As the mainstream shines its light on London’s underground culture; London’s multicultural communities have become a trend which many people have drawn inspiration from. Gentrification and the internet (the latter even more so) has given some creative entrepreneurs a platform to reach a larger audience while making money.
It was roughly a year ago when I heard about an art exhibition called Arts Meets Music. This wasn’t the typical display that you may expect in establishments such as the Tate, or the National Portrait Gallery. This exhibition reflected the experiences and culture of many others and myself, who grew up in London – raw, expressive and unfiltered. The show’s concept of visual artists and musicians all in one venue showcasing their talents was new and refreshing. From the well-thought out marketing, there were no pretences that this was an event not for the bougie elite; Arts Meets Music reflected the heart of London subcultures and the streets.
Adedayo Sanusi; born and raised in Hackney, with Nigerian blood running through his veins, is the mastermind and curator behind Arts Meets Music; an exhibition which operates under his business, Social Architects.
“In the 90’s and early 00’s, it was easy to turn into gang life. However, being raised along with two younger brothers in a household with strict Nigerian parents, I was made the example. When I stepped out of line and got in trouble with my parents, my younger siblings were made aware of the possible repercussions for their actions.” This is a familiar story for many first generation British borns of African descent. “We were not allowed to go out that much. Instead, we watched a lot of television and got to understand the world through it. When the internet grew, I got to see more fresh and creative stuff; I remember watching music channels and thinking to myself how could I get involved.” One might say that growing up in an African household in London is a unique experience when compared to that of many other cultures. You soon learn that it’s important to be able to operate in a culture within a culture, which understandably can cause some internal conflicts. For example, do you bend down to greet your elders in front of friends as you would do in your home? Do you show the respect to your friend’s mother that you know your mother would demand from your friends by calling her aunty? (both actions are considered signs of respect).
“In secondary school, I was surrounded by different dynamics of people. There were the cool kids, the geeky kids, the gangster kids; I didn’t quite fit into any of those groups, but I was friends with them all.”
Pre-gentrification, Hackney had a reputation for being tough and gritty, and if you weren’t into Grime or rap music, you might have found it difficult to fit in. “What’s considered cool today, wasn’t cool back then – you couldn’t proudly say that you listen to N-Sync or ride your skateboard down the road.”
Pharrell Williams and Kanye West opened Ade’s mind; seeing eclectic public figures who looked like him helped him to understand that it was okay to be the awkward guy. “In Hackney, there was a time where you felt you couldn’t express who you were because differing from what was popular was just ‘not in’.” Ade knew he had to be in control of his image and creativity.
“I did an apprenticeship in 2008 for eight months at Universal Music. I was working there four days a week, and I learnt so much about the music industry. Through this, I met my mentor who happened to work at Defjam and with the likes of Jay-Z and Semtex.” Ade left Universal to work with his mentor for four years. With him, he learnt the ins and outs of a start-up business which differed significantly from the massive corporation he previously worked with. “It got to a point when I realised I outgrew my position in my mentor’s business. I realised I was using all my talent to aid the growth of another individual and not myself. I became a clog in the machine.”
That’s when Ade realised he had to break away and start his business, Social Architects. “It started off as a blog to fuel my creativity; I blogged about stuff that I liked.” He then realised that creativity is a collective experience and transformed his business to collaborate with other creatives. “Now it’s music & branding consultancy, that focuses on marketing strategy, product & brand development for businesses and growing audiences and revenue. I’m currently working with an incredible artist called Taliwhoah.”
“I work on Social Architects on my own, but when I work on projects such as Arts Meets Music, I have a group of individuals working on different aspects. It’s a bit like The Avengers; we all come together for a cause to make great things happen.” In remarkable fashion, Ade organised five shows within his first year, and with his first show having over 100 guests in attendance.“I was expecting 30-50 people because had mistakenly thought that this was something people wouldn’t pay for. It was a different concept and from my experience, it hadn’t been done before.” The infusion of live music and the work of visual artists proved to be a success.
Ade was inspired by the work of young and talented artists he came across on Instagram; he was surprised that their work has never been exhibited.
“For some reason, artists have a lot of invisible barriers; they’re not getting their work shown in acclaimed establishments. These are artists who have such a substantial amount of social media followers; it makes no sense.”
In light of this, Ade saw a gap in the market, and he went on to collaborate with artists to create this event. “I wanted to stimulate the mind of my guests. I didn’t want the dead silence to create that atmosphere of bougieness that exhibitions can sometimes come along with.” He wanted his shows to reflect the influences of his environment and London’s culture – the new generation.
“It is unfortunate, but people are aware of their blackness in specific settings when you should just be aware of self. I want people no matter what their backgrounds to come to Art Meets Music. You can wear whatever you like and enjoy the vibe.”
The success of his shows have not gotten to his head, and at his last event, there were some notably distinguished guests from across the creative industries – the founder of GRM Daily, Posty, musician, Mercston, actor Will Poulter from ‘the Revenant’ to mention a few. “I’m not satisfied until this show becomes like a festival. I want people to travel across the globe to see these amazing artists and add to their energy.” Ade has plans to launch Arts Meet Music in various cities across the world and has scheduled visits to New York and Germany to see what opportunities are available. “I want to be in the areas where there is a vibrant music scene, such as Paris and Bristol.”The current home of Arts Meets Music is in Hackney, London, and before he ventures to other parts of London and the world he wants the essence of his show to stay true its roots.
“I want Social Architects to disrupt systems; we need to disrupt things to evolve. I had to disrupt myself a lot. I would do something I fear; anytime I felt too comfortable.” Ade applies this philosophy to his business strategy; he plans to use provocative and innovative imagery and content that challenges traditional marketing strategies. “I want to show that our culture is marketable and profitable, without taking away its raw essence.”
While Ade is working on his business, he also currently works part-time to maintain his living. Before leaving his job in the music industry, he had taken out a business loan, and the pressure grew when he wasn’t earning as much as he used to. “Social media can be an unhealthy place if you don’t use it properly. Comparing your life to other people who appear to be doing well on social media can leave you feeling like you’ve failed in life.” Even though Arts Meets Music events were doing well, he went through an incredibly low point in his life and felt very alone. “During this period I had a friend who relocated to London and needed a place to stay, I offered them a room in my apartment. I still ran my shows, and people didn’t know I wasn’t mentally there anymore; I didn’t want anyone to see any form of weakness or appear vulnerable.”
“My friend witnessed the change in me; she was able to transition and get a well-paid job, while I was staying at home in bed daily. I went through all the seasons of Breaking Bad on Netflix within three days – I remember she said
“I could never be with a person like you. You’re a shadow of the person you used to be. You need to get your S**t together, or you’re going to be done.”
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and Ade decided to look for inspiration and motivation. Church wasn’t his thing, but he turned to God and grew spiritually. He humbled himself and went to work in hospitality in one of London’s trendy hotels, which is a hotspot for musicians and industry people. “I would see my peers passing through, and they would ask me what am I doing here? and I would respond I’m working.” He felt that this wasn’t one of his proudest moments, but then he grew to learn that life’s a journey, and everyone’s journey is different. Ade took the positives from his situations. You can experience high and low moments at any given time, but they do not define your worth. Through working there, he was able to network with like-minded people in the industry he loves, and inevitably grow the value of the people he knew.
Regardless of his current position, Ade redefined his vision & purpose and realised he was good enough to achieve whatever he wanted. He opened up and said he’s now looking for a job within the arts and music industry to grow his knowledge further while still working on Social Architects. His long-term goal outside Social Architects is to build properties in his Dad’s rural village in Nigeria, “After a visit to my Dad’s village I couldn’t believe how he lived. It gave me a bigger purpose and a reason to follow my path.”
In a society where people are chasing popularity, Ade continues to chase his purpose through his passion for the industry he is in.