Auntie Flo: 'Having one foot on the dancefloor but one just outside it is important for me, and it's pleasing to have recognition for that'
- David Pollock
- 5 September 2019
credit: Flavien Prioreau
Glasgow producer and DJ reflects on being shortlisted for the SAY Award and the importance of the album as a medium to showcase a body of work
'It's great to be nominated for anything,' says Brian d'Souza, aka Auntie Flo, whose most recent album Radio Highlife has brought his second appearance on the Scottish Album of the Year shortlist in 2019. Although he's been a reliable presence on the Scottish music scene for the last decade, both through his own gigs and as co-promoter of the envelope-pushing internationalism of Glasgow's Highlife night, the new record – released on Gilles Peterson's Brownswood label – has brought him a whole new level of acclaim.
Featuring guests, musicians and styles of music from across the world, Radio Highlife has seen d'Souza form his own live group to play it at festivals over the past summer, including to several thousand at Peterson's own We Out Here event in Cambridgeshire in August. Ironically, the Glasgow-raised d'Souza has recently moved down to London, although he remains proud to be recognised in his home country.
'In general, awards serve a good purpose, and creative output should be rewarded in some way,' he continues. 'Although it's a big challenge to do it – what are the merits of one album over another? So many of these can be outside the music, in terms of the impact or what the album is saying, so it's a very difficult thing to judge. That's on one side; but on the other, as an artist releasing music, you're making it to be heard, so being up for a nomination is going to put it in the line of sight of a bigger audience.
'In terms of the SAY Award itself, I'm back home a lot,' he continues. 'Scotland – and Glasgow in particular – is where my musical education comes from, and things I've done there have been the whole basis of my Auntie Flo project, so being rewarded with this in my home country is fantastic. I was in Russia when I found out, I was just about to do a gig at a festival there when the news popped up on a newsfeed I was following. It was so soon after the longlisting, I was surprised and delighted. We had a lot of vodka that night!'
Responding to questions which have been aired about the diversity of this year's shortlist, d'Souza, whose parents are from Glasgow and Goa, is pragmatic. 'I've had chats with people about this, and it's difficult,' he says. 'We live in an age of identity politics and in a world of global social media, so people have different perspectives depending on where they're based; even where I live in London, for example, the demographic in terms of identities is massively different from what it's like in Scotland.
'That Scotland is less ethnically diverse isn't a disservice to Scotland, it's just a fact, and the political narrative is that we welcome people in; certainly, I've always felt very welcome in Scotland, and I'm sure my mum would say that as well. So diversity has to be based on the boring but necessary facts of the demographic make-up of a country, and it's when these don't match up that you've got an issue.
'And the other part of the debate is, there are lots of people from ethnic minorities in Scotland making music, but are they making albums? If not, why not? Don't they have the support to do that? Is it a format that's relevant to them? I love the album, I think it's the best way to showcase a body of work, but maybe in 2019 that's an old-fashioned viewpoint, and maybe that's something that needs to be looked at to encourage more people to be eligible. I've heard people ask where hip-hop is on the list, but how many releases were eligible to be submitted?'
Due to a prior live engagement at Skye Live, d'Souza can't be at the ceremony, but he's proud that his music is there amongst such talent. 'This nomination means recognition alongside some very talented peers,' he says. 'No-one else on there has come from quite as club-focussed a background as I have, aside from Free Love, so to be recognised as an artist who releases albums rather than just singles is great; having one foot on the dancefloor but one just outside it is important for me, and it's pleasing to have recognition for that. Maybe being there will open a door for people who only listen to guitar music into my world? Music is great for bringing people together, and this list does exactly that.'
The SAY Award Ceremony is at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, Fri 6 Sep. Radio Highlife is out now on Brownswood. Auntie Flo plays Sneaky Pete's Edinburgh, Sat 21 Sep.