WISDOM: A PORTRAIT SERIES
N I H A L A R T H A N A Y A K E
Broadcaster and DJ
BBC Radio 5
I. "Things are only as complicated as you want to make them." -My dad.
II. I am a British Asian raised just outside London of Sri Lankan descent. Growing up in a predominantly white area meant that I had to be adept at fitting in, spotting allies and enemies and knowing when to attack, call for those allies, or just run. When I was in my early teens I realised that I could freestyle rap, this gave me so much kudos in the playground and Hip Hop culture really gave me a sense of an identity, as a minority, that was different but should still be celebrated.
III. I define wisdom as listening, processing, taking a breath, and then speaking. Wisdom is the humility to admit that you don't know it all but the confidence to make a decision when that may not be the most popular decision. Wisdom is also the ability to admit you are wrong.
IV. At each stage of my career I've looked five years into the future and assessed whether that future is the one that I want. When I was an MC I saw no future for me as a British MC and made that move into journalism. I saw longevity in being behind the scenes. When I became a publicist working for artists like Elton John and Mos Def I looked into the future and saw that that would not fulfill me going forward. Five years into my tenure as a BBC Radio 1 DJ I decided that I wanted to also do talk radio for the BBC and that that would equip me with an entirely different skill set. I no longer enjoyed DJIng as a profession and wanted to branch out. I now curate events, host big awards ceremonies, advise a new generation of artists for major labels and generate ideas for radio and TV.
V. If you look around your office and everyone is essentially the same profile as you then your creative business will fail in the long term. Equality of class, gender, colour, religion, sexual orientation, disability is the absolute starting point. It's simply not good enough to say I'd love to employ more (insert Minority definition here) but they simply don't exist. That's because you are not looking hard enough and those people are out there creating their own networks and eroding your relevance day by day. Talent over tokenism, and aspiration over apathy.
VI. My mentor is a man called Shabs Jobanputra who is the boss of Relentless Records. Shabs is so good at spotting new talent and nurturing it so that the individuals in question are given the armoury to connect their experiences to a wider world. He did that with me nearly twenty years ago. I've done ok.
VII. Learning how to connect communities is a challenge. How do you exploit the music generated by your large ethnic minority communities? Can you exist in niches and use the digital tools at your disposal to turn a local niche into a global movement? Ten per cent of under thirties in the UK are from a South Asian background. Is the music industry missing a trick by not engaging enough with that community?
VIII. We need to talk more about the lack of diversity at the highest levels of the music industry.
IX. I am for all Arsenal fans (a soccer team) being either demoted or sacked. As a Tottenham Fan I am well within my rights to ask for such a thing.