Musical Chats with Carl Anka

I will be uploading interviews in a series called “Musical Chats”, so stay tuned for more interviews with great artists! Uploads Thursdays at 12pm.


Carl Anka is a London-born journalist and broadcaster, and is currently writing for The Athletic. He has written for BBC, the Guardian, VICE, NME, GQ and BuzzFeed among other publications online and in print and specialises in writing about pop culture, video games, films and football. We chatted about his listening habits, what inspires him and being a black man in journalism in the UK. Enjoy!

RS: What does a week of music listening look like for you? What role does music play in your life?

CA:  I’d say I listen to 2-3 hours of music every single day, minimum! I’m born and bred in London, and in that London-type world you wouldn’t be caught dead without a pair of headphones! On the commute – Spotify playlist, headphones in. Walking around town – headphones in. I normally go back and forth through 6 or 7 playlists, and listen to my Discover Weekly every single Monday. I now make a secondary playlist which I name after the year where I take the songs I like from my Discover Weekly and just feed that into the playlist – that’s a good tip for adapting the algorithm to your needs, because it means Spotify will keep making you better playlists for your Discover Weekly!

As far as gigs go, when I was in London I’d go to a gig probably once every 3 months – that is the thing I miss living in Southampton now. It took me a really long time to appreciate that in London every major musician came to see me, whereas now I have to travel to see them more. Though my last gig before lockdown was Craig David in Southampton – that was great!

RS: London is definitely the place to go for that variety, but Southampton does have some pretty good live venues! Do you use music for writing inspiration, or mainly for enjoyment?

I’ve reviewed music for FACT Magazine and NME, so I actually write about music a bit. I do write to music; I have a writing playlist, an editing playlist, a sports playlist. I would say, the one time people would expect me to listen to music and I don’t is in the gym! Though I do have a gym playlist, which I listen to on the way into and out of the gym…!

RS: Oh, of course! At the moment you’re working as a writer for The Athletic. What about cultural journalism inspires you, and why did you choose to do that as a career?

I truly did kind of fall into it! I went to university to be a screenwriter, and then partway through 3rd year I got in contact with someone who made nature documentaries for the BBC, and when I sent him my CV. Then, he phones me up on a Wednesday night and says: “Why have you sent me your CV? This is the CV of a journalist, not a filmmaker. Go be a journalist!” And I pretty much just went from there.

At the time I didn’t know I was chasing to be a ‘culture writer’. In my case, if I find something interesting, I will try and write about it. Sometimes I write about football, sometimes I write about dance, and sometimes film or computer games. I don’t have a guiding ‘I want to be… this’; it’s always been what interests me. It does mean I’ve written for quite an interesting batch of places!

RS: On a similar note, you’ve written a real variety of articles. There’s some on music listening styles, mental health and the representation of black youth in the media. Do you feel some responsibility as a writer to tackle some of those more difficult topics, or is it a case of it just being a topic of interest for you?

CA: It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. I am black man who is a full-time journalist in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, that makes me rare. You can imagine how busy I was when Black Panther came out, for example! There was 2 or 3 times where I said: “Are you just ringing me up because I’m the only black person you know, and you need someone to write about Black Panther?!” And one of them actually said yes!

The thing is, I want to write about Black Panther – I grew up loving Marvel, and I’ve been reading Black Panther comic books since I was 15. So yeah, I will happily write about Black Panther and get paid to do it. But there was also a sense of people wanting me to write lofty, high-brow ideas about it, and sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes an incident around race will happen, and I’ll know that clearly I need to write about it because it’s in my wheelhouse. If an example of racism happens in rugby, I can probably write about it – I’m a black man, and I played rugby for 10 years. I have knowledge in that area. But on the other hand, there have been times I have passed on work because people have got in contact asking me to talk about grime music, or explain racism. I’m not the best person to write about that, I’m just clearly the only black person you know. Then it falls on me to help that person find the best person to talk to.

RS: Do you have a favourite thing to write about? Is it these challenging topics, sport, or music?

CA: It comes and goes in cycles. When I was a freelancer, I’d spend the first half of the year writing about movies, then I’d write about videogames and then it’d be movies again, a little bit about news and culture.

Now 85% of my time is writing about football, which is interesting. It’s a fun challenge! You have to teach yourself ways to keep it interesting and fresh, and try not to become formulaic. Before, if I got bored of writing about a particular topic, I’d go off and write something different. Now, I have to find all the different ways I can talk about football – it could be the statistics, sport psychology, sports and humanity. And you have to learn how to hold the attention of the fan-base! It is fun having multiple strings to your bow, but it’s been really fun just running around with one hammer for a bit.

RS: And to close up, what is your dream day off?

CA: Tomorrow is my day off actually, and I am going to sleep! I’m going to sleep, do a puzzle, drink red wine and do Duolingo Spanish on my balcony. That’s a day off in lockdown!

RS: Sounds like fun to me! Thank you so much for your time, Carl!  

FIND CARL HERE

Musical Chats with Mathias Eick

During my time as Concert Promotions and Marketing intern at Turner Sims (if you’re in the Southampton area, make sure to check out their concert series!) I got to interview a lot of great artists. You can check out my interviews and reviews on the Turner Sims blog, as well as here on The Rosie Word. 

I will be uploading interviews in a series called “Musical Chats”, so stay tuned for more interviews with great artists! 


I got the chance to interview Norwegian jazz trumpeter Mathias Eick ahead of his appearance at Turner Sims back in October. Mathias and his fantastic quintet performed music from his recent ECM release Ravensburg – make sure to check it out here.

We chatted about his signature sound, Norwegian Jazz and his writing process. Enjoy!

RS: How would you describe your sound to an audience member who has never heard you before?

ME: It’s an airy emotional sound with a lot of personality in it. The music is lyrical, energetic and speaks to you in a new way. That’s at least our goal!

RS: The Guardian says that Norwegian jazz is some of the world’s ‘most animated and productive’. That kind of links in with how you’ve described your own sound. Do you think Norwegian traditions have an influence on your music? Or are there other key influences on your musical life?

ME: To me, life itself has the biggest influence on my music. Becoming a father, growing into adulthood, experiencing many facets of life is the emotions I’m trying to communicate through my music. That said, on Midwest, our album from 2015, I dug into the folk music scene in Norway to find inspiration, and it worked. To this day, I still have a violin player in the band thanks to that.

RS: How did your most recent album, Ravensburg, come about?

ME: The music on Ravensburg is all about the close relationships in life, family, children and friends. It all started with a poem I was asked to write some music to, and it became the first song I composed for the album, For my Grandmothers. One of my grandmothers lived for many years in Ravensburg in south Germany, and I always got these large jigsaw puzzles when I was a kid. After that song, I started composing music out of an emotional perspective, bringing the theme of the album home in a way.

RS: When making an album, do you always have this kind of specific narrative in mind that you want to explore, or is it more of a collection of lots of different ideas?

ME: I really try having concepts for each album I make. It’s kind of easier to create in that way, when I have a direction emotionally. So I tend to use a lot of time figuring out narratives, I’m there right now actually!

RS: And finally, what is your dream day off?

ME: I guess a hotel close to Nürbürgring in Germany, so that I could go racing cars for a few hours. I’m going to make it happen!

RS: Hopefully sooner rather than later! Thanks for your time Mathias!

Why NCAA Women’s Gymnastics should be your Lockdown viewing.

Thanks to the coronavirus, our worlds have all been shrunk to the size of our houses. All forms of entertainment have been confined to our TV screens and book pages, and sport has vanished from the social sphere. Saturday morning muddy football matches, browsing independent bookstores, queues outside theatres and laughs over almond lattes with friends have all been brought to a resounding close.

Despite this social standstill, there are loads of ways to stay culturally engaged thanks to the phenomenon that is the internet. The National Theatre, The Globe, and Andrew Lloyd Webber are among hundreds of institutes that are live-streaming their shows for free. All over the world, musicians and artists are collaborating to provide glimpses of creativity through Zoom boxes on screens. We can’t go to the theatres, and so the theatres have come to us.

And yet sport does not seem to have the same online appeal.

Usually, sport is a season-long investment. You may love football or basketball, but there’s something about the personalities in a team and the dramatics from the fans that elevates it into a social spectacle. You are not just a basketball fan – you love the skills, the theatre of a game. You are not just a football fan – you are an ardent follower of Manchester United, or Real Madrid. And you are not just a fan of them because they’re from your hometown – you’re a fan because you’re truly devoted to the narrative of that team; their wins, their losses, their joys, their heartbreaks. This is what keeps fans invested season after season.

So why hasn’t this translated into the corona-online sphere?

Because sport, unlike the arts, doesn’t have the complete story in a one-time watch. While you go to the theatre and see an entire show in around 2 hours, fans follow their teams’ stories throughout a whole season. Each match is tense and exciting precisely because you have no idea what the outcome will be. Re-run matches hold some nostalgia, but don’t have anywhere near the same grip as watching it live.

And so, here we all are. Two months into a deep re-acquaintance with the four walls of our homes. Boredom has probably kicked in. You are probably desperately in need for some new entertainment that doesn’t involve mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. Maybe you’re missing live sport. I present to you… US College Gymnastics.

College gymnastics has received a lot of big press recently, thanks to the fun viral floor routines that have come out of UCLA Gymnastics. These routines showcase twenty-something year old girls, spreading body-positivity and joy through 90 second flip-filled dance numbers. But fun floor routines are not all there is to college gymnastics. It is full of tragedy, hope, drama, excitement and all-consuming team spirit.

Much like Olympic gymnastics, a meet takes us through four rounds; the vault, the uneven bars, the balance beam and the floor routines. Each apparatus requires a unique set of skills, poise and rhythmic ability, and only the best of the best compete at college. Throughout each routine, gymnasts are aspiring for the coveted ‘Perfect-10’ – a perfect score. The search for this perfect routine is career-long for most athletes, and college is their last opportunity before retirement, so the stakes are high.

Over a 4-5 month long season, colleges compete against each other in weekly meets that test the gymnasts endurance, strength, skill and, most importantly, ability to entertain. Think dance party meets The Rock. If you need any further convincing, then search ‘Katelyn Ohashi Floor Routine’ into YouTube.

The gymnasts all have individual routines, custom-tailored to show their personalities. This only makes it all the more entertaining, as you get a sense of humanity behind the insane displays of skill and strength. These girls have struggled, these girls know perseverance. It requires absolutely no knowledge of gymnastics whatsoever to enjoy these meets, but you pick it up very quickly and soon enough you’ll be critiquing the toe points and the split jumps right alongside the commentators.

But the reason why this should be your lockdown viewing, even if you don’t give two hoots about sport, is because college gymnastics transcends a sporting event.

A large proportion of the female gymnasts competing at college right now were a part of the USA Gymnastics programme that saw the largest, prolonged case of sexual assault in sporting history, under Team Doctor Larry Nassar. Nassar assaulted and groomed hundreds of young female athletes, some as young as 9 years old, under the pretense of giving them physiotherapy and sporting treatment. The staff at USA Gymnastics turned a blind eye, even after complaints were filed. Furthermore, the emotional abuse from the coaches at USA Gymnastic was so systemic and severe, that many girls refused to eat or talk while at camps, for fear of being rejected for the Olympic team. Over the past 3 years, scores and scores of survivors of this horrific abuse have testified against Nassar and USA gymnastics, exhibiting tremendous bravery and strength. A large proportion of these survivors now compete, week in, week out, in college.

And so, watching these brave, powerful women stand up on the podium and showcase their talent, perseverance, and love for their team is not just a sport. It is a massive middle finger in the face of emotional and physical abuse. These women are shining lights that life after abuse can be difficult and draining… but a fulfilled, joyful life is possible. As for its relevance in the times of ‘Rona? It shows that strength comes from adversity. It asks us to find light and happiness from within ourselves, and not our extenuating circumstances.

Many of these gymnastics meets are on YouTube, and so it’s completely free to watch. May I recommend starting with UCLA and LSU Gymnastics. Just search into YouTube, and choose any meet to get started!

Joyful, uplifting and a celebration of female strength. You have to watch.