TBB Talks To … Podcast Queen Leanne Alie

Leanne Alie, the host of Coiled podcast, won Moment of the Year at the British Podcast Awards …

Coiled is a documentary podcast that explores Black Afro Hair in all its forms and textures. It follows Leanne’s journey as she transitions from chemically straightened hair back to natural. Through this journey she also explores the history of afro hair, where is human hair sourced, who owns the Black hair industry, what’s actually in the chemicals that we put into our hair, as well as shining a light on those who are working towards better representation of afro hair in the UK.

When exploring who owns the Black hair industry, Alie took on the CEO of Pak Cosmetics in a clip that went viral on, creating an online conversation about the importance of buying Black-owned beauty products.

We spoke to Leanne about her love of podcasting, what a Coiled means for the Black community and how important podcasts are in providing a space to develop underrepresented voices through audio …

Please introduce yourself

My name is Leanne Alie, AKA your Resident Podcast Queen. I’m a podcast producer, presenter and commissioner. I live and breathe podcasting and I’m passionate about telling Black stories that represent the intersectional Black British experience. I’m born and raised in Reading and have Bajan and Dominican heritage.

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

A season of change.

You are the host of Coiled a documentary-style podcast that explores Black hair. Can you give us some more insight into what you talk about, who you talk to, and why you felt the need to create this podcast? Which topic did you enjoy discussing the most?

I created this podcast as I was at a crossroads with my own hair journey; I wanted to transition back to natural after having relaxed hair since I was a child, but I didn’t know how. This brought up many more questions for me, such as “why did I feel the need to have straight hair for so long“, and “Where does this attitude come from?” and “Who owns the Black hair industry“, because from my observations it didn’t seem to be the Black community and I wanted to explore why.

Throughout the series, I spoke to academics, hair stylists, business owners and Black men and women from across the UK to get a full picture of the Black hair landscape in the UK. My message with this podcast is that all hair is good hair and to inspire the next generation to embrace and love their natural hair, as that’s a message that I didn’t grow up with.

On your journey in creating the podcast, exploring the history of Black hair, and discovering who the major players are in the Black hair industry, what has been the most interesting and exciting thing that you have discovered?

I enjoyed exploring where human hair comes from the most as I was shocked to hear about the inner workings of the human hair trade and how much money is in it. Brazilian and Peruvian hair doesn’t actually come from those places, that’s just a hair ‘type!’

The most interesting thing that I learned that I wasn’t aware of was the story of Dyke and Dryden who were the first Black afro hair care providers in the UK and became the first Black millionaires in the UK. They were more than just a hair business; they had a huge impact on the community, providing loans for businesses and doing afro hair workshops in care homes. It was interesting to hear how this company evolved and was eventually sold to Softsheen which then changed the landscape of the hair care sector which is now dominated by businesses owned by the South Asian community.

As we all know, our hair is a constant topic of conversation, whether good or bad – it is political, it is racially motivated, it is a fashion statement, it is a plethora of so many things … do you ever wonder ‘When will these conversations STOP, when will we just simply be!’?

Not everyone sees their hair as political, but unfortunately, I don’t think this discourse will stop until afro hair is seen as equal. Afro hair is still not a protected attribute by the UK Equality Act. Even when this change in law eventually comes into play, societal attitudes take a long time to change, although, with every conversation, podcast, book, and TV show that talks about afro hair in its beauty and positivity, this will hopefully allow us to just be with our hair.

You recently won Moment of The Year at the British Podcast Awards. Firstly, congratulations. But was it a bitter-sweet moment as it surrounded the conversation you had with the CEO of Paks Cosmetics who said some outlandish things about Black Business having no value?

I wouldn’t say it’s a bittersweet moment as that moment created a huge conversation online about how important it is to support Black Businesses. I shared a whole list of Black businesses that people can buy from and others were doing the same. This is collective action. We need to actively support our community in order for it to grow and Coiled as a platform created this conversation which as a result has made many people in the Black community become more conscious shoppers and I’m proud that we were able to create this change through the podcast.

You are the Commissioning Producer of BBC Sounds Audio Lab, can you tell us about the Audio Lab, what you look for as a commissioner, and what we can expect from the upcoming set this month?

Audio Lab is a development programme that we have created at the BBC, where for the first time, individual creators can pitch in ideas and get them commissioned, breaking down the barrier to entry of having to pitch through a production company. As a commissioner, I get excited about stories that I have not heard before from different perspectives and points of view. I’m passionate about raising the voices of underrepresented groups through audio.

I’m super excited about the next collection of content we’re putting out. We have Who was Michael X which is the story of a Black British Black Panther Leader whose story is mostly unknown by Hamza Salmi. We have The Reset which is an exploration of the messier aspects of the human experience through the lens of a Black woman coming of age in her 30’s, by Jade Scott. We also have Colouring in Britain by Tommy Dixon which documents the stories of influential Black British people of colour such as Benjamin Zephaniah, Claudia Jones and Paul Stephenson.

Adam Zmith, Hamza Salmi, Jade Scott, Hanna Adan, Talia Randall and Tommy Dixon


Out of all the podcasts you have commissioned for the BBC, what has been the one you are most proud of and why?

I’m extremely proud of all 6 of the podcasts we’ve commissioned, developed and released as part of BBC Sounds Audio Lab as I don’t think they would be made or commissioned anywhere else and they are all fantastic stories that tell us something important about the society that we live in.

Podcasting is a relatively new industry, what is it that draws the audience in? And do you think that with podcasting platforms like BBC Sounds Audio a space has been created for new voices that didn’t have a place in TV / radio?

There are definitely more opportunities within audio and podcasting. It’s one of the few forms of media that doesn’t have barriers to entry; anyone can start and publish a podcast, which I think is great. It is definitely a space to develop new voices and as a creator build an audience and I think we’ll see more podcast formats translating into TV as the industry matures and grows.

What podcast are you currently listening to?

I’m so happy that The Read is back, that’s one of my staples. I’m also listening to Wondery’s Scamfluencers.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU …

  • A book you treasure? Becoming by Michelle Obama

  • A song / album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Break My Soul Beyonce

  • A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Girlfriends

  • The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? My first Beyonce Concert; I’ve seen her live now 6 times. Beyonce inspires me so much; she shows me that as a Black woman, you can truly achieve anything.

  • What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Sad: Cost of Living. Mad: Beyonce’s Renaissance – mad hyped!! Glad: The return of carnival is coming!

Coiled podcast is available on all listening platforms

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