Interview: Introducing ‘London Masalaa’ Building a community through Hip Hop


Lon­don Mas­a­laa is a multi faith pro­ject explor­ing the influ­ence of Hip Hop on South Asi­an women in the UK. A tour­ing, multi plat­form pro­ject delving into iden­tity & cul­ture, style and cre­ativ­ity. We catch up with founders Arfa Butt and Jas­min Sehra to find out more!

Tell us a bit about yourselves and how you con­nec­ted ?

JS: Cre­ativ­ity is some­thing I was sur­roun­ded with from birth. I come from a fam­ily of musi­cians, sing­ers and artists, so my path­way into the arts was already writ­ten. Grow­ing up my par­ents would encour­age cre­ativ­ity with my sib­lings and I by always buy­ing us art mater­i­als which we would all use togeth­er. I also remem­ber walk­ing into mehfils in our liv­ing room which included my Dad and his broth­ers and guests from abroad, just vibing with tab­las, har­moni­ums and ghazals. When it comes to the visu­al arts, my Dads draw­ings always used to amaze me. I knew from early on that it was the arts that I wanted to pur­sue in life.

I stud­ied at Cent­ral Saint Mar­tins and gradu­ated from Lon­don Col­lege of Com­mu­nic­a­tion in Graph­ic and Media Design/ Illus­tra­tion. It was after I gradu­ated that I was com­mis­sioned twice by MTV to design wall pieces for their headquar­ters in Lon­don. It was dur­ing this time that I met Arfa in MTV dur­ing an exhib­i­tion I had there quite a few months after briefly con­nect­ing with her dur­ing a hip hop meet and greet with Dom Kennedy.

We con­nec­ted through hip hop.

AB: I’ve been in the music industry for the past 20 years.
Enter the Wu 36 cham­bers was the first album I bought on cas­sette when I was in sec­ond­ary school, that was the begin­ning of my love affair with Hip Hop.
Star­ted out in radio (restric­ted ser­vice licence) when I was 16 the sum­mer before I star­ted col­lege.

My DJ name was Da Sor­ceress and I played hip hop, the first per­son I inter­viewed on my show was UK rap­per Phoebe One.
I moved on to sound engin­eer­ing and pro­duc­tion, then I was hired by MTV at the age of 19 to man­age MTV Base, cre­ated and man­aged MTV Base Africa in 2004 and now a freel­ance music and tal­ent dir­ect­or.
I’ve been work­ing across the music industry as an artist man­ager, pro­moter and con­sult­ant.

My claim to fame is my fath­er was in Indi­ana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, he was one of the char­ac­ters eat­ing mon­key brain.

I come from a cre­at­ive fam­ily, my fath­er was a musi­cian and writer. I remem­ber dope jam ses­sions at our house with my pops and his crew play­ing the tabla and har­moni­um.
He was always play­ing tra­di­tion­al south asi­an music (Qawal­is and Ghazals), Motown, hip hop and reg­gae while I was grow­ing up, it’s in my blood.

The first time Jas­min and I met was at a meet and greet with Dom Kennedy, I was the Lon­don pro­moter for his Get Home Safely European Tour.

How did Hip Hop impact your life ?

JS: I was bought up listen­ing to all genres of music; pop, reg­gae, ghazal, bol­ly­wood, R&B, hip hop. It was in high school where I star­ted to listen to hip hop more fre­quently, my twin broth­er intro­duced me to a lot of the artists I listen to today. But it  was dur­ing uni­ver­sity where I explored and found my love for hip hop. Kid Cudi helped and com­for­ted me through the peak of my anxi­ety and depres­sion. But the album that took my interest in hip hop to new heights was Big Puns Cap­it­al Pun­ish­ment. His lyr­i­cism is what had me in awe. I love hip hop for its diversity in con­tent and the stor­ies that are told through lyr­ic­al com­mu­nic­a­tion, you’re sure to gain some know­ledge.

My twin broth­er is a music pro­du­cer and he inspired me to take that music­al­ity and merge it with­in my art­work. A lot of my art­work is based on hip hop artists their lyr­ics and visu­al aes­thet­ics. My cur­rent “Bol­ly­hood Series” fea­tures paint­ings which are inspired by bol­ly­wood and hip hop. Through­out my work my aim is to por­tray pos­it­ive mes­sages. I do this by high­light­ing key lyr­ics and words in typo­graphy inspired by the graph­ics on vin­tage cas­sette tapes my par­ents have.

AB:Grow­ing up I wanted to be a DJ, an artist, a pro­du­cer, an artist man­ager and I’ve been for­tu­nate to Iive it.
I’ve been respons­ible for launch­ing the careers, cham­pi­on­ing and sup­port­ing some great hip hop across the MTV plat­form in the UK since I joined in 1999.

I think that we all have unique exper­i­ences with music and can relate cer­tain albums, songs and artists to cer­tain points in our lives.
I strongly believe it was hip hop amongst oth­er things I exper­i­enced as a young woman edu­cated my mind and why I was drawn to soci­ology and the inequal­it­ies and diversity of my sur­round­ings. Hip-Hop and Rap became my step­ping stone on how I viewed dis­crim­in­a­tion and inequal­ity.

Music heals the heart, allows us to be vul­ner­able and hon­est. I can’t think of one per­son I know who hasn’t been inspired or empowered by music.

The best way to com­mu­nic­ate, express our feel­ings, opin­ions and emo­tions. Social act­iv­ism can be defined as atti­tudes and actions that chal­lenge to per­suade the social deliv­ery of status, power, and resources.
Artists across the globe are here to enter­tain, but for me, the finest pur­pose of music is to empower, pro­mote social con­di­tions, pos­it­ive change, devel­op­ment, peace, and human devel­op­ment.


Tell us about about how Lon­don Mas­a­laa star­ted and what is it about ?  

JS: Arfa and I were on the phone when she was shar­ing a few of her hip hop stor­ies from back in the day and I spe­cific­ally remem­ber men­tion­ing Masta Aces song Brook­lyn Mas­ala. That song was vibes!

We both come from a music­al back­ground and our fam­il­ies have sup­por­ted us in our jour­ney which has kept us groun­ded and con­nec­ted to our roots.

AB: We are cre­at­ives and express that in everything that we do. Hip hop has influ­enced both our lives, so has the cul­ture of our moth­er­land.  We both felt that it was neces­sary to cre­ate some­thing that not only cel­eb­rates who we are but also shines a light on oth­er girls and women with­in our com­munit­ies. We wanted to con­join both and that’s how Lon­don Mas­a­laa came about. Although we come from two dif­fer­ent faiths (Islam and Sikhism) we are believ­ers that our paths are writ­ten, and our cul­tures and tra­di­tion­al val­ues bring us togeth­er and an inspire us daily. Hip Hop is our heart, what else would we call us if it was­n’t Lon­don Mas­a­laa.

What will you be doing with all the tal­en­ted females you con­nect with ? 

AB: Our first pro­ject through Lon­don mas­a­laa is an exhib­i­tion of visu­als, sound and dia­logue through story telling.

But our focus is on build­ing a net­work of cre­at­ives across the cre­at­ive indus­tries to host edu­ca­tion­al pro­grammes, events, cre­ate oppor­tun­it­ies and encour­age col­lab­or­a­tion.

JS: Cre­ate a change and build rela­tion­ships and a unity between female artists with­in our com­munity and bey­ond.

As South Asi­ans, have you ever felt it was dif­fi­cult to pur­sue your pas­sions in Hip Hop with the older gen­er­a­tion not really under­stand­ing the cul­ture ?

JS: I would say my fam­ily are quite open minded. My Dad and his sib­lings grew up in the UK hav­ing migrated from Kenya from a young age, they explored and grew up with the same cul­tures me and my sib­lings and cous­ins have. So they under­stand and sup­port us through it all.

AB: If you know me, you’ll know that I’ve nev­er been afraid to do whats nev­er been done. I was raised with four broth­ers and a fath­er who’s a cre­at­ive. I nev­er felt the need to look out­side my home for advice, ment­ors or spon­sors.

I’ve been run­ning tings long time.

I encour­age every­one to cre­ate a non judge­ment­al safe space for our children/community filled with love to explore their cre­ativ­ity with­in our homes.

 There are strong female fig­ures in Hip Hop how­ever the cul­ture at times does feel male dom­in­ated. Where do you feel this stems from and how can we chal­lenge it ? 

AB:Women have been work­ing silently behind the scenes in the industry for far too long!
Some of the greatest women in Hip Hop aren’t sit­ting on social media post­ing selfies they’re put­ting in the work.
Shanti­das is one of those women, a music industry pro­fes­sion­al and respec­ted by every­one in the industry.
She’s the author of The Hip-Hop Pro­fes­sion­al 2.0: A Woman’s Guide to Climb­ing the Lad­der of Suc­cess in the Enter­tain­ment Busi­ness and a south asi­an!

I love her!

JS: I feel this is some­thing deep-rooted with­in soci­ety, when it comes to hier­arch­ies with pat­ri­arch­al led vis­ions. Women wer­en’t often out spoken though as times are con­tinu­ously chan­ging, roles are becom­ing more and more equal. Women are able to have their say and do what they want, how they want. That there isn’t a par­ti­tion between pas­sions and fol­low­ing through with it. It’s amaz­ing that we as women are empowered to do so. At the moment I’ve seen an increas­ing num­ber of women foun­ded organ­isa­tions around the world, not just hip hop based. This rise along­side fear­less­ness is bring­ing about a whole new move­ment.

For young female cre­at­ives in Hip Hop what advice can you give to them ? 

AB:There are no rules, don’t be afraid to exper­i­ment, explore and express who you are through music.
Wheth­er it’s as an artist or behind the scenes, get you a ment­or, sur­round your­self with and fol­low people who inspire you.
Noth­ing is giv­en or easy, every time I have an idea I do it oth­er­wise it eats away at me.
Fol­low your heart.
We also have a short­age of role mod­els in the industry in the UK, I’ve been blessed with some pretty amaz­ing oppor­tun­it­ies to work with young people and pro­fes­sion­als pas­sion­ate about the industry.

Three years ago I cre­ated a music and media pro­gramme FORM[YOU]LA for any­one inter­ested in work­ing on the glob­al music industry, I run indi­vidu­al or group ses­sions and also been think­ing about run­ning it spe­cific­ally for young south asi­ans in the UK.

Wheth­er you’re a sing­er, song­writer, pro­du­cer, want to work in events or PR, man­aging musi­cians or work­ing behind the scenes in the broad­cast industry and inter­ested in gain­ing entry, the FORM[YOU]LA is for you!
This pro­gramme has been spe­cific­ally designed to empower young people by giv­ing them insight and know­ledge, con­fid­ence, motiv­a­tion and the neces­sary skills to enable them to become self-sus­tain­ing music artists and pro­fes­sion­als.
I chal­lenge, engage and inspire par­ti­cipants to set per­son­al goals in order to real­ise their own object­ives and ambi­tions
encour­age char­ac­ter devel­op­ment, rela­tion­ship build­ing, com­munity aware­ness through belong­ing and the beha­vi­our­al pat­terns which can lead to suc­cess and work with par­ti­cipants to devel­op basic life skills includ­ing employ­ab­il­ity, inter­per­son­al & com­mu­nic­a­tion and mar­ket­ing.

If you’re inter­ested in the pro­gramme hit me up on my per­son­al email with the sub­ject title FORM[YOU]LA to

JS: Be your­self, stay true to you and your roots. Col­lab­or­ate, exper­i­ment and have 100% con­fid­ence in what you pro­duce. I think the biggest thing is pos­it­iv­ity. At times where you may feel alone just remem­ber your pas­sion. You really can­’t go wrong with fol­low­ing your heart. Just do and keep doing. These are a few things I’ve learnt as I’ve grown, espe­cially with­in the last year. Dur­ing my time at ther­apy for anxi­ety and depres­sion, I began a blog called Para­dise Girl. I really wanted to com­mu­nic­ate and make oth­ers aware of men­tal health with­in our com­munity as it’s not often spoken about. Just emer­ging out of my com­fort zone and just doing. The Para­dise Girl motto is to “Embrace and Flour­ish”. It’s all about embra­cing who you are inside and out, your cul­ture and fam­ily found­a­tions. Accept­ance of all will ulti­mately res­ult in flour­ish­ing.

Who is Lon­don Mas­a­laa look­ing to con­nect with and how can they reach you ? 

AB: There are so many tal­en­ted south asi­an cre­at­ives work­ing in the music industry in the UK and doing some dope things, but no one knows they exist.
One of the biggest records of 2016 ‘Panda’ was pro­duced by Adnan ‘Men­ace’ Khan a young Pakistani pro­du­cer from Manchester, he’s also fea­tured in the Bill­board top 100 pro­du­cers list.
Our very own Jas­min’s twin broth­er Jas­bir Sehra also known as Beast is anoth­er awe­some pro­du­cer and the man behind Jiden­na’s hit record ‘Clas­sic Man’.

We were raised on love and roti, we need to be inspired, encour­aged and elev­ated.

Even though this pro­ject is fea­tur­ing women we would love for our broth­ers to be involved in cre­at­ing the exhib­i­tion with us.

If you’re a pho­to­graph­er, styl­ist, design­er and cre­at­ive we want to hear from you.

Share out posts, like our page and just shout about us!

Our vis­ion is to cel­eb­rate and col­lab­or­ate with oth­er desi’s in the industry in the UK.


Facebook/ Twit­ter / Ins­tagram — @londonmasalaa @arfabutt @jasminsehra

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Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rishma Dhali­w­al has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal
Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.