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We meet Ninort El Khoury (28) and Ibrahim Handulleh (27) in the office complex from where they operate. The building is situated next to Nobelberget — a venue for music and culture in Stockholm. It’s in arenas like this that Nino and Ibrahim’s newly started company TUKIO typically exist. TUKIO is a booking agency and provides management to creatives. They organise events and carry expertise in culture, media and communications.

Edited by Robin Douglas Westling
Words Felicia Granath
Photography Laris Rasidovic

Stockholm, Sweden

TUKIO have opted for a non-traditional framework — they don’t want to operate in old models but would rather create new ways as they grow.Nino’s background is in management and A&R. Ibrahim, prior to co-founding TUKIO, was a booking agent at a well-established music agency in Sweden. He left to join Nino in creating an agency of their own.

IBRAHIM —I quit my job in February. We started TUKIO about a month later. Up until then we had spent four/five months setting up so when I quit the job there would be a structure to work off, although I never thought it would move this quick.

NINO —We still haven’t even written a press release like we thought we would do at sometime to announce that we exist and what we do.

IBRAHIM —Our focus is working with other young people. That’s the gap we exist for. All who push young visionaries today — they are not from that generation themselves. Nino was one of a handful of POC (people of colour) I met who worked in the music industry without having adapted. Hence my initial thought was that we would work only with other POC. Now, I rather feel that it’s about a generation that is not at all seen. I barely knew anyone younger than me that worked as an agent when I did, a position with so much power over who is chosen to stand on a stage. That power is given to some 40-year-old who is never at the club or at the exhibitions — who is not in that orbit any more. We work intersectional; instead of thinking that, ”we need more POC” or ”we need more women”, ”we need more people who are LBTQ” we see how they can align in one person, that there are people who are all of the above and there are those who are allies.

What was the first thing you did as TUKIO?

NINO — That was Diaspora Nights. In hindsight, when I read the press text for that event I am instantly reminded that we wouldn’t express ourselves today like we did then. To be honest, I just went for it. We did everything on intuition and it felt like what we did was sincere, and real as fuck. Now, a few months in we know that there are major pieces that need to fall into place. I don’t think we are censoring ourselves. I believe we’re thinking bigger now.

Do you think you were naive to start with?

NINO — I was living in an apartment with only a bed at that time. I woke one morning to find that Ibrahim had criticised the agency he was employed by at the time on Twitter. He was saying things that were true and it was just spreading. People began to get in touch to ask what the fuck was going on.

IBRAHIM — Their CEO eventually called me and told me that one of our artists was asking us if we were racists. I was like, shit. That felt tough for me to deal with, it wasn’t what I was trying to say — I wanted people to recognise the structural racism in the music industry as a whole. It ended with us shaking hands and together making Diaspora Nights. In retrospect, we look at it as they are either dumb, or might actually be on our side but are lacking the right tools. That we instead must provide those tools to them. If you’re yelling to someone’s face that they are racist, that person will block out everything you say after that. What you have to do instead, what we do, is infiltrate. I think that we might have been somewhat naive when we first started, although I think it was naivety that came from a feeling of anger and frustration.

NINO — I feel like that was the moment when we screamed we would do change. Your whole strategy then revolves around support and engagement from forceful organisations — while knowing that screaming too loud can also affect the relationship with those collaborations. If we want to offer an opening at TUKIO however, it’s our job to make sure that that employment feels secure. We need to be thinking responsibly. To be able to do that is my dream — to be able to give someone a chance. But that requires economy.

IBRAHIM — One of our dreams we had early on is to be able to give employment to someone. There is so much competence that companies haven’t utilised. When I was at the booking agency, I knew a hundred other people who I thought should hold the position instead of me. To be able to give one of those hundred that position at TUKIO in the future, that will be my first milestone. That is something I would really cherish.

Do you want TUKIO to be a local or global company?

IBRAHIM — I want us to be global, while at the same time super local. We feel that youth culture in Stockholm is misrepresented. Take the forest raves as an example, which is the epitome of the scene in Stockholm. The guys organising them are 30-year-old dudes who have the money to do it in their spare time from their job working in IT. And the kids, they have nothing better to do since it is 40-year-old guys who run the clubs. So raves become the next best thing. That’s why kids go out in the forest and dance to music they couldn’t care less about and recklessly are doing drugs. That repetitive cycle is awful. We have a new online radio station in town that circulates between the same 20 people, and it’s again the same guys organising the raves. And it’sone type of music.

Youth culture today is so much more. We are not either skaters, or hip hop kids, or emo kids. We are all of that, at the same time. I would like to see more of this mixture. Again, this is what TUKIO is. To be that platform locally; to create the spaces where people who are kept apart from each other unite. We don’t really have a say in what then happens in that space, we can just present it. But what happens is what youth culture is. It’s the mixture.

NINO — I think this is where you and I connected. I feel like I haven’t met that many kids like us who can listen to the rapper Z.E., and then listen to something that is super dark or electronic or whatever. That’s one thing I like about you. I can be exactly who I am, be where I’m from; still be fucking obscure sometimes, and sometimes just listen to Z.E.. I am able to connect those two worlds. And then there’s this thing with some people when you play a track by Z.E., they question the music, not sure if it’s an act or not. They can’t tell how talented he is. They can not hear it because he has an approach they’re not familiar with, and talks in a way these kids aren’t used to hearing because they grew up in the central part of Stockholm.

IBRAHIM — That criticism isn’t so much about the people in question as it is about the system itself. Why haven’t they learnt how these people speak? How these people act? When I am forced to learn how they talk. If I go to a random ‘burb somewhere in Sweden and there’s a wedding taking place I know they are gonna play Kevin Lyttle — Turn Me On, but it’s not until Fricky sings the same melodies in his song that people think it’s cool. It’s not until then people think the shit gets nice. Nothing bad about Fricky, it’s the people that push Fricky I can’t stand. They see themselves in Fricky, that’s why they are pushing it. But they don’t see themselves in a Z.E..

NINO — Z.E. has the second most listeners in Sweden. But where is Z.E.? Where are all his listeners? Isn’t that about how the industry doesn’t think of his fans as consumers?

IBRAHIM — That is one thing I thought about early on. We live in a capitalist society — everything’s about money. When these brands and companies acknowledge me — when they realise that my money has value, when I’m being advertised to, that’s when I feel a part of society. But when they don’t even care for my money, when they don’t even include me in a target audience, that’s when I become anti-society. All the festivals being organised, all the events, they are only for a third of Stockholm, or two thirds of Stockholm, but where is the last third? They’re sitting at home cueing their YouTube playlist. We know this market exists. We want to merge this group with the rest of the thirds. We don’t want one specific market to be our niche, we want to introduce Dinamarca to someone who listens to a reggaeton playlist that his cousin in Chile sent him.

NINO — Makes me think of being local or global. If we look to ourselves, how we grew up — Ibrahim and I both have parents who fled from war. With that comes things in one’s childhood that are going to be tough, that you will have in common with a generation. Artists we manage might also have parents who haven’t studied — or maybe they did, and still had to go and do things differently. I want people who haven’t done things traditionally to feel like they too can have what I had when I worked at big labels.

IBRAHIM — Volvo-Zlatan. We can’t just be Zlatan. It doesn’t matter how great we are — many artists and organisations haven’t learned a structure that allows you to go on for ten years and create something that will last. Our experiences of working in the industry has taught us what we need to know in order to help our artists with that. Not only through booking them a gig, but teaching them how to get a salary from their work, and their rights when they’re doing a show. We need to be able to provide that too. And it’s in this way we want to be political, you know — in the silence. We are spreading the art form, but also the knowledge. To receive knowledge through art, and art through knowledge. It’s corny but it’s something we’ve given a lot of thought to. People are much more susceptible to knowledge if it’s conveyed with art.

NINO — I thought it was nice when we sat by the whiteboard and I asked you how you saw me. Do you remember?

IBRAHIM — What I said was that I want Nino to spend the time on being a visionary and see various collaborations and opportunities. We’ve separated TUKIO into two departments, ART and KNOWLEDGE. ART represents anything that has to do with musicians, and artists, et cetera, while KNOWLEDGE is more of a lecture agency.

When are you reminded of why you started TUKIO?

IBRAHIM — A person we signed to KNOWLEDGE will be in a panel talk together with Alice Bah Kuhnke, minister of culture in Sweden. On the wall over there is a note that says ”the minister of integration’s best friend”. OK, Alice Bah Kuhnke isn’t minister of integration but we’re halfway there. And it’s not us speaking — it’s someone we’ve seen and thought that this conversation needs to take place. All we did was make it happen. I like how you work as match makers, that you see potential in not only a person, but also in a conversation, you work on making it happen.

IBRAHIM — This makes for another corny quote that we said while I was still at my old job, when Nino and I used to stay up all night working to the early morning: ”We may own our art, but we do not own the stage we stand on.” Everyone comprehends that ownership in the arts is important, and that the right to ownership is fundamental. But then that also has to go somewhere, where it’s cared for on the right premises. That’s what we do. We are building that stage, or scene. We make sure the premises are just, because no one else will. That’s the core of what we do.

Nino is wearing a cotton t-shirt by L’Homme Rouge, denim trousers and suede trainers by Eytys. Ibrahim is wearing a cotton long sleeve shirt by CHÂTEAU, denim trousers and patent leather trainers by Eytys. Hairstylist: Jacob Kajrup.