20th DISTRICT (20D)

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Black music is already popular in Germany and has influenced the lifestyle of many people. The situation seems inviting for new Black music artists and groups to live and work in Germany . One of these groups is the 20th District (20 D), based in Berlin . The group members are Albert Lindley Witherspoon Jr. (Thourough VET) from North Carolina , USA , Jerome Gammon (Rome J.) from Virginia , USA and Joao Lourenzo Pedro AKA (J. Lourenzo) from Angola , Africa . The group is managed by Thomas Elst from Germany. Following an impressive performace the group gave at the Bantu Club in Berlin , AFRITOPIC made an interview appointment with the group. In the interviews below, Albert and Jerome speak about their backgrounds, experiences and goals in the music business. Thomas Elst, the manager of 20D explains his working relationship with the group and the situation of the German music industry.
Interview with Albert Lindley Witherspoon Jr. (Thourough VET)
Thourough VET

Afritopic: Music fans would like to know more about 20 D. Could you tell us about yourself and the goal of the group?

Albert: The goal of 20th District is to make an impact on the music industry, not only in Germany but also in the whole of Europe and the United States of America. I think that we have started making this impact in a modest way within small circles of music lovers. There are many people in the music industry that make music just for commerce. They are not really into the art and do not have any passion for the music art. I love music. I feel music. I am into the art of music making. I see myself as an artist, dedicated to the music art. These characteristics also apply to other members of the group. When I met Rome J and J. Lourenzo, I knew that we have something in common; the passion for making music. We get together almost daily, working together in the studio to create good music. The input of each of us in the group makes our music rich and unique. We go out to the streets to introduce our music. We perform live in clubs to let the public know that we are genuine.

I came to Germany through the US military. All I knew about Germany was what I saw on 2nd world war videos and television programs. I could only relate Germany to war. So, when I was told in the military that I had to leave for Germany , I thought that was the end of my life. I arrived in Germany and stayed in the military barracks with other fellow US citizens. While taking a walk soon after my arival in Germany, I saw two Black brothers walking by. They had portable stereo equipments on their shoulders. I  heard Black music coming out of the loudspeakers. Then, I knew that coming to Germany would definitely not be the end of my life. Black music is international. My music is international. My music is the food of my soul. It is my music that keeps me going on. Other members of the group have similar experience. Rome J was in the US military and J. Lourenzo was in the Angolan military in Africa . We have all experienced exploitation by our own countries. We were practically forced to fight for what is not worth fighting for. Now that I am out of the military, I have decided to fight for what I believe in, for myself, my family and my loved ones.

When I left the military, I started a small business to give me a financial footing. I was in the business for 10 years during which I was also making music. I had a feeling that the Lord was directing me to music. The time has now come for me to take this direction and concentrate fully on music, which is my greatest passion. It is the Lord that brought the members of the group together; Rome J from Virginia , J. Lourenzo from Angola and I from North Carolina . He made us come together for a purpose. We are here to make good music and we want to get our message across to the people all over the world. Music is fun. Music is entertainment. We want to entertain people and let them have fun too. I am happy whenever I meet people who have listened to our music and tell me, “Hey, your music is great”. Though, our popularity is still local, we hope to reach an international audience and we are working diligently to achieve our goal.

Within the group, I am more of an old school rapper and lyricist. I have witnessed the transitions in Rap music from the beginning. I prefer to stay real and compose Rap music with good lyrics. I try to paint the picture of what motivates me with words. My lyrics consist of these words. I can rap but my colleagues can sing a lot better. I cannot sing. I give my best in whatever I do. If somebody is motivated through the impact of my lyric, then I know that the lyric has positive effect. I motivate myself because I am of the opinion that self-motivation is important. However, I do not want to be labelled a motivator. Sometimes, I use provocative words. This is due to the fact that provocation is sometimes the effective method to get your message across.

I grew up in the hood. But I grew up with the good values my grandmother taught me. Due to the reputation of my grandma, I was spared the influence of bad characters and hoodlums. I grew up to respect and value the family. I am taught to respect the elders. And I do respect erderly people. I am telling the younger generation to respect their elders. This is a fundamental issue. My family and loved ones are very important for me. I take care and support my stepdaughter as I take care of my own children and everybody in the family. We are a family with very strong family bond. Moreover God plays a big role in my life. I believe in God and have faith in him. He gives me and my family happiness. When I meet people who talk about hopelessness, sadness and lack of motivation to live, I tell them that I am happy to see a new day. I am happy to breathe the air and enjoy the sunshine. I praise the Lord that I am alive.  End


Interview with Thomas Elst
Thomas Elst  

Afritopic: How did you meet 20th District and why did you decide to manage the group?                       

Elst: I met the group coincidentally. Someone who was acquainted with the group and knew that I am operating an event management business approached me. He discussed with me the exposure and management problems the group was having. After the discussion, I arranged to meet the group. I met the group, listened to the music and was instantly convinced of the high quality of the music as well as the professionalism of the group. I offered to take over the management of the group. At first, the group was sceptical of my offer due to the bad experience they already had. The scepticism induced long discussions and negotiations. However, knowing that I have been in the event management business for over 20 years and have contacts in the German music/show business, the group accepted my offer and we came to an agreement. Since then we have been working together like a family. We have open and constructive arguments. Each member of the group contributes his specific music talent and I contribute my extensive experience in the German entertainment and event management.

Afritopic: Are you dealing or managing a Black group for the first time? Do you have problems due to language barrier?               

Elst: Not really. I have worked together with other groups consisting of people from different countries including African countries. Nationality or skin colour does not pose any problem to me. My English is not so good. This sometimes cause communication problems. In such situation, I give a signal and we resolve the problem in a way everyone understands.                            

Afritopic: Would you say that there has been a positive development for the group since you took over?                      

Elst: I manage the group to the best of my ability. As far as I know the group is satisfied so far with my engagements as the manager.  Only the group can assess its music and tell whether it has developed further. Every member of the music group should be able to tell whether he has gone through a positive development as an artist.                            

Afritopic: The music business is not so easy. Could you tell us from your experience the situation of the music business in Germany and the success chances of 20th District?                      

Elst: Generally speaking, the music business means selling as many copies of released records as possible. Some years ago, music stars were hard working, creative people with real music talents. These music stars were able to stay on the market and sell their records because of the high quality of the music they produced. Today, we have a different situation. Due to the availability of computers, electronics and diverse media channels including the Internet, almost anyone could produce music. Depending on the financial capabilities, lobby, promotion and sponsoring power of the producer, untalented people could be made music stars. This makes it difficult for the general public to differentiate between talented artists producing high quality music and those who are not. Moreover, good music might not have the chance to compete on the market. Another issue is the rapid and dynamic changes in the music business. Style, taste and music direction change fast. In many cases, when I introduce the group 20th District to some producers or entertainment managers in Germany , I encounter reluctance to accept the group. Sometimes I was told that the group is highly professional and very good but German songs are the selling hits at the moment, so the music of the group would not sell. Sometimes, the reason for not accepting the group was that members of the group are over 30 years old and the public wants to see younger artists. Neither the group nor I is discouraged by all these difficulties. We know that the group produces very good music. With time as we gain exposure and popularity, more people would appreciate the high quality music of 20th District. We are all motivated to continue producing innovative music and I am sure that we would have our market share in the near future.  End

Interview with Jerome Gammon (Rome J.)
Rome J.

Afritopic: From your experience so far, is the family important for you? As member of the group 20 D, what is the content of your music and what do you want to achieve?

Jerome: Yes, I fully agree that the family is very important. Especially for we Blacks, the family is the only thing we have that we can rely and depend on. The family is our backbone. You may have friends but when things get rough and ugly for you, your friends might not be around anymore. My mother told me that I can always come back home to the family, whenever I want. She raised my sister and me alone. It must have been very difficult for her but she surely did a wonderful job as a parent because I am still alive today. My mother was the first person to tell me that whatever I do, I should do it well. I am alive and working to make my dreams as a music artist come true. I thank her for taking care that I did not fall prey to drug abuse. Growing up in the ghettos, I was exposed to drugs, crimes and violence. Some of the people and friends I grew up with, went to school and church with in the neighbourhood were dead at an early age due to drug misuse. Some went to jail for drug trafficking or sentenced to life imprisonment for deadly violence. I had to decide what to do with my life. I knew that if I stayed in the environment at home in Virginia , I would probably be in trouble with time. If I move out of the environment, there are chances for me to experience something new and positive. This  would surely be better than ending up in jail. I decided to join the US military and was accepted. I was happy when I was told that I would be serving in Germany . I had heard both negative as well as positive comments about Germany . I was anxious to see things myself instead of watching all the commercials on the TV showing flights to European countries. I served in the military for many years and decided to stay in Germany with my family after my service.

The 20th District is like a family for me. If I am unable to go Virginia due to financial constraint, I could go to the group. There, I have my brothers. In the group, we support each other. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. We accept each other for who we are. We try to improve on our weaknesses in other for us to get stronger. As the saying goes, “A chain is as only strong as its weakest link”. We work hard on our weaknesses, so we could turn what is negative into positive. Overall, our uncompromising effort is reflected in the music we produce. We want people to listen to our music and understand the message. We do not only talk about the good, sweet times in our lyrics. We deal with different topics including our life experiences. Our message is for everybody, anywhere in the world. In our music, we talk about problems going on in the world today and about social issues. We do however try to inspire people to do well in life and not give up. We are telling people to open their eyes, be motivated and sum up courage to fight against injustice. We want people not to just complain but to do something about social problems. It is time to take action so that our children would not have too much burden to bear in the future. We hope that people could gain strength through our music. When we talk about poverty and underprivileged, we are not talking about poor Blacks alone. In one of our songs we use the phrase, “They don’t really care about us”. The “us” is “we”. Not only the minorities. There are also poor and underprivileged Whites. Our music is different from most commercial music that says nothing but only makes noise. We mix African and American experience as well as rhythm. We would like people to listen to our music again and again until they digest the message in the lyrics while enjoying the beat.

As a child, I attended the church regularly because my mother told me to do so. I just obeyed my mother. Almost everybody in the neighbourhood was going to church anyway. Over the years, as I grew into a young adult, I developed relationship to God. With time, this relationship grew stronger. I have experienced different situations in my life that brought me even much closer to God than I ever thought of.  The hardships that I went through have made me stronger. My faith to God is unshakable and unbreakable. I believe that I am here today through the grace of God. God gives me my motivation when I am down with depression. He talks to me and I listen to him. Sometimes when I am walking on the street and people see me talking to myself, they might be wondering whether I am crazy. No, I am not crazy. I am communicating with God. I am thankful to God for my music talent. My grandmother told me of an incident in South Carolina . During the time of slavery, slaves were forced to work on farms. On a very hot day in South Carolina , slaves were on the field harvesting grains. Enduring the burning pain of the heat, each slave worked in silence. Suddenly a voice broke the silence, singing a song. Another slave started singing the same song. Yet another followed suit until all slaves started singing the song. After a while one of the slave overseers picked up the song. Before long, all slave owners started singing the song of the slaves. I am not the greatest singer in world. I do not claim to have the best voice. But, I have contributed to the church quire with my talent and I hope I could spread the message through my contribution to the 20th District music. I have my weaknesses, one of which is impatience. I hate to wait. I want things to happen immediately. I am working now this weakness and learning to be patient.

I tell the younger ones who aspire to become music artist to have good education and get as much information as possible. If things do not work out as planned, education could help further. There are scrupulous enterprises that lure young ones to call them or send them SMS over mobile phones for talent castings and lucrative music careers. What many teens do not realize is that they are charged exorbitant rates for the calls they make and the SMS they send. In fact, I would advice teens to stay away from most casting events. In many cases, those offered contracts are misused to generate big profit for the enterprises and left almost with nothing when they are not needed anymore. The result is that often these teens fall into depression, alcoholism or drug abuse. There are also TV programs and commercials that induce the notion that it is easy to become a rich music star with mansions and flashy cars. I can only tell the younger ones that in reality, this is not the case. It took me 18 years to get to where I am today. No matter what goals you set for yourself, you have to work consistently hard to achieve them. You have to be focused, dedicated and have a strong mind.   End


Thomas Elst, Rome J. and Thourough VET
Rome J. and Thourough VET
J. Lourenzo
20D live photo impressions>

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