Brunch

Yazmin Yousuf – Supporting the local brews

Co-founder of Decibel LK Yazmin Yousuf has become the patron saint of the local music scene. If you’re an emerging artist brewing your own stuff, hoping to one day catch your big break, chances are, somebody somewhere told you about her, and possibly, if you’re lucky, Yazmin Yousuf will be your salvation. It’s a lot of big talk, but we stand by our praise.
Without a doubt, one of the best known radio personalities of our time, Yazmin is energetic, grounded, absolutely adorable, and is truly a force to be reckoned with.

Walking into our offices for a late night interview, she was gracious as ever. Accommodating even our most ridiculous requests during a longer-than- anticipated photoshoot, Yazmin sat down with us for a chat.
Here’s what she had to say about local artists, stingy dads, being vegetarian, and a few others in-between:

Starting things off with a really easy one, we want to know, who is Yazmin?
An easy one? that’s like really tough actually, because I do too much in a day so I don’t know where to start but I guess, to really sum me up, I’d have to say I’m your average music fan, with a love for editing videos, you know, the kind of stuff that creative people do nowadays. I love my food and yes I am a vegetarian; I love roosters, I think they are adorable; I love water and absolutely despise sweets, and of course, I love my Sri Lankan music.

When did you realise that what you do now was one of your passions; that it’s where you wanted to be?
I grew up in Dubai for 15 years and came to Sri Lanka in ’97, and even back then, I’d always been someone who kind of lives in their head – you know what I mean?
In radio, we say that radio is the theatre of the mind, and we really need to visualise something with sound, and this is why I refer to myself as a sonic artist as well. I’ve not really wanted to be a musician; I can’t play a note to save my life, but being a producer, it’s where I’ve always had the most fun – when I’m putting situations together to eventually realise a later whole. Also, as for why I can’t play a lick of music, it’s because my dad was really stingy and he refused to pay for music classes.

The start of Decibel LK, how did it come about?

Husni Yakub and I cofounded Decibel over plain tea and paratas at the Plaza in 2012. We initially launched it on 11 May, 2013 under my name; I was hopeful that my name would carry some weight and really help out the people we were trying to help out, but that doesn’t work here in Sri Lanka because people are like “oh, you’re trying to gain some fame”; but that was never the intention. It was always to create a platform to get your music out there, and have it be known.
All that really matters to me is that someone would decide to attend an original music event they’ve seen on the site. Speaking about Decibel, I can’t not mention our Business Manager Tareeq Musafer. He is also one of the few DJs in Sri Lanka who really knows the art of turntables.
And as for what Decibel does, we go to events and cover them “guerrilla style” with an iPhone, and a couple of other accessories, and share what is going on in the local music scene as much as possible on as many mediums as we can.

“There was never an international music scene without a local one”, Decibel’s motto, and surely words to live by, but why do you think, despite it being rather obvious, that the “local scene” is always struggling to take off?

I like to think that if everyone gave someone who produced music a chance; even a post a day makes a difference because who’s got less than 300 friends on Facebook right?
Just post one artist a month even and that would create a great support system.
It’s a shame that the governments that are, and were, never realised the potential of a music industry, or a music authority that could really propel artists to an in-demand territory.
Sri Lanka itself has so many places for music to be exposed, like Galle, Anuradhapura, Gampaha, etc., but the frequency of shows that happen there are less.
You can’t really blame artists for it either, because it can be difficult to set up in certain auditoriums – it can be expensive, and so I do wish the infrastructure existed for it to progress a little further.

Recently you posted a Facebook status referring to how international artists come down for shows and are given a lot of coverage but the local line-up gets no mention. How important is it for corporates to divert some of that energy towards the local artists?
It doesn’t make a lot of sense for these corporates to promote the international ones over the local artists, because what’s the difference anymore between the two, really? In fact, some of the local artists are very much in demand; especially if you go to the club and pub scene, you will recognise them as regular players. These are guys with a crazy good followings, and they’re really not playing on a different stage anymore, and what corporates need to realise is that international artists will come and go. They will not have the impact you’re looking for, for a local brand, the local artist is lot more powerful than an international act.

If you could shout out a few lesser known local acts that you believe deserve a little more attention, who’d you name?
Oh wow, where would I even start with that? You know it be would be wrong if I pick out 20 or whatever but what I would really like people to do is just go to decibel.lk. We try to update it on the daily, and maybe just try to discover even one artist per month.
Because I believe that everyone connects with music on a very personal level. So maybe there’s someone out there; you just have to find your artist.

What do you think about Sri Lanka’s talent pool? Could we compare it to the international acts?
Right now we’ve got a situation where we could go to an open mic and be like “that girl, why is she not on a record, why is she not on radio or iTunes?” It’s rare that I go to open mics but when I do, it’s mind-blowing. I think Avi Mendis and Ursula – they are doing an excellent job of getting those people out there. There are also indie guys who sing their hearts out on YouTube and honestly, if we were to have the infrastructure for the grooming to happen, to create that full package, there would be no stopping Sri Lanka you know?
We could kick India’s a**.

Website: decibel.lk
Facebook: Decibel.lk
YouTube: Decibel Sri Lanka

By Dimithri Wijesinghe