Faced with deportation under the Tories' "hostile environment", this Mancunian MC responded by setting up a record label…
You would never tell from his high-vibed MC performances, or his appearances on tracks by the likes of Euphonique. But for the last four years Owen Haisley’s life has been in turmoil as the threat of deportation has hung over him. For years, he only told a few close friends about this.
“I know what it’s like to sit there and say nothing and keep it to yourself,” says Haisley, who’s known best – especially in the Manchester music community where he’s worked and been heavily involved in the city’s thriving bass music scene since the 90s – as Madrush MC. “You feel dead ashamed. How do you even tell people you’re going to be deported?”
Madrush has lived in the UK since 1977. He was four years old when his mother moved here. He was educated here, has a family here and has contributed to society in a positive way, both as a performer and as a full-time youth worker, helping thousands of children get off the streets and engaged in arts. It was a role he was very proud of and held for over a decade. until he was forced to stop working due to the current situation in which he finds himself under immigration bail.
It happened after an incident with the authorities. Without warning he was put under brutal restrictions under the ‘hostile environment’ initiative put in place by the former prime minister Theresa May. He can’t work, vote, drive or seek medical help. But, as he says himself, the Home Office can’t take away his music. Following a high-profile public petition for his status to be readdressed, which saw him and 49 other detainees taken off a chartered flight to Jamaica just minutes before take-off, Haisley understood what needed to be done: give a voice to those who feel voiceless.
If he hadn’t spoken out to friends who campaigned on his behalf and spearheaded the petition, he would have been in a country where he has no family or foundation whatsoever. So he now wants to help others who are in similar situations by finding their stories and amplifying them with music with a new label: Stand Up Speak Out.
“It could be health issues, addiction, abuse, problems with gangs,” he explains. “People who feel marginalised or scared to speak up. I want to be there to encourage them.”
The label will flex between hip-hop, neo-soul and drum & bass. It’s non-profit and it launched last week with Madrush’s own Everyday Bluesy. A soulful, thoughtful hip-hop piece that explains how he’s maintained a positive outlook on life even during the most frustrating of times, it sets the tone for the realism that’s set to follow in 2020.
We called him up to find out more…
So you’re effectively in a state of limbo aren’t you?
"I am, yeah. I can’t work, I can’t get any support, I can’t drive, I can’t vote, if I was in an accident I couldn’t seek NHS support. I wouldn’t be able to rent through an authority. Everything’s moving around me but I’m on this weird slow motion."
You must have some amazing support from family and friends?
"Exactly. I love them so much for that. Some people might see me doing shows and think, ‘He’s got shows on, he’s okay’ but the shows are my therapy. The DJ is doing the work, I’m just going to support them because they support me. They’re friends, they know music is my thing, they know I’m more than happy to jump on stage and support them and do that because it’s the only thing I can do."
I imagine the music and your young family are the only things that have kept you strong during this?
"That’s it. They keep me going. Music’s been there my whole life. It’s the only thing that has been there and it’s the one thing Home Office can’t take away from me and can’t stop me doing. I’m using that to my advantage and that’s why I’ve come up with Stand Up Speak Out."
You must have met a lot of people who are in a similar set of circumstances?
"There are loads. More than you’d ever know. I see them at the reporting centre every Friday. All these people who are put in this situation and can’t seek help. It’s like we’ve been put in a trap; they’re waiting for us to fail or do something drastic that will give them reason to deport us.
"I have to stay positive. I know what this trap is about and I’m not going to fall for it. But I know there are some people who almost have to fall for it. Younger people on immigration bail without a strong family and friend network with them might not be able to do the same. It’s hard out there!"
So how will the label work? And how will it give voices to the voiceless if they’re not particularly artistic but have a story the world needs to know?
"Basically if I didn’t stand up and speak out when I was in detention, 106,000 people wouldn’t have stepped forward and signed a petition so I can be here talking to you now. If you don’t speak out, no one will know what you’re going through. So I want to do that for others. I want to use my music platform to give other people a platform.
"In terms of how it works, if someone isn’t music-orientated then what we’d do is speak to them and see if they agree to their story being given to an artist who can either sing or rap or do spoken word and tell their story on their behalf. It’s a non-profit label so all proceeds will go back into it and fund workshops around the country, finding people who want to tell their story and even trying to encourage them to sing or play music themselves, to give them some confidence."
You’re getting out there and finding these people?
"It’s the only way to do it. And the main thing is telling their story. I know what it’s like to sit there and say nothing. You feel dead ashamed. How do you even tell people you’re going to be deported? Or tell people the things you see in the detention centre. I didn’t tell anyone anything until I was pretty much put on a plane. Then I had to tell someone, but I realised it was the right thing to do. It sets an example and hopefully moves others to stand up and speak about their stories.
"And it’s not just immigration, but any health issues, addiction, abuse, problems with gangs. People who feel marginalised or scared to speak up. I want to be there to encourage them. There are artists who might have songs that their labels might not want to release because it’s too personal or political. Personally I don’t think there are enough labels telling what’s actually happening out there. There’s way too much money vibe, too much club vibe, too much fake vibe. It detracts from the truth. When I’m listening to music, I want to hear realism. I don’t hear enough of it."
That must have been a light in an incredibly frustrating situation?
"It was. You have to be positive. I’m channeling everything through my music and I’m doing it positively. I’m not going to let them make me angry or mad. That’s what they want. When people try and push a negative energy on you and you come back with something positive, it makes them look a bit silly, doesn’t it?"
It does! And the label’s first single Everyday Bluesy channels that doesn’t it?
"Yeah. I started to write that before they detained me in January, then finished it when I came out. I was alone by myself during all that time but I had The Most High who I could speak to.
"Even though everyone was supporting me with the petition, when I was in those places… you can speak to one or two people but everybody has got their own stuff to deal with. Things were dark but The Most High kept things bluesy for me. You can have everything thrown against you, but you have to stay positive. The negativity is the devil trying to do overtime.
"Think positively then positive things will happen to you. If you absorb the negative stuff your mind starts being negative and you do negative things. I was in a negative environment, but I stayed positive and positive things happened. Papers who wouldn’t report on minorities – black people, Asian people – they were supporting me and the other 49 people on the chartered flight."
What follows Everyday Bluesy?
"We've got four releases set up and ready to go and now we’re finding other people to tell their stories. Everyday Bluesy is out now and there’s a drum & bass remix coming…"
By Diligent Fingers?
"No, he’s on production of the original. He’s a don mate, he’s been doing his groundwork for years. I went through writer’s block before I went into detention and it was him sending me a link to some of his tracks that re-inspired me."
"Yeah. He’s been a massive help in getting all the original songs done and ready for the label. Then remix-wise I’ve hit up a few Manchester producers who are good friends, like Motiv and Bou. We’ve got some more on oard for the future, too. Each release will have a hip-hop or neo-soul vibe and a drum & bass version. That’s the aim, we want to cover both sides of this music and all the talented people in both communities.
"But most importantly, we want to tell real stories and give people who feel in any way marginalised from society or abused or scared a voice. We got a really healthy scene out there, we need to put that to good use and help each other out as much as we can. I want to thank the full Manchester and drum & bass community. Bloc2Bloc Radio, Movement For Justice, The Gaskell Garden Project, Mike Burgess and everybody who took time out to sign the petition and show their support that is enabling me to do what I’m doing now…
Words: Dave Jenkins
Everyday Bluesy is out now. Buy it here
Tags: Madrush, Owen Haisley, Stand Up Speak Out, Manchester, Windrush, deportation, D&B, hip-hop, neo-soul, Diligent Fingers, Bloc2Bloc Radio, Movement For Justice, The Gaskell Garden Project, Motiv, Bou