Interview: YolanDa Brown

‘The government must realise that the arts are the heartbeat of every nation,’ says MOBO-winning saxophonist YolanDa Brown.

YolanDa has been at the centre of the drive for diversity and support in and for music, and champions education through her role as chair of Youth Music.

Following the success of the inaugural Drake YolanDa Award in 2019, she and fellow founder James JP Drake have announced the return of the £30,000 prize for emerging musicians in 2020.

Next year’s awards have been extended to include a new prize of £10,000 for songwriters and producers to further support new and pre-existing talent.

In addition to her work with the awards and Youth Music, YolanDa continues to play a key role when it comes to inspiring children to pursue music and discover the joys of making music as an ambassador for the BBC’s Bring the Noise campaign.

She also hosted this year’s CBeebies Proms and launched her own programme YolanDa’s BandJam on the BBC channel, which just earned her a nod at RTS North West Awards 2019.

As voters are set to head to the polls tomorrow for what will be a game-changing election, we caught up with YolanDa to get her take on what the incoming government should be doing to support music in the UK…

You were named as the chair of Youth Music in 2018; what has your experience in the role been like so far?

It has been a privilege to serve as Chair of Youth Music. A forward-thinking organisation with a fantastic CEO, trustees and staff who are just as passionate as I am about making music available to as many young people as possible.

We have a general election on the horizon, what would you like to see the incoming government do to support the UK music industry?

The government must realise that the arts are the heartbeat of every nation. An outlet for expression be it joy or pain and this needs to be supported. We need continued support for UK artists crossing borders internationally with more initiatives such as the DIT and BPI Music Export Growth scheme.

We cannot afford to make it more difficult to tour Europe as a result of Brexit and also European artists bringing their stories and awesome art to the UK. Brexit will affect all sides of the industry from tour bus operators to booking agents, small music venues, artists and even the audiences themselves. The government needs to make sure that they offer support and information to keep the industry alive and help us grow.

You’re heavily involved, in various capacities, with inspiring and supporting children and young adults to pursue music making. How important do you think music education is?

Music education and access to good music education is extremely paramount. Music inspires, teaches teamwork, it is an outlet for expression and a whole lot more. It needs to be a top agenda for the incoming government. EVERY child should have access to a musical instrument and the opportunity to create and absorb music as a standard.

UK Music’s recent report highlighted the economic contribution music makes to the UK, but how would you define its impact on the socio-political and cultural life of people in the UK?

Our music venues and festivals are programming the most eclectic talent, and this is having a fantastic impact on audiences also becoming more diverse from festival goers to series like The Proms. We now have a wave of concerts and festivals for early years and their families, which is becoming quite a thing. I feel like there has been no time like the present and it is beautiful to see.

What else do you think can be done to support music education?

The music industry as a whole also needs to come together with the government to ensure we support music education. Music is as important as maths and science and this needs to be a priority for the next generation. From record labels to promoters, agents, music venues, production companies (lights, sound, riggers) and the artists themselves. If we all came together and pooled our resources, we could make such a difference. I am an ambassador for the BBC Education ‘Bring the Noise’ campaign and it has been amazing creating resources to support teachers, parents and children with music education for early years.

What’s your take on diversity in the music industry currently?

The industry is changing in the same way the world is changing. You can see the change and we all just need to keep working to make it a level playing round for everyone.

How did it feel to be recognised at the RTS North West Awards 2019 for YolanDa’s Band Jam?

I was overwhelmed with emotion. It is my first award as broadcaster and the impact of the show has been mind blowing. Seeing young children enjoying music with no inhibitions and just the pure feeling of freedom is amazing. They have no thoughts of genre preference or how many records the artist has sold, what label they are signed to or how many Instagram followers they have. They are too young to care or even understand that. They just enjoy the music and it is such a joy. We have a great team of producers and crew who make the show what it is, we are just one big ‘YolanDa’s Band Jam’ family.

What was the thinking behind the launch of the songwriters and producers prize?

James JP Drake and I launched the Drake YolanDa Award to support emerging artists on their music journey. We offer £3,000 each to 10 artists. We felt that we also needed to support the people behind the scenes, the songwriters and producers who help craft these amazing songs. This led to the prize of £10,000 for producer, songwriter collective. Unlike the emerging artists award, this prize is open to anyone regardless of length of time in the industry or accomplishments.

What do you currently have on repeat?

The Teskey Brothers album. I am a co presenter on Loose Ends on BBC Radio 4 and they were our music guests, their music has so much soul. I have also been listening to Anderson .Paak and PJ Morton.

What’s next for you?

I am really grateful for all the exciting open doors. I am sitting in for Trevor Nelson on his BBC Radio 2 show on the 12 (election night) and 16 December. I close off the year by appearing on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny!!! My parents love his show, it has been their New Year’s Eve traditional for many years.

2020 is super exciting also, series two of my Cbeebies children’s show YolanDa’s Band Jam starts in January and we take TV show to stage for the first live gig at the Royal Festival Hall on 21 February. My band and I then fly to Australia and Japan for my ‘Million Billion Love’ Tour in March. It is all brilliant and I am loving every moment.

yolandabrown.co.uk

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