DEMAND AN END TO POVERTY THIS GENERAL ELECTION
TAKE ACTION
Music

'I wish I was a nepo baby': Inside a 16-week mission to turn creative nepotism on its head

With help from Big Issue Invest, Run the Track is helping young creatives break into the music industry

Davina Ansah

Law student Davina Ansah found her voice during Covid-19 lockdowns. Image: Isha Shah

Davina Ansah took to the stage at EartH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney) at the end of February. The venue had seen Johnny Marr, Richard Hawley and Kae Tempest perform – but Ansah, a self-confessed “rockumentary junkie”, was different. She’d never played her songs to a crowd before. But thanks to Run the Track, she was.

A law student by day, Ansah found writing poetry in the depths of lockdown quickly became a gateway. She hadn’t even played an instrument before, but was soon learning to play the drums, buying a keyboard, then a bass. Inspiration came from all directions – Aretha Franklin documentaries and old footage of Woodstock.

Your support changes lives. Find out how you can help us help more people by signing up for a subscription

“Covid-19 was absolutely terrible, I’ll never say it wasn’t. But isolation brought out a lot in me that I didn’t even know was there,” she recalls.

Now she’s on the stage at Studio 36, part of a launch night for a project called Run The Track, uncertain whether a future in music is feasible. “How do you break into that circle?” she asks.

With the rise of “nepo babies” as a term, nepotism in the arts is back in the spotlight. “Making it” – or at least making enough to pay the rent – is a lot easier if you’re privileged

“I wish I was a nepo baby. I wish I had all of that – life would probably be a lot easier,” Ansah says.

“The music industry feels like a bit of a cult in all honesty, and if you’re not really in the club it’s a bit hard.” Run the Track aims to flip that on its head.

studio 36, run the track
Law student Davina Ansah found her voice during Covid-19 lockdowns. Image: Isha Shah

Ansah was one of a group of young creatives showing off their talents on the launch night for the Helix State album, the product of Run the Track. They had been hard at work for 16 weeks, first listening to talks from people inside the industry – label distributors, radio producers and songwriters – and then working on the album.

Studio 36, where Ansah took to the stage, is a new space inside EartH, the East London venue converted from a derelict art deco theatre. It’s a community space with a studio, funded with help from Big Issue Invest, the social investment arm of the Big Issue.

How did Run the Track come about? “It actually started off as a bit of a vanity project, if I’m honest,” jokes Jammz, a grime artist – but also a theatre performer, scriptwriter, composer and brand consultant – who was the brains behind the scheme.

Breaking into creative industries is hard, and there’s a lot he wishes he knew when starting out.

“I just wanted to take everything I’ve learned, all the knowledge I’ve learned through my journey and just basically give it to people who are having difficulty trying to access the careers that they want,” says Jammz.

With such an opaque industry, young people can often focus on the craft without realising there’s a whole other game which needs to be played.

“Creating for me is like 20, 30 per cent of the game, 70 per cent is everything else. All of the soft skills, all of the networking, all that kind of stuff as a creative you don’t think of initially,” he adds.

Jammz
Jammz has led the scheme in an attempt to open doors for young people. Image: Isha Shah

Like Ansah, lockdown was a drag for 18-year-old Louis Friedman, but also a spark. With Friedman struggling in the depths of the restrictions, his mum unearthed a camcorder from the ’90s.

“I’d just go out to bits of London that I hadn’t been to before and film,” he says. From there, he learned to edit and frame shots. He filmed a rave and got the footage posted on an Instagram rave account. But sustaining the work financially is hard, and Friedman realised the need to spread himself wide, DJing and producing too.

Louis Friedman. Image: Isha Shah

A lack of opportunity can be an abstract, structural thing. But it can also be tangible. Friedman is a big grime fan, citing Simon Wheatley and the late Jamal Edwards among his inspirations.

“That whole grime movement to an extent was birthed in and out of the youth clubs,” he says. But that doesn’t exist in the same form any more. He recalls going to his local youth centre to learn production and finding one computer for the 40 people present.

As the government launches a crackdown on ‘antisocial behaviour’, and home secretary Suella Braverman decries “hordes of youths loitering in parks”, Friedman’s experience is not unique. Youth services have been cut by 69 per cent since 2011, with 750 youth centres closed. “If you don’t have the father figure, or the right education system in place to take care of you, it’s very easy to get lost in drug culture and gang culture,” Friedman says. For Ansah, a connection made through the programme has opened the door to record a debut single. One day, perhaps, the concerts in the rockumentaries will be hers. “In all honesty, that would be the dream. To perform somewhere and having everybody singing along in front of a crowd you can’t see the end of,” she says.

facebook.com/runthetrackevents

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income

To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.

You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.


Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
John Cale on The Velvet Underground, teaching Bowie the viola and why drugs aren't the creative stimulant
John Cale
Letter to my younger self

John Cale on The Velvet Underground, teaching Bowie the viola and why drugs aren't the creative stimulant

After the pandemic years, audience are more appreciative of intimate musical experiences than ever
Aurora Orchestra
Music

After the pandemic years, audience are more appreciative of intimate musical experiences than ever

'This country is run by idiots and fools': Paul Weller on politics, God and the state of everything
Paul Weller and Johnny Harris
Music

'This country is run by idiots and fools': Paul Weller on politics, God and the state of everything

This is what happens to a local economy when Taylor Swift comes to town
Music

This is what happens to a local economy when Taylor Swift comes to town

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know