Hustle culture has been stealing our joy for too long. Instagram has hammered the 24/7 hustle narrative into our brains — if you’re not working or using every minute of everyday productively, you’re doing something wrong.
This philosophy doesn’t allow time for rest and drains the joy and spark out of activities we love, dampening that initial love we first had for a project or hobby. A passion becomes laborious, stressful and all about making or trying to make money. But does it have to be this way? The short answer — no.
Former music journalist Hannah Olarewaju is no stranger to this hustle culture messaging. She turned her passion for events and live music into a full-time project, tmr (the music room), which is an intimate live musical experience based in her home city, Milton Keynes. In order to enjoy the journey she’s on, Hannah has consciously decided to move away from putting pressure on herself and her project and is instead enjoying the process and allowing things to flow at their own pace.
We spoke to Hannah to find out more about tmr, her future plans for the project, the impact of live music on community and most importantly, why a “soft life” approach has helped her create something amazing without burning herself out in the process. It’s clear tmr is a labor of love–emphasis on love, not labor.
Kristen Bingle: Can you tell us what themusicroom is?
Hannah Olarewaju: tmr is a live music platform–or initially started off as a live music platform. We curate intimate live music shows and facilitate creative cultural discussions. We’re now branching into art and culture, by introducing artists into the space. We’ll get them to decorate the room in their art and feature them within the show. We’ll actually bring them on stage and get them to talk about their art. So we’ve got that and now we’ve also got an exhibition going on at the moment — Moments of Integrity. It’s a demonstration of our interest in art and showcasing artists as well as musicians.
KB: What styles of art are you exhibiting? And is integrity a theme within the pieces that are being displayed?
HO: Yeah, it is a theme. I went and gathered the artists late last year, around November time. I took them to the space so they could understand what I was going with. It’s the first exhibition and it actually ties in a lot with me personally. Every year, spiritually, I decide what the theme should be or what the word should be that I’m aiming for or I wanna represent, and this year it was integrity. So I thought, okay, let me tie it in and create an exhibition about moments of integrity, which is just showing in an authentic way who you are, what you believe in, what you represent and what your go-to creative outburst would be. In the exhibition, we’ve got photographers, illustrators, a graphic designer and animator and we’ve also got a fine art painter.
I’ve made it very diverse so that people can go in there and enjoy their favorite kinds of art. I mean, at the launch, people were saying, “I’ve never seen animation in a gallery before.” And I said, yeah, because it’s art, we don’t look at it as art, but it is.
KB: What made you want to create tmr and where did the idea come from?
HO: It came from lack of what I wanted to do in my own city. I started off as a journalist in the music industry and I was going back and forth to London. I loved it, don’t get me wrong. But after a while you just kind of think, why do I have to travel for like half an hour, 40 minutes to get to music? Why is it not happening in my own city? And you have that argument with yourself, like, oh, I’ll just wait for it to happen. But then you’re like, why don’t I just do it? I didn’t have the skills at that time, but I said, I always think anything’s possible if you just make the effort, so I started making the effort.
I’ve always, always loved live music. I’m Nigerian, Yoruba to be exact. I was brought up in parties, going out all the time. And at Nigerian parties, we always have live music. We have a Fuji band or an Afro Juju band or whatever it is. I grew up on that. So I’ve always loved music. And then when I discovered it as a passion of mine to go out to gigs and concerts and festivals, I really decided I want a piece of this as well.
KB: So you mentioned that you didn’t have the skills when you first started. What skills have you developed and how did you develop them?
HO: I developed them on the ground, literally. My first show ever was in this bar called Messina. I don’t even know how I got the gig, but I literally blagged my way into it cause I just wanted to start. I borrowed technical equipment from the church I was going to at that time and a technician from the church. These were all favors. I was borrowing from people. I literally learned on the job, everything, even down to how to talk to artists, how to book them, how to treat them and how to, like, manage relationships with venues.
KB: What type of artists perform at tmr? Is it a specific genre you have or is it anyone and everyone?
HO: It’s very generalist. We’ve had everything, honestly. From electronic to live music featuring dijiridoos, RnB singers, to a whole live instrument set up. I say to the artists, I want you to be as creative as possible because I don’t want my show to be boring. Like, I want people to come here and be like, yo, I’m coming again.
KB: How many people showed up to the first event you put on versus the most recent one?
HO: Probably, like, 10 people outside of my friends and family. At our recent art gallery exhibition launch we had about 40 people and it was a very small intimate space. We like working in intimate spaces. We [limit] our visitors and that’s definitely a special element to the show as it builds on that sense of community and allows for conversation — this is your home that you can chill here.
KB: Let’s talk about live music. What would you say the positive impacts of live music are?
HO: Live music is therapeutic. It’s very much just the atmosphere of going to a concert, no matter how big it is, you just feel as soon as you get in there, you just know like, oh my God, I, I just feel free. Like you don’t need to do anything to enjoy it. I read this quote somewhere that said music is one of the things that you never have to justify to do nothing to. You can just sit there and listen to the music. I know some of us listen to music as we’re doing things, but if you just sit down and just experience music, you never have to justify what you’re doing. You’re just listening to it and it’s such a beautiful experience. You are having such an intimate, unique experience, because to each person in that space, you’re having a different experience. It’s one of the things about humanity that I think is so special–live music, music in general, but definitely having that connection.
KB: Do you think live music has a role to play in creating community?
HO: It can, one hundred percent. I like to think of our ancestors throwing their own versions of parties — they definitely would have had music there. I think it’s important to bring people together as well. I mean back in the day, when the XFactor was really fresh and genuine, we all loved it. We were all watching. We were all talking about it. We loved it so much. So I think it’s definitely a community joiner. We love buskers as well. You know, we see them outside, we stop, we watch them, we gather around.
KB: What have been some of the challenges you face putting this project together and how have you overcome them?
HO: The biggest challenge I face is as a promoter. I think we’re probably one of the most needed members in the industry, but probably one of the most disregarded at the same time. I think we deserve a lot more ratings than we get — putting on a show is not easy. And as soon as you go to a show and one thing is out of place, the first thing everyone’s gonna say is like, this is organized poorly. It’s terrible.
I always say the best part of every show to me is when the host says, “thank you and goodnight,” literally when that show is done is when I can breathe. Anything can change at any time, we’re working with human beings. I’ve had artists pull out where I’ve only had one booked artist on the stage and we had to be creative in that moment and switch it up. My challenge is working with actual real life people. Kudos to me because I think my shows are organized excellently. Like I worked really hard to make it a quality show, but even if it’s just one thing out of place, people will be so quick to say this was terribly organized.
And being a Black woman as well, you still deal with all the biases of being in the field. People still don’t take me seriously. I’m literally doing something that is rare for women to do and it’s interesting. You get called bossy and all these things that intimidate people.
KB: What would you say the goals for tmr are?
HO: Obviously I have business goals because now we’re adapting into a business and we’re using the skill of planning and production to help other projects for other organizations and artists. So that’s one end, but I think creatively, we just want to make sure we remain an experience for musicians, for artists, for audiences where you literally can enjoy the music, art or enjoy the conversation that’s going on. Like it’s just a literal night out, an experience. I’m not putting too much pressure on me and the project. Let’s not say I’m here to change the world. Cause really, truly I’m not, I’m here to have a good time. Every time I try to do that anyway, I feel like it just gets out of hand. And then I go back to simplicity.
I do things very simply so that I can be consistent in it. Some of my friends laugh at me about the fact that I’m actually the most minimal effort person you can probably ever meet. I get my shit done though. My shit is patterned because it’s simple. I don’t try to do too much. I just do it and be consistent in it. And it grows on its own. And I believe that’s because that’s the way that life is supposed to be. These things are natural for me to do. Putting on a show is very natural for me, so I’m chasing my natural self. Do you know what I mean? I’m really soft life. You know, before soft life got popular, I’ve been living a soft life for a very long time.
KB: We’re not supposed to be stressed. Where is stress coming from? Who told us we’re supposed to live these stressed lives?
HO: Honestly, I love to rest. I love resting and I don’t shame myself for resting. If I need to rest, I’ll rest. Like, that’s what I did today, cause I wasn’t feeling it. When I talk to the masculine men in my life and I’ll be like, I just rested today, I’m not doing anything, they’ll be like, “how can you? There’s money to be made, hustle, hustle, hustle. ” I have not got time for that. When the pandemic hit, it made me realize, yeah like, yo, this thing is so fragile; life is so, so, so fragile. I’m not gonna overwhelm myself, trying to be something that I’m not. I’m only gonna be who I am and I’m just gonna live my life authentically because it can go at any moment. And I want my friends and family to say “we miss Hannah because Hannah was Hannah. She lived her life the way she wanted it to be.” This thing that I’m building is genuinely me. Honestly, soft life is the main thing. And I think once you do tap into that, you free yourself from the expectations of other people.
*Photography by Saron Solomon and Sagar Kharecha.