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Theo Ndlovu

04.03.2020

aka Touché, Spoken Word Artist, Galway Sound Harvest – Atmos Collective

 

Theo is a 24-year-old artist, producer, and co-founder of Galway’s Atmos Collective. Theo moved here nearly four years ago from Zimbabwe on his own as an asylum seeker and immersed himself in the artistic community from the start.

He reflects on what Galway has given him, all the different ways he’s grown as an artist and what he hopes to create within 2020. Atmos is a collective of film, theatre and spoken word and their Galway 2020 project, Galway Sound Harvest, presents stories of artists from different backgrounds, cultures, and countries through music production and community events.

What was your journey to becoming an artist?

I was doing traditional dancing from the age of eight. I’ve been making music for a while, and started DJing when I was 18 – that’s when I really fell in love with music. As time went on, I got into production, trying to balance house and hip hop. Hip hop is nice – it keeps you cheeky.

 

If people want to get a sense of you, what track should they listen to?

The most personal track I’ve ever made is Emotions – I wrote it in 2017. I was here at the hostel and going through some things. It is about where I come from, where I am and where I’m headed. I was trying to put that into 82 bars. I poured my heart out. I went right in there and talked about things I’ve lost and what I want to achieve.

 

How have you come to set up Atmos?

We’re a group of five Galway-based artists and friends that love doing different things. It came from a need to connect with people through music and hip-hop, to promote self-confidence, expression and positive mental health.

‘Atmos’ is a term used when recording music or film; it’s short for atmosphere. As a group, our vision is to investigate, nurture and celebrate the eclectic atmosphere in Galway through music, film, spoken word and theatre. Inspiration comes from all of us, we hold each other to making things happen and we’re like a family.

 

One of the key topics of Galway 2020 is migration. How does Atmos represent it?

We’re a collective of artists from different backgrounds, cultures, and countries who are currently living in Galway. Migration is inherent to our work. We all carry stories, experiences and all those emotions from places we were born and the places we’ve traveled in order to get here.

Our main goal is to produce original art through collaboration and community engagement, and to share these creations with the public. We work with youth and anyone really who wants to be involved, find their confidence and create something. We want to show it’s good to stand out and be different. We try to help with mental health issues because that’s what’s going on around – a lot of anxiety and depression.

How will you channel your collective experiences in your project?

Our Project for Small Town Big Ideas is called Galway Sound Harvest. We are planning to host a series of community hip-hop and music workshops with young people – with a focus on the many different languages alive in Galway City and County. So many young people are multi-lingual and that is something we want to celebrate – through spoken word and music. From the workshops, we are planning to produce an album at the end of the year.

 

Last year, Atmos put on a series of performances called Elephant in the Room. What was the experience like for you?

It really opened the door for us as a collective. It helped us get the funding from Galway 2020, Music Generation and other organisations that want to work with us. It’s looking bright. In 2020, there are a lot of things happening and we’re looking forward to it.

 

How is support from organisations like Galway 2020 and Music Generation important for you?

It helped me to see the bigger picture about what change I can make. Changes in diversity, for example, working with people from different backgrounds. I was a guy who only knew one part of life in a way. Working with people like Galway 2020 has given me freedom, and us freedom as a collective to get out there.

 

Do you write for yourself or for others?

Sometimes it’s hard to relate to people, but I always only do what I feel. If I don’t feel something, I won’t do it. I wonder sometimes if it’s too personal – am I just writing for myself? That’s what I’ve been trying to work on since I got to Galway – to make music for people. Get out of my small box, find out what I can do, what I can deliver. The way I understand things and words can be so different from the way the audience here understands them and I am trying to tap into that. How can I make them relate to this? How can I get my message across?

 

Did you have English growing up in Zimbabwe?

A bit, but it was poor. You open up a book and you teach yourself how to say things. I didn’t learn it until I was like 16. I’m still at a novice level. But with music, I say things clearly when I write. In Ireland, I learned a whole load of new words I never knew. You become exposed to a lot of everyday things here; it just flows for you. For example, I got here and they asked me about the cloakroom. This one dude was kind enough to show me what it was because I didn’t know. I am 24-years-old and still don’t know about so many things. That’s unacceptable for me. Whatever happens in life, education is power.

 

What type of education have you have access to since coming to Galway?

I tried to apply to a lot of different colleges but they wouldn’t take me because of my situation and not being sure if I’d be here, for four years or even a year. Galway Community College took me in and showed me what I could learn; there are a lot of great teachers out there. Some of them play in bands around town. Everyone here is so exposed to instruments from an early age. I really wanted to learn to play the piano, but I found myself struggling. I hate feeling like the guy that’s slowing everyone down. When I got to the course, I was like, ‘alright, how can I do this’? I would find a corner, play over and over and try to get better.

Did you get to choose Galway when you sought asylum?

It was a blessing from those guys that transferred me here. I believe that things that happen to us, happen for us, most times. You have to really always try your best to discover why something is happening. When they put me here, I was this guy trying to find my way. Galway is the place I found peace. It really did help me.

 

When did you move to Galway and what were your first feelings?

I moved here in July 2016, I met a lot of people. It is a place you feel like everyone is welcoming. If you put yourself out there, you can find the right people that you really feel have your back – your family. When people are this friendly, you feel like it’s too good to be true. I found out this is how Galway is; it’s full of love, laughter, and happiness.

 

When you look back at your four years in Galway, what do you see?

I see growth. I began to understand music more and I am still learning. I am staying open-minded as much as I can. Galway changed me. It made me see possibilities and be a better person. It’s cold and it’s always raining but it has warm hearts.

“They showed me that there’s no need to always protect myself. Where I come from, I used to do that a lot. But Galway is a laid back place full of genuine people. You feel the love, take it in, give it back. The community has always had my back. I never felt alone in Galway; it’s one of the things that makes it easy to deal with a lot.”

How has Galway allowed you to become an artist?

The very first gig I did was for Melting Pot Luck at Spanish Arch. Melting Pot Luck is a not-for-profit group that helps people from different countries and backgrounds. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or if you’re in direct provision, they cook food, and everyone gets together and shares. They also host this annual gig. From then, I went to Galway Open Mic and I did more gigs for Galway Anti Racism Network and Melting Pot. It really helped me open up and experience the city atmosphere.


How has the local scene helped you grow?

From then, a few people saw me and they liked what I did. They welcomed me and introduced me to a lot of different things; their friends and community. They gave me understanding and support. A sense of ‘I know you’re not from around here, but this is how we do things and everyone is cool here.’ They treated me like a baby brother in a way, they showed me that there’s no need to always protect myself. Where I come from, I used to do that a lot. But Galway is a laid back place full of genuine people. You feel the love, take it in, give it back. The community has always had my back. I never felt alone in Galway; it’s one of the things that makes it easy to deal with a lot.

 

How has your deportation order affected your mindset?

It crushed it completely for a few hours. It really did. I always try to look at the bigger picture and stay positive. I want to get there, I want to help people. I want to do my best. I’ve been here three and a half years. You give people hope, they integrate properly, they find love, they find family, friends, all these good things they never had. Then they take it all away just like that. No, that’s not how it works. It doesn’t have to be that way.

 

What is your current prospect of living and creating in Galway?

It’s still uncertain. The uncertainty is stressful – for me and the members of the group. We have so much to do this year. But also, it’s amazing how the artistic community – my family – has come out to support me. For me, I am staying. Hopefully, we can see Small Town Big Ideas through. I want it to be one of the greatest projects I’ll ever work on.


Hundreds of creatives have been involved in the making of the Galway 2020 programme. In our Meet the Makers series, we meet the people who are making it  happen.

Photos and interviews by Julia Monard.


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