TBB Talks To… Love Ssega Creator Of Home-Zero @ The National Gallery

The workshop and performance will feed into the creation of an artistic film that will premiere this month.

Musician and artist Love Ssega started his career as the original frontman of band Clean Bandit after leaving the band to study for his PHD Ssega went on to work with Philharmonia Orchestra, tour China as a Musician in Residence for British Council and PRS Foundation and release music with Parisian fashion house Kitsuné to name but a few things the artist has achieved in his career. He is currently Arts Foundation Music For Change Fellow 2022.

Along with his many contributions to music Love Ssega has moved into campaigning for climate justice and has recently collaborated with the National Gallery X (National Gallery and King’s College London) and Nesta to create Love Ssega’s HOME-Zero.

We spoke to Love Ssega about the project, what it means to him, how Climate change affects us all and what we can do to make a change…

Please introduce yourself…

Hi, I’m Love Ssega, a songwriter, artist and musician

Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.

Being creative for not just myself but the people around me too.

Firstly, on becoming Artist and current Arts Foundation Music For Change Fellow 2022 – How did it feel to be recognised with this accolade?

This was a huge accolade as it shows that people not just in music but in the broader art world feel like my work is worth supporting and highlighting.

People often forget that music is an art form, and not just a commodity and I believe art should change people one way or another. We need change right now and I think the UK is changing because it has to. I’m proud of my Black identity and East African heritage and so I’m compelled to use my art to highlight Black Lives Matter beyond just the black square. I feel compelled to use my art to highlight air pollution in areas of South London that are heavily Black and thus affect us more than whether a dance move goes viral on Tiktok. I also feel compelled and humbled to realise I am not the only voice out there and getting such an award gives me a chance to platform an all-black cast in the UK’s most prominent art museum, right in Trafalgar Square. For me, that’s the exciting part of it all.

Can you tell us a bit about the fellowship and what it allows you to do?

The Fellowship offered financial support which enabled me to see my visual art piece at MoMA PS1 in Queens, New York in April and also meet US art and music representatives interested in my work on that side of the pond. Having the likes of Daniel Kaluuya and John Boyega continue to blaze a Black British trail in the US, following the likes of Sir Steve McQueen and Sir David Adjaye is motivation to expand your horizons. In fact, when I was in New York I was able to see “Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room” at The Met Gallery which features rising Black Brits in director Jenn Nkiru of Beyonce’s Brown Skin Girl video fame and design-storyteller Yinka Ilori.

Further to this, previous people to have been awarded Arts Foundation Fellowships early in their careers include Oscar-winning Director Asif Kapadia and future Royal Ballet resident choreographer Wayne McGregor. So a lot to live up to.

Love Ssega @ National Art Gallery x – Image Credit: Sophie Harbinson

You first started with the group Clean Bandit and have had an extensive career in the arts working with Philharmonia Orchestra and touring China as a Musician in Residence for British Council and PRS Foundation to name but a few of your many achievements. Did you ever imagine that your career would expand to this and far beyond?

I had no idea my career would expand this far at all, be it geographically or artistically! In a funny way, and a message to other artists is that if one door closes, another one opens. After finishing my PhD, I did have a chance to go back full time to Clean Bandit, however, if I did that then I wouldn’t have done all the things listed above. I’ve had to fight to get to this position, but now I’m here it feels great. Some ideas are worth fighting for and to be honest, I feel like I’m just getting started. The naysayers have been rolled down the hill!

In recent years you have turned to campaign for climate justice and will be collaborating with the National Gallery X (National Gallery and King’s College London) and NESTA to create Love Ssega’s HOME-Zero. Can you tell us about the project and what it aims to do?

I brought people aged 18-35 from black and ethnic minorities together for a workshop to discuss climate change in the context of the need for better and more sustainable social housing. That workshop then informed a promenade performance in three of the National Gallery’s largest rooms on Earth Day. I directed and wrote all the music for this 30-minute performance which featured an all-black cast of poets including Solomon O.B. and Kieron Rennie and choreographer-dancers Krystal S. Lowe and Paris Crossley. There’s a film of this all to come. We also upcycled instruments created from radiators and gas canisters that I’m hoping to tour with the arts organisation, Shadwell. A film of the project is to be released soon so watch this space…

Where did the idea for Love Ssega’s HOME-Zero come from?

My work of late is about giving people a voice and from my perspective, as a Black person in Britain, I need to start close to home and with those from communities around me. In this case of HOME-Zero, I can’t thank NESTA and National Gallery X enough as in a short period of time they managed to amplify my evolving and changing artistic requests to create a performance, just one part of the project for example, that had the biggest National Gallery Lates crowd since before the pandemic.

In what ways do you use your music to bring attention to the social issues you are affected by and how do you think the messages are translated through your music?

As a musician, you are also a person first, so I always look for issues on my doorstep, which at the moment isn’t actually that hard. For instance, the cost of living crisis is gripping everyone and it’s caused by our structural addiction to fossil fuels, which links to, surprise surprise, the climate crisis. Once we start seeing these things we realise how much we’re being played. HOME-Zero in this case shows that musicians and artists can tackle these issues with the backing of our big cultural institutions. The music I compose can provide the link and platform to, not only bring different audiences together but also different artists and voices to social issues such as climate action in a creative, positive and uplifting way.

Can you tell us a bit about how you got into music and songwriting, was your home always filled with music?

My home was filled with music and really I have to thank my Dad for that. He loved jazz and funk, with John Coltrane being his favourite artist, but he also had East African vinyls of Congolese superstars such as Franco. Music is everywhere in Uganda, where my family is from, so you can’t ignore it. It was only when going back to Uganda as an adult that I realise how much Ugandans love to party and have a social function, therefore, I guess it’s in our blood. In terms of songwriting, I just picked that up myself really, with help from my Dad’s collection of Stevie Wonder, Marvyn Gaye, and Teddy Pendergrass. It was at university that I started doing open mic nights to avoid studying and then formed a little band to avoid having to pay to get into graduation events. It then went from there.

Love Ssega @ National Art Gallery x – Image Credit: Sophie Harbinson

Aside from your own whose performance are you most looking forward to and why?

Without a doubt Kendrick Lamar. I went to his last tour with my close school friends and now his new album has come out we’re itching to reform the Kung Fu Kenny group to see this show. Kendrick is just on another level. Growing up my sister and I listened to a lot of New York rap, from Nas to Jay Z to Mobb Deep to A Tribe Called Quest. Hip Hop and Rap were exciting back then and only Kendrick makes the modern era feel exciting in terms of lyricism, comedy to straight-up bangers like King Kunta. Now I feel we get too much algorithm rap, i.e. formulaic.

What is the most important thing about campaigning for climate justice and how can our readers get involved with and outside of the Love Ssega’s HOME-Zero project?

Think about climate change and our addiction to fossil fuels as a real, current and local issue. Make noise about it and let’s dispel the myth that Black people only care about certain issues (with climate action allegedly not being one of them). Climate action is interlinked with racial inequality and also colonialism. If we had cleaner energy we wouldn’t have as much air pollution and there would be less oil and gas from corrupt regimes. Change your bank account to a bank that doesn’t invest in fossil fuels too. And keep a look out for the Home-Zero film coming soon and hopefully be inspired more.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU…

A book you have to have in your collection? Sita Brahmachari – When Shadows Fall – a book I’m trying to get as many young people to read as possible. I wish I had it as a teenager

A song / album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Roots Manuva – Run Come Save Me – growing up at a time when believe it or not, some UK rappers didn’t rap with their accent. Roots was a complete breath of fresh air. Transformational

A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Lupin – Omar Sy is a don.

The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? Percussionist Evelyn Glennie at Royal Festival Hall. My sister’s godmother took us when I was way too small to know anything other than nursery rhymes really. My parents didn’t play any instruments but always made sure we listened to stuff outside of what they might have listened to growing up. So always expand your mind.

What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week?

Sad – The cost of living affecting everyone
Mad – state of the UK and the fact the Prime Minister broke the law he set.
Glad – that I went to a Youth Centre in Streatham and despite everything that is going on, children today still have the energy and fearlessness to grab life with both hands.


Love Ssega’s Home-Zero will be premiered in June 2022 and will be free to access for all. To find out more visit lovessega.com

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