The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Interview: Jamal Edwards

One of the country’s most exciting young entrepreneurs discusses his involvement with this year’s Manchester International Festival

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At first glance, you wouldn’t know South London entrepreneur Jamal Edwards is worth an estimated £6 million and counting. Flat cap adorned and Coca-Cola in hand, he looks like the average twenty two year old, but this tycoon has managed to build the multimedia empire that is SB.TV from the tender age of sixteen. This is a company that has one hundred and fifty million YouTube hits, a ten-strong production team and has been strengthened by Edwards’ appearance on the infamous Google Chrome advert that documents his humble beginnings. However, speaking to us from the Z-arts center, a heart of creativity in the center of Hulme it seems Edwards future plans are full of surprises.

This July, he will be bringing three unique events to the Manchester International Festival – two of which branch into a new sphere of urban comedy and all of which look out of place amongst the traditional MIF programming. Jamal explains “the Internet has allowed Grime music to be put in places that it might not necessarily have been when it first started. Collaborating with MIF will put Grime on another platform as such a prestigious and well connected festival.”

The first show, Smokey Barbers, Jamal describes as “already a hit on YouTube, but this is the first time that it’s going to be taken into a live space.” Representative of SB.TV’s branching into youth cultures other than music, the one-off Smokey Barbers event will comically “bounce off the typical conversations that happen in the hairdresser’s.”

Edwards expands. “Everyone goes to the barbers or the hairdressers. The event reflects those typical conversations of “where did you go last night? I’m seeing this girl or boy etc.” I wanted to have a joke on those dynamics so we’ve created a barbershop with a few main characters, cameras and the banter that comes with it. Jokes from the Hood, another event I’m introducing, will similarly consist of a stand-up comedy show that features both small and well-known comedians.”

Likewise, Jamal will be presenting History of Grime: Rebels with a Cause, a one-off event narrated by grime artist Justin Clarke aka Ghetts that will take the audience inside one of Britain’s most exciting musical cultures. “History of Grime will tell its story from when the genre first began, from when Ghetts was spitting with Wiley to where the genre is today. It’s especially interesting from an artist’s point of view.”

However, it’s precisely this diversion away from SB.TV’s grime roots that has sparked criticisms the channel’s direction towards the ‘mainstream’. Jamal defends. “People need to remember that I’m still on the streets filming those MC’s and as long as I’m still doing that, I don’t know what the problem is. Only a week ago I was in Manchester’s South nightclub filming the spitters.”

In fact, SB.TV’s ethos revolves around a fusion of celebrity and new talent. “By incorporating the more popular acts, I’m helping the unknown artists! If you’re up and coming and I’m featuring a mainstream act, you may get their subscribers to click on you and say “I never knew about this music but I like it”. They may even be Jessie J fans. It’s about introducing people to a new market, about marrying the two together and making it mutually beneficial to both big and new artists.”

Named the “voice of a generation” by many, you can see that Edwards is humbled by the comment. “It’s a responsibility to push the right messages out there so I release self-belief videos every other week.” However with an expanding business, he has his hands just about full. “I want SB.TV to be a youth hub that so that if you’re interested in fashion, comedy, sports or games, you can go to SB.TV. When I first started, I had to start with something that I knew and I knew music. But now it’s my plan to expand.”

Future plans may even incorporate live events. “I’d be interested in doing a monthly event that could give the many fresh singers I know a live space where they might never have performed before, a sort of open-mic night feel” he ponders. “Expansion aside, running SB.TV and presenting the events I’m bringing to MIF are all about giving new talents a platform to try out on.”

 Smokey Barbers, History of Grime: Rebels with a Cause and Jokes from the Hood will premiere in MIF alongside Jamal Edwards in Conversation from Mon 8th – 17th July. Ticket prices and further details can be found on http://www.mif.co.uk/event/jamal-edwards-presents .