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Face the Music: Julz Davis


He’s a Soul Man:  We talk to carnivalist, activist, and all round Bristol legend Julz Davis about his life, work, and involvement with Ujima Radio.

Wearing many hats, Julz Davis is a creativist at his established Curiosity Consultancy, a carnivalist and an activist for Bristol’s burgeoning and diverse community of creatives. He’s a joy to speak to – and someone you can’t help but feel inspired by.

For the past five years, Julz has dedicated his heart and soul to Bristol’s Ujima radio station. Ujima translates as ‘collective work and responsibility’ in the Swahili language, which would seem appropriate given the positive work the team are doing across the city. This year, they won the National Diversity award, despite being up against some tough competition. As Julz explains:

“Ujima got its licence seven years ago, but it began 12 years previously. Our mission statement was to build growth and communication opportunities for Bristol. We’ve stayed very true to that ethos, evolving to serve the communities that are hard to reach and don’t have a voice in the mainstream.”

“I get my humility, my emotional intelligence, and my community ethos from my mother.”

Not only does Ujima create inspirational content for its diverse programme across the station, it offers programmes for all sectors and is the only Bristol based radio station with a programme for the transgender communities. It also offers ongoing training opportunities for young people and those who might otherwise struggle to access tools that can enhance their lives and empower them, both now and in the future. One example of this, is the Young & Gifted programme which aims at providing a platform for Gypsy Roma travelling communities (especially young people) to tell their stories to a wider audience across Bristol.

“Gypsy Roma communities can be one of the most difficult to engage with; we find that they put up barriers to protect themselves. We are working with this community to give them a sense of voice, and of place, so they can engage and integrate a bit better into the mainstream. They can use our radio station to tell their story in their way, enriching our listeners by sharing their rich cultural heritage”, says Julz.

Julz was born in Bristol. He credits his father with giving him the innate drive, self-sufficiency and confidence to pursue goals that are not only intrinsic to his own personal development, but also positively enhance the communities in his locality.

“My father has always been very bold and entrepreneurial, independent and creative in trying to find his way to solutions. Being a young, black Jamaican – he’s kept his accent and he’s very proud of that – when he first came to England in the 60s it wasn’t easy. There was a lot of rejection, but he carved out a nice slice of life for himself,” he explains.

“Bristol felt to me to be a really dynamic, forward thinking, mobile city.”

Julz moved away from Bristol when he felt that he wasn’t getting the opportunities he needed to move his life forward. While in London, he established himself as someone with progressive ideas who was willing to make positive changes. He worked on the MOBOs, Notting Hill Carnival and Devizes Carnival to name but a few, but despite the successes Julz enjoyed in London, he finally decided to move back to his roots in Bristol, where he now works as a trustee for the Creative Youth Network and Carnival Network South.

“Before I came back to Bristol I was like ‘oh God, I’m coming back to retire – it’s so slow in the west country’. I’d been away for 12 years, but when I returned Bristol, felt to me to be a really dynamic, forward thinking, mobile city. Sure, it’s still got its challenges and issues, but there is opportunity,” he says.

Julz has always been of the thinking that in order to create a life you are proud of, you need to be prepared to ask the right questions, seek opportunities, and remain forever curious. It is these qualities, combined with his focus, and his humility and desire to empower others, that has given Julz the tools to make his mark in Bristol and its communities:

“I get my humility, my emotional intelligence, and my community ethos from my mother – throughout my life she has always been very welcoming to other people. There are six kids, so the house has always been full and my mum has always, every Christmas, opened the door and invited homeless people to come and break bread, have food, have a bed. As a kid I didn’t quite understand it – I was protective over my own space – it took me until I was about 15, to actually get it. I’ve been very fortunate to be brought up in that environment.”

“How do you use those moments of doubt to strengthen you rather than disenable you?”

Where there might not have been an obvious window of opportunity when arriving back to Bristol, a lucky break came when he was offered a job with West One – a community project in conjunction with the organisation, Quality in the Community. Until that point, Julz had been working in pirate radio – which, in hindsight, he knew wouldn’t stand the test of time:

“I was offered this opportunity on the basis that I would pay it forward and give others a chance, as I had been given. This still today rings true to me and has stuck with me throughout everything I have done. It’s about making sure there is a platform for people to work from,” Julz says.

Certainly, this ethos is something that he has taken seriously, in everything he does. From his active involvement in community projects – be it organising the largest carnivals across the UK, to hosting live events, to offering support and development to sister projects – and the on-the-job training and mentoring he offers as part of Ujima.

“We see ourselves as a talent incubator,” he says, “but at the same time Ujima acts as a talent conveyor belt – we give our trainees the skills to go out into the job market, despite not necessarily having the educational background but to go out there, with confidence. What I do is also about asking the right questions to the right people to get to the right answers. Through curiosity, humanity has travelled to the bottom of the ocean, to the stars, we’ve discovered penicillin, we’ve maintained that curiosity.”

The fundamental forces at play, threading through Julz’s work and his approach to life, would seem to come back to a few, key ingredients – to remain curious, humble, and to not allow your mistakes to define you.

“Like everybody, I have had my times when I’ve doubted myself, and questioned who I am, and whether I doing the right thing. Certainly over the last five years I’ve made mistakes, but some of them have been the greatest learning opportunities, so I’ve really grown as a result of that. How do you use those moments of doubt to strengthen you rather than disenable you? Remember that some of the biggest victories that you might get in your life are through your failures.”

Catch Julz presenting his drive-time show on Ujima Radio:

  • Saturday Night by Oliver Cheatham A classic slice of 80s soulful funk and for me the ultimate feel good song. Whenever I hear it, no matter what kind of day I’m having it fills me with instant and overwhelming joy. It’s an irresistible song that will get me up and dancing no matter where I am. This includes being on the bus or even on the tube. Yep, I’m that guy.
  • Feeling Hot Hot Hot by The Mighty Arrow I have such fond memories of this song as a young boy growing up. With my mother being of Guyanese background, she loved to whine her waist and Soca was her Kryptonite. So when this song charted in the 80s it became our family anthem, which was played loud and proud on our Fidelity record player in our humble home as we celebrated as proud Knowle West-Indians.
  • The Message by Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five Hip hop has had a profound and indelible impact on my life, and for me both Grand Master Flash and this song represents what true hip hop culture is about. It sends a socially powerful and empowering message rebelling against an unfair system over a super dope and infectious beat. The irony of this song is that while it’s some 35+ years old, its eerily relevant to the problems the world continues to face today.
  • Ain’t Nobody by Chaka Khan What a song. I never tire of hearing it and, as a radio and club DJ, it’s a guaranteed floor filler and radio thriller. But I love this song for two epic reasons – first, it features on the iconic Break Dance movie and second, this was the song for my first dance at my wedding, sung live by Bristol’s queen of soul, Celestine.
  • Candy by Cameo As you may have picked up, I love feel good music and I love to dance, so what I love about this song is that it inspires everyone from grandma to the grandkids to jump on to the dance-floor and in unison to do the candy dance, which I best describe as a soulful version of a square dance. It’s great to watch but even better to take part in, and it’s simple to learn. My advice is Google it, practice it in the privacy of your front room, and once you crack it get on the dance floor and get involved.
  • I Can See Clearly by Johnny Nash Again a track from my childhood and it’s a super song that forms part of the soundtrack to my life. My parents had every Johnny Nash album and single and I’ve still got the vinyl in pride of place in my record collection. Again, it’s such a great feel good tune that reminds me it’s always darkest before dawn, and that a new and better day is just ahead. I also have to admit that its one of my iPod and karaoke favorites, and is sung loudly.
  • Could This Be Love by Bob Marley Like so many people, Bob Marley makes my list, but my reason for picking this song is I recently got married and it was a curious spectacle of all the things that both me and wife love. Our wedding was themed around Treasure Island and Bob Marley’s Could This Be Love was the song I picked to dance down the isle with my piratically themed groomsmen. For me, the words reflect how I felt about making that lifetime commitment to my wife. And yes, I did say dance down the aisle, any why not?
  • Gotta Be by Desiree Another uplifting song which reflects my personal ethos about meeting the challenges that life throws at you head-on. It just says it all.
  • You’re All I Need by Aretha Franklin At heart I’m a super soppy soul brother looking for a beautiful soul sister who I can just cosy up to in front of an open log fire on a cold winter night. Also, I selected this immortal soul classic as it beautifully showcases the vocals of the undisputed queen of soul, Aretha Franklin.
  • Rebel Without a Pause by Public Enemy As a rebellious young black Brit growing up in the 80s, Public Enemy majestically articulated how a whole generation of disenfranchised youth felt. And through the power of word, rhyme and an audacious sonic soundtrack it gave us hope, identity and a new truth. They also gave people like me the confidence to tell it how it is. Fear of a Black Planet indeed!
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