars and courses to empower artists and others, such as managers, songwriters and producers, to help build a strong British black music scene in terms of music and production, and sustainable businesses.

Q: What inspired you to start BBM and BMC?

A: I was probably the last worker at Black Music Industry Association (BMIA), which provided information and industry support aimed at the black music sector. When that organisation folded around the late 1990s, I thought I’d replicate some of what it did by harnessing the opportunities offered by the internet in the early 2000s. Of course, it wasn’t long before we realised we also had to deal with offline activities too.

Q: Is there any one event you've done over the years which stands out as particularly memorable for you?

A: Perhaps it was the conference we convened at the House Of Commons in 2010 to mark the 300th anniversary of the Statute Of Anne, which the mother of our copyright statutes. The room was ram-packed. We had David Lammy, the minister in charge of Intellectual Property and not only representatives of all the key music industry organisations, but I also made sure there was representation of consumer bodies, higher and further education, and input from young people, musicians and ordinary punters. I don’t think a copyright conference aimed at such a wide constituency had every been organised before.

TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE: Former Emeli Sande manager Adrian Sykes, left, with Kwaku of Black British at the Managing a No. 1 Artist seminar

Since then, as my other passion is music law, I’ve organised a Talking Copyright conference or seminar each year. This year however, we tried a workshop format, which was both practical and most enjoyable.

Q: You're a wealth of knowledge when it comes to British black music and culture. What's your career background?

A: I’ve never been a musician. My interest has almost exclusively focused on the industry side. In the mid-1970s, when there were no music industry courses, I bought and read a couple of industry books, then set-up as a manager, label and music publisher. By the late 1980s I’d gravitated towards writing for consumer and trade publications and organising and delivering music industry courses and seminars. Through the late 1990s into the early 2000s, I acquired a Masters in Media and Music Business Management and an LLM (Latin Legum Magister) in entertainment law, which enabled me to teach in higher education institutions. This included the University Of Westminster, where I lectured on the graduate and post-graduate courses. I presently enjoy providing that knowledge out of academia on a grassroots level.

What's your vision for BBM and BMC in the coming years?

A: The tenth anniversary of our British Black Music Month (BBMM) initiative ends in December, after which I plan to slow down so that we can find time to get our website up to where it needs to be as a valuable resource and also link-up with some new partners so that from 2018 BBMM goes up to a new level – fewer, more targeted event delivery. This year, as you know, we’ve organised an International Reggae Day event in London which is happening tomorrow and we expect this to get bigger next year.

For tickets to tomorrow's International Reggae Day, click here.

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