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My London Story Mary Otumahana
Scott Chasserot

This Londoner set up a free recording studio for young people

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Mary Otumahana wanted to expand horizons for young Londoners like her – so she set up a free recording studio in the centre of Tottenham...

I’ve spent my entire life in London: I was born and raised in East Finchley (where I live now) and then went to school in Muswell Hill. But Tottenham is the area that has had the most positive impact on me. It’s a very diverse and vibrant community: I know it has a negative perception in the media, but you really get to know people and everyone supports one another.

I’ve been a rapper since I was 14. I was quiet, shy and withdrawn at 14, but I saw hip hop as an outlet: I liked the way some artists would express themselves by talking about their emotions and problems. I started writing and performing under the moniker WondRWomN, and when I turned 17, a family friend gave me the opportunity to record something in a studio – an experience that I remembered for years after.

My own experiences of being a young girl in the city motivated me to set up a free music and recording facility in an inner-city area. As a teenager I was desperate to have my own studio, but obviously couldn’t afford one. As I got a bit older, I felt that there weren’t enough options or opportunities for kids to get involved in musical activities. If someone was interested in becoming a rapper or making electronic music, or even spoken word, the equipment available at schools was very limited: there weren’t many facilities, and they were all based around classical music. 

Then I discovered an initiative in the UK called somewhereto_ that provided free spaces for 16-to-25-year-olds. I pitched to them, and they suggested I set up shop in Tottenham. They had a prime space available there, I knew the area well, and we knew the local community could really benefit from something like this.

The RecordShop was originally a mobile studio that would move to areas that were heavily deprived. Then, in July 2017, I managed to finally get my own permanent studio. I now have a fixed base, and every Saturday I hold free recording sessions for the kids in the area to express themselves. 

We work with upcoming artists at the early stages of their careers, like ArA Harmonic, Sera EKE and Kimane. Our ethos is all about providing a platform and nurturing talent. I anticipate seeing some of our young artists becoming household names in the future. 

I’m always looking for new funding avenues and new ways to help sustain this facility and keep giving back to young people. The studio has become so popular that we rent it out from Monday to Friday: artists pay to come in and record with our production outfit Prodigies of Nature. I’ve also received a lot of outside help from companies such as O2, which funded The RecordShop in 2015.

Starting a business is always hard, but it’s so rewarding in the end – especially when you feel like you’re making a difference to people.

There is so much negative press around the city these days, and so much lack of opportunity. Music is a positive force in so many young people’s lives, but the problem is not everyone knows where these opportunities are. I’m really proud to offer them a chance.

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