D&AD Meets is a regular series where we elevate the work of need-to-know creatives. Each season of features is curated by a creative who can reach beyond our established networks to help us find the new talent deserving of a spotlight, the ones to watch, and the ones to work with. Here, the current curator and interviewer Tarik Fontenelle meets music industry creative Ghadir Mustafa, and talks about establishing a career within music, creating a radio community and her favourite projects to date.
Tarik Fontenelle is the CRO of ON ROAD, the strategic research company he co-founded aged 26. Tarik set-up his first company at the age of 17, experiencing the impact of the recession firsthand as he helped companies navigate that tumultuous time. Fascinated by people and places, he went on to study anthropology and later set up ON ROAD to help brands in the on-coming age of disruption.
Tell us a little about yourself – where you're from, what's important to you, what makes you different.
I’m Ghadir Mustafa, I’m 22 years old and I’m from North London. I love music and care about ensuring people from similar backgrounds to me are able to enter and manoeuvre within the creative industry.
What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Don’t let anyone trick you out of your position. This is a constant reminder of who you are, to believe in yourself and trust your gut. Never watch what other people are doing cos you’re on your own journey.
Talk us through your role – what you do and what are your responsibilities?
No Signal is the sister brand of Recess, we launched fully as a radio station last year as our answer to the pandemic. Our short documentary is on BBC iPlayer [in the UK] to find out exactly how and why we did it! At No Signal as part of the music team and as a producer, we come up with and execute ideas to push the artists we want to break as well as curating the music that is played on the station. Last year we launched our NSYEARBOOK, which is a list of the artists we felt would do well the following year. This was a beautiful moment for us as we were championing the best newcomers in black music in the UK. It was important for us to do this as an editorial project to present our favourite artists in ways that our community could appreciate.
As an A&R at XL, I have to be constantly listening to music and be on top of what’s new or culturally significant. This means meeting with artists and maintaining relationships with them, as well as curating studio sessions and being the main point of contact for the label when it comes to releases. This could mean clearing samples, commissioning artworks, or just generally liaising with all parties involved.
Did you always know what you wanted to do or did you happen upon it? Tell us about your journey?
I always knew I loved music but it’s not something I ever saw as a viable career path. I didn’t know about the roles that existed in the creative industry, never mind music. Tarik invited me to work at On Road after leaving school which introduced me to a whole new world, and realised it’s possible to make a career out of this thing I once considered an interest or a hobby. During this time I was working at a party called Recess, my introduction into nightlife and live music, which really helped me develop and understand my love for music. I was introduced to an awesome woman at XL and started building my relationship with her, playing music and expressing my interest in working in the industry. I’ve been working with them ever since and grateful to say I’m able to make a living off music.
What have been the biggest highs & lows along the journey?
Getting into the industry was tough as I didn’t have the support of my mum. I was always geared towards academia, uni seemed like an absolute, so when I didn’t go away to study Law it caused friction. My highest moment was being hired full time at XL. I felt accomplished and proud, and knew that it was officially the beginning of my music career.
How do you pick yourself up when things get tough?
You have to keep going!
What else has helped you achieve your success?
I think believing in myself has been the key, I’ve always had supportive peers who geared me in the right direction whenever doubt kicked in, but I think self belief is one of the biggest reasons I’ve been able to move with my career quite fast. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?
Talk to us about some of the favourite organisations, communities or individuals that you've collaborated with through your work life. Tell us what you loved about it, what you learnt, what you made.
Working with On Road taught me everything I know about brands, production and start ups. As a producer and researcher I was able to get really stuck in and try new things. It was my introduction into the industry and it allowed me to build relationships with people as well as know what it means to run a business.
Recess, my intro into nightlife at 18, taught me about customer service and how to interact with the public, as well as what it means to programme an event. Jojo, the founder of Recess, stressed the importance of perfecting the line up to our party, ensuring the right music is played at the right time to maintain optimum enjoyment!
The Ladies Music Pub is a community group created by women that work in and around music who wanted to encourage other women to get into the industry as well as create a safe space to talk about issues they face and how to overcome them. Through these sessions, I was introduced to the amazing Sian Rowe who eventually helped me get my job at XL so I’ll forever be indebted to LMP! They are now also a functioning record label which is so admirable! Big up Tyson McVey and co for this wavy initiative.
Tell me about three creatives you want to shout out, and what they are doing creatively that's so inspiring to you personally right now.
Jojo & David have inspired me from the day I met them, as they work together so well. Each of them bring something different to the table, but when they come together they’re a force. They know the importance of creating a trusted team as well as nurturing talents to become the best of their ability. I’m very glad they’ve been such a big part of my journey.
Henrie is a radio DJ, a presenter and much more. Henrie inspired me last year when she launched her production company, and created her first documentary series about gentrification. I think it’s important for people like myself to be represented on screen but I think it’s more important for us to be represented behind the scenes. It’s important that we have our own resources and connections to create things ourselves with as much creative freedom as we need. I’m very grateful there’s been a rise in black owned production companies.
Finally, Adele White, who is a senior A&R manager at Island Records! Like I previously mentioned, I didn’t realise A&R was a lane I could take. Seeing someone like Adele absolutely kill it through years of hard work and talent is so inspirational to me, not only as a woman but as a black woman in a white male dominated industry. It’s important to have examples of people from similar backgrounds to you that you can look up to, so that you know that it is realistic to aspire to be like them.
Talk to us about the future – what do you want to achieve in the next 5 years? What do you want to look back at and say you've done?
In the next few years I can manage and sign some artists that break the scene, artists that I truly believe in and that I think will make an impact on British music in general. I would love to run my own label or management company, and hire like minded people to work with me on bringing my vision to life.
What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the world of creativity, community, culture?
Follow your gut, you know more about this than all these people do! There’s cultural value in our experiences, whether it’s because you’re black, working class or young, there’s somethings that can’t be taught or copied. If you stay authentic to yourself, you can’t lose!
Get in touch with Ghadir: @shaolinwavy
D&AD is committed to showcasing a diverse range of creatives in our D&AD Meets content. We acknowledge the obstacles to getting into the creative industries for some underrepresented groups and so behind the scenes we offer mentorship pairings with a creative from the professional D&AD community to help to develop the careers of some of the emerging creatives featured. If you want to lend your time to portfolio reviews or a networking meeting please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org