Hoakser: the Man behind the Murals

An incredibly talented and well-respected graff artist here in Brum and across the globe, Hoakser is just one of the guys behind this year’s “We’re In This Together” River Rea mural, so we sat down and asked him a few questions to find out a little bit more about the man behind the mural…

 

How did you get into graffiti art?

 

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I’d always wanted to be some sort of artist as a kid and would always be drawing characters of my favorite stuff or making up monsters, zombies and robots..Sometime around 98,I went with some friends to check out a place called “Selly Oak graffiti park” and had my mind blown by something I’d never seen before and didn’t understand…Everywhere was covered in paintings and writing, there were cool characters on the walls and color everywhere..The main pieces I remember where by a crew called FKS..T-Bone,Korsa,Zooki,Crem, were some of the names that stood out to me that day and I knew I wanted to try spraying some of my characters on a wall.. From that point  I started seeing it everywhere and the more I practiced and studied it, the more my respect for the art form and culture grew..

 

Why did you choose graffiti art as opposed to any other medium?

 

There’s so many branches to graffiti and there’s so much to learn about it..From tagging to mural work, all of which is classed as graffiti, there’s a whole load of learning and  years of practice involved to be able to control the paint and create your own style to build your name.. The history of graffiti is a cool story full of myths and legends and as an art form developed by youngsters, mostly in the dark, it’s come a long way.. Every country and city around the world have their own scene,style, history and way of doing things so it’s always developing and inspiring new artists and techniques. When I first started I think it was how hard I found it, which pushed me to want to get better at it..Meeting other graffiti writers and going painting with them has made me some really good friends over the years.It’s kind of a social and anti social culture, where most graffiti is painted for other people who do graffiti to love or hate and can have a life span of minutes or years depending where or what it is..  Graffiti incorporates so many skills from tagging (which is like a form of calligraphy), to painting huge letter pieces (which is a kind of typography)..painting and designing characters takes some cartoon/illustrator skills and spraying paint is such a fun way to practice them all..

 

What inspires your art?

 

Most things really.. From everything I was into as a kid to the amount of paint, space and time I’ve got to work with. I get inspired by loads of artists who make me want to try new stuff out in my own way..My graffiti letters and characters have been developed over the years and their technical difficulty increases as my skills with a can improve. I used to like painting models and sculpting when I was younger, so after seeing a few graffiti artists from overseas design toys several years ago, I wanted to see my character as an object you can hold..So I did that.. I’ll always be into spraying my name on a wall but the idea of my work being displayed in collections and looked after, rather than painted over is pretty cool.. Canvas work and sculpts are approached differently to walls, but all of them kind of inspire each other in a way..

 

Do you prefer to work on big public art murals, like the River Rea mural, or on smaller canvases and private commissions? Why?

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I think I like them both the same but for different reasons.. Public murals are usually hard work but fun to paint, and it’s interesting hearing what people think before it’s even been finished.This can sometimes spark new ideas and help with the mural…It’s nice to have their support and encouraging words shouted at you from passing cars but it can take much longer to paint as you have to keep explaining your not a famous stencil artist and you did this all free hand.. Painting on the River was great and everyone was really supportive of what we were doing..Leaving such a big piece of artwork out in public is so different to working on a piece that will hang in one persons house..The fact that someone is willing to spend their hard earned money and invite a piece of my work into their home is really cool, but on a different level..

 

What was it like to collaborate with Ashekman and Zooki on the River Rea mural?
It was interesting and nice, and the wall came out really cool I think.. Having Zooki as one of my earliest inspirations in our graffiti scene makes it a pleasure to paint with him.. Over the years we’ve painted together a few times on walls at graffiti jams, so it was cool to get him involved with this mural, as he grew up around the area.His character designs and painting skills are amazing and it’s always an honor to paint with him.. Ashekman really came through and after having no sleep on day one, due to travelling, they still got busy and left us with a really cool piece in their calligraphy style..It was cool spending some time with them and hearing about what the scene in Beirut is like. It’s a shame they couldn’t stay for longer but hopefully one day we’ll get another wall done together..It was really nice to meet those guys and paint, and I think what they put up really fits in well with the message of the mural..

 

How does the mural tie in with the central messages of Brum Spirit?

 

As one passer by said while we were working on the piece “We’re in this together For peace on Earth is so fitting for the state of the world right now”.. That probably says it all.. It was cool to see some of the local kids who can read Arabic working out what Ashekman’s piece said and as a collaborative cultural exchange it came out really well.. It can be difficult coming up with a wall concept and designing it into something we can all work on while keeping the public,council and everyone else happy..Especially when you’ve never met the people you’ll be painting with. But as always, Tessa’s hard work and theme choice made it all click together and we managed to paint something that’s had nothing but positive comments…

 

What other community projects and public art murals have you worked on?

 

welcome to kings heath mural
There’s the Welcome To Kings Heath wall that we worked on 3 years ago for BrumSpirit with Ficore from Brazil.Then the year after I was lucky enough to be able to paint the front of PST nightclub in Digbeth with RCF1 from France for Brum Spirit.. In Acocks Green at Millennium Green there’s a long wall I was asked to paint around a nature reserve/dog walking area..It’s a quite a long wall and fun to paint because it has all four seasons, goes from day to night and includes almost every animal you might see there. Another favourite from last year is a school I painted in Selly Oak.. It’s not really public as it’s a school, but the 40ish walls I painted around the outside of every Porta-cabin classroom around the grounds,definitely brightened the place up..They were a depressing grey before, and now they have lots of color and helpful learning phrases with positive words etc suited to each lesson and classroom..I can imagine that would have a huge impact on any child, especially one with learning disabilities and it’s cool to think how lots of kids over the years might remember something, because they saw it on a painting every day..

 

What do you hope people will take from your work, particularly your public art murals?

 

It’s nice to be able to change peoples perceptions about what they might have thought graffiti was or can be, before seeing something they can relate to and understand..I hope it inspires some people to try and become artists and it’s a weird feeling when you’re on a bus going past something you did and you hear a kid say “coool” and start pointing at it..They all kind of serve a different purpose and it’d be nice if they appeal to people if different ways..
What does this year’s Brum Spirit’s theme, “We’re In This Together”, mean to you as an artist?

 

As a theme for a wall it had so much scope to where we could have taken it. As I said in another answer, a passer by commented on how fitting it was for the state of the world, I think we started painting this a few days after all that Brexit madness..As someone who lives in the area we painted the wall, which has lots of nationalities and religions living side by side, it’s nice to leave a positive piece up for everyone to take something from which will always mean something, depending on how you decide to read it..

 

Where can we find out more about your work?

 

My website hoakser.com which I build myself has all the important links and info on… I use Instagram @hoakser  and occasionally twitter @hoaksergraffiti .. and i have a facebook page https://www.facebook.com/hoaksercom-214180528665043/?ref=bookmarks  which you should like to catch up with me on there 🙂

 

You can check out more pictures of the “We’re In This Together” River Rea by Hoakser, Ashekman and Zooki here.

Drum Together Brum are having A Street Party!

Drum Together Drum - Street Fest - Front

Our favourite drumming group are putting on a “family friendly, free street party with proper vibes” July 13th!

We are so excited for Drum Together Brum who are hosting a free afternoon street party where the local community can get involved. These talented folk have bags of fun lined up including instrument making workshops for the little ones, which they can use through out the day in the musical jamming sessions and then can take home to practice later!

There will also be workshops for members of the local community to have a go with traditional African drums and instruments, led by Damon Wilding,  fresh breakdance workshops from Open Circles Hip-Hop Entertainment, Caribbean food and all this will be tied up with a lively performance from Drum Together Brum.

Drum Together Brum are a group of people who came together to learn a new skill whilst meeting new people, having only been together for six months they have turned a hobby into a true skill, and have performed at several venue’s in Birmingham including The Emerald Village, Brum Together, Rebel Spirit and more! This Street Party will show what can be achieved with a little bit of time and a lot of enthusiasm. Got #BrumSpirit  down this lot!

In partnership with Our Big Gig, Drum Together Brum are bringing a free musical street party on Sunday 13th July that will have something for everyone, head on down to PST on Lombard Street, Digbeth, Birmingham to learn different rhythms and try something new. Find out more here,

Muzikstan Midsummer Festival: Full of Brum Spirit

We marked the rebrand to ‘Brum Spirit’ on Saturday at Muzikstan Midsummer Festival, which took place at The Old Print Works, Balsall Heath.

As you know Professional Incredibles, the team behind many of our city’s well loved cultural events announced that Espirito Brum has rebranded to Brum Spirit, if you have read The Story of Brum Spirit you will know the announcement follows a period of growth and development for our collective.

To mark the arrival of Brum Spirit, in true Brummie style we had a big party, having teamed up with Birmingham Promoters, Some Cities, St. Paul’s Trust and Celebrating Sanctuary for the Midsummer Festival edition of Muzikstan, which took place last Saturday, at the Old Print Works.

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The event brought our usual mantra of ‘trying something new with someone new’ to the Muzikstan Midsummer Festival, and offered attendees an event made up of two halves. Throughout the day Old Print Works resident artists provided attendees free makers workshops for children of all ages, alongside Some Cities  who exhibited interactive photography of portraits taken through out the day.

Providing the soundtrack to the day was Blue Murda, who offered a safe haven way from the rain for musicians and audience members to jam and showcase new material together. Our highlight included a special cover of ABBA Dancing Queen, which when you think about it is the perfect jam/sing-along song, who doesn’t know the words!

We were taken into the evening of Muzikstan with performances from an eclectic lineup, featuring the very talented Senegalese kora virtuoso Kadialy Kouyate, who shared his West African griot repertoire with Birmingham for the first time. Also taking to the stage was Dirty Old Folkers, who brought their folk flavours full of fun and quirks, alongside The Mistakings, Tom Peel, and inspirational community choir Voices Together led by Daz Dolczech and Ann Jones.

We were lucky enough to have the very talented Ilvars Veinbergs down on the day capturing the all the fun and frolics, we hear the short video is almost finished so watch out for us sharing the link, you never know you might got yourself on film 🙂

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We would like to thank all you lovely lot you  who came down and took part in our first official Brum Spirit event, keep your eyes peeled for the photography from the day and night which we will be adding to our Facebook over the next couple of days, and make sure you have signed up to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss our next Brum Spirit event!

Next time you see something that gives you Brum Spirit, why not take a snap and share it with us via Twitter, by simply using the hashtags #BrumSpirit and #somecities 🙂

The Story Of Brum Spirit

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#BRUMSPIRIT 

So what is Brum Spirit? How can you describe it? What does it mean?

We feel Brum Spirit is all about when you feel full of pride about being a Brummie, and living in this unique and vibrant city of culture.

It all started with an Espirito…

Over the last 4 years we have been fortunate enough to facilitate and host, in our humble opinion some of the best international collaborations. With the help and support from all you lovely lot we have made ourselves quite at home in cities across Brazil, and districts across Birmingham – especially Digbeth, Kings Heath and Balsall Heath. We have been lucky enough to put on events showing the spirit of Brum and embracing the spirit of Brazil!

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 10.45.21In 2011 there was Rebel Spirit 

When the chance to open our doors to an international exchange presented itself, of course we were very excited, and a little nervous. The other editions of the Espirito Mundo circuit were well established elsewhere in Europe, and we knew that, in agreeing to host the UK edition of the festival circuit, as a tiny emerging comany, we were taking on a big responsibility.

We decided the best way to work was to start small and build from there, creating connections between visiting Brazilian artists and their counterparts along the way, and collaborating with existing organisations in Birmingham to enrich their programmes with something from further afield.

Things began in March 2011, with Gilberto Mauro and Ricardo Garcia performed A Good and Giving Heart at The Edge in Digbeth, as part of that year’s Flatpack Film Festival. This audio visual homage to Gilberto’s great uncle Humberto Mauro, and his home state of Minas Gerais, was our first little step in surfacing here in Birmingham.

In June 2011, reggae artist Jota III visited from his home in Espirito Santo for the first time, for our inaugural edition of underground music celebration Rebel Spirit. This took place at PST, just around the corner from The Edge in Digbeth, as part of Bass Festival 2011.  We’ve been working with both Jota and PST ever since, along with a growing bunch of talented producers, DJs, MCs and other musicians who travel the world to play out, and call Birmingham their home.

Come September 2011, it was time for the big push – we welcomed 28 visiting musicians and visual artists from across Brazil, to stay with us in Birmingham for a week, and participate in Espirito Brum 2011.

We worked alongside Friction Arts at the Edge, and PST in Digbeth, to run performances, workshops and interventions that allowed the artists involved to explore new relationships, and new ways of connecting with each other, and the visiting public. The artists also took part in Jazz at the Spotted Dog, performances at The Yardbird, a music industry debate and workshops at South Birmingham College, and other interventions besides. It was great to invite back old friends like Gilberto Mauro:

We also welcomed new acquaintances into the mix – we still get emails asking when Babilak Bah will come back – for many who visited Espirito Brum in the first year, his exploratory performance at PST was a real highlight.

For us it was really important to unite Brummie and Brazilian artists on the programme, encouraging creative dialogue and developing audiences for everyone at once. We found that when the visiting artists first arrived from Brazil, and saw the warehouse spaces in which we worked, and the lack of separation between audience and artist, they began to worry that things would not be professionally run, because they were used to much more formal performance settings back home.

As the days went on, however, they began to settle in, and as they shared in performances by Birmingham’s finest – like Paul Murphy – they began to relax, and understand a little more about us.

For our part, we learned loads! It was quite an unexpected process, exhilarating as well as stressful, and we knew that the concept would take a while to sink in with people here, at the same time it would always be growing and changing. We were really lucky to count on the support of Arts Council England in this first year, as well as the backing of all those who gave up their time and space to make our visitors feel at home and put on a good show.

We opted to step up a notch. Firstly, we called on the services of our incredible graphic design partners Wild Ilk Design Studio, to start building our brand image and reflecting the Espirito Brum ethos. Secondly, we built a relationship with Tiger Bam Communications, without whose support we wouldn’t be getting the word out and stepping things up as the years have progressed. Time to take on a serious adventure or two…

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In 2012 Birmingham welcomed Brazil!

Back in 2012 we welcomed a roster of highly talented and respected Brazilian artists into our multicultural and vibrant fold, rather than marking out the differences between us, we were inspired through music and visual art and discovered common ground – both within our own city, and far beyond its borders.

It all began in May 2012, when we traveled with 25 artists to the first edition of Espirito Mundo Brazil, in São Paulo and Vitória. This marked the start of many international collaborations between UK and Brazilian artists, which we were able to premier at our Espirito Brum events in September 2012 at various locations around Brum.

Highlights from 2012 included: Our adventure to Brazil and the relationships we were able to grow and develop along the way. Dragões de Komodo also caught a plane for the first time and left Brazil to embark on their love affair with Munchbreak, DJ Switch and DJ Feva. We also had wonderful performances from Dea Trancoso, Paula Pi, Joelle Barker (JOLT), Rubiane Maia, Ska’d for Life and Rioghnach Connolley (Honeyfeet) and made so many great memories. We were recognised in the cultural round up of the FIFA Brazil World Cup 2014! Not bad ey?

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In 2013 Espirito Brum met Kings Heath

Based in Kings Heath, we felt very much like a part of the community, to prove it Brazilian artist Ficore and Kings Heath original Hoakser collaborated on the graffiti masterpiece that is the ‘Welcome to Kings Heath’ community inspired mural, taking prime place on the side the high street.

We kicked off celebrations on Kings Heath Village Square, and teamed up with local foodies Brum Yum Yum to offer live music, dance and workshops to the vibrant Kings Heath community. With Brummie samba veterans Oya Batucada, North London new-comers Defkon1, and Birmingham’s Mendi Singh on the bill, we were also privilege to be shown how to Forrό in Brum with quick stepped demonstrations, and live jamming from Flautins Matuá bringing everyone to their feet. We hosted drumming workshops for all the family, in conjunction with Our Big Gig – the free nationwide event to encourage interaction with music.
AND we premiered “Don’t Cut off Your Dreadlocks: video with Brazilian reggae singer and rapper Jota III featuring Pablo rider who performed live at the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath for the launch of the video, which was filmed around Birmingham by 144 Media, and features many of our glorious landmarks.

We were starting to see the benefits of ‘Trying Something New.’ 

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“Trying Something New With Some One New” 

A mantra we quickly adopted and developed. We set out to create multidisciplinary events for people to get involved in, with the aim to bring together communities from varying backgrounds, to enable people to meet their neighbours – whilst perhaps learning something. This idea became very important to us, and in 2014 we brought you:

Group Image- Drum Together Brum Collective (with Damon Wilding on the far right) Workshop

Drum Together Brum… Brum together

The inspirational community percussion group, Drum Together Brum, led by percussionist Damon Wilding, formed to learn something new with someone new, with the aid of Our Big Gig Extra and Birmingham City Council. Early in the year Drum together Brum premiered the efforts of the group at our event Brum Together, at All Saints church in Kings Heath.

The idea behind Brum Together was to create a free multi faith event to unite local residents from all walks of life, to come together and find common ground in learning a new skill. You can read all about it here :).

Drum Together Brum have now launched their own campaign to bring you a community street party on Sunday July 13th in Highgate – the event campaign reached its goal of £830 through crowd funding platform Space Hive. You know what that means – more free family friendly fun right on your doorstep!

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Rebel Spirit:

In association with IDFB we brought an evening of Brazilian reggae and hip hop flavours, celebrated through dance and music.  The dance floor was heaving with Forró in BrumCapoeira Cordão de Ouro and Irineu Nogueira and the soundtrack came from the likes of DJ Feva, Jota III, and DJ Silence to name a few. Some Cities also captured portraits from the night can be seen above, and marked the start of a new project which seeks to showcase the culture and people behind live music venues like PST, why not check out the teaser from the event here. We are please to announce we were able to raise over £400 from ticket sales on the night, which will go towards creating social dance projects in Birmingham over the summer. Read all about the Rebel Spirit event here and whilst your doing that why not have this brilliant mix on in the back ground, Brasil by the very talented DJ Feva!

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Studio Open Day

Set in the Old Print Works in Balsall Heath the Open Day allowed 200 people to have a go at something new with someone new, in one of Brum’s upcoming and vibrant arts venues. The idea behind the event was to encourage the local community to get involved in free arts workshops on the day whilst exploring and utilising this great space on their doorstep. We had various resident artist offering up their knowledge in; open ceramics studios with Becky Belcher, Multimedia pieces and workshops with Anita Roye,Design technology with Richard at CDTX, Crafty Business workshops with Sophie Handy, and the launch of our Looms Room with Mary, Becky, Niki, Sarah and Abi.

 We Found Our …

BRUM SPIRIT

We are please to announce that we have undergone a small rebrand. Whilst our ethos is still the same, over the years of working with many great creatives and artists we have feel we have developed in direction, and we would love you to take a look our around our new Website, Facebook and Twitter page to see what we have been up to behind the scenes!

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So whats new…?

Take a look at the Q&A here to see in the organisers own words what Brum Spirit is all about here.

And maybe we will see you at our next  BRUM SPIRIT event?

MUZKISTAN _ SATURDAY

 

 

 

Q & A With Sophie Handy

We caught up with Sophie Handy, the founder of Crafty Business, and Muzikstan torchbearer  ahead of this Saturdays Mid Summer Muzikstan edition.sophie handy

Name: Sophie Handy

Occupation: Community Artist, Organiser at Muzikstan.

From: Shropshire

Live: Birmingham

Q) Tell us about Muzikstan, what’s your involvement? 

We were living at The Old Print Works when Zirak started Muzikstan in the Directors Lounge in March 2012, he was organizing some amazing acts literally in our living room. He started talking about doing a festival in the August and encouraged us to get involved and we have been ever since. The festival was a huge success and a turning point as the growing crowd were no longer going to fit in the lounge.

When Zirak left Birmingham in the November we took the torch and been rolling with it ever since. Muzikstan is a collective of musicians and music lovers alike and with a love for live music so prominent in Birmingham- it has been a pleasure to host such an eclectic range of gigs.

Q) What can people expect from Muzikstan?

After two years of biweekly live music nights we have been focusing our energies on bigger events, continuing to bring people together through a mutual appreciation of great music. More of the same- plus I think it’s about time we got the big orange tent out again!

Q) What made you decide on the lineup/outline of the day?

 

The lineup for this event was a collection of decisions as we are working with Brum Spirit, Birmingham Promoters and Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham (CSB). We have done a couple of events with CSB before and love the acts they support so making our selection was easy- Kadialy Kouyate sounds amazing and we are delighted he and his band can join us. The Dirty Old Folkers are local champions and likewise we were really chuffed to see them confirmed. Muzikstan has always been about that mixture of cultures and sounds and this really is a treat for us. Mama Matrix played at our Christmas party in 2012 and Daz and Anne are ace, the Voices Together Community Choir seems to resonate the vibe of collaboration and making music accessible so again- top result thanks to Brum Spirit. The Mistakings are fresh and soulful and I think will go down a storm, I just caught the last chord of Tom Peel at Lunar Festival, but judging by the expressions on everyone’s faces, I think we could be up for a few smiles.

Q) Why The Old Print Works?

This is where it all began and we love making it look like home! The space is better than a blank canvas- it has a great vibe and easily takes on every colour we can throw at it. It has the openness of a warehouse so you can get a good crowd in with lots of room to dance and it still feels intimate.

Q) What is the best part about working in Birmingham?

The music scene in Birmingham is phenomenal. There is so much talent about we are very very lucky.

Q) The worst?

There’s so much to do, I don’t have time to leave!

Q) What is your favourite place in Birmingham?

Round the fire at Muzikstan!

Q) What one thing would you change about the city? 

If everyone had shoes like Dorothy then we wouldn’t need cars!

Q) Favourite Brummie saying?

Not sure I’ve been here long enough…

Q) What is Brum Spirit? What does it mean to you?

I think Brum Spirit is the amalgamation of good energies that occur when people are having an excellent time together, whether it’s at a gig, in your friend’s back garden, wherever- the reason it has a name is because in Birmingham this happens a lot. There are so many good people about- the vibe is always hearty.

Q) What has happened recently that gave you Brum Spirit?

Watching the lead singer from Polyphonic Spree stop mid-set at Lunar Festival to give a special thank you to the man from the “Meat Shack” burger van for giving him his last burger- having just lovingly prepared it for himself!

Q) Tell us about your creative goals for the next year, what do you have bubbling away? 

To get Crafty Business established- I’d like to support local artists including myself, to sustain a regular program of arts and crafts workshops which are accessible to local people. Providing the opportunity for people to be creative, try new things and inspire each other.  I’d also like to paint a mural at The Old Print Works, make some wacky lighting sculptures and I’d like have a go at some stained glass work.  Last but not least, do more jam sessions!

Q & A with Tessa Burwood: Brum Spirit

So you may have noticed we have under gone a little rebrand of late? Incase you were wondering what it is all about we got together with Brum Spirit project organiser Tessa Burwood to explain in her own words whats been going on behind the scenes.

Name: Tessa BurwoodTESSA IMAGE

Occupation: Co Director of Professional Incredibles and Brum Spirit

From: Wales and Cornwall (big up the Celtic massive 🙂 )

Live: Balsall Heath, Birmingham

Q) Tell us about your job?

A) At heart it’s about encouraging positive connections between artists, audiences, businesses and communities in Birmingham, supporting them to create together and share their world views. It’s also about producing parties out of magic hats in unexpected places, getting covered in glitter, dancing like there’s nobody watching and appreciating the small things that make our city and its people a fabulous place to live and work.

Q) How and why did you get into doing what you do?

A) That’s a huge question. I was working at the time as a journalist for BBC WM back in 2008, and had taken the week off to help interpret at WOMEX, as part of what was then West Midlands World Music Consortium.

This huge confluence of music industry professionals from all over the globe was so inspiring to me – I found a place for myself in the mix, helping people network and build relationships in Portuguese, French, Spanish and English.

I lost my voice over those five days, and came back buzzing with all the potential and possibility of such an inspiring sector. Shortly after that, I decided to quit my job and start out on my own in cultural production. It was quite an impulsive decision – I was very young and naïve at the time – and the Credit Crunch hit just as I was starting my first project (the launch of Jo Hamilton’s album Gown (2009), with Poseidon Music and Arts DeVille).

What a huge learning curve that was!

Shortly after that, I met creative practitioner Soesen Edan, and we set up Professional Incredibles. Our goal was to bring together touring and locally based artists on the Brummie circuit in unique live settings.

Five years later, we are still growing and learning, PI is still in business, and I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by such inspiring people, who truly add value to the lives of others through their creative endeavours.

Q) How did Espirito Brum begin and what were your creative ambitions for the events?

A) This cultural exchange evolved from a chance conversation in a taxi in Seville, just as WOMEX was winding down back in 2008. We were offered the opportunity to run the UK edition of Espirito Mundo, in partnership with Instituto Quorum – a production company based in Vitoria, Espirito Santo, Brazil.

Having lived and worked for some years in Brazil, the country’s culture, music and language were already an important part of my world view. We knew the project could be really positive for Birmingham, and we like a challenge, so in 2011 we held the first edition of Espirito Brum at The Edge and PST in Digbeth, in partnership with community arts stalwarts Friction Arts.

Espirito Mundo gave us the opportunity to host visiting artists from across Brazil right here in Birmingham, and to open creative collaborations with UK based artists and communities. It was something we just had to make happen, and we worked as part of Espirito Mundo for three years, as part of a Europe wide circuit, before striking out independently.

So far we’ve hosted over 100 artists from Brazil and other nations, in collaboration with over 300 artists from Birmingham and the wider UK.

The connections we forged through Espirito Brum also led to two tours of Brazil in 2012 and 2013, where we helped 25 British artists work across five cities.

We held music workshops in charities and universities in Sao Paulo, concerts in a 5000 capacity amphitheatre surrounded by monkeys in a jungle park in Belo Horizonte, large format photography exhibitions in Vitoria, and a few more unexpected adventures besides.

Q) What are your own personal highlights from Espirito Brum?

A) Our Welcome to Kings Heath Mural, that’s the most satisfying thing yet. Also, catching Rioghnach Connolly and Dea Trancoso teaching each other their favourite tunes, back stage at The Edge in 2012. This year’s edition of Rebel Spirit – just check out the video 🙂 Learning that Brazilians find tea with milk a bit weird. Too many blessed memories to recall here!

Q) How has Espirito Brum developed?

A) In 2014, we decided for several reasons to part company with Instituto Quorum and Espirito Mundo, and evolve into Brum Spirit. We wanted to open out the exchange to reflect Birmingham’s cosmopolitan nature, and we were determined to continue empowering artists to work in an atmosphere of respect and professional development.

Also, the name just fits – Brum Spirit – it rolls off the tongue right? Things have evolved over the years, but we’ve managed to keep going, and aim to remain true to our original aims – to build a project as welcoming and eclectic as Birmingham itself, and to celebrate the simple pleasures that keep us humans sane in this crazy world 🙂

Q) Why is it important to try something new with someone new?

A) Variety is the spice of life! We all know that, and it doesn’t have to cost much to try new things. We put on free, family friendly events for this reason – just like the daytime activities at Muzikstan Midsummer Festival.

We want to open the doors wide and attract as many people as possible, from all walks of life, out of their houses and into each other’s company, so they can make and do stuff and share thoughts and play games. That’s what makes a neighbourhood more resilient.

What is happening in Brazil right now?

A) Well, I’m not an expert, but right about now in Brazil I know there are just over 200 million people getting on with their lives, across a huge and divisive socio economic spectrum.

There’s also a sports tournament going on, apparently 😉

As we bathe in the green and gold glow of all the ruckus surrounding FIFA Rio 2014 and all it entails, it’s easy to forget that, until just 30 or so years ago, the nation was atrophied by violent military dictatorship, and some would say little has changed on the streets.

There’s an astounding level of income inequality, a woeful lack of true rule of law, exacerbated by a “pro rich tax system”. Check this out – I squealed when I read this: Brazilian citizens earning more than 30 times the minimum wage are taxed at about 26%. Meanwhile, those earning less than twice the minimum wage are taxed at 48%. How does that work?

While more private helicopters are chartered in São Paulo each day than anywhere else in the world, the nation’s richest 1% earn the same income as Brazil’s poorest 50%.

A study by the US Embassy in Brasilia in 2010 revealed over 23,000 street children working in highly dangerous sectors from construction to animal slaughter, over 75 Brazilian cities, and according to the Latin Business Chronicle, corruption costs the national economy over $41 billion per year.

This is not comfortable reading, and it’s just a broad overview. In the context of the World Cup, however, it’s important to look at such statistics.

The other night I watched the opening match between Brazil and Croatia at PST Digbeth, alongside Brum Spirit veteran and Brazilian reggae singer Jota III.

Jota summed things up like this: “You know what, all across Brazil right now, despite all the challenges my people are having to face, you can bet your bottom dollar they’re putting it all to one side just for these 90 minutes, to celebrate life together. The positive changes we need to make will come in time, if we really keep our eye on the ball.”

Q) Why are international collaborations important?

A) When people agree to take an adventure together across what appear to be the barriers of difference, they are more often delighted by all the things they have in common, than troubled by the things they don’t share.

At the same time, such a confluence of differing world views and perspectives allows us to gently interrogate the social issues and paradigms that shape our lives today.

Beauty and inequality exist around us all, in our every day lives, and sometimes we are too wrapped up in our own particular outlook to really see this in detail, or be able to make objective and positive changes.

By opening up our homes to visitors from other lands, and agreeing to share our space with someone unknown, the every day routine becomes special, and the delightful process of sharing and learning together comes into its own.

Q) Why Brazil and Birmingham?

A) Why the heck not ey? The Brazilians who have visited us over the years are ambassadors for their country on their way in, buoyed up by all that confidence that is part and parcel of being from a nation with so many riches of so many kinds.

After their time here, in a city most have not heard of before their arrival, they become ambassadors for Birmingham. That is a really special result of this exchange.

Our city can be so deferential and unassuming, despite its powerful history and growing influence. That’s part of its charm and its strength, as well as something that can hold the city back.

It’s a huge boost to hear from those who visit us from Brazil just how welcome they feel. I remember when Dragões de Komodo came with their wonderful manager Adriana Franco, back in 2012. It was the first trip out of Brazil for this São Paulo based hip hop collective, who are at the forefront of a thriving conscious underground movement across their home nation.

They are also family men, poets, teachers, students, sports fans, foodies, counterculture lovers and proper gentlemen. They had no idea what to expect, some of them spoke no English, and when they arrived they were tired, a little nervous, and freezing cold.

We took them home in Soesen’s van and made them supper, then went on to Jazz at the Spotted Dog in Digbeth, where the landlord John Tighe introduced them to Guinness and a true Brummie Irish welcome. At the end of their first evening, the boys realised they were sleeping in my bedroom, which I’d made up for them for the week.

I told them, “Vocês estão em casa / This is your home.” They slept for about fifteen hours on that first night, and woke up fully ready to work their genuine charm on Birmingham’s hip hop scene.

By the time they had to leave, they’d taken about a million photographs of the varied cityscape and its people, performed 5 shows across Brum, filmed a music video and recorded vocals for an EP, fallen in love with fish and chips, and forged a whole bunch of creative partnerships that are still in force today, through their co productions with Munchbreak and DJs Feva and Switch.

Experiences like that make this whole project worth all the effort it takes to organise. I’m sure Brum Spirit will evolve to include exchanges with other places – that’s the plan anyway – but this Brazil / Birmingham vibe is really special, and I wouldn’t change it for all the samba in Salvador ;).

Q) What is the best part about working in Birmingham?

A) The people, and the Brummie sense of humour. Surprising every time.

Q) The worst?

A) Local politics – it’s a challenge to see beyond ourselves and look at what can be achieved when we work together.

Q) What is your favourite place in Birmingham?

A) The Rea River Valley.

Q) What makes you proud about living in Birmingham?

A) If someone tries to be racist in public, they are invariably laughed out of the room or off the bus.

Q) What one thing would you change about the city? 

A) We need a night bus service. Oh my gosh, just found out it’s happening next month for the 50 route! OK, we need better cycle routes.

Q) What one thing you would champion?

A) Our independent music industry, in all its glorious variety.

Q) What is Brum Spirit and what does it mean to you?

A) It’s about tolerance, open mindedness and really appreciating a good masala fish and naan.

Q) What has happened recently that gave you Brum Spirit?

A) Yesterday I saw a young Sikh dude and his Jewish mate skating together through New Street, sharing a packet of Hob Nobs. Classic.