Edinburgh Evening News
February 28, 2009
IF the future really is a global multicultural world, then Eunice Olumide, with her West African roots and Wester Hailes accent, should be its ambassador.
Born in Hailesland Grove to Nigerian parents, one Christian and one Muslim, and educated in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Pennsylvania, she's a personification of globalisation in one svelte, hip package.
However, at the moment she has far more immediate and local matters on her mind. Tomorrow, her band NorthernXposure play live on stage with Grammy Award-winning rapper - and Celebrity Big Brother contestant - Coolio and rap sensation Skinnyman at the Picture House on Lothian Road.
The gig for the band, which also includes Eunice's 28-year-old brother Ibrahim, follows hard on the heels of appearances sharing the bill with the likes of Estelle, Amy Winehouse, Jaime Winstone and Jamelia. Their rising success means they are now billed as Scotland's number one hip-hop act.
Not bad for a 22-year-old who had to endure racist abuse and even violence as a child.
"When I was growing up it was really difficult because we were the only black family on the block," says Eunice. "I didn't know that I was different until I got to primary four at Murrayburn Primary and people started to call me things like 'golliwog'.
"Sadly, it wasn't the children that were saying these things but adults, usually young men. I was spat on by an older man as I walked home one day, and I was eventually hospitalised aged eight in a racially motivated attack by 11 youths. On other occasions, Ibrahim would take the kicking for me.
"We eventually moved to the Calders, and I think my saving grace was being sent to Balerno High, instead of going to one of the local schools as nearly everyone I know from that area has got a couple of children by now, and there's a big heroin problem in that part of town.
"There's a bit of work going into it now but they still don't have a functional playground, or a community centre and even the community newspaper has disappeared."
Eunice knuckled down in school and won a place on a media course at Glasgow Caledonian University. By the time she was 21, she had a postgraduate degree in film studies at the University of London, and a masters in metaphysics from the University of Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim was experimenting with samples and a "dodgy old computer" and discovered he could produce tracks which sounded a lot better than what was being played in the clubs. NorthernXposure was born - and their lyrics are inspired by the life and people of Wester Hailes.
"One of our songs is called Drugs Are For Mugs," says Eunice. "Unlike many hip-hop bands, our lyrics are all about sending a positive message, so you won't find
any glamorisation of drugs or violence whatsoever and we rarely use swear words."
Unsurprisingly, she wasn't too impressed at sharing a bill with Winehouse at the London Palladium recently.
"I didn't get a chance to speak to Amy Winehouse but she's the kind of person that we definitely would not want to work with because of the way she lives her life," says Eunice firmly. "We know so many people who have passed away through drugs when they were very young. Two of our friends died from drugs in their early 20s, and we know quite a few who have died from alcohol too."
She's more pleased to have won the admiration of the likes of Coolio, who she met while on tour with another rapper. "He asked me to perform for him on the spot, said he loved my stuff and thought it was amazing. When he got out of the Big Brother house he asked us to support him in Edinburgh."
Even so, Eunice is not the type to be overawed by celebrities.
"Being told you're amazing and talented by these guys is great for your self-esteem," she says, "but we'll always have our roots in south-west Edinburgh, and there's been a space in the band for most local kids from the scheme over the years. We've got a rolling membership that centres around me and Ibrahim, and our regular DJ David Duncan, but any kid that takes an interest can join us.
"We have a rule that they've got to be clean from drink or drugs, we'll maybe stretch the rules a bit for smoking [tobacco], and we'll generally work with their talents, so if they're good at communicating we'll give them a job in promotions or if they're good on the decks we'll give them a go."
Ibrahim in particular, she says, has become something of a mentor to wayward youngsters.
"He's a bit of a big brother figure to some of the children," says Eunice. "He's always been into his hip hop and they respect his outlook on life, and if he catches them smoking or something he'll go and have a word."
But despite their emotional bond to the area and to Edinburgh, Eunice says she remains a target of regular abuse - and that the problem is getting worse.
She says: "After 9/11 I definitely had a lot more people shouting: 'Go back to where you came from'. Although I have a Muslim background, I definitely don't look Middle-Eastern, so it's not like people made that association, but There's always a section of society that will lash out at anyone who's different.
"With the expansion of the EU there was a big influx of Polish people to Edinburgh, and some people viewed them as taking British jobs, and it created even more fear among the racist elements. Now, with the economy in trouble we're seeing more and more redundancies, and it won't be long before people start blaming immigrants, or black people, or Muslims or anyone else who's not 'like them' for that too.
"I'm used to it now, though, and I love being me, which is why me and my crew are able to help people sitting in doss-houses, wasting away on drugs in their own little world. Very few people are willing to help them, and prefer to just move them out of the way and forget about them, which allows these mentalities to grow.
"We wrote a song called Dungeons In Our Skylines inspired by the stories of how Edinburgh society would lock plague victims in the underground streets to rot, and society is doing the same today with the drug-users in these high-rises like Sighthill and the Calders. Hopefully, NorthernXposure's music will help them to break out of those dungeons."
For more information on NorthernXposure visit www.myspace.com/nrnxpo.