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The Comedy of Errors

Inspiring the Next Generation: Shekayla Maragh on Running Workshops to Help Musicians Create Lasting Jobs in the Industry

21 April 21 interview: Eileen Pegg
illustrations: Anna Keo

Tenacious, driven, yet always humble, Shekayla Maragh is a cultural producer making moves for musicians in the Midlands. Supporting minority musical talent on a regional level, encouraging people to have ownership, equality and build careers with integrity and longevity is important to Shekayla. She turned down a traditional industry A&R role in London to carve out her own organic career path; staying curious and being empowered by her work is also key. Led by her passion, she launched musical development agency, CUBE, in 2019...

Following the impact of Coronavirus on the arts, this local focus has never been more important, alongside the need to support and create wider opportunities within music. Using lockdown as an opportunity to “prioritise rest and develop a deeper understanding of what it means to centre care in my practice”, this doesn’t mean that the past twelve months have been quiet for Shekayla – CUBE has just finished its first virtual music production course for womxn and gender minority talent, powered by Ableton and led by respected singer/songwriter and producer, Emmavie.

Ahead of CUBE’s next workshop at the end of April, Shekayla shares more about her agency, her work and her plans for the future… 

Can you tell us some more about CUBE? 
I wanted to create spaces for the thinkers, dreamers, and doers of my music community by providing inclusive industry opportunities and bring value by helping to build inroads to the wider music sector. We have worked with industry professionals like Musicians' Union, Ableton, Suzi Analogue and more to make the above happen. 

I love building ideas and giving them a form through music because I want to invite voices who are overshadowed by those better equipped to tell their stories. Meaningful access to the arts is foundational to my work identity.  

That said, I recognise it is going to take a collective effort across the sector to help smash that popular imagination of there being "a lack of infrastructure". While that is true, I do think things are beginning to shift in the right direction to lessen that imbalance. It's a marathon, and we need tailored investment in regional talent so that we can be seen as the vibrant cultural melting pot that we are. 

You’ve spent time working in Birmingham before returning to Nottingham – what experience will you bring back with you?
I chose Birmingham because I love its creative energy. It gave me my first stable, industry job and breathable space to test ideas. It hasn't been that long since I reconnected with Notts – a lot has changed, in a good way! 

I'm learning about the creative scene and incredible individuals who are doing good work and championing the city. Collaboration and working interdependently with the right people can cook up some powerful remedies. This is something I have witnessed through our music production courses. 

Being aware of what is happening locally and contributing to the ecosystem helps me to understand the needs which influence project design and how it can bring value to the community it intends to serve. It is super important that projects are steered by those who have lived experiences in the city because we understand how to make it land authentically. 

You’ve also been working in other events across the UK and the EU with Keychange, how did you get involved in that?
There's a lot of responsibility that comes with freelancing, a large part of that is being in the right networks that can support your career trajectory. As overwhelming as the creative industries are, you have to show up for yourself and trust the process. I got involved with Keychange as an innovator because someone I had met at the Sorveiv music summit in Norway a few years ago encouraged me to apply. Having mentors and people that champion you and your work are so important because they might see something in you before you see it.  

Collaboration and working interdependently with the right people can cook up some powerful remedies.

Do you think having this wider experience impacts any of your work back in the Midlands?
100%. When I go to new places and spaces, I am here to learn and when necessary, speak up. It has enabled me to build relationships with good people who are interested in what CUBE does and support the vision. Sometimes I leave feeling energised and I want to use that currency to do good work, hopefully. 

What drives you to work in music over other creative practices? 
Music is boundless and provides a voice for storytelling, and it's through the sharing of our stories that closes the gap of misunderstanding. Music intersects so many different art forms effortlessly. Art forms continue to blur the lines and I find that crazy fascinating. It is the melding of disciplines that keeps me curious to see how far music and art can go, especially when you work from a place of inclusivity and provide artists with the right tools to create, experiment and play. Also, please pay them. 

I have an affinity for creativity but I don't consider myself as a musician or DJ, although I can curate a banging playlist! [Shekayla has been showcasing these skills on Mimm radio, hosting 'Where it's warm' playing a selection of sounds that make us feel warm]

I have a sensitivity for artists, especially those working in the independent sector, because choosing a career in music isn’t easy. There is an ongoing knowledge gap between artists and the business because it's in constant flux with the development of new technologies like NFTs, which looks promising for artists in having more control over their Intellectual Property. And then there's finding your audience to make a livelihood in a highly competitive market. 

Those challenges increase when you sit in a marginalised group. It's still 95% of men who make up the workforce in music tech roles and that remaining 5% is still unrepresented with gender minorities and women of colour. It makes sense to create work that helps people who need it most and, inevitably, I'm driven by that because I'm part of that community. 

What are your plans for CUBE in the future?
We have another online music production course running at the end of April with the wonderful artist/producer Emmavie for womxn based in the Midlands, powered by Ableton. If you are interested in learning about the fundamentals of production this is for you. And it's free.   

There are a couple of projects developing behind the scenes so if you want to keep in the loop, get involved or support what CUBE is doing, let's connect. 

@wearecubespace
@shekayla_maragh 

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