We Speak to World Music Event Producer Rastarella as Her Signature Event Cultural Vibrations Turns Fifteen Years Old

Words: Alycia McNamara
Video: Natalie Owen
Photos: Natalie Owen
Thursday 15 February 2024
reading time: min, words

Born in Trinidad, Rastarella is a world music event producer, an empowerment speaker and hosts on Nottingham’s number one urban radio station, 97.5 Kemet FM. She is also a mother of three daughters, a SEN mother, and married. If you ever get to meet Rastarella, you will never forget it. Launching her signature event Cultural Vibrations in 2009 at Hockley Hustle and founding the Nottingham Global Roots Festival in 2015, 2024 marks her fifteenth year in business. It's a massive milestone as a grassroots promoter who is consistently showcasing music from around the world at numerous venues, events and festivals. This is Rastarella, interviewed by Parisa East of Acoustickle…

Parisa: What motivates you, Rastarella?
Rastarella: My children first and foremost, I think the children are the future so if you can try and make every day and every year a bit better for the future generation, that is my greatest motivation. My own life experiences motivate me to challenge and change the narrative of certain things so you know, there’s a lot of motivation in there but most of all I am passionate. I am passionate about positive change. 

Parisa: What were you doing in your work before promoting events?
Rastarella: I actually wasn't working, I was a full time mom before I started Cultural Vibrations in 2009 which was an accidental fall into promotions but previous to that I had my youngest daughter. So Cultural Vibrations is fifteen, and she is sixteen, so I was a full time mom to my daughter. 

Parisa: I’ve been to a lot of your events and you have signature catchphrases to get the audience to participate, one of them is ‘unity is easy when you look within, not at the skin’ so what compelled you to write that?
Rastarella: The whole essence of Cultural Vibrations - unity through music, is to encourage different cultures to come together through live music. When we think about the stereotypes and sometimes the presumptions we have of each other, I want to break that - a bit like Bob Marley’s One Love, you understand. So for me if you just take time out of your day, it doesn't have to be a music event, any time you have regular interaction with anybody, look beyond what you think they look like or who you think they might be. So, that’s it, look within, not at the skin.

Parisa: Facts, you fly the flag for Afro-Caribbean and African music and culture and make it inclusive and accessible for other people in the most respectful way, so how can other promoters learn from you?
Rastarella: I think in regards to learning, you’ve got to be true to yourself and what your passions are. So for me, I do me, I can only do me, I can only do Cultural Vibrations, I can only do Rastarella. So for me, my passion is world music, my passion is bringing different kinds of cultures together, my passion is representation. So for me, in regards to how other promoters would like to be inspired, is do you and do you as authentically as you can.

Parisa: Well, talking of which, you are a Black woman from Trinidad, you've broken a lot of perceived barriers and you've helped a lot of people get into spaces and venues that they might not feel like they had access to or were welcome at. I remember you even saying at The Maze, “there’s no colour code, everyone is welcome”, can you talk about your experience over the years navigating these lines?
Rastarella: I fell into promotions via Hockley Hustle, my first event in 2009, and that was predominantly to host a venue to showcase world music and music of Black origin. So in a way, I had a step up from the beginning and then I created Cultural Vibrations as a name and I think throughout the years as you navigate around Nottingham, you would see all of these spaces and all of these places but then I would never see people who look like me or sound like me. But I'm thinking, why can't I put on an event there? 

So it’s never been for me barriers, it's more so about being inspired. How can we change the scene, how can we put on events and lineups that would encourage people to come and leave their house whether they are Black, brown, white, or whatever, and come into these spaces that we as taxpayers are paying for as the bottom line.

On top of that and as well, unity. Nottingham for me, when I look around Nottingham, it’s a multicultural city. And there will be people who are sitting on the bus together who would never ever talk to each other, put some music on, put them in a space, mix up your lineup and you’d be surprised what can grow from that. I’ve had people say they’ve created their friendships by coming along to one of my events and as I said, it’s a one love thing and it's a unity thing. 

If your spirit doesn't feel like that venue is for you, move on. There’s always going to be something bigger and better and my biggest thing is go where you feel celebrated, not where you are tolerated. So if you go where you are celebrated and people get what you are doing, doors will keep on opening for you. I’ve been able to establish great relationships with various venues across Nottingham and with other creatives, just be yourself. This is it, take it or leave it. They are either going to like you, or not like you, and if they don’t like you, don't worry yourself. 

I’ve had people say they’ve created their friendships by coming along to one of my events and as I said, it’s a one love thing and it's a unity thing

Parisa: And by doing that, you’ve helped other people enter spaces, like you hooked me up and you make people feel welcome, so how have things evolved in your time since you started promoting?
Rastarella: I think in 2009, even though there are Black musicians here, there and everywhere, it was a predominantly white scene. I will say it’s now very seasoned and marinated with music from around the world and people feel like they can go and take up space. I think it's very important that any human being feels as if they are welcome and if there’s a space there, take it up. 

For me over fifteen years, what I have seen in Nottingham's creative scene and music scene is that people have become more open minded, people have been made to feel more welcome, the barriers are slowly being broken down, less gatekeepers which I think is very very important because I am more about community over competition. We can work together, there is enough space, there’s enough talent, there's enough creativity for everybody. So for me that has always been my thing and I've seen that happen in Nottingham, we are evolving as a city especially when it comes to music and creativity. 

Parisa: That leads to this question. You set clear boundaries on how you expect the vibes to be both on and off the stage and you are passionate about cultural unity and everybody being welcome at your events, so how do you try to spread the message of one love and have you encountered any resistance?
Rastarella: I'm very straight forward, as you know. I believe in boundaries and I believe as a promoter, as an organiser, as a programmer - you set the tone for your events. My tone has always been unity. I haven't shifted or tried to bend to please other people so for me, anyone who gets on board my events, if you’re new to them, this is the script. We don’t play certain music that is derogatory, that’s bashing anybody. We’re here to have a good time because we’re not around for a long time. Let’s all get together and have a good time. For me, I haven't shifted in fifteen years so by now people should know what Cultural Vibrations vibes is all about.

Parisa: Being a promoter can take you on a rollercoaster so how do you manage your own wellbeing?
Rastarella: I think in regards to me, I am a family woman, I have my three daughters, one is in Finland, being a SEN mom, I have a special needs daughter. Being with my husband for nineteen years, it’s very important not to let your work, whatever you do, consume you. You have to have a life outside of work. The same as my husband doesn't come home and talk about production of vegetables, I don’t go home and talk about events, events, events - you have to separate yourself and what I've learned over the fifteen years is that mental health is the priority. You have to have that self-care and take that time out. Have an identity outside of your events and do what you do but it's a job, do it because you want to do it, not because you think you have to do it.

Parisa: How does running a family impact and influence how you run your business?
Rastarella: My eldest daughter, who is 25, helped me right at the beginning because I didn't know anything about making flyers and she was making flyers for me when she was eleven years old - my first flyers and everything. And coming to loads of events with me and everything, so for me as a family woman, when I've gone into doing different events, the family aspect of having children enjoying music has been a big impact. 

A big inspiration for me is to incorporate families into the music scene, because when you think about the music scene, sometimes, you know fifteen years ago, a lot of people didn't have children or whatever and fifteen years later they are family people. So for me it’s about balance, you have to balance, when you’re doing events, yeah you can have the big people events but also think about your community and also think about family and everybody can benefit from your events, not just one particular pot of people.

Parisa: What about now, you are working at Nottingham Trent University, so tell us a bit about your latest role?
Rastarella: I’m the Global Roots Music Programmer for Nottingham Trent University. Before that, they’d only had classical music, and they wanted to season things up so I’ve been allowed to programme a really lovely set of events. We did a couple last year, I put reggae music on in the Trent University hall, as well as reggae music from Jamaica. I've since put on traditional Indian music there and we’ve got some amazing lineups coming up, we’ve got some jazz. We’ve got some classical mix with Indian, it's going to be amazing, and it's a really great role, they trust my judgement of what I want to represent as Global Roots music at Trent university so it’s been fab. 


Parisa: Fantastic! Well, talking of programming, you’re at 97.5 Kemet FM, how did you become a radio host and what does that role mean to you?
Rastarella: I was headhunted, I was asked by the boss if I would like to put on a show and train up as a broadcaster on 97.5 Kemet FM. I was actually trained up by one of the original veterans of the station Kevin Roach, he took time out of his life to teach me because I was in my late thirties at this point and to promote soca music. Soca and calypso music, if you don’t know, originates from Trinidad and Tobago, so I've been doing that now for nine years, every Sunday from 4-5pm, I love it. It’s an opportunity for me to showcase a different side of Caribbean music; even though I love reggae music, soca and calypso music is a big influence worldwide. 

Parisa: Can you tell us more about the empowerment speaking role that you had?
Rastarella: I actually trained as a life coach in 2007/2008, when I was pregnant with my youngest daughter and that was to do with what I had overcome in my own personal life and I also wanted to help people. I think it’s very important when you go into your own journey, and for me I wanted to give back so I decided to train as a life coach and then I put it on a backburner. In 2018, I started to do my own poetry, and I kind of fell into empowerment speaking. It’s about empowerment, confidence building, talking about my own life experiences and just kind of being an inspiration but it’s not a textbook thing, it’s real life experiences that we’re talking about. 

Parisa: Has that influenced how you do your role as a promoter and as a programmer? 
Rastarella: I think it goes hand in hand because in anything, it’s what we do, you have to have that confidence and self belief anyway, you understand. And I think what I try to do when I do my empowerment talking is just give people the courage to be their authentic selves because I think that is a big deal. So many times we don’t feel as if we are being our true selves but I kind of say you can be your true self and people will accept you and those who don’t, that's their problem, that's their loss.

Parisa: Facts, and finally, is there anything you would like to use this space to talk about?
Rastarella: I want to say first of all thank you to everybody who has supported my events over the years, it’s been a ride. Also I have loads of upcoming events this year and it’s all going to be themed around Cultural Vibrations, I am going to be putting Global Roots on a backburner because I am a grassroots promoter, I am self-funded, so this year it is all going to be about Cultural Vibrations, we’ve got Nottingham Poetry Festival coming up, we have a big concert coming up at The Playhouse, the Green Hustle and Hockley Hustle again and loads of exciting things. And again just doing me how I do me and people, I hope they come out and support me.

Parisa: Yeah, I’m sure they will and thank you! How can people find you?
Rastarella: ‘Cultural Vibrations, Unity Through Music’ on Facebook and @Rastarella on all social media.


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