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Dancing To Disarm: in conversation with Awate

On July 22 & 23 you can join CAAT in London for It Starts Here, a weekend of speakers, workshops and training ready to challenge the DSEI arms fair in September. On the evening of 22 July,  Dance To Disarm will bring together spoken word, live music and DJ sets, to raise funds for CAAT’s work and celebrate our resistance to the arms fair.

Awate is a rapper, producer and activist who grew up on the Maiden Lane Estate in North London. A resident at Camden’s iconic Roundhouse venue, he has toured worldwide with Lowkey and gained vocal support from some huge names, including Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Idris Elba and Pharaohe Monche. Awate will be bringing his blend of soulful and politically conscious hip-hop to move and inspire us at Dance To Disarm: his music powerfully tackles subjects like identity, history, racism and pride over a forward thinking blend of soulful and psychedelic beats.

CAAT’s Tom Barns caught up with Awate to talk about why he opposes the arms trade and why he is looking forward to playing at our Dance To Disarm event this summer.

An photo of rapper Awate performing with the 'Dance To Disarm' logo overlaid

Awate – Photo: Jake Lewis – Design: Matt Bonner

TB: Hi Awate! We are so excited to have you on the bill for Dance To Disarm! Can you start by telling me why you support the campaign against arms fairs and the arms trade? 

Awate: Definitely. As an Eritrean, and as a refugee from somewhere that was formerly within British administration, it’s clear that the role that Britain plays in selling arms around the world, which is often under the guise of humanitarian assistance, and to regimes that the UK is publicly critical of… Well, it’s one of the catalysts and main reasons why we have such a refugee crisis and why we have so much suffering around the world. It’s simply a veiling of capitalism and a prioritising money… And it’s a lack of respect for the non-white life. In the words of Mos Def “the length of the black life is treated with short worth”.

TB: Yes. The damage that has been done by Britain’s colonial past and it’s links with contemporary dyanamics like the promotion of the arms trade and the current border crisis tend to be completely ignored. We really need to raise more awareness of those arguments so we can get more people on side towards ending the arms trade…

Awate: Yes. I think there are already more than enough weapons to go round! The arms trade should be completely abolished, production should be shut down cos there is no reason to have it.

You can do a lot of stuff with steel, you can build trains, you don’t need to build missiles and bombs. They argue on the basis of jobs, but it doesn’t make sense. Say a thousand people in the UK get jobs, but they’re making stuff that will kill thousands more brown people around the world! So the jobs argument is completely unethical.

TB: We definitely agree with that – the role of the arms trade in the UK economy tends to be drastically overstated, and investment and jobs would actually be more profitable for the UK invested in other industries that actually benefit society.
Much of your music has a really inspiring and political message, which draws on your own experiences, for example the powerful clip in the video for your track ‘out here’ of your experience of racist policing at an anti-racism demo. You obviously make an active choice to bring politics into your music, why do you think its important to do that?

Awate: I in no way bring politics to anything… cos it’s always there, it’s in everything. I’m black…I’m a black working class musician from a council estate… in London…who didn’t go to private school. The racist metropolitan police have destroyed black people’s ability to express and create and share, their targeting of black musicians – people who try to make an honest living through making music – by shutting down our shows and tours, has had an effect on our expression and our ability to even write. This feeds into the creative process, it makes people do music that’s more sugar coated and doesn’t address the inherent problems in our communities: problems that are created by systematic neglect.

And that neglect is created by the same politicians that are on board with arms companies and go to the arms fairs and their board meetings and shake hands with foreign diplomats just to support the arms industry… which basically just makes money for old white guys.

TB: That is such an important and powerful link to make. We think it’s really important to engage local communities and bring different struggles together, which is why we are linking lots of groups up to challenge London’s arms fair this September through the It Starts Here weekend over 22-23 July, and the Dance To Disarm evening gig that you are playing. Why do you think its important for campaigns like ours to run events like that?

Awate: It’s important for people to come together and know that they are not alone in their opinions. Especially as the government puts in more and more repressive surveillance policies which can make you feel like being involved in democracy is dangerous. So seeing other people and showing solidarity helps reinforce that basic right and need to have a say.

The event specifically will be an informative and entertaining way to help take the campaign against the arms fair to its next step, but I see it as something deeper as well, where we can come together on an emotional and social level. It’s a night where we can come together to build community, show solidarity and be proud of speaking out against the arms trade.

Join Awate at Rich Mix, East London on the evening July 22 at Dance to Disarm. 
To see the full line-up for Dance To Disarm and get your ticket, see: caat.org.uk/d2d or book your free ticket for the It Starts Here daytime events and receive a cheeky discount for Dance to Disarm. But hurry! There’s only a limited amount of £6.50 tickets available. 
Awate’s EP ‘Shine Ancient’ is out now and available on Bandcamp.

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