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Changes: George The Poet

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Annie [00:00:05] Hello. How are ya? Welcome to changes. It is Annie MacManus here. Delighted to have you with me on this beautiful May day. Now, before we get into today's episode. Last week we finished our mini series on bodies with the brilliant Afua Hirsch. Afua talked about her book "Decolonising My Body". A radical exploration of rituals and beauty, basically opened our mind about Western beauty standards and made us really question what we do to our bodies. Thank you for your comments. 

[00:00:37] Noon said "this episode is one of my favourites. I love the idea of creating rituals and celebrations in community around the phases of, and changes in women's lives. Afua shares such beautiful perspectives. It was such a nourishing and inspiring conversation". Noon that makes me warm inside this idea of these conversations being nourishing. Thank you so much for being in touch. And thank you so much for all of your comments and feedback on the Bodies mini series. I think we'll have to do some more mini series. 

[00:01:11] Big news in the Changes camp! We are turning four years old this week. Hello to Orla who emailed us to say. "Annie, I just wanted to let you know how much I love the podcast and what a constant it has being in my ever changing life. I started listening from the first episode way back in May 2020, and my life has undergone so much change in the past four years. I've been through separation, become a single mum, and changed career. It's been all go. Your podcast has been an integral part of my week, and on the days when I find things were all a bit too much, it really lifted my spirits and gave me the company I needed". Orla! Thank you. And can I just take this moment now to thank every single one of you who have listened, even to one episode, over the last four years. It really means the world doing these conversations has been so enriching and nourishing for me. In terms of just opening my mind, learning, educating myself, figuring out how to do life in a way that is rich and generous and feasible, I suppose, when life becomes too much. It's been so incredible. And also, can I say thank you to the guests, who have come and shared their life stories with us over the last four years as well. Long may it continue. Here's to the next foray. If I had a little glass of champagne, I'd clink it. But I have a plastic water bottle. It's not quite as nice of the sound. 

[00:02:36] Right on to today. And every now and again on Changes, I have episodes and conversations that literally have me at the edge of my seat, just, you know, riveted in what my guest is talking about. And this is one of those episodes. I am joined by George Mpanga, aka George the Poet. Now, George is one of the UK's greatest wordsmiths. He is an incredibly talented spoken word artist, rapper, award winning podcaster, PhD researcher, author and now a father too. Born in London to Ugandan parents, George's work fuses music, poetry and political activism in order to shift the conversation on race and power. His groundbreaking podcast is called "Have You Heard George's Podcast?" has won so many awards, including the highly prestigious Peabody Award. If you haven't heard it, you absolutely must consider it homework. Go and listen to it after this. And he recently released a memoir. It's called "Track Record: Me, Music and the War on Blackness". I had to wrangle it out of my husband's hands last night. We've been arguing over who gets to read it. It's a deep and personal exploration into his life as an artist, and the complex power structures that have shaped his life and his work. He says, "by telling my story, I've laid out my predicament. I'm a Black entertainer on the frontline of the war on Blackness. But it's not always clear who I'm fighting for". 

[00:04:04] George the Poet, welcome to Changes. Track Record: Me, Music and the War on Blackness. Would you mind, explaining what the War on Blackness is for our listeners who are thinking "hm, What does he mean by that?" 

George [00:04:20] Yeah, it's not a familiar term. And I explained in the book, this is a term that I had to come up with because there was no existing word for the collection of world changing shifts that people of African descent have been through in the last 600 years. Now, a lot of people that have no idea what I'm talking about would say, well, every part of the world, every people of the world, went through world changing events in the past six centuries. That's not profound. And the reason why I say the *emphasis* war on Blackness is because there has been a continuous, a sustained, metamorphing process of denial, denial of Black self-determination, denial of Black wealth, denial of Black self-government. And in the political sense, this has taken a lot of different forms. Once upon a time, it was the destabilisation caused by the transatlantic slave trade from West Africa. A little later on, it was the destabilisation of colonialism when the Western European empires came to Africa and literally carved it up, um and instituted different forms of slavery and servitude. And nowadays, you know, it is hidden in very complex trade arrangements, migration arrangements, economic norms, geopolitical formations. So it's like I'm like, there's no word for it. And there should be - I almost called the book "there's no word for that". 

Annie [00:05:58] Wow. 

George [00:05:59] That's how serious of a challenge this has been. But I didn't want to do that because it was a little too cryptic. I really like "Track Record" because it is my personal track record as George the Poet. It is the track record of history, and it is the track record of Black music. 

Annie [00:06:19] Mhm, It's completely unique for those things like put bringing all these things together. There's a shift that you speak of in the book in terms of how you went about thinking about racism at large, and you talk about Black liberalism and Black radicalism. 

George [00:06:36] Yeah. 

Annie [00:06:36] Do you mind explaining how they work and also how you related to both of those ways of thinking? 

George [00:06:42] Thank you. Thank you. This is a really powerful question. My understanding of Black liberalism is that ultimately, you believe as a Black liberal that the solution to the racial problems of society is for racialized minorities, like Black people, to gain more access to the liberal, so-called liberal society. So if George the Poet can just go to Cambridge and then just get famous and then just be on the BBC and be on TV, then, that is a blow against the racial ordering of the world that is one step closer to a more equal world. And we can see why that's a very inviting concept. It helps us to focus the challenge. We can all think of it as individuals and say, well, all I need to do in order to ensure that the world is dealing with its racism... 

Annie [00:07:41] Yeah. 

George [00:07:41] Is be the best Black person I can be *laughs*. That's something that's how we see progress. Well, Black radicalism has a very different stance. Black radicalism says, look, the root of racism is the nature of, of this society. We need a new society. We need a society that commits to abolishing the racial hierarchy that we all inherited. I've lived all my life as a liberal not knowing that that's what I was. But when I had to interrogate my expectations, when I had to look at my whole strategy, you know, George the Poet was a strategy of trying to reach young people in particular, who may not have access to the support, the educational resources that I had. So I'm like, look, if I could just become famous and I can make it all rhyme and I could just be a personality in the media, maybe that would be a great way of broadcasting some of that support to other people...

Annie [00:08:42] Yeah. 

[00:08:43] But again, it was based on a liberal idea that I would inspire other people to do. That the more Black people we get into Cambridge, the more Black people we get on the BBC, for example. Yeah, the more we will be able to *inhales* change the fundamental direction...

Annie [00:08:59] Yeah. 

[00:08:59] Of this um, of the society and, yeah, I've become cynical about that idea and I don't think, a lot more is needed than representation, access and the appearance of diversity. 

Annie [00:09:17] So how has that changed *pauses* how you look at yourself?

George [00:09:24] Well, you know, Annie, like it's weird for me because I've come to terms with myself as a celebrity, a Black celebrity who is like a representative of the Black liberal ideal. A Black liberal would point to someone like me and say, the problem with the Black community is more people are not like George the Poet. 

Annie [00:09:46] And also and also, it's important to say the white community will do that too. They'll say- 

George [00:09:49] Yeah, that's a very good point. 

Annie [00:09:51] -he went and did it. Here he is. 

George [00:09:52] That's a very good point. That's a very good point. The white community will say the same thing. See, look, George, the poet has a life that he is in control of. He presents himself well. He's able to take care of his wife and his son. Um and the, and the problem is more, more Black men don't act like George The Poet. But this is a very superficial reading of my success. When you look in-  as I try to explain in the book, what has allowed me to have a good run in this country is a long standing closeness to colonial privilege. My parents grew up with certain privileges because of privileges that their parents were able to access, which would have trickled down to me, which when you look at me, because of the racism of the society, you just see Black and you just see- you don't think that there is a class dynamic to my migration or there's a, you know, that I was exposed to a strong standard of education via my mum or my dad. You just think, oh yeah, Black people come from the country Black, and some of them can get serious and make the most of the opportunities in the West. And some of them can't because they're just not serious enough.  I don't subscribe to that at all. 

Annie [00:11:14] Can we talk about your mom please? Because she sounds like a force, in terms of how she helped you to be who you are today, what kind of woman is she? And also how how was she in your house growing up? Like, what kind of presence was she? I suppose, to George?  Young George?

George [00:11:34] My mum is, um, my mum is a G. She's, very smart. Everyone in her life knows that. She was, like, top of the class when she was young. 

Annie [00:11:43] Right. 

George [00:11:44] She has an Indomitable spirit *laughs*. I think I talk about a point in my book when I was applying for university, and some of my teachers doubted my abilities, and my mom came and told them and set them straight because my teachers were telling me, you're not going to get into this, you're not going to get into that. And she came down to the school and she's like, I think he is, and I did. But I drew that belief from her. So she instilled within me a very, very, *pauses* high expectation of myself. She instilled a spiritual discipline, which was all about prayer, even at times where I just felt like my faith was really being tested. Even if hers was tested. She would say to me. You have to believe you just got to be able to see past what is obvious, what is immediately in front of you. So she's been a huge influence and I really attribute a lot of my success to my mum. 

Annie [00:12:42] How many, siblings were in the house when you were growing up? How many babies did your mama have? 

George [00:12:48] There's six of us? *laughs*

Annie [00:12:50] Six kids?! Okay. And so when you think about that, the six of you growing up. And then we get to your childhood change question, which is- well, let me ask you, what was the biggest change of your childhood? 

George [00:13:05] Going to secondary school was by far the biggest change of my childhood. It meant leaving my area and it meant stepping into a culture, a grammar school. Imagine coming from an estate that is predominantly Black, not just predominantly white, working class, completely working class, and very diverse. You know, some people are from Somalia, some people are from Jamaica. There's a kind of music we listen to, there's food that we eat, completely stepping out of that, and entering the school that was named after Queen Eliz- it was it was made in the time, it was founded in the era of the Tudors. That's the world I stepped into. 

Annie [00:13:44] So, before we get to your experience in school, to get to that school, your mother, what did she do? 

George [00:13:53]  *laughs fondly* My mum trained me! My mum literally had to become my tutor, mainly with maths. She was really concerned -she did all this research about- remember that this is an immigrant she'd only come to, she'd only been in this country for maybe just over a decade by that point. And she noticed that the local schools had quite a low expectation of us, me and my brother. 

Annie [00:14:13] Yeah. 

George [00:14:14] And she was like, well, I can't rely on school to prepare my sons for the real world or to unlock their potential. So she just started tutoring me, literally teaching me the curriculum, training me, buying practice tests for me to just- and I hated it. I hated every minute of it. But *reflects* her hard work got me into that school. I mean, both of our work, but her initiative got me into the school. 

Annie [00:14:42] So you talk about the school being a completely different world. You gave us the context of where you came from. But what was it like when you got there into the school? How did it feel? 

George [00:14:55] One thing that I will never forget is feeling like I was surrounded by geniuses. I respect anyone who's good at what they do. And even though I was out of my cultural comfort zone. And even though I was one of only nine Black kids in my year, I just had such respect for the ,*aside* it was a boys school - I had such respect for the boys that  I was in class with, because *enthusiastically* I'll give you one example I'll never forget... 

Annie [00:15:24] Okay. 

George [00:15:25] One time in science , yeah. The teacher said, why is it that some copper coins are non-magnetic? And this kid raised his hand and he said, after 1990- whatever it was, they started using a certain metal in coins, and that metal was magnetic and the other ones weren't. And I promise you, this was year eight, so we can't have been older than 13 years old. But I was like, what the hell is going on?!

Annie [00:15:59] How do people know this?! *laughs*

George [00:16:02] Who has that information?! How did you know that?! So yeah, I love being around that standard, but I was also, I was trying to get kicked out of the school for the first three years - If I'm honest, I just didn't want to be there. 

Annie [00:16:14] And because it felt too alien to what you knew, was it that sense? 

George [00:16:18] Yeah, and it was quite strict,  I'm not going to lie. It was, it's not just that people are different is also that I felt that it was a very rigid culture. You know, you had to cut your hair a certain way, if you tried to, if you cut your hair the wrong way, you'd be in trouble, if you unbuttoned your top button and you'd get at detention. All of that felt like, it felt very unnecessary. Very weird *laughs* so yeah, for those reasons, I just didn't want to be there.

Annie [00:16:47] Music was a big part of your life around then?  I think? Am I right in saying? You know, yeah. Um And you talk in the book about having a teenage obsession with changing the rules of rap. 

George [00:17:00] Mhm, yeah yeah. 

Annie [00:17:00] What did you want to change and why? 

George [00:17:03] So I loved rap music. But I always find it strange that the same narrative was being spotlighted. And then we became rappers, and a lot of my peers started voicing the narrative that we grew up on in the music, and I felt that a better use of our talent would be to give voice to a better way because the narrative that we were promoting was full of problems. All we ever did was ever talk about our problems, or present ourselves as a problem. And I just didn't understand that. I didn't understand it. So I always wanted to change that.

[00:17:44] *Short musical Interlude*

Annie [00:17:54] Can I ask about Uganda? So you got into Cambridge. You referred to that to start the conversation. You're ahead of year. Discouraged you from applying to Cambridge. Your mum went in for your case. You took a year out, you did some exams, you got in before you went to Cambridge. You went to Uganda, which is the country where your mum and dad were born and grew up. Yeah. How did that change you? A five month trip to Uganda at that age? 

George [00:18:22] Annie mate, that changed everything. I saw that there was a world beyond, quote unquote, urban Black Britain. Black London is all I really knew. I didn't know about the Black Midlands or anything. So, going to Uganda, I got some glimpse of how big the world is, when I was there as well I didn't feel like a Black person. The issue of being Black just never came up. Course issues came up *laughs*. There were many, many, problems and other sort of divides in Ugandan society, which I learned about as well. But, I was fortunate in just having a window outside of our context over here and getting a glimpse into not just who I could have been in Uganda, but also the range of life, the way that the extremes of poverty and wealth in Uganda, the different ways people respond to hardship, the fact that the people can smile and laugh and take heart in the smallest things, even though they're in the most dire circumstances. It was such a contrast from what I've seen in London that it just *pause* it changed me. 

Annie [00:19:40] And in the book, you're trying to kind of figure out why all these people who you meet still smile through such harsh adversity and and you use the word calm like so many of them are calm and you feel like it's something to do with the sense of belonging, living in their ancestral country, living where their generations and generations of generations people lived before *inhales* as a first generation immigrants in London, you're a second generation immigrant, I'm just interested in that sense of *pauses* of belonging. Obviously, there's an entirely different, you know, racial element to yours as well. But like, just that sense of belonging and, what it does for you as a person? 

George [00:20:24] Yeah. 

Annie [00:20:25] When you are where your people have always been. You know what I mean? 

George [00:20:30] It's a powerful thing. It's a powerful thing. And I'd love to get your view on this. Because growing up, I just didn't realise the weight of history between Ireland and Britain- or England. But growing up I had gone from not having been educated about race. Only knowing that there was slavery in America. Not knowing anything about racism in Britain. To then becoming a teenager and having a very bad relationship with the police and noticing that there weren't many, if any, state institutions that I felt like I had a good relationship with or my community. And obviously noticing the racial ordering of my community, being that where I was from, a low income area was predominantly migrant, predominantly Black. 

Annie [00:21:21] Yeah. 

George [00:21:22] And then to get a good education, I went to a space that was very it had very few Black people. Grappling with those questions for a long time is very confusing if you don't have any kind of - you don't have a framework, no one's talking you through it. But when I got to Uganda, it was just obvious that life is a lot less confusing when you are connected to the society. 

Annie [00:21:48] That's the word. 

George [00:21:49] And you're connected to that society's history. That's how I felt.

Annie [00:21:53] Yeah. To answer your question, about my experience of being a Irish person in London, that I had a genuine culture shock when I came here because I didn't understand how nobody knew about my country. They didn't know the difference between Dublin and Belfast, they didn't know about the famine. They didn't know about the history of oppression. To me, I had been all over the gaff. I'd lived in New York for summer. I'd done school exchange in Germany. I'd felt like quite travelled, but I'd never felt so, um, *pauses*, alien as I did arriving in England. 

George [00:22:30] -Is it? 

Annie [00:22:32] -In Hampshire and, being like, oh my God, nobody knows anything about where I'm from. And I found that really shocking. It took a while. They didn't know we had our own language. 

George [00:22:43] -And that wasn't experienced in New York and other places you'd been to?

Annie [00:22:45] *sighs* I guess there are loads of Irish in New York, and Germany, yes. I mean, I was there for six weeks or something, but. So yes, I did feel alien there, but I suppose upon going to England, I had a presumption that people would know because we're neighbouring countries, and I couldn't get over how few people had been there. And, you know, even you saying, I didn't know that much about the history, you didn't know because you weren't taught it. And that's what I learned, is that in in education here, no one is really taught about the history of imperialism as it really happened. And I know that's something you touch on again in the book. There's a bit where you're talking about how frustrating it is as a Black person trying to speak about issues of, you know, the Black experience in a white, predominantly white country because there's a sense of peoplen not, the base level of people, not getting that white supremacy is unnatural and not okay. And there's a kind of inherent arrogance in the way that, the ruling classes of this country, do not want to see or do not want to acknowledge or do not want to, uh admit, what's come before. 

George [00:23:53] Yeah. Yeah, that that in itself is the preservation of inequality, injustice, anger. As long as there is that institutional denial, we are pit against each other. You know, because it's kind of absurd for some people listening to our conversation. You big Annie Mac, everyone knows you. And I'm George The Poet, a lot of people know me and you saying, yeah, George, I sympathise with it, with you finding it hard to talk about your experience. A lot of people would be like, what are you talking about? You're famous, like you literally get to talk about your experience all the time. But it goes to what you said. No one has a base level, I mean the majority of the country, doesn't have a base level understanding. I could have gone the next 15 years of my career continuing to be in my Black liberal delusions, about as long as George is progressing and as long as we can get the next George and there's a female George, and there's a disabled George... 

Annie [00:24:54] Right. 

George [00:24:55] I would have just continued to look for these superficial indicators that as a society, we are reckoning with our challenges. No one would have stopped me, but, um, yeah. To take a more radical view, a more radical analysis of our of our challenges. Um the biggest barrier to progress is the institutional forgetfulness of this country, in my opinion. 

Annie [00:25:31] *Agrees*. You talk about, you know, radicalism and this sense of thinking of as opposed to kind of going with the rules and fitting in with the rules of the system we live in, which is which is the liberalist attitude. Radicalism is more like, no, we actually need an entirely new set of rules of how we live. *laughs* I am gonna ask you the impossible question now? How do you do that? 

George [00:25:57] It's not. It's not such an impossible question because people have been writing about this and agitating and demonstrating it for over a century. 

Annie [00:26:06] Yeah. 

George [00:26:06] People have been looking at what the nature of our political system is, what the nature of our economic system is, and have identified that in the in the case of Britain and the West in general, there's a real tight relationship between private wealth and government. And sometimes it's hard to tell one from the other. The advent of colonialism in this country was largely carried through private corporations. When groups of people could get together and put some money into an expedition that would go across the world and come back with goods. That was the beginning of what became colonialism. You know, when the British, when the English ruling class decided that the Irish over, over there, across the water, the story that they tell is that these people need our civilising, they need our organising, they need our technology in order to make the most of their land. What happens is that that lie carries on for centuries. And on the part of the British, there is this idea that we are bringing order and bringing civilisation to other people. But on the part of the oppressed, there is the understanding that these people believe themselves to be inherently superior. And there's there's no there's nothing that can break that belief. So people have been writing about this for a long time. People have been struggling against it. And I believe the study of that struggle is, how we move forward. 

Annie [00:27:48] So to create change, moving forwards for an equal society, I mean, asking these huge questions, it's about the eradication of capitalism. 

George [00:27:59] A lot of people believe that - I'm doing a PhD. And part of the reason I'm doing that is because I really want to get surgical with every line of my argument. So, I am aware that the way capitalism panned out has turned out to be anti-human in my opinion. Under its current formation, you know, I think the tyranny of Britain, once upon a time, France, and now the USA, the tyranny of - or the tyrannical impulses of these, um, establishments have led to a capitalism that is deeply unequal. I haven't done enough investigating to know if that is the only way capitalism can ever be, and also I can't look into the future, but, I do believe that moving away from a system where capital gets the final say above democracy, which is what we have now, the people of this country *laughs*. I think in the book I reference, a gross outcome of last year wherein amidst, cost of living crisis, inflation, a recession that we're now dealing with, one of the biggest, if I'm not mistaken, the biggest- or one of the biggest energy, companies in this country announced record profits of, I think, 100 times. I always think I'm making up this statistic. 

Annie [00:29:33] -because it can't be real. 

George [00:29:35] It can't be real. They made 72 billion last year. Was it 72 million last year? A grotesque amount. So these guys are literally in our face saying, look, there is money out here and the money is for us, you guys, you're gonna have to work when you're sick, you're gonna have to work for longer, you're gonna have to give up your labour rights. You're gonna have to give up your right to protest, and you're right to challenge us. And, this is the deal that we're offering you. If you don't like it, you can get out of our country *scoffs*. That is what capitalism is right now and something's got to change. 

Annie [00:30:12] You're doing a PhD at UCL. What is the name of the PhD that you're doing? 

George [00:30:17] I don't have it in a *laughs*, I don't have it in a short title. But what I'm looking into is the extent to which Black music can support or facilitate Black emancipation in the political and economic sense. Yeah. So Black music, the Black liberation effort. What's that relationship like? Is it a good relationship, or is it a relationship that needs work?

Annie [00:30:46] Yeah. You completed Cambridge in that time. You changed your style in that you were an avid rapper and you discovered that poetry and speaking poetry live to people without musical  accompaniment - sometimes with, was something that had a great effect on your audiences. You then got signed to Island Records when you were 22. As a poet. But I mean, please correct me if I'm wrong, as a poet, but who would release poetry with musical accompaniment? So it's not rap music per se, it's a new way of presenting words and music. You had your own dealings with the music industry in that time. You describe it in the book as a painful and necessary learning experience, being signed to a major label. How? 

George [00:31:36] I think when I got signed Annie, I expected that these guys signed me because I am different and we have the chance to do something more than sell some records. Even though selling records, I respected that project. I wanted to do that as well. So with my Black liberal hat on, I was like, I'm going to provide them with really forward thinking material, but I'm also going to provide them with easy to digest material. We will make stuff that is pop, but we will also make stuff that is, what I really want to make, it's experimental, it's hybrid, it's deep. Every time we discussed this, everyone in the office agreed that that's what we're doing from management to, you know, the label personnel. Everyone was like, okay, this is how marketing is going to help, this is how we're going to develop this, this is how we're going to position George. This is what we're going to aim for. Whenever we left the meetings, the opposite would happen. And I spent some time thinking this was a misunderstanding. It didn't take a year in for me to sit my manager down and say, "I think it's not a misunderstanding. I don't think they want what I want". I made an EP, The Chicken and The Egg. I was very proud of it. It was exactly what I wanted to make. It was deep. It was experimental. It was challenging. People often assume and a myth that is thrown out about the music industry a lot is that audiences can't take stuff that's too intelligent, or they can't take stuff that's too different. We have nothing to test that against because the music industry doesn't try and double down on, interesting and and challenging material. I had a strategy. I was like, look, because this music is so topical, it is about how a problematic relationship becomes a problematic family. So what we're going to do, we're going to debut this material in mother and baby units across the country. I know a lot of young mums in this situation. I know a lot of young people who would take to this material, I'm from that, I'm from that community. Trust me, if we go to them, they'll be on side, and there's so many of them across the world, sorry- across the country that, you know, to be, to be a bit of a, an arsehole about it - It's a it's a good oppor- It's a good commercial opportunity. There's a big target market there and I just found that no matter what logic I presented, no matter how undeniable the product was there was a resistance to supporting this material, but when I gave them lowest common denominator material, they went crazy. They put their money behind it. They, said that I had finally gotten what we're doing and, you know, they would feed me into the radio system, and I could have played that game. But I didn't want to. I said, my life is too, life's too short. I don't know that I've got that much time to play around, so I had to leave. 

Annie [00:34:43] *long pause* And. How did that whole two years of your life change? How you looked at music and also Black music and how it's presented to the world at large? 

George [00:34:55] Well, you know, and it took a while for the penny to drop because it was such a whirlwind that I didn't want to really-I didn't want to reach any conclusions too quickly. Just like when you ask me about capitalism now. There's clearly a conclusion I'm angling towards. 

Annie [00:35:10] *laughs* Yeah, yeah. 

George [00:35:11] But I want to be certain before I make certain statements. But yeah, at the time, I was like, okay, the challenge of having a professional music career is that managing the people around you is, is another job. And if they don't share your motivations. 

Annie [00:35:31] -And your values. 

George [00:35:32] And your values, it would be rare to find someone who ended up in the music industry for the same reasons that I did. 

Annie [00:35:39] Yeah. 

George [00:35:40] And as long as everyone is under this pressure of not having secure jobs, only being as big as your last hit, some people are blaggers. There's a lot of blaggers in the music industry, so there's not that much substance behind a lot of careers. So there is the impulse to cut corners and to lie. I'm like, look, it's just a it's too manipulative of a space. Maybe some good will be done by someone out there, but. I don't have the I don't I don't have the disposition for this environment. I got I got to remove myself. Looking back now, I feel that the media is a highly contested space of deep political importance, and the controllers of media are very selective about what ideas they will platform. 

[00:36:30] *Piano Interlude*

Annie [00:36:42] George, you cited getting married as the biggest change in your adult life. Can you tell us about how you met Sandra and also what it's like to become a dad? Has that changed? 

George [00:36:52] So I met Sandra when we were about 15 years old. And we just clicked instantly. We laughed every single time we spoke. And we looking back now, we always had the same values. But you know, when you're young, you know, I wasn't thinking too deeply about, um, relationships because I had such a good friendship with Sandra. I didn't want to, um *pauses*

Annie [00:37:20] Ruin it? 

George [00:37:21] Yeah. I don't want to ruin it. 

Annie [00:37:22] Compromise it? Yeah. 

George [00:37:24] Yeah, I know. We were just great as friends. We were just great as friends. And even though she's a pretty girl, I'm like, you know, we we have a great friendship. If we start dating, there's a strong chance that it's not going to be forever. Because I can't see forever right now. So, yeah, we were just friends forever, and...I think I reached a point where, I just didn't want to live my life without her, and I knew that I want to take care of her. Like I want to be, I want to be everything innit? I just want to be her everything. So that was sudden that hit me like in about in a space of about less than a year. And I had to come to her with my feelings. And she...this was new for both of us *laughs*

Annie [00:38:13] How old are you? 

George [00:38:14] I was 28 years old. 

Annie [00:38:15] Wow. So you've known her for 13 years as a friend? 

George [00:38:19] Yeah, yeah. 

Annie [00:38:19] That's deep. 

George [00:38:20] It's deep man because we didn't realise that in all that time. We were-because we had an honest friendship. If there was anything that we didn't like about each other, we would say, and we would fight it out and we would make up and we would forward. And we were supportive of everything that each other was doing. But that was the perfect foundation for what we would later become. 

Annie [00:38:42] Sure, yeah. 

George [00:38:43] So now being parents is just,it's surreal. I used to say to my wife, I'm me. You're you. We came together and now there's a new person who we have to learn. 

Annie [00:38:56] *whispers* Yes!

George [00:38:56] He's not. He's not either of us. He's not both of us. He's him. 

Annie [00:39:00] How old is he? 

George [00:39:03] Ten months. 

Annie [00:39:04] Ten months. Okay. And how's your sleep? 

George [00:39:08] It's getting back. It's getting there. He's cool man. He's a team player. 

Annie [00:39:13] So much of your work is around movements and it strikes me upon reading about you and and, like, consuming your work, that you have moved through very extreme worlds in your life, whether it's Saint Ralph's where you grew up to grammar school, Cambridge, obviously extremely different worlds to how you grew up and then London, Uganda as well. Like how do you manage to move through these worlds without feeling kind of discombobulated? 

George [00:39:45] You know what Annie? You look people in the eye and you just tell the truth. And what happens, happens. That's why I feel uncomfortable with the way rap music conditioned us when we were younger. Instead of us presenting our narrative and saying, I'm from Uganda, I'm a big brother, I'm a son, I'm a student. All of that was flattened and we ended up saying, I'm the best MC, can't test me, I get all the girls, I get all the money. And it's just impossible that we're all the best, and we all get all the girls and we all get all the money! That's not everyone's narrative. 

Annie [00:40:24] Yeah.

George [00:40:25] So I thought that long term, if I try, I can get good at imitating that person and maybe I'll become successful. But that wasn't my disposition, so I would struggle to present myself like that as a rapper. So all I did was look the audience in the eye and say, this is exactly who I am. This is exactly what my dilemma is, and this is what I hope for the future. And I've just done that over and over again. When I got to Cambridge, I was very uncomfortable, but I became a poet in order to continue communicating my narrative, to new audiences. And that took me to media, which took me to, it took me back to academia. So everywhere I go, all I'm doing is being frank about what I think I know. And I've been fortunate that the communication skills I have developed along the way have made that easy. 

Annie [00:41:25] In order for you to tell the truth, you need to know yourself. You need to know the truth of how you feel. Yeah, and people walk through an entire lifetime and not know how they really feel, what they really want, who they really are. They're not connected to themselves. How are you so connected to yourself? 

George [00:41:44] Ah well. It all starts with being fortunate. I've been fortunate to be born into a family that's interested in who I am. A lot of people don't have that blessing. 

Annie [00:41:54] Yeah. 

George [00:41:54] You know, parents that would talk to me about who I'm becoming. Little siblings who looked up to me, that forced me to think very deeply about what I'm exposing them to. 

Annie [00:42:08] Right. 

George [00:42:08] And how I'm representing them. That commute from our community to my school was very important because I would see so many different communities, I would meet so many different people, and then I would come home to people that weren't able to move out and couldn't see more of the world. 

Annie [00:42:29] Yeah. 

George [00:42:30] So all of that, all of these dynamics, I'm not going to act like I was in control of all of them, but I've seen the benefit of being able to pass through different spaces. And because I've retained relationships in all of these different spaces. 

Annie [00:42:47] Yeah. 

George [00:42:48] I've always had to go back and translate. 

Annie [00:42:52] You're translator *smiles*

George [00:42:54] I think so *laughs quietly*

Annie [00:42:57] Coming back to belonging and a sense of belonging that you experienced when when you were in Uganda, seeing how people there's an inherent sense of they they are where they're supposed to be. Your work over your lifetime has been seems to be like a constant exploration of where you have come from and how you fit into the world. This desire to need to know that. Does that give you something in terms of a sense of belonging? In terms of knowing where you fit into the big jigsaw like and how you fit there? Is there something in that? 

George [00:43:31] Yeah. I think over time, what it what it gives you is, a grounding. It gives you some kind of anchor. It was hard for me to understand this when I was younger, because I just started life and I wanted to know where I was going to end up. But we all have decisions to make and we need a compass in terms of which path we choose. So I needed to know, once upon a time, I wanted to become an MP. 

Annie [00:44:00] Yeah. 

George [00:44:01] And I wanted to leave uni straight into politics. But learning more about my position in the country made that not seem like the best idea and I pivoted and I became an artist because I felt that I'm going to be able to be more honest as an artist than I would be as an MP. So knowledge of self and an understanding of your position in relation to others enables you to step in the direction that you that you believe in, and it gives you discernment and it helps you know what is not for you. When I was young on my estate, a lot of a lot of people were making a lot of money, and I liked the look of it. I wouldn't say I was above it if I could have made money in the same way as them, I would have. But I didn't, because I think there was so many indicators that this isn't for me. I just knew, you know, but because I knew myself and a lot of man, they didn't really know so they ended up not in the best position because they because they went with the pathway that was presented to them, the path of least resistance. And it weren't all their fault, they were kids. 

Annie [00:45:12] Of course not, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

George [00:45:14] You know, but at the end of the day, we all have to take what we're given and make some sense of it. So the only way you could do that is to know who you are. 

[00:45:25] *Piano Interlude*

Annie [00:45:36] Final question, George. What is the change you would like to see moving forwards? 

George [00:45:42] I want an equal world Annie.  I want a world of equality and a freedom. I've stayed away from saying stuff like that throughout my whole career because I'm a poet, and I always feel that there is a more beautiful way of putting stuff. But I just can't. You can't simplify that. Do we have an equal world? I spoke to you earlier when I was talking about the relationship between Africa and Europe in terms of trade relations, migration and political formation. I would like to see a world in which the playing field is levelled. And you don't have to be born in the right city. You don't have to be born to the right parents in order to have a shot at fulfilling your potential. That's what I want to see. 

Annie [00:46:32] Illmatic by Nas was 30 years old on Friday. Let's end on some poetry. What is your favourite Nas lyric? Sorry to put you on the spot. 

George [00:46:45] Oh. My.God. 

Annie [00:46:45] *laughs* 

George [00:46:45] You must be...You must have powers! Lucky for you, I was just thinking about this yesterday. Nas is talking about turning 20 in this lyric

Annie [00:46:59] Yeah. 

George [00:46:59] "I woke up early on my born day. I'm 20 its a blessing. The essence of adolescence leave my body now I'm fresh and my physical frame is celebrated because I made it one quarter through life. And then he goes, "I switched my motto instead of saying F tomorrow that buck that bought a bottle could have struck the lotto". It's a lot better when you sitting in his accent with the swearing. 

Annie [00:47:22] And the New York accent - Yeah. 

George [00:47:23]  A New York accent, yeah. *Imitating New York accent* I said, I switched my motto instead of saying fuck tomorrow. that buck that bought a bottle could have struck the lotto. I love that, I love that because, yeah, in that little line, he captures how differently life can turn out according to your opportunities. Put it like that. But yeah, that's just one of a million lives I could have chosen, I don't have one. From Life's a Bitch. 

Annie [00:47:46] George. Thank you so much for this, for your time and for your, for your wisdom. I really appreciate it. Thank you. 

George [00:47:55] Thank you Annie ,this has been such a meaningful conversation. 

Annie [00:48:01] Track Record: Me, Music and the War on Blackness is out now. I urge you to buy it and read it. It is really, really, honestly such a brilliant and really important book to read in terms of mind expansion. It's just incredible. Thank you so much to George for today. Thank you for listening to changes. Do please rate and subscribe to the podcast. It means the world. Share it around two with your friends and fam. Let us know what you thought of the episode on Instagram, you can find me there @AnnieMacManus or we have an email address That is changes pod -all one word- at Get in touch. Let us know what you think of the episodes. Anything you want to say at all, we just love to hear from you. We will be back on Monday. Changes is produced by Louise Mason with assistant production from Anna DeWolf Evans through DIN productions. See you next week! 

[00:48:54] *Musical Outro*