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lime Music Interview: Speech Debelle

Lime interview - Music

Speech Debelle

words by

Natasha Julien

Reporter: Natasha Julien

Mecury Prize Winning musician Speech Debelle , currently working on her third new album  Full Circle.  h Debelle – The Strength & Vulnerability Bunker 

Corynne Elliot (born 1983, London, England), better known as Speech Debelle,[1] is a British rapper signed to the Big Dada record label.She was the winner of the 2009 Mercury Prize for her debut album Speech Therapy. She released her second album, Freedom of Speech, in 2012.

Debelle's single from Speech Therapy, "Spinnin" has been re-worked by Tinchy Stryder and Dionne Bromfield and was used as one of the official anthems of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

She has also been politically and socially active with a number of charities and movements, The Strength & Vulnerability Bunker is the UK's annual national showcase of arts by prisoners, offenders on community sentences, secure psychiatric patients and immigration detainees. It is the sixth exhibition in an ongoing partnership between the Koestler Trust and Southbank Centre.

This year's exhibition at the Southbank invites you to enter an atmospheric bunker, filled with images, objects, sounds and films that reveal personal reflections, regrets and hopes. Mercury Prize-winning rapper Speech Debelle has selected artwork, which she feels should be preserved as testament to the importance of human creation, from the thousands of entries to the 2013 Koestler Awards.

You have been very busy, recently a contestant on master chef, working on your new album and now curator of the Koestler Exhibition at the Southbank due to open Tuesday 24th September.

It’s a good time for me right now im busy doing things that I love, I am working on a new album in Iceland and then in Melbourne in February to finish the album.  I started working on the new album in Iceland during their summer which means there daylight for 23 hours a day.  Very surreal, as its 2 am and its daylight.  I hope to return their as its such a different environment and this gives you different types of songs.   Also really hoping to see the Northern Lights.

How does it feel to be asked to curate the Strength and vulnerability bunker for the Koestler Trust, which is an annual showcase by prisoners and secure psychiatric patients.  

Its given me a sense of pride about my art, I’m a rapper n the grand scheme of things it’s kind of low down on the totem pole  in regards to art and how it is considered.   To have someone say we think you’re an artist.  So it makes me appreciative having that acceptance as an artist.


Firstly, I have to be honest I had no idea what curating was or even really what an exhibition really means.  From the first meeting I had the idea for the Strength and Vulnerability bunker, when I went in to Koestler every day and was looking at the art work the pieces were kind of picking themselves.  It just felt like certain pieces were meant to be in there because it fits in with the theme.  


Past curators have included Sara Lucas.  Was there a particular process in the way that the art was selected? 

When I first started thinking about how I was going to approach this project very early on I started thinking I can’t step into a world that I don’t know.  When I thought about an exhibition I started thinking about places like the Tate where I could go and look at art and appreciate it but it wasn’t really my world.  But rather than stepping into that world, I really wanted to bring it closer to me, I really wanted the exhibition to have life.  You know I haven’t studied art and the intricacies, but I understand what I feel so therefore the exhibition the way its laid out with the different zones and the music and the lighting its more about art having life.


How did the invention of the bunker come into creation for the exhibition? 

It was very natural it just came from viewing the art.


As a young Londoner where does your political awareness stem from?  You have been politically and socially active in various guises an advocate for the hidden homeless, women’s rights, climate change and also the importance of voting?

I’m not sure, but really I think first and foremost it comes from Hip Hop and being a teenager which meant it was a rebellious and revolutionary time, which is what happens as a teenager. It was just that time where I felt like I’ve got something important t to say and I don’t care who I offend and I’m going to talk about what I see and what I want for the world and that’s when I got in to it.  I was listening to things like TUPAC it was the thoughts of a certain community.  I am a second born Black British Woman my mum was the first of her siblings to be brought up here and there is something to be said that things are not very fair.  I had an awareness of how unbalanced and unfair things were for me as a black woman.  To have that, if you’re a woman, if your black or a woman of colour and you have grown up in this country, especially during the 1980’s your going to want to say something about it.


How easy is it to tell your story?  As your music is very autobiographical would you consider this kind of art therapy almost expressing yourself so freely and wearing your heart on your sleeve in the media industry?

I don’t think it’s difficult at all.  I’m a writer, so I have been kind of excavating my emotions all of my life, so it’s something that is pretty easy for me to do.  What is difficult, is I go out socially to the House music scene, it’s what I like to listen to .  But for me to go in the studio and try to make a house tune, it would just sound terrible.  I believe everyone has their lane and I believe rap is mine.  I get sent music from people and I think the beats are incredible and I think that the likes of Busta Rhymes would jump all over them but then Im unable to do anything with it, as its not where I feel comfortable.

As an artist is drawing on your vulnerability is it a double edged sword in that your fans feel that they know you intimately?

Art has been my thing, which is why I appreciate this project as its brought it to the forefront.  As crazy as it sounds music and art for me have never just been about the money even though society tells me every day that it should be and it really shouldn’t be about anything else.  It’s easy to get caught up in that after my first album to be honest  I kind of fell into that where I kind of lost it a little bit about what it was actually about.  I fell in love with this when it wasn’t making me any money and I loved it just the same.  When you do what you love the money will come anyway.

As a female British rap artist how important is poetry in your lyrics?

Rap music is poetry.  Just with a bit more style and music. If you don’t have a love of poetry I don’t think you can really be that good of a rapper in my opinion.  Just because all the rappers I know who are really good I can hear the poet in them.  Someone who is just able to use words to invoke emotion, that’s poetry, or words to invoke visuals that are poetry. 


After looking at your website I can see you are a keen tweeter how important is staying ahead of changing technologies? Live with it or Live without it, what side of the fence do you sit?

I would like to live without it, that’s what I would like.  I’m not really all that big on social networking, even though I should be as independent artist.  I don’t have everything connected; I don’t feel that comfortable with technology.  I use my phone just to make phone calls; I prefer to call people and talk.  But I’m being forced to do stuff with social media as its necessary, but twitter I enjoy.


How would you now describe your music in its progression from your last album?

I’ve just started to realise that all my music is quite different. The first and second albums were different and the third is better as I have a better understanding of music. it all depends on where I am and I’m getting more ambitious musically.  I find it a lot easier to get what’s inside my head out, whereas before I didn’t know what I wanted it to sound like.  I definitely want the music to affect people even more and be escapism.  The third album is called Full Circle because things have come full circle for me and I’ve settled and come back to reality.  I’m much more on home ground now and not living in this imaginary world on tour, which is unsettling.  Its kind of come back to how I started where I might just be in my kitchen just free styling and I might think yeah I’ve got to record that, that’s a song.  So it’s kind of just going back to the beginning for me.



In August 2011, Speech gave away a new track, "Blaze Up A Fire", via her Soundcloud page. The track features Roots Manuva and Realism. The track deals with uprising events in countries including Egypt and Libya, but Debelle has stated the song has even more pertinence to the 2011 England riots.

“I feel it could give insight into the hearts and minds of some of the people that have taken part in, not only the peaceful marches for Mark Duggan in Tottenham and the Smiley Culture march for justice, but also I believe it speaks of the frustration of many young people who took part in the rioting and the consequent looting over London and areas of the UK. I am not attempting to condone, I'm attempting to be a voice of understanding.”

 — Speech Debelle (9 August 2011)


Is there anything else you would like to add to the above statement as for a generation of young men and women who really feel disenfranchised and hopeless, understanding is rare from the current government, so to hear there thoughts in the media gives direct hope to this generation.

I think since that statement  two years ago, things have kind of changed for me now and Im starting to now realise that those are the people that change the world.  On the surface it may seem like those people are the most troubled.  When in actuality those are the kinds of people that change the world, when people go into the streets and burn things down, things have to change. Ok, that example is an extreme version which I’m not condoning but it did give you an insight.  Now its become more of a thing that if you feel like you have to have your voice heard, then you have to have your voice heard.  


At a dinner party who would be your 6 guests dead or alive that you would invite around your dinner table?

Janelle Monai would definitely be one, I have just recently seen her video and she has a level of peace around her Jay Z has it to but he has it with a slight arrogance, with his fame, I suppose it’s understandable.  I have done loads of interviews and to be asked questions all day its really hard not to come outside of yourself so you can see who I am.  Erykah Baduah as well for the same reason.  Bob Marley would be a great dinner guest.  Marilyn Monroe I think that would be amazing, she is one of those women that you’re not supposed to be, but ends up being one of the smartest women and able to engage everybody, super-powerful.  I want to say Tupac, but probably not as you usually get really disappointed when you meet someone that you are a big fan of.  .  Meshell Ndegeocello -I have met her before and I am hoping we can work together on some music.  Finally, I think Paul Mooney the comedian, he is an hilarious American comic.  He says things that are very obvious but almost the things that people shouldn’t say.


The Strength & Vulnerability Bunker

The Koestler 2013 UK Exhibition

Opening 24 September

Spirit Level | Royal Festival Hall

Southbank Centre









Official Opening by Jeremy Deller

 Tuesday 24 September from 1pm

The Clore Ballroom

Royal Festival Hall

Southbank Centre

Exhibition open 

Spirit Level, Royal FestivalL Hall until 1 December 2013

Daily 10am-11pm 



The Strength & Vulnerability Bunker

The Koestler 2013 UK Exhibition

Opening 24 September

Spirit Level | Royal Festival Hall

Southbank Centre

London SE1 8XX



Thank you for talking to Lime Magazine.


Natasha Julien



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