Photography by Yossy Akinsanya
Supported by Adidas Home of Classics
Despite the rise of social media and television, the classic medium of radio has persisted. Today, radio is as popular as ever and coupled with the rise in podcast production, its growth proves we’re a society that loves to listen.
gal-dem’s radio team are a part of this. In the middle of Brixton, amidst shiny new high-rises and charismatic market stalls touting plastic pots and stainless steel pans, lies the base of London’s only youth-led radio station, aptly-named Reprezent. Here, the gal-dem radio team – Niellah Arboine, Varaidzo, Antonia Odunlami, Natty Kasambala, Grace Shutti and Azadi – produce and host their own bi-weekly show consisting of music, conversation and commentary to airwaves all over the country. From the music played to the guests invited, the gal-dem gang have grasped the traditional notion of day-time radio and torn it up. They are redefining our perceptions of mainstream radio by simply being themselves on-air.
On the two-hour show, the team, who take in turns to produce, chop it up over carefully selected tunes that reflect their tastes and interests as well as that of gal-dem as a platform. The conversation ranges from memes to political commentary and history of music. Segments such as ‘Hot Topic’ allow for discussions of current affairs whilst others, such as ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’, look back at hits from past musicians. The entire execution, from arranging appropriate questions for special guests such as Juls and Poppy Ajudha, to sourcing and playlisting music, consists of “a lot of planning, ad-libbing, and general tomfoolery”, according to producer and host Azadi.
What is more serious, however, is the platform that the radio show gives to new and exciting talent, allowing listeners to tune in to the stories behind the music. The opportunity for guests to speak honestly and freely about their journey, whether they’re emerging or even well established artists, is one that not many radio shows can give.
Classic songs? Googosh – ‘Hamsafar’, Earl Sweatshirt – ‘Faucet’
Azadi hails from North London by way of Tehran and Gothenburg. As an Iranian woman looking for an inclusive community within an exclusive, isolating university environment, Azadi came to be a part of gal-dem’s story back when it was just an idea dreamt up by friends in Bristol. Her own foray into music as an artist and producer has come hand-in-hand with her gal-dem radio journey. After releasing her startling single ‘WHO IS AZADI.mp3’ last summer, she was recently selected as one of eight artists to be a part of NTS radio’s year long artist development programme. What’s her understanding of a classic? “It’s something that never dies, it’s something that continues to exist beyond itself, be it re-imagined, re-worked, or re-designed. A classic has to be timeless, and it has to spark your imagination.”
Classic song? Anything by Frank Ocean
Meet Varaidzo – an editor and writer, she’s been involved with the radio since its conception. She remembers the team’s first ever meeting, in “a cafe in Brixton that doesn’t exist anymore… Where ideas were bouncing back and forth about what it was going to be and how far it could go”. Little did she know how things would progress. Varaidzo joined the team as the Arts & Culture Editor and then became part of the radio crew, who made “a cute little space for themselves on Reprezent”. Proudly looking back at the growth of gal-dem’s “baby” over two years, one standout element is the eponymous ‘Veedzo’s Outta London Riddims’, a feature in which she platforms a UK artist making waves outside of London. It’s so easy in a city as vibrant as this to forget all the amazing art being created outside of it. The ease and availability of radio makes it easier to showcase new talent that might not otherwise be given a platform on commercially-driven stations, she says, which is what keeps gal-dem fresh – and classic. For Varaidzo, a “classic” is transcendent and fresh, a black and white film that is just as relatable in the 21st century, an album that can re-awaken the same emotions as it did “when you’re introduced to crushes in parks, or riding through backstreets with tiny phone speakers”.
Name: Niellah Arboine
Classic artists? Earth, Wind and Fire, David Bowie
After coming out of university in Wales, an isolating experience in itself, current Lifestyle Editor Niellah became a part of gal-dem by meeting founder Liv Little through a friend. Although she had a degree in English literature and creative writing, initially she didn’t think that a career in writing was feasible. The same could be said about her venture into radio with Varaidzo and Antonia in the first few shows, with Niellah admitting that she “didn’t really understand what was going on” until Lil C had familiarised them with the planning and producing process. When she isn’t cooking up delicious food or growing yellow courgettes and herbs, Niellah loves to listen to the radio, noting how popular it has become among young people due to the ease of web players. Niellah defines a “classic” as “something unchanged, that doesn’t need to change, because it was always good to begin with”.
Name: Natty Kasambala
Classic song? Mary Clark – ‘Take Me I’m Yours’
The opportunity to showcase new talent was also something that motivated Natty to join the radio team. She notes that the show is something of a sanctuary for the championing of new music from WoC and NBPoC, away from the “numbers game” that often drives plays. Coming out of university in London and finding out about gal-dem through social media, one article about A Tribe Called Quest album later, she joined the team as a writer and music editor. Now working at a record label, Natty produces articles about culture, music and politics when she isn’t hosting and producing the show. “The initial training, when I was left to play around with the decks and the equipment before coming on air” was the best part of getting to grips with the show, which she sums up as “organic, pure enjoyment”. And as for her understanding of a classic? “Reliable, consistent and can stand the test of time.” Pointing to how gal-dem are redefining the norm, Natty notes that becoming a classic isn’t just about how long something has been around, but how well it adapts. She thinks gal-dem is unique and substantial enough to withstand the test of time.
Name: Grace Shutti
Classic song? Ghetto Kyote Instrumental, Ashanti – ‘Foolish’, Pharaoe Monch – ‘Simon Says’
British-Nigerian writer, producer and jack-of-all-trades Grace got involved with gal-dem during its inception, finding out about it through Antonia’s work whilst they both worked at a youth magazine. “I was hesitant about asking to join in, until Antonia asked me why I was taking so long,” Grace notes of her foray, made accessible by the initial familiarity of “everybody in Bristol”. The theme of accessibility is something that she’s proud of having carried on to this day – “gal-dem is about being open and accessible for everyone, on all mediums,” she notes. Grace credits Reprezent DJ and gal-dem resident Lil C (aka Lil Clart) as the initial producer who “showed [her] the ropes” and introduced most gal-dem members to how radio works. This in turn allowed them to take the reigns. Grace says the creative control and unrestrained freedom of the show’s format means that it’s akin to “talking to your friends and forgetting that people are actually listening in”. This is also in line with the DIY nature of gal-dem as a whole – “to give people a chance and a space”. For Grace, the word classic means “faithful, trustworthy and memorable”.
Name: Antonia Odunlami
Classic song? Anything by Sade
Founding member and former Music Editor Antonia always had her sights on working in the music industry, from interning at publications and working with artists while at university in Bristol, to creating content for major platforms, as she does now. After randomly running into Lil C at a night in London, they both pitched the show to Reprezent and the rest, as they say, is history. Looking at the content being published on the website as well as the day-to-day of the music industry, Antonia thought the show would be a good way to introduce readers to the other faces, and voices, behinds gal-dem. And for the eclectic music selection? “It really depends on who’s hosting, as well as what the articles are covering. For example, when Natty is on, there might be more indie music, when Azadi is on it’s more punk and left-field and when I’m on, it’s Afro-centric or it might just be something I’ve found on a playlist.” Her favourite segment is ‘Hot Topic’ where Antonia feels she can sometimes just have “a good rant”, discussing the happenings of the week, whether they be political, social or music related. And did she envision the heights that this uni project would reach? “I started working on gal-dem as I was about to graduate, so it was the first thing I worked on in the ‘real world’ and I wanted to see it through,” she tells me. As the head of music, she oversaw the likes of NAO and Raveena on gal-dem’s print magazine covers, as well as conducting interviews with Ray BLK for gal-dem’s first ever print issue. For Antonia, classic means timeless, “something you can take out of its time period and would still make sense anywhere else”.
Photos throughout feature our team in Adidas’ Home of Classics – check out the rest of the collection here.