Q&A with Güneş Güven, Tottenham based artist and educator

Multi-talented hip hop artist and educator, Güneş Güven, created a mix for and performed at our launch party back in February 2017. She also DJed at our first birthday party in September. She has a weekly radio show on Itch FM and is one of the local artists working on a five year long project with local school children with LIFT. Güneş and her parents moved from Turkey to London as political refugees in the early nineties.

How long have you lived in Tottenham?

I’ve lived in Tottenham on and off since the mid 90s. We lived in Crouch End for a few years and when I was around eleven we moved to Tottenham. Initially I hated living in Tottenham. It wasn’t until I took out two years to live in Istanbul and then moved back to Tottenham at the end of 2012 that I had a greater appreciation for it.

To come back and see it with a fresh pair of eyes and a different perspective made me realise that Tottenham wasn’t so bad after all. There is a lot of potential for it to evolve into something better than it has been or it’s had a reputation of being. Since I’ve been back I’ve found that there are so many amazing artists and people here.

What do you like most about Tottenham?

The Tottenham Marshes and Stonebridge Lock. Since I was very young it’s been a bit of a sanctuary for me. Any time that I feel like London is too overwhelming, or life is too overwhelming, I’ve always gone for walks there. It always makes me feel like I’m not in London – it just feels like the countryside.

How did you get started as an educator?

I started by teaching migrant communities English as a second language which is a struggle that I can relate to. When I first moved here I couldn’t speak a word of English and my family and myself really did find it a struggle to integrate. The language was a big step for us all and at the age of ten, when I was able to speak it better than my parents, I became the family representative.


What was it that led you to become a hip hop artist?

I’ve always been very much into music, even before moving to London, but I remember trying to decipher English by studying song lyrics in the printed inlays of CD covers and cassettes. I had Michael Jackson’s HIStory album and used to go through all the lyrics translating them with a little dictionary.

When I started secondary school, The Fugees came out with an album called The Score. It was the first time I’d heard the word refugee used in a positive context within popular culture and that was the point I fell in love with hip hop. They turned a word, that was an offensive to me at the time, into a positive and something to be proud of. That was really powerful.

When I was 13 I started writing poetry. I used writing poetry and lyrics as therapy for things that frustrated me about life.

When I was around 15 there was a big house and garage movement happening. They would MC and freestyle live over pirate radio. That element of free-styling over the music is what got me into MCing, but it wasn’t something that I did on a performance level. I did it more as a process for myself.

Being in Istanbul for two years and being away from the hip hop scene made me really miss it. It was then that I decided that I wanted to move back to London. Since then, I’ve been pushing myself into performance spaces that I would normally be completely scared to do. I’ve done a few open mics, poetry nights and a few other events here and there. I see it as an opportunity for me to beat my fear of the stage.


Can you tell us about your work as an artist with the UpLifters and LIFT?

LIFT, the London International Festival of Theatre, have a five year engagement with a local secondary school, Northumberland Park School, and The Vale School, which is a special needs school. We are currently in our third year of engagement. It’s been very exciting and fun to be able to give back to my own community. Music and education are my two passions and this project was a perfect opportunity to merge those.

There were originally nine local artists involved in the UpLifters project and they all come from different disciplines.

In the first year, we created workshops that we had complete creative control over. I ran a hip hop workshop, Rhyme or Reason, which combined the use of words, body language and movement to create a short performance.

The UpLifters were eleven at the time and I’d never worked with children that young before. It was great to see how they related to hip hop and what their ideas of it were. A lot of them were much more into the dance aspect of it which I found quite surprising.

What topics did you cover in your poems when you started writing at such a young age?

Initially the main topic of a lot of my writing was displacement. It was about questioning my identity and questioning why I had ended up living in London. I had loads of questions and not a lot of people could answer them. The poetry was a way for me to explore these ideas.

At eight years old I found myself in this big city. When you’re from a different country, England is painted as this land of opportunity. You imagine everywhere to look like Knightsbridge and then you get here and you find yourself living in a council estate. My parents were political refugees so our lifestyle in Turkey had been a lot nicer than our lifestyle here. It was a bit of a culture shock.

Can you tell us about your music video set in Tottenham and your inspirations behind it?

In 2015 I released a single and video which we shot on the [Tottenham] Marshes. The track was about exploring a complex love dynamic. Music and writing has got me through very difficult times so it is something that’s very sacred to me.

When I was a teenager I would go for walks into the Marshes but I was always afraid to tell my parents. It’s quite a secluded quiet place and you have to go over this bridge and there’s this passage and an ally way and I knew that my mum would be too scared to let me go. In the video I wanted to capture the walk from my door to the marshes. It was my little secret hideout place of peace. I would go there and I would usually take a notebook and my Walkman. I used to sit there and write bars and lyrics.

Tottenham is depicted to be a bad area in many of the music videos that are put out by local artists. There’d be generic graffiti on the walls and shots of neglected hallways and social housing. I thought, ‘you know what? My version of Tottenham is actually a lot prettier and I choose to see the beauty in it’.

Your radio show is called Better Late Radio, how did it all start?

When I moved back from Istanbul in 2012, I crossed paths with Itch FM who used to have pirate roots but were thinking of relaunching as an online station. They needed help to reconnect with people in the hip hop scene. I was going to a lot of shows and I was quite heavily involved with the hip hop scene so we started collaborating.

I’d been sharing the music that I was into and I’d been making some playlists. They heard some of my playlists and were really keen on offering me a slot.

When I started I had no idea how to use any of the equipment. All the buttons and switches were really scary because I’d never been in a broadcasting environment before. I didn’t know much about DJing either so the only way around that problem was to learn how to do everything myself.

I couldn’t afford to get proper decks to play vinyl so I bought myself a little mixer that I could connect to my laptop and started learning. I was given some support by one of the DJs on the station, called Mr Dex, who showed me the ropes in the studio.

I’ve enjoyed curating the shows, compiling all the playlists and thinking about who I would like to bring on the show.

It’s helped me to gravitate towards people who I respect musically and connections with people have grown organically. I believe that music has a huge power to heal and to empower people and it’s a beautiful tool to use to bring people together. My journey into radio has taught me a lot about myself and it’s given me a lot more inspiration as to what I’d like to be doing in the future.

Better Late radio is on every Wednesday 10pm – midnight. You can listen at http://www.itch.fm/radio-player/ and find Güneş’ previous shows on her Mixcloud.

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