THEY go by the slogan ‘Raising the volume on the whispered conversations in our communities.’
These four women are all gatekeepers in their own right on a professional, faith, social and historical magnitude. Yes, this is the first group of Black women making a foursome collaboration to bring stories to your home from right here in Northern Ireland. They really want the positive energy vibe and similarly want to talk about society and its difficult moments.
So they are not faking it, the habit of enjoying these podcasted conversations. The podcast is ‘Unmute Now’ and its main aim is to bring important and sometimes difficult conversations from families or communities to the table for frank yet thoughtful discussions.
It also aims to help bridge the gap between Black and other minority ethnic communities and the wider Northern Irish society through conversations which speak to integration and celebration of both indigenous and migrant cultures. If that sounds like a mouthful, just tune in to the podcast.
Democracy landed on the internet and podcasts are the powerful alternative media that is often played down by audiences. It is growing, though. People are interested in specific issues; it is like going window shopping until you get the one or two things that will get your foot on the door.
The podcast’s hosts are Angela Ifonlaja, Yolande Robertson-Greene, Nattassa Latcham and Raquel McKee. They all represent the African and Caribbean communities in Northern Ireland. They are a colour-blind effort, often demystifying diversity as a concept, they seem to show love in a world that has recently been divided by identity politics. Diversity is beyond skin and it must be acted upon, not headlined as cultural events but making it part of everyday mainstream life.
The opinions of the four hosts are diverse of course, often encouraging and signalling each other without looking any bit amateurish. In this episode, Yolande is definitely the loud one; you can hear her points coming in politely and with firmness. No-one crosses the archetypal floor of the house when she is speaking. But she is patient, gives the audience time to reflect on what they are saying and gives open-ended questioning to the guests.
This is something different. In Northern Ireland, a nation that has been divided for a long period and for which many conversations, even progressive ones, are hijacked by the dichotomy of sectarian politics. These women are always leaving a door open for further discussion in their podcast, there is hardly any reprimanding.
Guests feel secure. Unmute Now may sound weird to those who are still getting to grips with the bevy of diverse topics from health, music, identity, fashion, gender, but actually this is the way to go. Online broadcasting can handle this because there are no definite restriction like the TV advertising model where giving away any seconds that could have transformed into money through advertising is unthinkable.
In one of the group’s latest episodes filmed in March, Unmute Now hosted an amazing line-up of six women from the minority ethnic communities who live or work in Belfast. They were Tanzanian-born corporate lawyer Joan Boyle, Indian-born Canadian Theatre Director Andrea Montgomery, Sasha Samara who is a Malaysian Irish singer-song writer, Vivian Ogundipe, a counsellor originally from Nigeria, Gace Abosi of Awos House of Fashion, Manal Mahdi, a consultant physician and also Chair of Africa House.