It’s fair to say that most 21-year-olds graduating from university today are not graduating as the leaders of businesses that have been running for three years. Yet, Alexandra Ampofo describes feeling “really old because I have a habit of comparing myself to people my age and what they’ve achieved.” Having graduated with a business degree just weeks ago, Alexandra has a thriving business and is a leading light in the UK live music scene. In this interview she shares with me her journey so far and her ambitions as an entrepreneur and a creative:
BLAVITY: Tell us about yourself – where did you go to school and where have you worked?
ALEXANDRA AMPOFO: I’m Alexandra, I’ve grown up all over the place but I am currently based in Hertfordshire. I’m 21-years-young, which I always think is really old because I have a habit of comparing myself to people my age and what they’ve achieved. I really need to stop! Education wise, I’ve done all the pretty standard things, GCSE’s, A Levels etc., etc. I studied Business at GCSE, I then went on to do it at A Level and I’ve just completed a business BA Degree. My graduation was literally last week. As you can probably tell, I have a passion for Business, so it made sense for me to start my own company. In regards to work, I haven’t really worked in many other fields aside from Events. I did retail for a bit when I was 16/17 but I absolutely hated it so I left and have never looked back. When I was 18, I started working in events, which was prompted by organising fundraisers and all that good stuff in 6th Form, and when I turned 19, I was fortunate enough to meet my current business partner Kweku. We’ve worked on many ventures together and hopefully many more.
B: When and why did you start Acoustic Live UK?
AA: I started Acoustic Live UK in 2013, so we’re two, almost three years old. I started it with my business partner Kweku, he had already been doing events for a little bit and was looking for someone to work with, so he followed me on Twitter, stalked me for about a year and then we met. We hit it off straight away, so when I saw what he was doing with events, I was keen to get on board. Then ALUK was born. It all stemmed from a love of acoustic music fused with a love of event curating.
B: When did you begin Busk the Box? How did you come with the idea?
AA: We started Busk The Box in the summer of 2014, and it came about because it was originally sponsored by the network providers EE, as a way of raising awareness of them providing wifi at the Boxpark venue (Boxpark is where we host our Acoustic Afternoon & Busk The Box events).
B: Who’s on your team? Who are the people who make it all happen each week?
AA: Originally it was just me and Kweku in the team, and we’ve had friends help us out here and there over the years. Now we’ve had two additions, Kelly and Monica, who work on other events we have, as well as Busk The Box/Acoustic Afternoon, working on the planning and the logistics of everything. We also have added two A&Rs to the team as part of our training programme. They help with finding artists.
B: How do you find artists to perform each week?
AA: For a long time, I would literally dedicate a whole day to going through Soundcloud and looking for dope UK-based artists to perform, then I would find their email addresses and get in touch with them like that. Last year we set up a kind of hub where artists could send their music and I’d go through that bit-by-bit. Also, I have artists send their material to me personally. Through our A&R training programme, the A&Rs also find artists and put their names forward.
B: What has been the standout performance/experience over the time that you have been holding Busk the Box?
AA: This is such a hard one because naturally there are so many great performers and I love them all! I would say a standout performance for me would be when we had The Thirst, they were epic. also when we had Samm Henshaw, I just love his voice. JP Cooper was also a standout one for me, his performance touched my soul.
B: Apart from Busk the Box, what other things come under Acoustic Live UK?
AA: Acoustic Afternoon also comes under Acoustic Live UK, which is also held at Boxpark. Grey Wolf Talent and Project M2B are extensions of ALUK, but are focused on corporate events and media-driven seminars. Our socials for those are @WeAreGREYWOLF @ProjectM2B.
B: What are your ambitions for Acoustic Live UK?
AA: The initial ambition for ALUK was to curate festivals, we’ve already done one, which was Brick Lane Festival 2014. I hope that we get to do more of those soon. If I’m honest, the vision grew quicker than we expected, so I’m grateful for what has been achieved so far.
B: What are your thoughts about the UK music scene?
AA: I think the UK music scene deserves more credit than it’s given. Maybe because I spend [the] majority of my time listening to unsigned artists and people with little buzz is why I think that. For me, it’s not only the big names that represent the UK music scene, but I am much more interested in the underground scene than I am the mainstream scene.
B: What are your biggest creative inspirations?
AA: This might seem like a random one, but June Sarpong is one of my creative inspirations, I just love everything about her. She was one of the only black women I would see on TV when I was younger, doing similar things to what I wanted to do. She inspired me more because she was a dark-skinned black women, a representative of what I am. No one in my family is “creative” so when I started showing interest in my field, I sort of became the black sheep of the family! I’m also hugely inspired by Erykah Badu, that goes without saying, she’s the coldest out there.
B: What are your biggest creative challenges?
AA: I think my biggest creative challenge is execution. Having an idea, thinking it’s great and then actually bringing it to life. I’m quite shy when it comes to sharing my work, which is frustrating for me because I like to explore all aspects of my creativity, so when I think I’ve got a good idea, I sometimes get discouraged because I don’t think it will get the support of the people. The creative industry is a beautiful place sometimes, but we can’t ignore the fact that a lot of the time it’s a popularity contest. Sometimes even if you put out the most amazing work, someone who has the following or is more popular per se, will receive 5x more acknowledgement regardless of the quality of their own work.
B: What are your biggest inspirations as an entrepreneur?
AA: Solange Knowles. Her journey to where she is today has been a tough one, especially being in the shadow of an older sibling. She birthed her own ideas and made them come to life; her aesthetics are second to none. I really admire that woman. I’m also really inspired by the people around me, especially my peers who have their own businesses themselves, watching them flourish makes me happy and definitely fuels my inspiration.
B: What are your biggest challenges as an entrepreneur?
AA: I think my biggest challenges are probably age and race. In the corporate field, nobody wants to take you seriously, let alone have you curate one of their events for them when they learn you’re 21. And I mention race because there was a time when I booked an act and she did a beautiful poem which has some references to police brutality in it, afterwards I was pulled aside and told it was too black [for] that type of event, which I thought was an absolutely disgusting thing to say. I’ve had a few instances where things of a similar nature have happened, but it’s all good, none of that will stop me.
B: What have you got coming up that you would like people to know about?
AA: Coming up? Oooh we always have things on the go but I would like to let people know that we have gone back to hosting Acoustic Afternoon and Busk The Box will return in summer 2016. So that’s every Sunday from 1-4 p.m. at Boxpark. It’s a free event, so we’d like everyone to come and bring their uncles, dads, sugar daddies, nans, whatever! Everyone is welcome.