In conversation with ROAD Entertainment founder Teriy Keys

We caught up with Teriy Keys, who was joined by his sister Cat Kiiza, about ROAD Entertainment, his career so far and his life in Tottenham.

ROAD formed in 2014 and stands for Righteous Organised Always Determined. Teriy: ‘Righteous first, get organised and then just keep going. Be always determined.’

Teriy describes ROAD as a creative hub. They cover everything from label services, artist services, performing arts, visual (video) arts and production, training and consultancy. Teriy and Cat deal with the coordination of their small team and oversee all the elements of the business.

For the management side of the business, ROAD look after about six artists exclusively and 12 non exclusively. They manage a lot of music based artists but also work with a professional footballer as well as social media influencers. Teriy: ‘I want to be able to create a proper creative hub where we can leverage each others success on a client roster. To do something bigger than what would be able to be done as an individual.’

Teriy explained a bit about ROAD Visual Arts: ‘The idea for visual arts is to provide a consortium of smaller production companies and bring their content together on one channel.’

They also run ROAD Academy, a training centre currently providing accredited training in music, graphic design, sound technique for film, filming and editing and post production, for 16 to 24 year olds. They partner with the Job Centre who refer young people interested in creative training to ROAD.

They work closely with the Tottenham Hotspurs Foundation and the Selby Trust. ROAD have run three workshops as part of The Tottenham Hotspurs Foundation ‘To Care Is To Do’ programme. Teriy: ‘One was a music production course. They produced a 16 bar loop of music and turned it into a mega mix. They got to play it to their parents at the Educational Achievement Awards, which take place where the ground used to be.’

Another event ROAD organised recently was ‘The Big Edit’. Young people gathered together and worked all night until the early hours of the morning. Teriy had noticed a lot of people in his network where active in the early hours so offered them an opportunity to use ROAD’s services at an unconventional time.

Another programme they run is Digital Daughters for women over 35. Teriy: ‘Digital Daughters is about providing skills within the digital computer space for women who are returning from long term unemployment. Some of these women could be returning from raising families.’

Earlier in 2017, ROAD were involved in part of a three year outreach programme to schools and young people in Tottenham by the Royal Court Theatre. This produced a short documentary about Teriy and Cat was involved in the production. The Royal Court Theatre are hoping to extend the programme for another three years and ROAD have been part of a discussion group for a potential new project.

ROAD are open to collaborating and are currently liaising with a community worker, that has worked with the council for a long time. With funding cuts within the council he is looking for alternative ways to fund youth programmes.

Cat: ‘We’re trying to find a way to develop programmes in house with him that he can provide to the youth and the community. He’s built up a good relationship with the young people, they trust him, the parents know him. He’s done workshops during the summer and outside of school hours where the young people film a little thing and edit it themselves. What he’s trying to do with ROAD is develop a more robust programme so that he can offer these things on a regular basis. The kids can gain skills and they’re not in the street doing nothing.’

ROAD have grand plans for their HQ and Teriy hopes that it will be more of a walk in set up. Teriy: ‘We’ll have dedicated a training, green room style, common room and a couple of computers. The idea is that the door is open between 9 and 9 and you float in and float out as you please.’

Cat and Teriy at ROAD HQ

Teriy has been both a footballer and a rapper. Interestingly, he finds both fields very similar. ‘You know the French saying ‘tous le memes’ – it’s all the same? The same amount of energy, the same amount of passion, and the same amount of dedication. At football we always listened to music. I always had headphones on, trained to music and trained at Tottenham Green where everyone was into MCing and pirate radio. The energy was always around me even though I was trying to pursue the athletic side of things.’

Teriy sees football as a creative art. ‘I think footballers are creative. Absolutely. I don’t see it as anything else. Everything around it, even the way that they design the football boots and the shin pads, it’s fashion. You have to be creative, especially to be one of the best footballers. To be great you have to express your creativity and improvisation in your style of playing. You’ve got to be able to assess what’s happening on the pitch and then adapt a style, and music, rapping, kind of has that same thing. It could be the beat. It could be the tempo.’

After playing with the Tottenham Hotspur Development Squad in his teens, Teriy played football for a while in Barcelona and moved back the UK when he decided to pursue a music career. He was signed to Dizzee Rascal’s Dirtee Stank label when he was just 19 under the alias Smurfie Syco and released a mixtape,, in 2009.

Teriy: ‘I had to make a decision. I had to go to Barcelona [to play football but was told] by the way you’re about to start a [music] tour. I said that I’d like to support on the tour but I’d like to go back to Spain and see whether I can make this work… I decided I liked the stage more so then I called back up, “yo what you saying can I still get on that tour?”’

Dizzee Rascal and Smurfie Syco (Teriy) in 2010

After immersing himself in both the performance side and the business side of music at Dirtee Stank, Teriy decided he needed to do his own thing. He took a break from performing and, after he stopped working with Dizzee, although he explained they are still on good terms, decided it was time to study and get a degree. This was soon followed by the start up of ROAD Entertainment.

We talked about Teriy’s success and what he thinks has led to him being who he is today. Teriy: ‘Do you know what, this comes from growing up in care. I developed a thing where it was like I need to get to a certain place so I have a certain level of security… and because of that it’s like I just disregarded a lot of the social elements… things that were supposed to like derail you and I just go and go.’

‘Since eight years old I’ve had to go to meetings twice a year with very senior people. “How are you being looked after?”, “Is there anything you need to say to me in confidence?”, has your carer come out of the room, “you do know that there’s this amount of money allocated to you – are you seeing any of it?”… we had these conversations that I would find myself trying to replicate with the information of the street. Really early on, I felt this sense of urgency that at 16 I’m probably going to be put in a hostel somewhere and if I’m able to somehow be in a position where I don’t have to accept that, then let’s do that now.’

Teriy and his sister lived in Tottenham when they were born and then moved to Wood Green in the late 90s when Teriy was seven. Teriy still went to school in Tottenham and split his time between Tottenham and Wood Green. Teriy: ‘Tottenham was the most vibrant part of Haringey in my opinion, and then my mum passed away, we got into care and moved to Wood Green.’

Due to some unrest because of gangs and other issues between rival areas, Tottenham and Wood Green, it was challenging for Teriy growing up. ‘I had childhood friends from one side of town and was making all these new acquaintances and friends in another part of town. Growing up in Tottenham felt like being torn between two areas and you had to decide between them.’

‘Even now there’s kids that we work with that just can’t go to the studio in Tottenham. We were shooting a music video for quite a high profile artist in Wood Green and he couldn’t come. He said I’m not coming because one of my mates has been shot down there.’

After spending a few years away from Tottenham as a footballer and then a musician, Teriy realised that he wanted to reconnect with his birth place. ‘When I started seeing the rest of the world, what made me want to come back to Tottenham was how diverse it was. I took diversity for granted. I didn’t realise that not many people knew who Somali’s were. I had a Somali best friend, I knew what a Hijab was, I knew what a mosque was… I remember when there was the Bosnian or Kosovan immigration and we had nine or ten Kosovan kids in my class and I got to know about Kosovo and Bosnia and the war. That kind of diversity, you couldn’t really buy. I feel growing up in a really diverse way gave me a lot of options.’

Teriy Keys

We asked Teriy what his views were on the council’s regeneration plans for Tottenham and the threat of potential gentrification. Teriy: ‘I’m going to talk straight. I think that it’s not the council’s fault and I say that having been somebody that’s started an academy and training centre to try to provide things to the community and interact with residents from the same position that councils and job centres do.’

‘There is an incredibly low aspiration level and that’s in terms of what’s achievable from the community… I feel that Tottenham and Wood Green are the most economically disadvantaged parts of the borough whereas if you go west of the borough, to places like Crouch End and Muswell Hill, what they believe is possible is completely different…’

‘We don’t engage ourselves properly in consultation. We’re not engaged enough to go in and mobilise and actually put our views forward and what I hear all to often is, “they are not going to listen to me.” All these things to describe this adversary that nobody knows who they exactly are. If you come to consultation you can start attaching a job specification and a face and build responsibility. We should be more active to go and look for the information. This is our area.’

‘This is my area I grew up in… but I have to raise my aspirations to meet the demands of where I am, I can’t expect it to stay where it is. I don’t think Tottenham is where it needs to be right now. Even after the stadium is finished I don’t think that’s where regeneration should stop.’

‘Regeneration doesn’t have to be gentrification. Regeneration for me becomes gentrification when the residents don’t participate. Because then the stuff that you wanted to be here and whatever, it’s not in the plan, and you need to be here to make sure it’s in the plan.’

‘It’s on our doorsteps, it’s in our living rooms, and I feel the fear of losing something but then also there is an opportunity to gain something. When that building is finished I want my piece of it. I want to be able to go in there and not feel like I’m in the wrong part of town. I should be able to walk in there and be able to see what’s going on.’

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