Meet The Black Muslim Women Behind The Rise Of British Hip-Hop

Photo: Courtesy of Charlie Clift.
Black British Muslim women have a complex, intersectional identity and exist at the margins of various identity groups, yet representation is often lacking, or inadequate, across the entertainment industry. But despite being a minority within a minority, there are Muslim women blazing trails and making a significant impact on the UK’s cultural landscape — including UK hip-hop and rap. 
UK rap and hip-hop have come a long way. In 1999, it accounted for just 3.6 percent of all singles purchased in Britain but in 2020, that figure rose to 22 percent. For a long time, it seemed like UK rap and hip-hop lived in the shadows of American music but the global domination of Black British music looks like a trend that’s here to stay. 
With all the talk about the growth of Black British music, the Black British Muslim women who are making things happen behind the scenes are far less discussed. Unbothered UK is celebrating the accomplishments of three Black British Muslim Women who are making a significant mark on the Black British music industry through marketing, radio or filmmaking/documenting the lives of UK artists.

Nemat Abdela, Head of Marketing at Since ’93, Sony Music

Photo: Courtesy of Nemat Abdela.
What do Childish Gambino and Cat Burns have in common? Besides their talent, the answer is marketing extraordinaire Nemat Abdela. The Head of Marketing at Since ’93 was instrumental in both of the artists' careers and worked with the chart-topping musicians on their incredible rise.
Nemat’s a success in her own right with a string of impressive achievements under her belt. Born in her native Eritrea, Nemat spent the first 11 years of her life in East Africa (namely, Eritrea and Sudan) before moving to the UK. 
As a child, Nemat had an inkling that she wanted to work in the music industry but “annoyingly I can’t sing or play any instruments, I don’t have any musical skills,” she jokes. So, she started exploring working behind the scenes. When she was younger, she used to browse the back of CDs to try and figure out what all the different jobs were – this is before the proliferation of the internet of course. 
Fast forward and now she’s heading the marketing department of a prominent label whose roster includes chart-topping artists such as Cat Burns, Loski, Russ and Tems but her story is anything but smooth sailing. 
Nemat is open about the obstacles she’s had to overcome including her mental health struggles. 
2020 was a particularly challenging year for Nemat. With the world being thrust into uncertainty coupled with the Black Lives Matter movement, it wasn’t easy on Nemat’s mental health. Luckily, she had a supportive system of women who helped get her through the tough period. “It was such a tough time and I don’t know if I would’ve been able to get through it without these women,” she says. 
Nemat Abdela is one of the few senior Black Muslim women in the music industry and points out that her sister Negla Abdela is the General Manager at Ministry of Sound (Sony). Clearly, excellence runs in the family. And although she’s not certain, she feels like when she first started working in the industry, it seemed like she was the only one. But now she’s seeing more diversity.
“There are a lot more people who look like you and can speak like you, so you can go into these environments being who you are without feeling like the need to change, in comparison to like ten years ago where I would’ve been the only Black person in the room,” she says. 
What’s next for Nemat? “I’m just focused at the moment on growing our roster. And opening up that space for more Black female artists to come through and really crossover into a commercial space,” she says. 
Nemat’s in a unique position being one of a few senior Black female music executives but she’s passionate about visibility and representation. “If more people see people that look like them in these positions, they will know that they can do that too,” she says. And eventually, Nemat would love to run a label and help to create lasting change. “I just want to make sure that the door stays wide open for the next generation and for them to be in that space as their authentic self."

Marian Mohamed, BAFTA-winning Director

Photo: Courtesy of Charlie Clift.
In 2021, Marian Mohamed’s directorial debut Defending Digga D won her a BAFTA award and scored her two Grierson nominations, yet the young filmmaker is just getting started.
Born in Denmark to Somali parents, Marian moved to the UK at the age of 10, unable to speak a word of English, so the TV became her unofficial guide. “When you’re new to a country, you learn about the environment you’re in by watching TV, she says. “A lot of my friends at school were secretly watching Sex and the City and other dramas,” she adds. 
But those weren’t the kind of shows she could watch as a young child. “We [Marian and her Mum] used to watch a lot of news, and then we’d watch documentaries afterwards.” She jokes that her Mum’s curiosity has led her to “watch a lot of obscure documentaries.” And thus, a lifelong passion began.
But before her foray into the TV industry, Marian worked at Nomad Radio, the first Somali radio station in the UK. 
In her decade-long career, Marian has used the medium of documentary to explore a variety of topics from the refugee crisis, the criminal justice system, healthcare and the law. “I’ve always wanted to make good films about interesting characters and interesting themes”, she says.  “That’s what I like about the kind of documentaries I work on…the headlines and then (asking) is there more to the story?” she adds. 
So when she was offered the opportunity to document the life of West London rapper Digga D following his release from prison, sticking true to her philosophy of “making good films about interesting characters and interesting themes," Marian was on board. 
Digga D was one of the first recording artists in British history to have been given a criminal behaviour order restricting him from releasing any music or videos without telling the police
Although the nature of the documentary was quite heavy, Marian still depicted “the mundane” and “everyday life”.  “The moment where he (Digga D) moved into a new house and they’re like play fighting, it’s such a mundane moment,” she says. But it’s not something we often see on British TV, young Black boys just having fun. 
As a Black British Muslim woman, Marian is one of a few in her field. She remembers the first time she saw Zeinab Badawi (award-winning broadcaster and journalist) on TV and thinking “wow! Good on her,” she says. When I ask why visibility for someone from her background is important she simply answers, “I think it’s important to have real stories reflected onscreen”. 
Filmmaking has long been a tool to build bridges. Documentaries allow us to be a fly on the wall and experience the world through someone else’s eyes. “It’s the power of documentaries,” she says, “one person can watch and see beyond the headline."
When I ask who inspires her, she doesn’t hesitate to answer “Hooyo and Abo” – Somali for Mum and Dad. “The older I get, the more they inspire me," she adds.  Late in 2021, Marian directed the much-anticipated BBC series on Elon Musk and we can’t wait to see what else she creates.

Yara Satti, Digital at Capital Records, Universal Music Group

Photo: Courtesy of Yara Satti.
Yara Satti’s passion for music stems from her Sudanese parents. “I used to discover music early on because my parents would play everything — from jazz to soul music to Kamal Terbas and folk music from Africa," she says. 
The British-Sudanese West London native may be at the start of her career in the music industry but she’s very much a rising star. 
Initially, Yara wanted to go work in the humanitarian and research industry but an encounter with an old friend changed everything. “I only thought it was possible to work in music when I saw a friend from years ago doing her thing, so I was inspired to look into the industry and find a career that aligned with my aspirations and skills," she explains. And so, her transition into the music industry began.
Yara currently works in the digital department at Capitol Records where she’s involved in all things digital marketing and helps with the delivery of artists’ releases. “Every day is so different. It’s hard work but I have such a wonderful team and the experiences I've had are invaluable,” she says. 
Yara has played a pivotal role in championing Black music through radio. She has her own radio show and is part of the programming team at No Signal, a prominent Black British radio station. 
Yara first joined the No Signal team through its 12-week Academy that trained young Black creatives in various aspects of the music industry. She credits the Academy for opening her eyes as it “offered invaluable experience across music, radio, fashion, promotions and several other fields and specialisms.” “We were trained by the best of the best to nurture and encourage us to be truly creative and audacious,” she adds. 
As a Black British Muslim woman, visibility and representation in the music industry are important to Yara. “One of the major reasons why I believed it possible for me to be a Black British Muslim woman in the music industry is by seeing some representation of myself,” she explains. 
Although there’s only a small number of Black British Muslim women in the industry, it still gives Yara some sense of belonging. “Though I only know of two women with similar facets of my identity in the industry, it still makes existing here feel okay as I know I'm not the only one who may be dealing with some of the internal and external struggles of being and belonging within the industry”, she says. 
What’s next for Yara? Well, for now, she’s focused on continuing to learn and grow in her current role. Yara’s also working on creating a creative collective. “My friend and I are working towards building a collective that will be a community space for Black British Muslim folks so watch this space!”.

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