Her work is known to celebrate diversity and support emerging artists in underground scenes worldwide. Tabitha Thorlu-Bangura is a fresh and vibrant figure in London’s contemporary art and music scene. Curator, radio presenter and DJ, Tabitha works on a number of projects programming initiatives in multiple fields which are both engaging and rigorous. This Friday, she's running the event Dreaming/Diasporas at Somerset House Studios, which is linked to the major new exhibition held by Somerset House, titled Get Up, Stand Up Now, which celebrates the impact of fifty years of Black creativity in Britain and beyond. The events are taking place this summer from June to August, starting this Friday, June 14.
Hi Tabitha, you are a London-based cultural programmer working at the intersection of live music, radio and visual arts. You’ve also produced and presented radio broadcasts for the Serpentine, and arranged multi-venue music festivals across London. When did your passion for music and culture arise? And what do they mean to you?
I started consciously being a music nerd in my teens, like most people – it's pretty typical to use music as a tool for carving out a new identity for yourself. My sister did tell me a story the other day about me dancing and singing along to Pato Banton when I was about three years old, so maybe the obsession runs deeper than I think. But even as a teenager, my love for music was about forming deeper connections with people, not just exploring my own identity – I listened to Frank Sinatra for months when my nan said he was her favourite musician. There's been a lot of discussion in recent years about the political power of the dance floor and 'underground culture' in general. To me, that starts with a prioritization of empathy over ego.
You are also a DJ under the name TTB. Coming from Freetown (Sierra Leone), how much of an influence is  African culture in your productions? And what else inspires you to create?
It's definitely an influence in my music taste, but one of many – I like minimalism almost as much as polyrhythms, and my radio shows and DJ sets are often about me trying to find cohesion in a variety of genres. Generally, I'm inspired by how juxtaposing conflicting sounds, textures, or even musicians can reveal something new or draw your attention to an underlying connecting factor.
You’ve closely worked with artists and innovators in visual culture throughout your career, and you undertake the role of art director for your own audio-visual projects. How did you break into this artistic industry?
I'm just a fan. In all seriousness, by genuinely being passionate about music and also being up for anything, happy to get my hands dirty. I had just written an article about NTS when they were looking for an editorial intern, so I got the job on the basis of that. But sticking around in the creative industries – rather than getting a ‘real job’, which I'm sure my family would love – has been a matter of saying yes, taking on projects even when I wasn't a hundred per cent sure I could do them, and learning on the job.
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© Joe Skilton
If it wasn’t for an artistic career in music, culture and visual arts, what would you be doing?
I'd probably be an English teacher.
What is a typical day in the life of a curator, DJ, host and Creative Partnerships Director at NTS like?
It's a cliché, but every day is different; the only constant is spreadsheets – my job involves a lot more spreadsheets than you might expect. The main thing, whether I'm producing a project or programming an event, is working out how to balance different people's ideas and needs.
What are you listening to on repeat at the moment?
James K is my current obsession. I've also been revisiting Lemonade by Beyoncé, underrated album. 
Somerset Studios is holding a new exhibition, Get Up, Stand Up Now, celebrating the impact of fifty years of Black creativity in Britain and beyond, and of which you’ve been a curator. What are the values and ideas you’ve wanted to bring up with these series of events?
The event I'm presenting is about taking the idea of Black creativity beyond the stereotypes. People are a lot less tribalistic about music taste now than when I was growing up, and there's definitely much more freedom for black creatives than there was fifty years ago. But I still think ideas about black creativity and even black identity at large can be a bit prescriptive.
There are a few pieces in Dreaming/Diasporas that deal specifically with who gets to claim blackness, and what it means to be made up of conflicting identities, which is as much an issue for mixed-race people as it is for people from immigrant backgrounds. But in general, I hope that the event rejects that prescriptive outlook for something a bit freer, and therefore more interesting.
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© Philip Stocker
The exhibition features approximately one hundred interdisciplinary artists whose work articulates and addresses the Black experience and sensibility, connecting the personal and the political. Could you tell us a little bit more about the process of selection of artists for your event? What were you looking for in an artist to be part of Get Up, Stand Up Now?
For Dreaming/Diasporas I prioritized artists of black diasporic descent, but I wasn't too restrictive about it. So Naima Karlsson, for example, is presenting two works: her project in collaboration with Kenichi Isawa, and also a new solo piano piece written specifically for this show and inspired by its themes. In all my programming, I try to give a platform to emerging artists and allow people to try out new ideas. I've worked closely with Estelle Birch and other collaborators to develop her piece, so I'm especially excited for that, and for Zakia Sewell and Amey St Cyr's performance. Given the themes of the exhibition and my event in particular, I think it's really interesting to have an inter-generational performance.
Hannah Catherine Jones is an artist who I really want to spotlight more because I think the way she straddles different mediums is really powerful, and Kelman Duran's work is also really interesting to me for the way it combines the ghostly and the corporeal – again, a very pertinent artistic practice given the exhibition's concerns.
Get Up, Stand Up Now is taking place this summer from 12 June to 15 September. Its programme spans art, music, photography, film, literature, design and fashion, and will include interdisciplinary Studios artists such as Gaika, Jenn Nkiru and Larry Achiampong, and performances from Farai and Coby Sey. What is the event you’re most looking forward to and we shouldn’t be missing?
Apart from Dreaming/Diasporas, I'm looking forward to seeing Jenn Nkiru's new work in the exhibition itself, and it's also great that B.o.s.s. are doing a sound system workshop.
On June 14, you yourself present Dreaming/Diasporas, a night of live performance in sound and speech. What are we going to find in such event?
Come and find out! And arrive early because it's all live performances for the whole evening. It's going to be experimental, immersive, moving and fun.
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