Afros & Audio Founder Talib Jasir on Podcast Movement, Capitalism Versus Community, and How to Plan Events "With Intention"
Plus: A Mysterious Podcast Conference in Saudi Arabia
As we’ve continued to wait for details on how Ben Shapiro’s appearance at Podcast Movement may change the organization’s policies around inclusivity, I’ve been keen to hear points-of-view from those who organize podcast events themselves. This week, I reached out to Talib Jasir, founder of the Afros & Audio Podcast Festival. The event, which holds its fourth annual gathering next month, brings together a “community of independent podcasters dedicated to curating accessible and inclusive events and spaces for and by Black podcast creatives & audio professionals.” In 2020, Afros & Audio launched its own production company, The Vanguard Podcast Network, and last year it combined forces with The Black Podcasters Association. Talib and I discussed his thoughts on the Podcast Movement debacle, capitalism versus community, and the extremely real challenges of putting on a conference “with intention and purpose.”
Please note there will not be an issue of The Squeeze next week. Before I launched this newsletter, I didn’t know if I could pull off publishing a reported piece every seven days, but I wanted to try. Now that I’ve tried, it seems clear that every three or four issues, I need a break to explore story ideas and plan for the next few weeks. It feels necessary — the rule, rather than the exception. I hope this sits well with all of you, and as always, I’m open to feedback. You can reach me by hitting reply, emailing me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter.
Before we get to the main event, a mysterious new podcast conference has entered the frame:
Yesterday, an industry contact who requested anonymity, sent me a slide deck for an event titled “Ignite | The Sound,” taking place in October in Saudi Arabia. According to the deck, this “convening of audio content creators” will feature 75 speakers and welcome 15,000 attendees. My source, who runs a prominent podcast-related company, said the organizers (who they understood to be the Saudi Arabian government) offered to “fly us out, put us up, and give us a free booth.” (They declined to participate.) A representative for the event has not yet responded to my requests for more information.
According to a press release issued last February, it appears that Ignite | The Sound is part of a larger government effort called simply “Ignite” that “aims to triple Saudi Arabia's digital content market size in gaming, audio, video and advertising” and is backed by an investment worth US$1.1 billion. Here’s a bit more:
The Digital Content Council announced Ignite, a new program that will transform Saudi Arabia into a leading digital entertainment and media production hub. The program aims to create a comprehensive ecosystem which will attract digital content companies and grow the local media and content creation sector. The new program and investments are all part of Saudi Arabia's plans to accelerate its digital ecosystem and leverage its position in the MENA region to become a leading international digital economy.
Aside from this seven-month old announcement, I couldn’t find any additional information about the event online — no U.S. press, website, public lists of speakers, etc. Adding to the cloak and dagger feel of it all, my source suggested that participants have been “sworn to some kind of secrecy.” Even the deck — a whopping 46 slides — has an almost generic feel; aside from time, place, and projected numbers, it offers little in the way of specifics. Given the international criticism Saudi Arabia has received over its human rights record, and the plethora of controversies birthed by the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series, I suppose this shouldn’t be entirely shocking. But still – nothing? Nothing is just weird, especially for a digital creation event that’s five weeks away.
All of that said, I did manage to get my hands on the names of two “confirmed speakers” — one denied ever hearing about the event (maybe true?), while the other podcaster confirmed their plan to speak but added that they were “still working out the details.” I followed up with a few more questions but haven’t yet heard back.
If you have information about this that you’d like to share, please do hit reply. 🕵️♀️
Interview: Afros and Audio Founder Talib Jasir
This has been edited for clarity and length.
Skye: What’s your take on the Podcast Movement/Daily Wire situation?
Talib: I don’t know the organizers, so I can’t place any concrete judgment on them, but if the two organizations weren’t aligned, then the first misstep was selling a booth to The Daily Wire. If I bring in a sponsor, there is an expectation that there will be representation. If I was afraid of that representation in any way, it wouldn’t be a gamble I’d be willing to make.
When Podcast Movement began apologizing to folks who were offended and then apologizing to folks who caused the offense, that was not a good look. It looks like pandering, or like the organization is being opportunistic. And when consumers don't know who you actually are, what your values are, what your principles are, it builds distrust. You build distrust when there is no clarity.
To be honest, I think I would have felt used on either side — with the caveat that I now know who Ben Shapiro is, and it’s like, who cares, eff him — but still, that was a situation where someone was used for what they could provide. Maybe Podcast Movement has handled these things well in the past — who knows what's been occurring in previous years that that no one was privy to — but something went left this time.
Skye: Have you had a situation where you felt that a vendor came to you and their values were not aligned with yours?
Talib: No. Afros & Audio is a very upfront business, meaning that our principles of inclusivity and accessibility are right at the forefront of our brand. Organizations and attendees already understand who we are, so I don't need to do much rejection. For me personally, I appreciate companies whose core values and alignments are upfront, so that I know before I even start — do I rock with you? Is this somewhere I want to be?
Talib: I'd step away from Afros & Audio before I’d allow it to become uninviting or unsafe. And the only way it would become uninviting or unsafe is if capitalism became more important than the community. That’s something that we have to unlearn when it comes to creating a community. As Americans, we’ve all been socialized in this certain way but we need to realize that there’s a difference between communities that get built so that the builders can have access to the community versus the community having access to each other.
Skye: What would you say to people who say this is a free speech issue?
Talib: Everyone gets to speak their beliefs and their truths, but do they have to do it on my platform? No. They can create their own platform for it, or go where they are invited. I think that's where things got messy for Podcast Movement because — and I understand that they said that Ben Shapiro wasn't invited — but The Daily Wire had a booth. It’s like that vampire trope: when they’re invited, they’ll walk through the door!
This is an opportunity for Podcast Movement to get clear on their values because there is a base of folks who will show up when Shapiro shows up. So if the community Podcast Movement wants to create includes those people, then say that and do that. If that’s not the community they want to create, then say that and do that. All parties will benefit from that clarity.
Skye: What has it been like for you to build your community?
Talib: It’s a challenging endeavor to organize a conference with intention and purpose. Our intentionality has to be so deep that it outweighs the hardship in making it happen. Because the hardship is real.
I'm thankful for the brands that have supported us from the beginning, but there’s so much more that's needed. The big sponsors all want their investments to add immediate value to their bottom line — and I get it, because that’s just business. But I also believe that if you don't invest in something that you think has value, how will its value grow? It’s like when you’re told you need experience to get the job, but the company doesn’t give you the job so that you can get the experience.
Talib: All of that said, Afros & Audio is the most rewarding thing that I do. One of our biggest supporters is a world traveler; she goes to a lot of events. She told us that Afros & Audio was the first conference she attended where she felt like she was home. We have introverts who tell us that this is the first time they didn’t need to get under a blanket and recover for a day and a half after being inundated with people; they felt rejuvenated and energized. We have people who arrive feeling tired of their podcast, feeling worried that it’s not this or it’s not that. They leave knowing that they’re not alone in having those kinds of trepidations and fears. They leave with the idea that we’re all in this together, we can do this together.
Afros & Audio takes place from October 22-23 this year. Subscribers to The Squeeze can use discount code “thesqueeze22” for 15% off the ticket price.
Fantastic interview, Skye and Talib! For, this point really stands out:
"Everyone gets to speak their beliefs and their truths, but do they have to do it on my platform? No. They can create their own platform for it, or go where they are invited."
I think we'll start to see more conferences shaped by this (She Podcasts Live is a great example) as more podcasters and attendees begin to align their beliefs and viewpoints with the conference and exhibitors.
Great interview. Thank you for this!