After graduating with a law degree, Yaw Owusu’s fascinating career path has involved everything from managing artists, creating podcasts and landmark music concepts, to curating huge events such the Liverpool International Music Festival. Along the way he has become a key proponent in tackling racism in the music industry.
When and what was your first live music experience and what impact did it have on you?
I can vividly remember the Caribbean carnival in Liverpool. I was around five but can accurately recall the scale of it all. It gave me the understanding early on that live music was more than just performance – it was about the entire holistic experience, the connection between the performer and audience.
You have a law degree, what led you to get involved in music and events?
I have always loved music, but I just didn’t know it could be something I could build a career around. A law career was suggested by my school career advisor, maybe because I was quite academic.
I started managing my cousin Kof during the height of UKG & Grime and we started a business called URBEATZ. The company was a vehicle to support his artistic career goals, but also became a conduit for other creatives who had a passion for original Black music and creativity.
In 2011 you set up Nothin But The Music which has seen you work on music events with clients including MTV, Liverpool International Music Festival and MOBO. What inspired you to set it up, and 10 years on what are the moments that stand out?
We wanted to establish a more commercially focused entity and not get watered down by the challenges and expectations of community-focused and publicly funded activities. We created Nothin But The Music, and it allowed us to work fluidly with brands, organisations and individual creatives.
Standout moments include the first year of Liverpool International Music Festival, we had more than 200,000 people attend. BET Music Matters was our first European live event, which was broadcast to 90 million homes, and in 2017 I conceptualised and coordinated Garage Classical – which celebrated UK Garage music by coupling it, for the first time, with a full orchestra.
You recently merged with The Playmaker Group, what key projects are you working on now?
In 2021, we have already produced a chart-topping music podcast for Spotify, a range of weekly shows for BBC Radio 1Xtra and the Asian Network, a series for CBBC and documentaries and specials for 6 Music, Radio 4 and the World Service. We have just announced that we will be producing a national tour for unsigned UK R&B artists, spearheaded by BBC Radio 1Xtra presenter and champion of all things R&B, Ace.
You are the senior manager of PRS Foundation’s POWER UP initiative – how important is its work and what progress has been made?
The need for POWER UP cannot be understated; the music industry for the longest has been an inequitable place for Black music professionals – whether music creators or behind the scenes.
Already the ‘powering up’ process has been amazing – with many of the group moving up in organisations or growing their own, getting on to key boards, being able to deliver artistic projects that have real worth but may not have been supported elsewhere and perhaps more importantly being part of a tribe that supports and understands them.
Who has influenced you the most over the years?
I have been hugely influenced in recent years by the approach of people like the designer Willow Perron, the architect Dan Meis, cultural connector Steve Stoute and the artist/creative businessmen Jay-Z and Pharrell.
If you could change one thing about the live music industry, what would it be?
The sector needs to be more diverse. Not just on stages but everywhere, the whole ecosystem.