By Kevin Flag
It was a cloud-shrouded Wednesday morning when I sat down with the Bristol born music maverick Collins Nemi, aka Conducta. We ate a continental spread around the dining table of a chic Hoxton apartment before we engaged in a heartfelt conversation, talking everything from family to the responsibilities of becoming a boss.
First, we touched base on music. Conducta knew by the tender age of 13 that he wanted to make music his career. Remembering how the first song he ever released, which aired exclusively on BBC Radio 1Xtra, Conducta sighes in disbelief, “That was 13 years ago. Wow, that sounds weird to say”. Skip to 2021, and the 27-year-old intellectual loves reading encyclopedias and keeping up with politics, both of which translate into his music. His intellectual prowess is evident in his explanation of the future of UK Garage music and his role in leading that change. “UK Garage is uplifting and upbeat. In the last 10 years, there's been a battle of nostalgia - it’s a toxic emotion because it plays tricks on you, where you think something is good because it was put out 20 years ago, but then you start to question whether it was good or was it just [good] for its time.”
A conductor is traditionally described as someone who has control over the tempo, the mood and the volume of the orchestra. When I draw a parallel between this and the way that Conducta lives his life, he replies, “I think you can adjust the tempo, I wouldn't say I have control.” He used COVID-19 as an example of something outside of his control that affected his career. “That's not my choice of tempo being set, but I have to go with it.” I was reassured by the calm conviction that Conducta spoke with, evidently able to self reflexively observe the ebbs and flows of life as a musician adapting to the tempo of the world around him.
The oldest of four siblings, Conducta has always been at the helm of responsibility. He reflects on the close relationship he has with sister Naomi, saying “My sister is like a daughter to me. We talk everyday & share music.” Conducta has managed to “cultivate a community and in essence bring people together,” aided by starting Kiwi Rekords a couple of years ago. Kiwi Rekords is a community styled UK-based Garage label built on the foundations of family and friends. Conducta has managed to cast a crew of like minded individuals all of which share a harmonial energy within their music. It is fitting then that he was awarded both Breakthrough Label of the Year and Label of the Year consecutively from Dj Mag. Correlating the position of big brother to that of a label CEO, Conducta tells me how he saw other people start their own labels growing up, giving those around him an opportunity to also excel within the music scene. We agreed that there is a lot of responsibility having the life of other people in your hands, however, the catalyst that prompted Collin to start Kiwi was based on this “Prince of Garage” notion - coming on a crusade to bring the UK garage together using his platform.
Being a CEO is hard, but being a Black CEO is even harder. I asked Conducta about his experience as a Black CEO and this turned into a conversation about respect and change. “It's very rare that change comes from the top down. It has to be bottom up,” he explained. We established that respect is not quantified by how many people do your bidding, but on the level of influence and knowledge you democratise, empowering people as a result. “In big industries there's so many things we don't know, things that I had to navigate by myself,” he tells me. Freedom in this industry is something that is sometimes overlooked, or better yet, not understood completely.
“It's very rare that change comes from the top down. It has to be bottom up,”
Taking the conversation even deeper, we discuss mental health: A topic that has long been stigmatized, it has recently started being discussed more openly as notable artists and celebrities began outpouring their experiences. It is common courtesy to ask someone how they’re doing. However, to truly check on someone is to ask questions like, “Have you eaten? Have you slept?”. These are the questions that seek to go beyond the surface to attain a more genuine understanding of someone’s true mental status. “I feel good, I've started to check up on people more - in the label, we have a responsibility to make sure the people around us are okay.” Conducta acknowledges the pandemic and the role it has played in people's mental health, “Not knowing what's happening and losing control is a scary thing”.
This feeling of entrapment was the beginning of a long road that brought Conducta a new perspective on his vices and the influences that would either make or break him. “It’s a weird one. I don't want to use mental health as a roll out; I don’t want to say I’m feeling really depressed but here's my new album,” he tells me, expressing the conflict he feels about discussing mental health and his art.
Thankfully, music acted as a sense of soothing for Conducta. As many of us will agree, music is good for difficult times. Vitamin C was one of his tracks that got me through last summer. Commenting on this track, he observes, “It’s hard to make sad music. I always try to add my personality on tracks - which is upbeat and good for the soul.”
Towards the end of the conversation, I asked Conducta to describe his style in one word. After a few moments, and a whole lot of external input, “Chameleon” was chosen. It’s funny to see how this translates into his reality - we realised that this was a state that Conducta morphed into from time to time, allowing him to be adaptable. If you see a Conducta album entitled Chameleon, believe it or not - you saw it here first.