Sope Soetan Talks … Mandem

Mandem is an anthology exploring Black masculinity.

The collection of short essays are written by some of our finest contemporary Black writers with themes of vulnerability and raw honesty.

We spoke to Sope Soetan about his contribution to the Anthology …

Please introduce yourself …

My name is Sope Soetan. I’m a writer, music publicist, speaker and researcher from London.

Can you tell us how and why you got involved with Mandem?

My journey with Mandem began 4 or 5 years ago when Iggy and I had lunch at The Curtain in Shoreditch. That was when he first told me about his plans to put together an anthology of essays by Black British men. He’s always been super complimentary of my writing, so he made it clear that he was eager to have me on board. I got involved simply because Iggy asked me to.

Please tell us about your contribution to Mandem

My chapter is titled, The Pink Frame. It’s primarily focused around a degrading incident that happened to me at school when I was 7 years old. Long story short, without spoiling it; I was chastised and policed for doing something “real boys” don’t do. My chapter charts the long-term impacts this episode had on me and how it became a watershed moment for me and my sense of masculinity.

Tell us about your writing process … especially considering this particular piece of work had to fit into a themed collection of stories?

I was one of the first contributors Iggy commissioned for the book, so there was no real brief. All I had seen at that point were rough drafts of Iggy’s three chapters. I see myself as a music writer first and foremost, so I’m not used to writing about personal topics reflective of my actual lived experiences. Nonetheless, Iggy was very adamant that my contribution not be music-focused. The Pink Frame was birthed from the two of us brainstorming about things I had gone through as a child. At some point during our conversation, I recounted the anecdote that would anchor my piece and we developed it from there.

What does being a Man mean to you and when did you discover its meaning?

If I’m being 100% transparent, I don’t know if I still can adequately articulate what exactly being a man means to me. What I can say is that my ideas around manhood were revolutionised, challenged and transformed by reading We Real Cool: Black Men & Masculinity by bell hooks, but also works from James Baldwin, Eldridge Cleaver, Junot Diaz and Patricia Hill Collins.

What does Mandem mean to you personally?

Mandem to me is a book that is shining light on nuanced experiences specific to being black and male, but also the transmission of such stories being put on wax after decades of being unexpressed and unspoken. Oral histories that for so long many of us subconsciously thought weren’t worth mentioning or exploring in-depth in fear they wouldn’t be understood or taken seriously. It also means range – the range of the subject matter in the book is remarkable.

Tell us about a challenging moment during this project that you had to dig deep to get through …

It was pretty challenging to dig deep and think intensely about triggering and hurtful encounters that I hadn’t thought about in a very long time. The very existence of the chapter itself was trying, even though it was ultimately therapeutic and it pushed me out of my comfort zone as a writer. Nonetheless, it was very weird and unusual to get to grips with sharing semblances of my life in such a public way.

A sentence, a moment, a paragraph in The Pink Frame that defines what you want the reader to understand about you and why you said yes to being a part of Mandem?

I think these two excerpts will help any prospective readers understand me more:

  • Still so young and quickly starting to understand the currency of social capital, I soon realised that I would need to trade in the essence of I was for the stability of a legitimate friend”.
  • Nonetheless, as convincing as I thought I was, as legitimate as I felt my revamped persona was, the little boy who decided to paint his frame pink followed me everywhere”.

Considering your career evolution, where does this project sit on your checklist?

Before Mandem, I had never envisioned myself as being part of a tangible published book. However, over the course of working on my chapter and gaining a deeper understanding of the kind of career I want for myself, I feel that I do have a few books in me. I want to write books on music criticism and how it intersects with race, sexuality, class and gender in the vein of Nelson George, Maureen Mahon and Questlove. That being said, the response to The Pink Frame has shown me that there are people out there who want me to continue exploring more personal and intimate subjects in my writing. So perhaps that will be a reality one day too.

What’s next?

What the future holds for me definitely includes interviewing more incredible artists and musicians; both editorially whether it’s print or online but also in a live setting where I’m chairing conversations on stage. I set up my own boutique PR agency at the beginning of this year, so I’ll continue growing that. Servicing the PR needs of artists, figures and brands that culturally and creatively resonate with me. In the long term though? I also see myself working as a researcher and consultant on music-focused documentaries and TV shows.

How do we keep up to date with you and your work?

You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @SopeSoetan. You can also find my writing portfolio here – linktree

Where can we get a copy of Mandem?

Mandem can be found in all online and physical retailers where books are sold.


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