Finding survival through poetry with Amaal Said

Khadisha Thomas the Somali poet and photographer about journals being the one thing she can’t live without, lack of diversity in literature, covid impact on arts and the BBC.

After the hustle and bustle of a moving weekend, Amaal Said is a friendly face on Zoom. She sips her Starbucks, excited about how she is preparing to live with her soon to be husband. However, when she isn’t getting ready for the big changes in her life, her poetry and photography takes centre stage.

Amaal is a Danish-born Somali poet and photographer based in London. Her photography has been featured in Vogue, The Guardian and The New Yorker. She is the winner of the Wasafiri Magazine New writing prize for poetry. Her photographs have been exhibited in Ghana for the fourth volume of the African Lens and exhibited in LA. Amaal grew up in a town called Odense in Denmark and then lived in Copenhagen for a few years. She moved to London at the age of eight.

For her, getting accustomed to her new surroundings was difficult at first because she didn’t know any English.

“I’m really grateful that I came over when I was young because I think when your younger language is a lot easier for you as opposed to being older… I was put in one of those classes that you’re put in when you don’t know English,” she says.

Writing was Amaal’s passion, growing up she would buy multiple journals for different purposes. In her office surrounded by shelves and boxes of books, she laughs as she lists her god, family and her books as something she can’t live without.

“I have all my books everywhere, they keep me sane.”

After stumbling across Tumblr she saw people posting their writing and realized she could do the same.

“I was always writing stories and I would keep diaries. I would keep one for my general thoughts, I would plan out blogs so one journal was for that and I had another journal that was for short stories.”

Watching people tag their writing gave Amaal the courage to share her writing. She was shocked to see so many people like her poetry. This gave her the confidence to apply for the Barbican Young Poets programme.

“I’m from a little corner in London, I’m on the border so I never used to travel to Central, I never went to art galleries, I didn’t have any link to art apart from the internet,” Amaal says.

She submitted her portfolio of poems to the scheme and to her surprise she was selected. This was when her digital bubble perished, and the once mystical world of art opened up to her. Amaal finally got to travel, go to events and meet like-minded individuals, however, she still felt out of place.

“It was mostly a shock because I wore a hijab and when I started there weren’t many poets of colour in that group. You just kinda see each other across the room and stick together. I felt like I didn’t belong, people like me don’t come here. The friends I grew up with had no idea what I was doing on the weekends,” she says.

For Amaal her poetry is inspired by family and mental health.

“I would use my phone and ask my mum questions, ‘tell me this story’ and I would go back and write about it. I was a really nosy child so I would listen to my mum’s phone convos.”

As a teenager growing up poetry became her way to express her feelings and deal with her issues. “It was a mixture of dealing with mental health as a young anxious girl and also things happening with family and trying to write through that muddled history and trauma.”

She thinks the poetry and works of women of colour are not widely consumed and she has always made a conscious effort to seek out and gain influence from women of colour. One of her favourite poets is Warsan Shire, who is also Somali British.

“She would write really beautiful poems about Somali women and Somali people and I had never seen that before.

“Things that were going on in my own home which I had never seen before. It was so sick!”

Amaal believes it’s important to read poetry from women of colour and that in the past poets of colour weren’t widely available because they were thought to not be marketable.

“I remember going to the library and literally searching out peoples names who look ethnic, because for me it was a political thing because if you’re not providing it I need to go out and support and read their work.”

She is part of Octavia, a poetry collective for women of colour. It was set up by her friend in response to the lack of representation of women of colour in literature and the academy.

With a freind, she attended a poetry collective where they were the minority and due to the ignorant comments and lack of understanding from other poets, they felt a space needed to be created where women of colour can feel celebrated.

“Of course it’s incredible you get to do poetry in these collectives but at the same time the type of questions, or feedback or conversations you get, are not conversations you’d be having if it was another woman of colour reading your work, there would be a general understanding because we’re dealing with similar struggles,” she says.

Since the coronavirus, working in the arts has been incredibly difficult and Amaal can attest to how this has affected her as a poet and a photographer. Due to travel restrictions she has lost out on work abroad. Lockdown has also hindered her from doing photoshoots as her job isn’t essential.

Expression through photography: Portrait by Amaal Said

“It’s really difficult, I think you just need to have faith in yourself and belief in yourself, but also to figure out how to have a presence online.”

Despite this, she feels lucky that other opportunities have been presented to her . Unlike other creatives that rely on one sole talent to stream income she can switch back and forth between being a poet and a photographer.

“Funding is opening back up for artists to be able to do their own projects and right now I’m getting ready to start a Adobe artist development fund project, so I feel incredibly lucky to still be able to do what I do even though it hit me really hard in the beginning,” Amaal says.

She was part of the BBC 1Extra Words First, a partnership with Roundhouse that seeks to find the hottest and freshest spoken word talent from across the country. Amaal gave performances alongside amazing British poets such as George the Poet and Holly Poetry.

“We had a showcase and that was really beautiful because a lot of us got to write together and perform together. There was a film on BBC iplayer for a little while,” she Amaal.

Amaal’s most memorable moment from this experience was reading an important poem she wrote about her mother’s miscarriages.

“I remember reading that to her and her being like ‘oh I’m really grateful you wrote that because I don’t want to forget because it meant something and it’s good to remember even if it hurt.”

From a shy Somali girl as she describes herself, tapping away at a keyboard or scribbling down on a page, to a poet who’s performed on stages across the country. Amaal’s words have definitely made a lasting impact. What was once a coping mechanism, has now changed her life beyond imagination.

“Poetry for me means survival, I wrote poetry when I couldn’t write anything else… I was around a lot of people who didn’t understand me so I took it to the internet, blogs and then I took it to perform, and it became a way for people to connect to me.”

For her, the idea of making a career out of what she loved to do the most seem unimaginable so she’s delighted that she’s been able to.
She aims to continue living her dreams as an artist in all regards.

“When the pandemic started I was like ‘oh my god, what am I gonna do? Am I gonna have to put my politics degree to use and sit in an office?’, but no I really wanna be out there and chatting to people getting their stories,” Amaal says.

With hopes that things will go back to some sense of normality, we don’t doubt that she will be out there with her camera and powerful voice, championing the stories of women of colour.


ItzKeisha changes YouTube with a single video

Whilst chasing her dreams of being a singer and YouTube influencer, Keisha Shadè, was able to kick-start a positive transformation within the YouTube community. Savannah Duncan hears her story.

Keisha’s words began to spill from her mouth as she spoke. You could tell she had a lot to say but wasn’t able to completely accommodate the speed at which she remembered. Her words stumbled over one another, each fighting to be heard.

“Do you know what’s crazy?” she says, “I actually didn’t realise it at the time, at the time I was so nervous to put that video out.”

YouTube commentator and singer Keisha Shadè, 20, created a video titled ‘Where is the diversity on YouTube’ in 2019, tackling the controversial topic of racial segregation between YouTube influencers whilst they were on a brand trip.

It sparked a conversation within the platform on the racial concerns that were occurring. Eventually, enough people began to speak up which encouraged the brand to completely abandon ship and close its business.
This brand was a popular shopping app that allowed its users to shop for clothes and accessories from multiple stores. They provided all-expense-paid trips to various countries for Influencers of their choosing, with the condition that they promote and support their app with vlogs, videos, and pictures.

Racial awareness: Where is the DIVERSITY on YouTube?

Within August 2019, they invited a group of female influencers to Fiji. However, their choice in influencers were thin, white, females with only four being women of colour.

“So those four girls were in a room by themselves,” said Keisha in her video, “it didn’t look like a room, it looked like it was connected to the living room.”

At first, she had doubts about speaking on the situation, because no one had made a statement including the girls on that trip.

“I was like do I post this or not because I feel like I was being a bit too vulnerable.

“And I feel like maybe it’s not my place to speak on these things, because other people of colour on the trip didn’t say anything.

“My brother was saying Keisha just post it, he didn’t watch it, he just said Kiesha just post it,” she says slightly chuckling. You can tell she was grateful for her brothers’ encouragement.

After uploading the video Keisha quickly noticed the unusual amount of attraction it gained within just an hour of being on YouTube.

“I was like ‘oh wow, people probably felt this but didn’t say anything or people were looking for a video where someone will talk about this’.”

She began to realise the positive impact her video made on the platform as more people began creating videos supporting the same topic.
Influencers on the trip started reaching out to Keisha thanking her for raising awareness.

“A creator called Vereena, who was also on the trip,” she says, “she watched the video and then she messaged me personally.

“She was like Keisha, I wanted to speak on it, but I don’t really make content surrounding race and being like an outcast and stuff like that.

“I said just do it and honestly she did it, and I feel like everybody who made a video at that time made a difference.”

It’s funny how Keisha didn’t create her channel to improve the YouTube community but was still able to succeed in kick-starting that positive difference.

She first started YouTube at age 16 in 2016, whilst she went to an all-girls secondary school.

“I can talk on a topic for days if you gave me that opportunity. I thought you know what, let me just stick the camera on and just rant.”

At first, Kiesha only made content for fun and as something she could enjoy in her spare time, whenever she had the chance.

“People started latching onto it and they were like can you talk about this next, it didn’t feel like a chore,” she says.

She never saw herself to be within the position she is in now, seeing as she started her channel creating fashion videos.

“I didn’t know I was gonna be here. I didn’t know what I thought I was gonna do but I didn’t think I was gonna be here.”

Commentary isn’t the only type of content Keisha creates as she is also a singer. She knew that her music wouldn’t take off as easily if it were uploaded to YouTube directly on a second channel, as it might not be found by her viewers due to the YouTube algorithm.

“I was like you know what let me be smart about this, lets do commentary, but let’s also find a way to try and blend the both of them together. It hasn’t been done before. I remember people telling me Keisha are you sure you want to do music and commentary, they don’t blend.

“I remember in my head just saying no, before I release my first one I’m just gonna put it on my main channel… it’s just not me.”

Music has always been one of Keisha’s passions and she’s grateful to be able to achieve it alongside her commentary and music channel theme mashup.

“In primary school, we had these mini journals in year six and we get to write down what our passions are and what we wanted to be in the future and I still have mine now it still says singer.”

Her latest song ‘Freak’ surprisingly turned out to be her least favourite song she created whilst making music.

“Freak is not my favourite song and I can wholeheartedly say that,” she says.

“I wrote it just to say I tapped into a different genre, so that’s definitely not it for me. I think it was only good for the fact that it gave me Melanie Martinez or Billie Eilish vibes, like creepy vibes, so I don’t regret that.”

However, her favourite song out of her collection is ‘Get Over It’ because she likes the funky radio style that the song has.

“My inspirations from music as of recently have been Dua Lipa and a little bit of Doja Cat meshed together and I feel like both their sounds are sick honestly,” Keisha says.

Despite being a small artist and content creator Kiesha still has huge aspirations and goals for her future.

“The goal is radio, honestly and truly ‘Get Over It’ is the definition of radio.”

Keisha’s musical side: ‘Get Over It’

Keisha Shadè started her YouTube channel to create fun homemade videos and to be able to chase her dreams. However, she achieved more than just her dreams and in turn, was able to kick start bringing the YouTube community together by providing a voice for those who didn’t feel they were able to speak up.


Introducing CLAVIS7EVEN

The up and coming artist talks to Khadisha Thomas about his religious influence, migrating from Congo, musicians he looks up to and his tracks.

CLAVIS7EVEN is a 21-year-old Wolverhampton based singer and rapper. He attends Birmingham City University, where he studies a degree in computing. When he’s not staring at a computer CLAVIS7EVEN is in the studio working on music. In 2019 he decided to make the conscious effort to produce and release music onto platforms such as apple music, YouTube and Spotify. Two years on, he has slowly accumulated listeners in 36 countries and has been played on BBC West Midlands Radio Introducing. As CLAVIS7EVEN strives to grow bigger as a new artist he recognizes his Christian faith as the foundation of his musical being.

His name for starters has a religious meaning.

“Clavis means key in Latin… so I was like yep I’m taking that and seven is my favourite number, and it just has a lot of symbolic meaning. I have a lot of affiliations with my religious aspect of life and in the bible seven is the number of completion and perfection,” CLAVIS7EVEN says.

Before settling on his name, like a lot of budding artists he did go through the online name generator phase.

“I went through a plethora of names and some of them were absolutely atrocious. We’re not doing that, that’s what we’re not doing,” he says with a cheeky laugh.

He has always felt a connection to God. Going to church was something he grew up with as he comes from a close-knit family that are heavily involved in the church choir. All members of his family sing play instruments and produce.

In the church choir, CLAVIS7EVEN is the bassist and his younger brother plays the piano.

“We pretty much dedicated and developed all of those gifts in church. Essentially my family and church first got me into music, that’s where it all stemmed from,” he says.

His music is an amalgamation of genres, namely gospel, hip hop and RnB, but the word CLAVIS7EVEN would use to describe the music he desires to make is ‘truth’, and this is supported by his belief in God.

“All of the music I make I like to make sure there’s a meaning behind it. I need to make sure someone will listen to it and gain a truth that can hopefully set them free. I like to make introspective music, so the one word I’m trying to say is ‘truth’. And I get a lot of that from my faith and my faith does a lot in terms of being able to line me up and the moral of where I do my music.”

His strongest childhood memory is from when he moved to England at the age of 3 to reunite with his family who were building a new life in the UK. He came to the UK with his uncle, as his parents and older siblings were already settled in the UK. CLAVIS7EVEN was the last of his family to come to the UK, so whilst he was separated from his immediate family he lived with relatives and spent a year in Zambia.

“I remember the day that in Congo my dad was leaving because of a few complications that he had to sort out, so he left me with my aunties. I hadn’t seen my family in a while. I remember landing in Heathrow, and I remembered exactly who my mum was and I ran to her and gave her a big hug.”

CLAVIS7EVEN smiles as he reminisces about how impatient he was on the long journey from the airport to his home in Wolverhampton, and the first time he ever ate skittles.

“Listen, I’m fresh from Africa, fresh off the boat, I’ve never seen these snacks in my life.”

He recalls bothering his mother the entire ride home and the moment when he knocked on his new front door and everyone welcomed him.

“I was reunited with my whole family and I was just looking for my big brother and although obviously in Africa your with your family, this was the family I knew of.”

There are many artists the young musician looks up. One of his ultimate inspirations and someone he would love to collaborate with if he ever got the chance is Kanye West. His eyes light up and a massive grin spreads across his face just at the possibility of it.

“At that point I’d quit music if I can’t even go Tesco anymore,” he says.

His other influences include Wretch32 and Stormzy.

The reason he’s attracted to these artists is that he believes they push boundaries and are not afraid to do break the mould and be individual.

“Being a writer is a different skill entirely and the concept of being able to weave words together to convey a certain narrative and emotion is such a skill. And I’m in awe of these people’s writing abilities. Wretch 32 is an incredible writer,” he says.

In April 2020 CLAVIS7EVEN released his debut EP ‘A Master’s Piece’ which includes songs such as ‘Wisesman Smartman’, a track that starts off slow but catches you off guard rapping kicks in and becomes more powerful. Is showcases his incredible lyricism, ability to rhyme and use of symbolism.

CLAVIS7EVEN says: “Wiseman Smartman shows the different aspects of me. I’m rapping for five minutes so I’m just going, going, going.”

A Master’s Piece: Wiseman Smartman

His second EP dropped later that year and features songs such as ‘Safe To Say (Love Sick)’, which was written and recorded at a time when he was ill. The track is a stripped down almost acoustic song with a soulful melody.

“I haven’t got the strongest immune system- shout out to corona.

“I literally heard the guitar, and I was like ‘wow, I like that and I wrote my raps’. That’s a really special one because I was able to make it even in these conditions, I’m not doing it again tho. Really hurt my throat.”

His song ‘Le, Le, Le’ features a smooth afro beat. It is the type of song you can dance to and the riffs in it are so tantalizing.

“Le, le, le shows my more commercial side, making tunes for parties, clubs. You’re not just gonna be taking me in introspectively, sometimes you’re gonna have a vibe and I can make that.”

This year CLAVIS7EVEN has put out the EP ‘Care Package’ which landed him a spot on BBC Radio West Midlands Introducing.

“I’ve really challenged myself and experimented. I’ve taken time with regards to the artwork, the songs themselves and you need to listen to it in chronological order to get the point. I’d say with this project it’s a story,” he says.

However, the journey is just beginning for CLAVIS7EVEN. He is determined to continue putting out projects and has got the charisma, talent and positive mindset to make it all happen.

He hopes this year he can do gigs and reach more people, making music that sends out a vital message or plain and simply energizes you.

“I don’t have control of which person sees me, or which person notices me, but what I have control of is making good music,” CLAVIS7EVEN says.

We will be eagerly listening.


A part of history in the making: Weruche Opia

‘I May Destroy You’ star tells Khadisha Thomas her acting journey, going against narrative grains, owning her blackness, and the issue of consent.

From a Toronto apartment with a specifically requested balcony, Weruche Opia is a beaming presence on Zoom. It is her last day in quarantine before she begins shooting for another acting role, yet we still can’t get over her performance as Terry on the BBC hit series ‘I May Destroy You‘. Now that the initial media heat has died down, Weruche reflects on her career prior to and post working in BAFTA award-winning Michaela Coel’s dramatic masterpiece.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to act, it was something I knew I enjoyed,” Weruche says.

At the tender age of five, Weruche realized she wanted to be an actress. Drama was her favourite subject and Weruche would be cast for so many leading roles that the headmistress had to strictly allow someone else to have a go.

As Weruche shares her earliest acting memory she expresses sheer excitement, synonymous with what she felt as a child.

“I forced my cousins to do a little performance of Humpty Dumpty for my mum. I remember that my mum was very encouraging, she clapped and said ‘that’s amazing, you’ve got a gift, go and get yourself some smarties.”

Growing up, Weruche wanted to be like Angela Bassett, after watching her in ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’.

“I remember I went to a fancy dress party, my brother went as Aladdin and I went as Tina Turner. After watching that film I even thought that Angela Bassett was Tina Turner in real life because I was so convinced by her performance…

“When my brain developed and I realized it wasn’t actually Tina Turner but someone playing her I was like that’s an incredible skill to have and I’d love to do that,” she says.

Not having an idea of how to get into the industry Weruche went to university and after graduating she randomly stumbled upon the Identity School of Acting.

After a considerably quick four months, Weruche got into an agency and landed her first-ever TV spot on ‘The Bill’.

Weruche bursts into laughter as she shares her nervousness when telling her family and church that she would be acting as a prostitute. Little did Weruche know that she would potentially have to do much heavier things in ‘I May Destroy You.’

She also starred in season two of ‘Top Boy‘, which she describes as a miracle because it came when she had faced a dry spell in her acting and was starting to lose hope.

“It’s such an important part of black culture in the UK… I think these are stories that need to be told not to say that these are the only stories that black people have but it was just quite incredible to see people speak the way black people speak, using the slang.”

With more castings under her belt, the Nigerian born actress found that the ‘sassy black girl’ character was prevalent, a stereotype that she no longer wanted to explore.

Weruche Opia: photographed by Aham Ibeleme

“I know that the sassy black girl role comes with the angry black woman narrative which I don’t like to perpetuate… I want to play other roles than what we’ve normally been given. It’s the whole expecting me to kiss my teeth… and I’m like yeah we do that but that’s not to say that’s a whole character. And there are black women who don’t talk like that but again it’s a stereotype that has been so played out. There’s more to be said about black women,” Weruche says.

Some may think that acting as Terry in ‘I May Destroy You’ was Weruche’s first time stepping away from that narrative grain, but she attributes her roles in Nollywood films.

“The first film I did in Nigeria my character was a wedding planner, so there wasn’t any of the sass, she was a professional woman doing her job, but that was filmed in Nigeria so it was a different perspective, not what we are pandered in the diaspora.”

Weruche migrated to England when she was 13. At first she thought living in England was an extended vacation, but once she went to school she began to see the cracks in her holiday destination.

“I felt like I had to pretend to be from the Caribbean because being African then wasn’t cool. In Nigeria, I went to multicultural schools and everyone got along but when I moved to the UK I noticed everyone tended to stay in their own communities. That’s when I started to realize that I’m black,” she says.

Weruche had legally changed her name to Reanne because nobody in school could pronounce her real name.

Right up until she acted in ‘Bad Education‘ this was the name she wanted to be identified by.

“I had a conversation with my aunt and she asked me to go to my next audition and say my name is Weruche, and I was like why am I gonna do that but then I prayed about it and I did it. When I decided to be Weruche I became grounded in who I was.”

The passion is voracious as she talks about the importance of names and her experience with people trying to shorten her name or give her a nickname.

“It’s a thing of respect, everyone can say Marinovich so why can’t you say Weruche? I’ll teach you how to say it and you’ll get it wrong a few times but you’re gonna get there. It took me getting to a point of where I was confident in who I was and embracing my heritage. It was the beginning of a new era and that’s when life kicked off for me,” she says.

Life certainly did kick off, Weruche played Terry, the struggling young actor and best friend to Arabella, the main protagonist played by the show’s creator Michaela Coel.

‘I May Destroy You’ is a show that opened topics of racial microaggressions, off the back of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement. A show that showed the trauma of sexual assault regardless of sexuality and gender, based on Michaela’s own harrowing experience. A big smile spreads across Weruche’s face as soon as she talks about her relationship with Michaela. She only got a brief character description because the project was still under wraps but reading with Michaela, Weruche felt an instant chemistry which she describes as magical.

“I finally read the script and I was like yep, this is something that I need to be a part of because of the stories, because of the perspective… and for me more than anything that was my angle, to celebrate black women’s stories and reading it, of course, it was something I’ve never seen and I was like yeah this is gonna be history,” Weruche says.

In ‘I May Destroy You’, Terry is ridden with guilt when she realizes that Arabella was sexually assaulted after she told Simon to leave her alone in the club. As Weruche talks about the girl code on nights out, she is adamant that she would never leave her girls anywhere but understands why Michaela featured this.

Official trailer: ‘I May Destroy You’

“After a conversation with Michaela about it, it was kinda like stuff happens and if Terry knew what happened was going to happen she wouldn’t have given that advice. I think Terry shows that humanity and I think the character did try to redeem herself by helping her and she took responsibility for her part in that.”

Terry also engages in a threesome with two men who she believes to be strangers. However after seeing them walk home together she realizes that they were friends. Weruche felt that this perfectly highlighted the grey areas of consent. She found it interesting to play a character who on the one hand was expressing her sexual liberation but on the other hand was manipulated and leaving it up to the audience to make their own interpretation.

Some people felt that the character was still in control, but others thought she was taken advantage of, Weruche believes this is a grey area that needs further discussion.

“It was almost a power struggle where Terry felt she was in control of the situation because she made the decision to go off with these two men, but had she known they knew each other would she have had the same confidence.”

Weruche is proud of being part of a show that showed the authentic and relatable experience of sexual assault from a black woman’s perspective seldom seen in the media.

“The whole concept of the strong black woman, that we are these resilient creatures, feel no pain, we can just keep going even with the trauma… It’s nice but it also dehumanizes us and I’m not for it, because black women are always seen as these resilient creatures so there’s never time or empathy or care for black women to allow us to be vulnerable in spaces where other people are vulnerable,” she says.

‘I May Destroy You’ has broken down boundaries and has shown Weruche how to stand up for herself and for what she deserves but to also allow herself to feel all emotions.

“We bleed, we cry. I don’t think we have to be oxen.”

Going forward Weruche is grateful to the platform ‘I May Destroy’ has afforded her, and how far she has come on her acting journey.

Inspired by Michaela, who produced, directed and acted in the show and turned down a million-dollar Netflix deal, Weruche believes that anything she puts her mind to she can achieve.

“I mean what’s the worst that anyone can say to me? No?,” Weruche says.

We think they’d be crazy if they ever did.


Madness, sweat and puppets: The online world of Nick Lutsko

The 31-year-old musician discusses exploring the strange side of songwriting and his sudden social media success with Samuel Hornsby.

On Twitter sits a sweaty man posting demented songs about gremlins, feline urination and Donald Trump’s arse. He froths at the mouth as he proclaims his appreciation for boat parades and proudly yells out about his grandmother’s warnings about the man who lives in his basement until he’s red in the face. This is Nick Lutsko, or rather it is his viral social media alter-ego.

The real Nick Lutsko is the complete opposite. He is calm, laid back and welcoming. However, even if his persona is all fantasy, his love for music is a concrete reality.

Though he has been a professional musician for years he suddenly hit new heights of popularity in August 2020 when he decided to post a joke song satirising the Republican National Convention.

Musical madness: ‘I wanna be at the RNC!’

“My online success was gradual and for years. Then I released ‘I wanna be at the RNC’ and it was massive,” he says.

“I had made three of those types of videos before this. The first one was about the model Chrissy Teigen unfollowing me, the second one was about my cats pissing on my bed and the third was about QAnon. Then I released this one which was just deranged. It was totally unhinged and repetitive and it was going on about Dan Bongino who I didn’t know if anyone knew about, it was just a fun name to sing.

“I remember telling my wife ‘this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever written’ and was worried this would be the song that would make people go ‘okay, this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing’. It turns out that was the song that changed everything and showed me the path forward. I learnt that irreverent and bizarre is more of a good artistic default for me.”

Nick’s first foray into comedy song writing came about accidentally with social media once again lending a hand.

“Back in 2007 I tweeted an unsolicited theme song at the comedy duo ‘Tim & Eric’ for this election special they were doing at the time for an online entertainment site called SuperDeluxe. They liked this little song I made and used it for the show’s theme which got the ball rolling.

“When SuperDeluxe ended I then did some stuff with College Humor and when they ended, I did some stuff with Netflix. They were meme songs where I would take somebody’s words and turn them into a parody of a popular artist.

“I’d always kind of done these things for money and my name were very much behind the scenes on all these projects. I was never really comfortable attaching my face to it because there was some imposter syndrome because I never really envisioned myself as a comedian,” Nick says.

Creative mashups: ‘Eminem as a Talking Heads song’

However, during the pandemic he experienced a sudden change of heart and decided to take a leap of faith by producing musical output that was spontaneous and funny with his face at the forefront. This newfound confidence allowed him to see how far he could take this unrestrained approach to content.

Over time these videos grew to feature a surreal storyline full of strange and mysterious recurring characters. They all followed the narrator who Nick describes as a “misguided 30-year-old man who lives with his grandma and has these paranormal creatures who may or may not exist that interact with him” and that he is either “a pathological liar or severely deluded.”

As the outlandish nature of the videos increased so did their popularity to the point where Nick decided to press this series of deluded viral anthems to vinyl. He started a Bandcamp campaign for the record which received $56,126.79 which was 1331% of the minimum target goal.

Collection of derangement: Nick’s advertisement for ‘Songs on the Computer’

“I was blown away with the success of the recent vinyl campaign and not anticipating that level of support.

“Bandcamp just sent me an email one day saying they were starting this crowdfunding campaign thing. It seemed easy because I just had to press a few buttons and type a few words, then it was live. It was a low-risk situation that didn’t require much work.

“The irony is, as a result of one of the campaign pledge benefits, I now have to shoot 350 videos dressed up as my alter-ego gremlin-human hybrid Desmond which is gonna take a lot of time,” he says with a chuckle.

Green alter-ego: The fan trailer trailer for ‘Gremlins 3’

On the campaign paged he expressed his disbelief that his first vinyl release was a collection of comedic Twitter songs but that it felt on-brand for the decade so far. This is because, despite his recent success arising from light-hearted short songs, music has always been a lifelong pursuit with much of his previous material being far more personal and serious.

Nick began taking guitar lessons in the fourth grade which continued throughout high school. After that he then went on to major in commercial songwriting at Middle Tennessee State University before graduating in 2012 when he moved back in with his parents so he could fully focus on his craft.

He says: “I just always struggled through being an amateur musician and any music that I made just went back into building what I was trying to do artistically.”

Now Nick is often accompanied on these more serious projects by his backing band ‘The Gimmix’ who boast the unique look of life-sized puppets with the costumes created by Nick himself.

“Essentially what happened is I started producing my own records and my album ‘Etc.’ had a full band sound even though it’s just one guy doing everything on it. When it came time to do a music video, since I didn’t have a band at the time, I had the idea of using these hand puppets that I had made for the backing musicians.

“I just really like that it accented this surreal kind of feeling that I was trying to get through with the music and I thought it would be cool to carry that through to the live show. By the time that I did form a band I decided to recreate that by having a human sized puppet band on stage with me. We’ve been running with that ever since.”

Puppet pals: The music video for ‘Predator’

The band rarely tours as a result of many of the members having prior responsibilities and primarily focuses on creating fresh engaging live shows for local crowds in their hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The spectacle of the live shows gradually grew bigger and more different with the band collecting good quality footage to show to new possible venues in the future.

However, COVID-19 thwarted any plans of the band branching out to new live spaces any time soon.

So, with live shows ruled out, Nick was constrained to creating music from his primitive home studio. There he found himself wanting to do something lighter as the world seemed more desolate than ever.

“My previous album ‘Swords’ was very much a direct response to the Trump campaign in 2016 and the administration that followed. You couldn’t help but be bummed out by it. After that I knew I wanted my next project to be more fun,” he says.

Nick prides himself in the fact that he always tries to approach his creative projects from an alternative angle but for his new exploration into comedy music, he found himself having to develop a different method of songwriting.

“With my serious output I like to try and find the path less travelled and in contrast, there’s no concern as to whether the joke songs are derivative. I let the subconscious drive the bus and see where it ends up.

“For example, with the RNC song, I had no work to do that day and knew I wanted to create something. That year’s RNC had just started and so I sat down and wrote the song in maybe an hour then recorded it, shot the video and had it up by the end of that day.

“Then, realising that I could do something that day where there’s not much editing or prior though and getting a warm reception from it was very liberating and had made me able to trust my instincts a little bit more.”

He acknowledges his sudden social media spotlight is a strange chapter in his artistic journey, but it is one that has helped him grow an audience, develop new skills and given him the confidence to explore further into the world of comedic music.

Nick says: “Looking back, I’m glad that I’ve been able to make fun music even though a lot of it is about these dark times. It’s nice to be able to package it in these silly, danceable songs.”


Anarchy & activism: The punk devoted to charity

Eagle Spits: photographed by Scott Bradley, Phukin Photos

Samuel Hornsby hears the story of Eagle Spits, the punk rocker who has dedicated himself to helping global street kids.

With tattooed knuckles, a brightly dyed mohawk and facial piercings, there is no doubt that 55-year-old Eagle Spits is a punk. However, he is unique in that he has found a way to blend his love of anarchic rock with charity work and created the Nottingham-based organisation Punk 4 the Homeless. The aim is to put on loud bands and in the process raise money for South American street kids.

“I first got into punk when I was fourteen. One day I walked into my parents living room and Top of the Pops was on and ‘The Stranglers’ were playing. I thought it was totally different from anything else that was happening, and I became a punk on the spot,” Eagle says.

“Punk to me is an attitude rather than a musical format. There have always been there slagging off the government, the state and the police and, for me, there’s no point doing all that if you’re not going to do anything about it. That’s how the slogan came about for the charity: ‘stopping cops killing kids is punk rock.’”

Eagle began working on the cause on his own in 2010 when he wrote to several homelessness charities to find affiliation. Compass Children’s Charity were the only ones to reply.

“There’s 100 million street children in the world. There’s 40 million in Latin America. ‘Compass’, who we work besides, look after kids in Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua. That can be anything from street outreach to getting kids reunited with families or into orphanages.

“For an example of what we’ve done with them, we sent a couple of thousand quid a few years ago because there were a group of girls whose only prospects were to go into prostitution. With that money we were able to fund a welding project because that was a valuable skill that would keep them from having to go down that path.”

“We try and capture a ‘solidarity, not charity’ ethos.”

It was a struggle to begin with, but now Eagle has managed to build a team of four other committed team members to help run the cause with additional help from occasional volunteers. Additionally, even though the team has grown over the last decade Eagle can still find difficulties.

“It’s fuckin’ hard work putting on events,” he says.

“There’s always lots and lots of bands that want to play for us but the organisation of it isn’t always easy. There’s always something that’ll go wrong. Also, we haven’t got the finances that a big place has so if something like the P.A. system goes wrong, we have to sort it out ourselves.”

Nonetheless, this grassroots approach is a part of Eagle’s philosophy of life, and there is a love of being involved in the different stages of organisation.

“I consider myself a Christian Anarchist and Anarchism involves a D.I.Y. approach. It gets away from the corporate organisational stuff and tries to escape being involved in any systems of oppression,” Eagle says.

“We try and capture a ‘solidarity, not charity’ ethos. A lot of people are rightfully suspicious of charity because they’ve got CEOs taking lots of money and people don’t know where their money actually goes to. Whereas, with what we do, I think people see exactly where all their money is going.”

As of 2019, in addition to their events supporting the efforts of Compass Children’s Charity, Eagle and Punk 4 the Homeless have also begun supporting a small, independent girls’ orphanage in Sierra Leone.

“When the Ebola crisis hit Sierra Leone a man and his mum and brother took in 73 orphaned girls and they’re living in a four bedroomed house. All the money we send there goes to feeding, clothing, education, and medical bills.

“The money that goes there is more direct because they haven’t got any other external support apart from us. We’ve been a lot more intense on that cause recently. Since we’ve got involved, they’ve even named themselves ‘Hope Orphanage’.”

However, like so many other things, Eagle and his charity were thrown into a state of uncertainty last year when Covid-19 broke and forced closures of indoor events, including the Punk 4 the Homeless gigs that brought in much of the money he would raise.

“During lockdown I thought ‘oh shit, we’re screwed’. I had to think about how the hell we could go forward. We tried the online stuff and luckily that kind of flourished,” he says with bewilderment.

“When we started, we did 55 days straight of events to say ‘look, we’re here still’. It turned out to be very advantageous much to my surprise. In fact, we’ve ended up making more money through the online events than we would from the normal gigs we’d be putting on.”

Though nothing can truly replace the atmosphere and feeling Eagle gets from the live in-person events he would usually be holding, he has embraced the digital platform with two all-day livestream events each month.

“It’s been different doing online events, but a valid experience in itself,” he says as he takes a drag from his cigarette and smiles.

“I don’t know what will happen in the future but I’m not going anywhere.”


‘How many black people are speaking Japanese? Not many’

TikTok star and musical artist, Richard Tomic loves Japanese culture with plans to move there. Despite it not being a popular route for people of colour he follows his dreams nonetheless. Savannah Duncan hears his story.

Richard Tomic, a Black British TikTok star with over 208 thousand followers, wants to leave the UK to live in Japan. He first started creating TikTok videos in June of last year during the UK’s first lockdown.

He says: “I made my account during the first lockdown because I saw my friends who I knew online getting popularity on TikTok.”

Although he was born and raised in London, Richard wants to move to Japan. He has previously been to Japan three times and had the opportunity to live there for a year in 2017. His grandfather was working at the Japanese Embassy for six years, so he was able to stay with him during his time.

“It was the best experience of my life.”

Whilst living in the UK he wasn’t able to do much because his mother was a little strict and very religious, however, once he moved to Japan his Grandfather gave him a bit more freedom.

“I guess you could call it a self-discovery journey, I just did everything I wanted to do that my mom wouldn’t allow me to do because of her religious views,” he says.

Despite his mother’s strict views, Richard believes he had a great upbringing and understands the hard work his mother put in for him.

“I appreciate the fact that she did that for the both of us, mainly for me.”

Currently, Richard is studying Law and Japanese at university because he wanted to gain a degree in any field, he could get his foot into.

“If you want to live in Japan you need to have a degree, that’s why I couldn’t stay there for more than a year because my visa ran out.

“If I don’t graduate, I won’t be able to go back and live, and get a work visa.”

After Richard had lived his year in Japan, once he had returned to the UK, he was forced to take a foundation year.

“They had a few courses that were available to me after the foundation year and Law was the only one that seemed to have substance,” Richard says.

“The other courses I just don’t see how I’d be able to get any kind of reliable employment from them, so I was just like law looks good let me just go for it.”

Anime inspired: Richard’s past fashion.

Richard has a great love for Japan and their culture, to the point where he used to dress similar to Japanese anime characters. His previous fashion sense was the inspiration for his first viral TikTok video called ‘Watch me get out of my I want to be Japanese phase’ which features images of how he used to dress in the past.

His main focus within his videos is his use of Japanese which he mixes with English from time to time.

“The reason why I started Japanese is just I wanted to be different, I was just like how many black people are there speaking Japanese. That’s already a selling point.”

Surprisingly, Richard is no longer a fan of anime like he used to be.

“I had a little anime phase when I first got into Japanese but that’s not the reason why I started learning Japanese. I started watching it as a result of learning Japanese.”

His Japanese phase only lasted a year, and he believes it was his obsessive personality that got him into anime in the first place. I watched one anime and then I relaxed my hair and I tried to dye it white.

“I watch anime every now and again but I’m definitely not an anime fan.”

At first Richard started making English skits on TikTok, but then took a short break after gaining a few hundred followers.

“I was just like, you know what I’ve seen people being really successful in this app let me just try again,” he says.

Richard then began creating English skits again until he posted his glow up video and it went viral. This was when he gave Japanese content a shot just to try it out.

Additionally he also creates his own music and posts it on TikTok. Although he has never pursued music within education, Richard has been making beats for around two years until he started taking music seriously. Since he knows how to speak both Japanese and English, his music also contains a mix of both languages in most of his songs.

“A lot of my ideas are quite out there and quite quirky because I’m a quirky person”

Most of his music found on his page was produced by himself, it was his friends who inspired him to make music.

“They were just like, bro you’ve come so far you’re actually a solid musical artist and it’s only taken you a year,” Richard says.

His one and only inspiration for everything he wants to achieve in the entertainment world is an actor, screenwriter, stand-up comedian and much more: Donald Glover.

“He’s a well all-round performer. Donald was my main inspiration at the start of lockdown when I decided to start doing music and then I started incorporating the comedy.”

Although Richard is inspired by Donald Glover, his content is still 100% original with some being real-life experiences.

“A lot of my ideas are quite out there and quite quirky because I’m a quirky person,” he says.

“I take inspiration from others, but I never seem to copy.”

Despite Richard’s career being newly found he is still incredibly grateful for how far he’s come and wishes he’d started sooner because he doesn’t think things could be better than they already are.

“My most memorable moment would be my first Instagram live. They were just so interested in me… it was just nice we all had a conversation.”

Richard Tomic found his passion for the Japanese culture and decided to pursue it, despite knowing that people of colour do not normally take an interest in topics like these. He is still working towards setting up shop within the country itself. Hopefully bringing along his music and videos with him.


Art in isolation from New York neurotic, Jeffrey Lewis

The cult singer-songwriter discusses loneliness, luck and his love of comic books with Samuel Hornsby.

It’s the end of January but Jeffrey Lewis still has his Christmas tree up. On the wall hangs a homemade collage of ‘The Terminator’ with the head of ‘Lou Reed’. The off-kilter appearance of the living interior matches the appearance of its occupant whose bucked teeth and balding hair may leave passers-by to judge him as an oddball. Such things do not bother him though.

As he potters about his cramped New York apartment on video call, there is a sense of self awareness about his eccentricities which he has often embraced and elaborated on in his art.

“Just because something isn’t in the charting Top 100 doesn’t mean that it’s a failure or that it has no great quality or spirit,” Jeffrey says.

“I don’t think there could be a world in which artist like Kevin Coyne, Daniel Johnston and Jeffrey Lewis are at the top of the charts. We don’t make music that makes sense for most people. It isn’t what they’re looking for. When you’re making stuff yourself you just do what feels exciting to you. I don’t make a song or a comic book with the intention of having a sales target or popularity.”

Introspective songwriting: Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage’s ‘Take It For Granted’

The music of Jeffrey Lewis has often been labelled anti-folk. The artist himself describes his style as “New York City rock ‘n’ roll with a lot of attention to the lyrics” and draws song-writing influences from the likes of Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman, Bob Dylan and, in particular, Daniel Johnston.

“Hearing the work of Daniel Johnston showed me a way to make music in the vein that I was making comic books. Daniel showed a way that just your own personality, humour and emotions could translate into making great songs. That was really a revelation to me.

“I graduated from school and suddenly I was out in the real world without much of a social scene. I was just living a very typical starving artist life. I was home most of the time and working jobs, but I had no money,” he says.

“At that point making comic books wasn’t enough to fill all my loneliness and boredom so I started writing songs. Then I found myself going to      open-mic nights and performing them. My musical career came out of a big personal void and the pain of being alone. Humans are tribal creatures and if we’re severed from a social scene you almost feel this physical pain from the isolation.

“All of that emotion went into the music which were like lullabies that I would sing to myself, along with a bit of humour.”

“I feel lucky about the songs I write, not proud.”

Though Jeffrey found a cathartic release through music his first love was comic books, a passion he has had since childhood and has persisted ever since.

“It’s funny. I was just stumbling on a batch of old comics from when I was a little kid from six or seven years old. Just look at those comics I remembered how much they meant to me and how many of them I read. It was just my whole world. Music was just not part of my life as a kid. It was just comic books enveloping 100 percent of my brain.

“Comic books are something I feel I was born to do. It’s also something I feel I’m still on the path of learning how to do. I’m aware each one I make is just a further step towards the better comic that I’ll make next time after that.”

Though Jeffrey puts a great deal of time and effort into both of his two primary creative outlets, his approach to making and evaluating them is a contrast. On the one hand, he views drawing as a challenge and a craft that requires constant improvement, whereas coming up with good lyrics and melodies is something he puts more down to luck than his own intentional decisions.

“An album feels like a product of luck and a comic book feels like a product of skill. It’s very hard to feel proud of your luck. I feel lucky about the songs I write, not proud. I don’t know if you can say you’re going to be more inspired next time,” he says.

“Each album feels like some miraculous thing that I might not ever be able to repeat. Just because I wrote ten songs that I feel excited about for one album, doesn’t mean I’ll write ten more great songs for the next album. It’s almost the opposite. It’s more like ‘man, I can’t believe I came up with this album’ and then I think that I’ll never be able to come up with one again.”

Both Jeffrey’s comic books and music have a very hands-on and homemade approach. He provides all of the writing and artwork for the comics and album art as well as writing and performing the songs. His latest lo-fi release ‘2020 Tapes (Shelter​-​at​-​Homerecordings & Pandemos)’  was recorded at his home during the New York lockdown. Although, as he explains, this is not just a stylistic choice but also a necessity.

Pandemic performance: A homemade recording from ‘2020 Tapes’

“I don’t have the technical know-how or even the recording gear to make anything high quality.

“The song is the important bit and if I can just record the song in whatever way is available, which can be in the studio or at home,” Jeffrey says.

“However, I don’t apply that mindset when I make my own album artwork. Though it is a do-it-yourself project because I am literally doing it by myself, that does not equate to being a lesser product than it would be if I were to hire somebody else. I feel like nobody is going to do a better job of the illustrations and the packaging design than I can because I think I’m quite good at it. It’s kind of D.I.Y. from the opposite perspective than the music.”

A usual staple of a Jeffrey Lewis live performance, whether in the flesh or screened digitally, are documentary style history songs accompanied by his own illustrations, combining his two artistic venture. This unique audio-visual display is one that had early roots in his musical career but has been expanded over time.

Mixing music and art: Jeffrey on stage with his comic book projections

He says: “Around 1998 I started to be offered to play little shows around New York City. When you’re only playing one gig every five weeks you really have a chance to make every performance a special thing. Each show was a new chance to experiment.”

One idea to come out of that period of experimentation was illustrated songs. After a few years he ventured into non-fictional topics for them for the 25th anniversary of Rough Trade Records and soon after created one depicting the history of ‘The Fall’ when he opened for the band. Eventually though he ambitions for the format grew.

“I thought ‘what would be the most gigantic historical topic with a huge story that has nothing to do with music?’. The crazy idea I came up with was to try and tell the history of communism. I’ve been adding installations in that particular series ever since.”

Illustrated history: Jeffrey presents ‘The Story of Chile’

His illustrated songs are emblematic of his enthusiasm for both comic books and music as well as his unique creative vision which has allowed him to persist as a cult figure for over two decades. Sure, as he admits, an artist like himself will likely never hit the charts but his passion and originality will make sure he will always stand out and be remembered.