Local rapper and producer Jah Digga has become a familiar face on the Notts music scene. It is his passion for music that led him into taking a mentor role for the youth, at St Ann’s Community Recording Studio (CRS). We caught up with Jah in the studio, where he gives a deep-dive into all things creative.
Self-proclaimed council estate kid, Jah grew up in St Ann’s in the nineties, a time when crime was rife and gang culture was thriving. Kids were bored, the gang life offered them a sense of belonging and freedom, though the irony of gangs often means there is no going back. Jah was the youngest of five, with his closest brother Remie being only a year older. As they grew their paths divided, Jah turned to music whilst Remie was drawn to the road, which unfortunately led to his fatal stabbing in 2002.
Jah’s love of music began in a way I’m sure many of you can relate to, in his bedroom reciting lines. He speaks fondly of being a kid, writing down all the lyrics of his favourite artists, then rapping the bars back to himself. From there he started performing, “That’s when I knew - I enjoy rapping, I enjoy performing, so the next stage was to write my own music.” His early grime sets in collaboration with a DJ called Blender, are what put his name on the map. “It was like a snowball effect, where we would get more credible throughout the city, which meant we were getting recognised, so people started to book us.” His music career took off from this point, though this isn’t all he strived for. Jah wanted to make a difference, to help the youth stay away from crime and that’s where his work with CRS comes into play.
Set up in 1991, the charity CRS was founded by members of the community, including CEO Trevor Rose. Their motto is simple, “We help young people to turn their lives around.” If the youth are with them, they’re not on the streets, potentially getting into trouble. The studio is a creative development hub for the community, and best of all it’s completely free. Although they direct their services to young people, anyone can join, no matter their age or experience - their youngest being just four years old! They have a booking system, whereby you can book one to one-and-a-half hour slots, with certain days being more tailored to specific age ranges. For those that aren’t musically inclined, CRS offers much more, including a production room, photography, camera work, engineering classes and sports. They also work with local schools, offering workshops to educate the youth in the classroom.
What sets this studio apart from many others is the support you receive, if you want to learn the craft, CRS will guide you. Jah’s passion for the studio flourishes when he speaks of its achievements, “Most of the successful people that make urban music in Nottingham have passed through here.” He emphasises the importance of creating a family dynamic, “The people here are like the furniture, they can’t leave, it has that real family feel to it.” CRS is a polar opposite “family” to the one that the youth look for in gang culture, which in a way is why it works so well. Everyone needs to feel safe, with a sense of purpose and CRS are offering that, in the form of a positive outlet.
The people here are like the furniture, they can’t leave, it has that real family feel to it
Jah takes on the role of Youth Engagement Officer, which essentially means he acts as a mentor for them, bringing them into CRS, supporting them and helping manage sessions. He has a strong presence, and will happily get involved as much as people need. It’s not uncommon to find Jah in the studio with the young people, making suggestions and fine-tuning beats. “It’s my love of creativity that means I want to be involved, I don’t want to do too much, I want them to express themselves and be free. That’s where the magic happens. I’m just there for guidance, to give them the tools, put it into practice and make sure the sessions are running smoothly.” CRS provides a healthy channel to get your thoughts out there, whilst also learning a skill. Not to mention, being welcomed with open arms by Jah and Trevor, the ‘big brothers’ of the hub, which for some young people may be all that is needed, should they be unable to speak freely at home.
Last year saw the release of Jah’s short documentary: Poet Off The Ends. This alternative creative outlook gives insight into what life was like for Jah at the time, and how his experiences have shaped him and motivated him to where he is today. When speaking about the documentary, Jah said, “There are a lot of people that will resonate with a similar story, especially those growing up in St Ann’s. I could have been on the front of the newspaper for doing other (criminal) things. I hope that this can plant the seed for those that don’t know how to express themselves in a positive way.”
So what’s to come from CRS? Well they’ve recently had the young people put on talent shows and perform, so right now they’re working on organising similar events.. Plus, a new project: Football is Life is up and running, bringing kids together to play. In July they put on a tournament with two hundred kids and ten teams. It was such a success that Jah is hoping to take it to Birmingham next. “I want to travel, I want to show these kids the world is bigger than their postcode, so let’s get out there and meet new people, and let’s be inspired.”
As for Jah, he’s showing no signs of stopping his creativity. In collaboration with a close friend Tommy, they will be dipping their toes into a new venture - musical theatre. After watching The Lion King onstage, he was immediately inspired. His vision is a poetry-led drama, telling the stories about living and growing up on a council estate. Although it’s in the early stages, there’s no doubt Jah is excited, “We’ve got so many personal accounts, and so much talent - poets, actors, singers and musicians. We knew we could bring it to a stage.”
There is no date as of yet, but he teased it could be early 2024. If that’s not soon enough though, you can catch him at Hockley Hustle in October, or even attend one of his creative writing workshops. A man of many talents, his motivation hasn't waned, only grown as he’s developed his creativity further. In his own words, “There are a million things you can do and accomplish. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, there’s so much out there to do, so make sure you do what you really enjoy.”
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