INTERVIEW: A sit down with Ace [@DJACE] to talk CDX Festival, Diversity, and more

The BBC’s Creative Diversity Xperience, CDX, is a two day festival all about championing and helping diverse talent within the creative industries.

As part of the CDX line up BBC Radio 1Xtra’s DJ Ace, the man with the number one R&B show in the country, is going to be sitting down with the multi-Grammy award winning H.E.R. With that in mind and knowing he’s had an interesting journey within the industry we had a Zoom call to discuss some of the things Ace hopes to see change within the industries, a bit about his journey, and even a sneak peak into the conversation he’ll be having with H.E.R.

Zweli: In your words how would you describe CDX?

Ace: I think it’s a necessary festival and that I’m excited about and an opportunity for ethnic creatives to get together and share ideas, content and stories. I was literally just watching a programme before the call and so many amazing things are coming out. So many different people sharing their experiences in the creative industries some good some bad and I just think it’s going to be a really good two days and eye opening for young people that want to get into the creative industries. But also for those already within the industries who may be facing some difficulties just hearing other people’s stories and how others may have gone through similar things will hopefully quite comforting for some people as well.

Z: What drew you to working on CDX?

A: I think especially during this time and everybody’s, especially me, has found somebody that’s found their voice a bit more and I’m hearing so many different stories. Whether it was about things people have faced, difficulties they’ve faced within the creative industries, or problems with lack of diversity that people haven’t mentioned before. A hub where you’re hearing from icons and influencers that have gone through it and have come through the other side, or those still in it, I just wanted to be a part of that. I think it’s important to share knowledge and information, especially with the younger generation, so it was just something I definitely wanted to be involved in.

Z: What panel/talk are you most looking forward to besides your own?

A: Like I said I was just watching Nesta McGregor, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Noel Clarke and that was really interesting. I’m a massive fan of Michaela Coel, I think she’s got an amazing brain. She’s obviously very talented and very funny but I also think she has an amazing way of thinking and she just really gets it [CDX], so I’m really looking forward to her talk.

Z: This isn’t the only BBC initiative that works towards diversity in the industry, how important is it for you to work in a company that does try to reflect society and support underrepresented groups?

A: It’s everything. It’s obviously comforting to be able to go into a work environment where you know people will look like you. Also not just for me necessarily, but knowing that the younger people are going to be able to progress within various roles within the company and them being able to look at the top of the company and not just see white faces or one class of people. I think it’s so important that people can go and work somewhere and feel like they can work anywhere within that company. It’s so important for everyone to be able to feel represented in a place that they go and work every day, so yeah it’s essential.

I see it, I see more movement happening, and it makes me happy. But I do think is essential, so important. I think every company needs to make sure they’re looking at who’s on the boards who’s in those high offices. Diversity is not just having Black people work for you because yes, you can have Black people work and in lower entry level positions. But are those black people progressing at the same level as their white counterparts? Are the Black people making decisions? All of that is important. So I think it’s just essential that we have diversity in all workplaces.

Z: You’ve had a an interesting career path, one I’m sure a lot of people would want to follow. You started your journey at the BRIT school how did that help you?

A: It’s funny, I chaired a panel with some Black creatives that came from the BRIT school Percy from Mandem On The Wall and Jamz Supernova. We had quite a few people and we all went to the BRIT school and are alumni but what we all kind of agreed is that at the BRIT school, you are judged on your talent. You are no different to anybody, anybody else like it, you are judged on how good you are or whatever your talent is. And that’s great and that’s awesome and a great place to start. But once you leave there, you’re not necessarily taught that there are certain barriers that come with being a person of colour.

So although I feel like it shaped my talent, I don’t necessarily think it got me ready for the real world. But in regards to my talent 100% I would have never wanted to go anywhere else. I learned everything there is to know about radio and the medium of radio from the BRIT school. So I’m glad I went there. But I think there’s also lessons to be learned about how sometimes unfair the industry is and that’s why I think CDX is an important thing. Because you might look at Michaela Cole and think, “she’s killing it, she’s on TV”, but we don’t necessarily know the story about how she got there. You might look at Ace and be like, “oh my god Ace is on 1xtra”, but you don’t necessarily know like, what kind of barriers I’ve had to face get into my position. So I think CDX is important because we get to hear these stories as well.

Z: How did you learn to manoeuvre in those spaces once you weren’t being judged solely on your talent?

A: I think just a lot of making mistakes. I think there’s a lot of things I had to learn coming up. Especially lcoming out of the BRIT school and then going straight into a corporate environment like the BBC. No one really teaches you how to manoeuvre around corporate.

I think where I’ve come from, I’m a black boy from South London, single parent home, I have certain things [in my life] that may not be comfortable for people that are in those environments. And I think being able to maneuver in those buildings and being able to be comfortable around certain people is a skill, and something that no one really taught me. So I feel like all of that stuff kind of came a little bit later. But it was a lot of making mistakes, and then picking myself up and keep going. But I think right now, it’s kind of a responsibility that we teach the next generation, “this is what you’re supposed to do. This is how you’re supposed to move.”. So that they don’t have to make those mistakes and there’s a quicker elevation.

Z: We know that there are still issues with diversity across the creative industries at various levels, what are some of the things you hope CDX will help to highlight or change about that?

A: I want young creatives to watch different programs on CDX and just know that it’s everything is possible. Like there’s absolutely nothing stopping you. And we are in a great time. There’s a lot of, there’s a lot more opportunities now. And a lot of things that happened in a needle is moving and it is a great time to jump on your idea. Get ideas from some people that may have influenced you.

And also as well, like it’s not necessarily just always about being on the mic or being in front of the camera there is loads of different creative jobs behind the scenes. I was just watching Noel Clark talk about how people don’t know that there are carpenters for film, you can be a film carpenter or like a boom operator or all of these kinds of different things and we don’t really hear that. There are so many different jobs behind the scenes that you can get involved in and that might be your passion, you don’t even know. So I just think it’s an open book. And it’s a great platform for people to find out more about the creative industries.

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Z: You are speaking to the grammy award winning H.E.R, can you give us a sneak peak into what you really want to speak with her about?

A: I’m an R&B fan, people know that. I’ve got the number one R&B show in the country, of course. But she’s is my favourite R&B artist, my favourite new school artist. And we did an interview, I believe last year just after she won two Grammys, and it’s just gonna be a catch up and literally just talking to her about what it’s been like on lockdown. I know that she’s like very fueled by live and not being able to perform live, I really want to know how that’s affected her. I can imagine, especially right now during festival season, I know she would have had loads of shows lined up and ready to go. And I can imagine this just hasn’t been the easiest time. So I just really want to know how she’s manoeuvred during lockdown, and she has a really, really powerful song called ‘I Can’t Breathe’. We’ve got to talk about that, which is obviously relatable to everything that’s going on at the moment. So we’re just gonna we’re gonna chop it up, man.

Z: Beyond CDX how do you think the creative industries can help create a more inclusive and representative culture?

A: I think more things like this, it can’t just be this one CDX, I think we need more more panels, more discussions. Another thing, which I am seeing, is a lot more of the veterans in the scene coming back and reaching out for the younger and saying “what do you want to do? How can I help you?” And then really just sharing that information.

It is really, sometimes down to some of the younger generation to look up and reach out to that person. Sometimes young people have this thing about begging it or just trying to do it on their own, forget that, ask for information on how you can make things happen. Ask if you can sit in on a show or to be a runner for a set or whatever it is that you want to do, just reach out. I think we’re all sharing information. We’re all sharing experiences at the moment and we’re all willing to help each other I think right now as well. Especially during this time of a pandemic, like it’s about helping each other, reach out, send that email, drop that dm, tweet. Just try and reach out to people, get information, share information, and reach out to people that you think can help you.

Z: What’s coming next from you?

A: I’m back on air, which I’m happy about. I’ve been off my daytime show since March. And I’m back to regular schedule on the 10th of August, which I’m looking forward to. We’ve got so many more R&B interviews, I’ve been doing a lot of like, throwback R&B interviews, I just did a really big one with Mya, I’ve got Ray J coming up on the show this week, Jaz Karis. I’m just carrying on supporting R&B and pushing it forward and that’s new generation and old generation as well and I’m just really enjoying it.

You can catch Ace speaking to H.E.R at 4.30pm on the BBC CDX website here.

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