United Identities label founder Carista and actor Abdul Sessay on how to break into the creative industries
As Nike and Patta drop the fourth instalment of The Wave, the film’s protagonists discuss building long lasting creative careers, how to sustain motivation, and why ‘networking’ shouldn’t be scary
“We become a shell of ourselves if we let the seeds we’ve planted remain below the surface.” The fourth chapter in Nike and Patta’s The Wave series – co-created by Mahaneela and Steve McQueen – muses on the cyclical nature of inspiration, told from the perspective of UK Black creatives. It’s a vital reminder of the importance of dreaming big, and how career paths are often made easier via connection and friendship.
After chapters one to three explored the journey of Abdul, a burgeoning photographer who has chance meetings with Skepta, Little Simz, Ozwald Boateng, and Mo Farah, “Welcome Home” finds our hero reconciling with his family before taking a seat at the table with other talents from all walks of life who have trodden a similar path.
IRL, Abdul Sessay is an emerging actor studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama – and his on-screen sister, Carista, is a DJ and NTS resident who runs radio show, record label, and event series United Identities. We sat the pair down together to discuss their involvement in the films, being young creatives in an ever-changing industry, and the enduring importance of community in what they do.
Do you find that having peers in the creative industry who work alongside you inspires you?
Carista: 80 per cent of my friends work in the creative industries, basically. When I was younger I took public transport to different places, because I live in a small city named Utrecht and the cultural and nightlife scene was for me at that time not something I felt attracted to. I traveled to cities, for example like Amsterdam and Rotterdam where there’s more nightlife and music culture and met like-minded people, now friends along the way. So I surrounded myself with people who were in those spaces. Those are the same people I hang out with or have dinner with, share thoughts with. It’s very helpful – if you surround yourself with like-minded people, you grow together, and even push each other to do things.
Abdul: I’m at drama school right now, and I have friends that have graduated, started working, some looking to go into acting. So I have friends at different stages of this journey. Having people to spur you on is so important for the times when you’re feeling low. They encourage you when you’re feeling shy or don’t really want to do something – your friends are like, ‘Nah, go for it!’ They help you take risks. It’s so important to have each other when you’re working in the same field. Because they get it. Sometimes you speak to other people, and they can be supportive, but they don’t really get it. Having friends that do what you do is a blessing, really.
“Having friends that do what you do is a blessing, really”
Does working alongside your friends mean you can create opportunities for them?
Carista: I love to work with friends, for sure – Patta is a huge family full of friends and I’m happy to be a part of it for such a long time. It’s like a worldwide family. Even with my own label (United Identities), I love to give back – there’s no events right now, but with my Modern Intimacy compilations I’m investing my own money into it for new, young, rising Dutch talents – it’s the first time they’ve ever had their own release. It’s trying to support and give back something to the music community and aspiring young women especially. I mean, I came from that space too, and I took the initiative, but it’s all about that one person who sees you and believes you.
Abdul: Working with friends for me almost came out of necessity, ‘cos it’s like, no one’s gonna give us this opportunity to do something on stage or whatever, we’ve gotta do it ourselves. Those are times when it’s been most fun because it’s really like us finding our voice. You need to make stuff with people that are close to you, I don’t think it works doing something outside of yourself.
Carista: And your friends and family are honest with you – they make you think twice, like, ‘Are you sure about this?’
Is it easy for you to make new connections in the industry?
Abdul: The word ‘industry’ makes me feel when I’m around people I’m like, ‘Is this networking?’ All the words around it make it seem scary, but – it sounds clichéd – but if you’re treating people like human beings or if you’re genuinely interested… you might not become best friends, but you might make a connection. Once you take the pressure off yourself to be this cool person and just see people for who they are, it’s much easier than we think. Kids do it all the time in playgrounds, they meet other kids and then they’re best mates.
Carista: I’m a very social person. I think I can talk easily with people, so it doesn’t really feel like ‘networking’, it’s just showing my interests or appreciation. It definitely needs to come from an honest place, people see that immediately. If I don’t like a certain person, you can see it directly on my face, I cannot lie, you know! I try to be as honest and easygoing as possible.
Speaking of making new connections, does people’s style and fashion influence conversation? Does it help you gravitate towards them?
Abdul: For sure, it’s interesting – when you see someone rocking something you have, like you’re both wearing the same brand, maybe it’s some type of streetwear thing that not everyone knows about. It’s the same vibe of having a similar hobby, almost an icebreaker. It’s like: I see you.
Is how you present yourselves important in your careers? As an actor and DJ, is how you look important?
Carista: When I’m on stage or even off stage, I like to be comfortable – I’m not wearing heels. It depends really on my mood, but sneakers are there all the time. You need to feel like yourself when you’re doing things… when it comes to acting, you normally get a stylist, but I’m just figuring it all out by myself. I love street culture, I love street style. Of course I like to dress up, but on a daily basis and when it comes to work, I’m definitely a sneakers girl. In Holland when you’re a student you get a little allowance from the government every month and that particular amount of money went on my sneakers, every single month!
Abdul: Trainers are everything, man. In school now we wear black all the time, so I have to wear interesting trainers.
Abdul, you made the decision to go to acting school aged 18 – was that always what you wanted to do?
Abdul: There was a moment when I told my dad I was doing a gap year and he was like, ‘What? What’s that?’ He came round eventually and I signed up for bare young theatre companies. (My family) have actually been very supportive. I don’t know many other people in my family that are doing things that are creative. It’s quite new in my family, you know, not going down the route of doctor or lawyer – not that there’s anything wrong with that!
“Life’s too short to stay in the same routine, but also the industry is continuously changing so you have to keep up”
How do you break cycles that you might be stuck in, creatively or in terms of your career?
Abdul: It’s seeing what’s laid out in front of you and being like: is there another way for me? What do I want to be? Can I do something about that? As soon as I start asking those questions, you’re breaking cycles.
Carista: You challenge yourself. Even for the first time, me acting in this film!
Abdul: Hey, from the first moment you came on set I was like, ‘Yo, she brought the vibes!’
Carista: Life’s too short to stay in the same routine, but also the industry is continuously changing so you have to keep up.
What helps you focus?
Carista: I’m very organised, I think that comes with being a label founder. I recently bought myself a whiteboard where I write down the to-do list for the week. That helps me with structure and meeting deadlines!
Abdul: Journaling at the end of the day can help me, ‘cos I’ll procrastinate if I’ve got loads of things to do. Then sometimes I need to shift my space so I’ll listen to music and listen to the different instruments in the song or I’ll go outside for a walk, which often brings me back.
Have you got any tips for young people breaking into the creative industries? What would you wanna tell them?
Carista: Keep on doing it. Like I said before, sometimes you only need one person. When I did my Red Light Radio show back in 2015, I played a tune by a friend who was listening, and that guy was interning at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide FM. He was like, ‘Yeah come through, do a show with me!’ For me, though, it was really a matter of time, when you’ve been working on your craft for such a long time. So I’d say: stay hungry!
Abdul: It’s that perseverance, yeah, and not waiting for someone to hand something to you – you have to be on the front foot, in a way. And ask questions, you never know who can help you out with things. Stay curious and trust in yourself.
Dazed HQ is hosting a private screening on Thursday December 9 of the director’s cut of The Wave – sign up for tickets here