GET TO KNOW THE MAN BEHIND HQ RECORDINGS AND HQ FAMILIA - YASIN EL ASHRAFI
The work ethic prescribed by Yasin El Ashrafi is almost second to none: with HQ Familia and HQ Recording under his belt, Matt Knight spoke with him about his involvement in the music industry, HQ Recording and HQ Familia.
HQ Recording was established in 2011 with him and a few friends whilst the label later followed in 2017, concreting this as his full time work: “Before this I was a delivery driver, before a delivery driver I was a warehouse worker. So completely different to everything else I’d done before, but it just seemed like something I could get into.
“I’ve always been into music, I’m quite well connected with other people in and around the music scene in Leicester, so it just seemed like something I could do.”
Yasin’s involvement in the music industry roots back to relationships with musicians and producers and such, then shortly after he found himself enrolling in teaching courses and helping young adults: “I was always connected with music in some way, like my friends were producers, had sound systems and did free parties, so I was kind of always in and around it. When I was younger I did a project with Soft Touch Arts, and that was basically DJ workshops with and MC workshops, and we did an event.
“I had to go self-employed for personal reasons, I needed more time to look after my family so I was like, okay, I need to start a business, I looked at my friends sets and there were a lot of my friends who weren't working but they were part time DJs or producers or whatever.”
He then started workshops and events for young adults: “Basically what I did was took Soft Touches model of doing music workshops and events but applied it to adults instead of youngsters. At this point I was already like mid-twenties, nearly 30 so I thought if I still don’t really know what I want to do then a lot of other people must do the same.
“I applied to the council to do a music project in New Parks which is where I spent a lot of my childhood and they really liked the idea, they were like, we want you to go on this teaching course and we’ll give you a bit more money. So we did a teaching course and it’s kind of just spiralled from there; we did three courses in the first year, then I got the chance to take over this building (HQ) so we made this the base, generally this is the base for everything we do now.”
The record label contains a rather diverse bunch of talented individuals: “So the collective is HQ Familia; that’s me, my misses Sal. Harri Georgio, I’m his manager but he’s also a big part of HQ, he’s like the main engineer, then there’s Ollie Petch, he does all the band stuff, he’s our tech genius as well. There’s DJ Scrivs, he’s a DJ, does a little bit of production. There’s another lad called Tayo B, he’s a guitar player, a producer and he’s a singer, really good artist. There’s Charlie Georgio, who’s signed to the label and to management; he’s a singer, an actor, a model, a rapper, he does a bit of everything.
“Producers I’ve got Maniscooler and Lowpass Luke, they’re both really, really good producers. There’s Nic Christiana, she’s a singer/songwriter from Birmingham. She’s currently studying in London, she’s great as well. There’s my nephew LiL T, he was on The Voice Kids, performed at Wembly and been in the studio with Will I Am, he’s done some pretty big bits.”
I would look at it like Bad Boy and Puff Daddy, that kind of dominance I suppose. We’re not just looking at UK, we want worldwide
Yasin puts on bimonthly open mic nights and shows for the collective, he went onto say the benefits of not having to rely on other events for his artists’ to perform: “The thing is as well, cos we’ve got this collective of artists, it’s a way of always making sure we’ve always got somewhere to perform. We’re not always relying on people giving us shows, we put on our own shows. It’s a way of finding new talent, it’s a way of giving everyone I work with a chance to perform. There’s a bare minimum, every two months they can perform and we genuinely have always got new music to share, so it’s good to see how things go. While we’re developing our artists, it keeps us active as well."
The studio and collective have come a long way and seem to only be making movements, Yasin described the approach he took when making it public: “I took an actual decision to not really shout about HQ too much until I was ready to start shouting about it, because the thing is I didn’t I have enough business to keep me ticking over commercially. I get my little projects, I give people free studio time, so between the two I didn’t really need to advertise too much.
“I decided to set up the label and I thought right, now we need everybody to know about HQ. For the last, say year and a half, it’s been a bit of a thing where it’s like, let’s constantly put music out. We’ll do as many events as we can, collaborate with loads of different people, just try and start that journey of getting Leicester on the map, and getting some of these artists ready to the point where they can hit the big time.”
Leicester has a healthy and diverse plethora of upcoming artists and musicians, at HQ their aim is to introduce Leicester’s talent to the world and help them get to where they want to go: “There’s more people starting to come through now and I feel like Leicester’s a big city with a lot of talent so we shouldn’t have to go to Birmingham, Manchester, or London to be accepted into the music business.
“We should be able to do everything here so I’m trying to help, I suppose, build the infrastructure to help as many people as possible. Like develop the skills they need or give them the knowledge they need so that they can do things properly; like getting their music on Spotify and Apple, and even down to knowing how to create an invoice so they can get paid for shows and stuff."
I suppose to try and make a bit of a positive snowball...everything we do is about positivity
The sharp increase in music nights that cover many genres in Leicester has definitely been noticeable, Yasin suggested how the improvement of events can be harder to attract audiences: “I’d say Leicester’s music scene is progressing, and also a bit hit and miss. What I will say is when I did a showcase event in 2011 or 2012, I’d probably get between 100 to 200 people out for it, and now I might get less people. But I think that’s potentially because the rest of the scene is doing better, so there’s more big nights and headline DJs and artists. I’d suppose there’s more stuff going on so people are more likely to gravitate towards the biggest acts and the bigger nights”
He went on to say how the student masses in Leicester, and the quality of other nights, can make it harder to pack out events without a big headline act: “Leicester’s always been a student town but I feel like students don’t use to have as much of a pact mentality, there’d be more students who were maybe, alternative. There’ll be lots of pockets of students, the hiphop students would find the hiphop nights, the grunge students would find the grunge night.
“Whereas it seems now it’s kind of everybody's lumped into the same group, and everybody just ends up at wherever, where it’s free chicken nuggets or free fries or pound a pint, you can see why they do it. Because they know it’s going to be rammed, it’s going be cheap drinks, and it’s going be good music so you can see why it is.”
Excitement brews for the collective as talk of a label tour is in the works: “I’m planning on a little label tour, that’ll be a five city tour. I’m still pinning them down but I’m potentially looking at Nottingham, Birmingham, Manchester, and possibly London. I might leave London off there I’m not sure yet, it depends if I go for four or five.
“What I’m potentially going to do is link up with other labels who have got artists that they want to showcase. They send their artists to me and we showcase them in Leicester, then we send them our artists and we do that in London or Bristol, that kind of thing, a collaboration you know, share each other’s fan bases.”
The role of listening to an artist’s work as a listener and not a musician is a key aspect when trying to progress someone’s music, he explained: “I’d say I’m an executive producer on some of the stuff so, I’ll say turn that down or bring that up, and I’ll listen to it as a listener rather than a producer. It sounds a bit weird but sometimes people who make music get so deep into it, they struggle to enjoy it as much because their ears are listening to it in a different way, I’ll listen to it for enjoyment but they’re listening to it in a picky way. I don’t want to listen to music critiquing everything, I just want to put it on and press play, you know if it’s good it’s good, if it’s not it’s not.”
With the growth rate of HQ responsible by Yasin and his team, I assumed their aims for years to come would only be as daring as his business acumen, and I was right: “I’d say in ten years, we’ll probably be like a subsidiary of Sony, something like that. We’ll still be doing the A&R, we’ll be making the music, but like upstreaming through Sony or something like that I would imagine.
“My plan for the next five to ten years will be to get in a position where we could do that. So the office will be in London, you know like Black Butter or something like that, bringing through a lot of new, cool talent, and just smashing it. We want to be worldwide, we want awards, BRITs, MOBOs, we just want it all.
“I would look at it like Bad Boy and Puff Daddy, that kind of dominance I suppose. We’re not just looking at UK, we want worldwide. We’re actually looking at creating projects for India, Korea, you know rather than just focusing on the UK market, where obviously we want to get to the top of the UK market, because we are UK. But on the flip side, it’s not one of the biggest markets at all, America’s much bigger, India’s much bigger, Japan, all of these places, that’s what we want to be doing. Also things for films, TV and that kind stuff, we want to be at the top.”
Work ethic and motivation can come from a countless number of sources, Yasin’s drive derives from his mum and son: “My mum and my son, because my sons got cerebral palsy, so he’s the reason why I want to be successful. Because he was disabled as well, everything was a bit expensive so it also gives me a bit of a drive to be able to make proper money one day so that I can provide for him. Then my mum, she got cancer when my business was just starting and she always told me, just don’t focus on money, just help people, and that will do more for you than money.
“When you do it you realise it’s true, the high off money is a short lived reward and sometimes something small for you may be something big for somebody else. When you’ve got somebody coming and saying that my whole life has changed, or you know, literally people’s mums or dads saying thank you so much, that gives you a much bigger and longer lasting reward than money will.
Society is under a lot of strain in recent times and teamwork is what Yasin believes can help us all: “I kind of feel like the world’s quite a hard place at the minute; everyone’s struggling, there’s money problems, there’s a lot of people with depression and anxiety, so I just feel like we’ve all got to help each other a bit more. I want to try to help people and try to instil to them to give back in return that they’ll help someone else and they’ll help someone else.
“I suppose to try and make a bit of a positive snowball, where rather than us all sitting round watching the news and reading about how bad everything is, everything we do is about positivity.”
November 25th 2018