Carys Jones (NEH Magazine)

It was a pleasure to feature a well deserving friend in the most recent issue of NEH. A version of the following article was published in April’s “The Anniversary Issue” of NEH Magazine.

One of my favorite things about living in Korea are the interesting characters you find sprinkled throughout the vibrant expat communities, especially in the extremely densely populated city of Seoul. Photographers, writers, musicians, filmmakers, socialites, party promoters, there are so many fascinating people to meet. Cary Jones is one of those.

We’ve crossed paths on several occasions. I filmed a behind the scenes video during a studio recording session featuring her along side several hip hop artists. My girlfriend and I partied with her at Oi Lounge on Halloween. We’ve bump in to each other at comedy shows, fundraisers and magazine parties. I take notice of her many online projects. I see that she’s organizing and promoting events of all kinds. Yet the question remained, what exactly does she do?

When I sat down for our interview at a coffee shop in Hongdae, admittedly a little embarrassed, it was the first question I asked. If we must classify you Carys, what do we call you?

“I don’t know; the term artist feels kind of pretentious” she says, “I don’t really like to label myself. I guess I’m a bit of a hobbyist; I like to do a bit of everything. I get bored very easily” she admits, “I have a really short attention span, so I always have several things on the go to keep myself occupied. If I was going to define myself by any terms, I guess I identify more as a writer and a poet than anything else.”

Carys has been involved in numerous artistic endeavors in Korea. During her first stint, she mainly focused on her writing while living in Suwon – a city not necessarily known for its network of artists. However, returning to the ROK after a quick trip home to the UK, she became more involved in the arts scene in Seoul. She has been featured as a drummer in numerous bands: making it appropriate to toss in the moniker musician. She participates in the extensive network of events such as Word Food, Eden, HBC Festivals, Seoul Artists Network and Dripan: so I’d be remiss to not mention the category of spoken word artist.

In addition to contributing to some of his short comedy pieces, in late 2010 Sonny of Sonny Side Films made a video for one of her poems. Deluded Minds is a battle against ignorance and a verbal shot at feeble-minded people in positions of authority. The feedback from this poem and accompanying video has been positively overwhelming, opening doors for future opportunities. More on that later.

How does one become so diversified in her creative pursuits? According to Carys, she was bullied relentlessly as the awkward kid that didn’t quite fit in with everyone else.

“I used to hang out with all the black kids growing up. But it wasn’t like I was trying to be them,” she says, “I never doubted who I was. I never had an identity crisis and [or] wanted to be someone else. I just found that I fit in with people of more diverse backgrounds than myself – I think a lot of it has to do from when we lived in Bristol” Carys continues, “My Dad was the pastor of a church and the congregation were predominantly people from the Caribbean. So that was the kind of environment I grew up in. But when I moved to Birmingham I was in an all white school, and I didn’t fit in with any of the kids.”

As a means of escape, Carys threw herself in to the creative arts. She wrote poems and short stories, excelled in art and drama classes, and was praised at an early age for creativity and imagination. Carys was also the girl that liked to do the things other girls didn’t typically enjoy. She played the trumpet and the drums, enjoyed soccer, and liked to rap, “I was always about defying stereotypes.”

An eleven year old self described “geeky white girl” with a proper English accent, who tunes in to Yo! MTV Raps and listens to Wu-Tang Clan and KRS ONE certainly breaks quite a few stereotypes. Because she was really in to poetry, the lyrical content and storytelling aspects of hip hop intrigued her, going so far as to write rhymes in the back of her notebook, even taking to freestyling.

The road to published writer and influential poet was a bit bumpy as Carys battled issues with self confidence. In my discussions with her, a handful of key moments or turning points (for lack of a better phrasing) stand out as being extremely influential in her career, providing the validation needed to boost her confidence as well as the motivation to keep striving to reach the next level.

The first of these was her live poetry debut in front of an audience in 2006 at an event called the Live Box in Birmingham. Headliner Zeena Edwards, a well respected spoken word artist and one of the only Brits to be featured on Def Poetry Jam, encouraged Carys to step away from behind the drums and be center of attention on stage, “The whole experimental aspect of it, the improvised aspect of it. And coming off the stage and hearing all of the feedback from everybody, and she gave me a big hug. It was just so exhilarating.”

The second was shortly following the previously mentioned performance. A friend was putting on an event for the African and Caribbean Society at her university and asked Carys to perform a poem in celebration of Black History Month. The challenge was to specifically address, what does black history and culture mean to someone that isn’t black? Drawing from her own experiences, she tackled this sensitive issue by drawing attention to the fine line between embracing a culture and making a mockery of it, urging togetherness in order to progress. “It may not be my personal history, but everyday I bare witness to it’s legacy, I try to embrace cultural diversity in a time where respect and ridicule balance on a thin line.”

The piece was received extremely well, but because of the sensitivity of the issue, she set it down for several years; then before returning to Korea in 2009, a friend and TV producer in the UK insisted upon her dusting it off for a Black History Month program on a show called Verbalizm. Several people picked up the Youtube video, including a well known rapper in the UK by the name of TY, and it got quite a bit of coverage, “Everybody was overwhelmingly positive and it really kind of motivated and encouraged me to keep going.”

The third and most recent would be the Deluded Minds video with Sonny Side Films. This poem in support of the battle against ignorance was once again an extremely successful online venture. A man in Holland asked to translate the piece into Dutch so his friends could read it. Up and coming New York City emcee Dylan Owen has asked Carys to contribute a poem to one of his new tracks. Juice Aleem from back in the UK has agreed to let her contribute to his project “The Middle Lands Massacre” featuring talented artists from around her home city of Birmingham.

On tap for the future is an EP, possibly a full length album, heavily inspired by the works of American spoken word legend Ursula Rucker. Several producers in the US and UK have been sending a collection of hip hip, house and electronica beats. The affiliation to influential emcee TY back in the UK has resulted in quite a few connections. She is experimenting with her own DJ skills. Deluded Minds will be re-recorded as a track.

Carys has been drawn to Philadelphia for quite a while. She describes the arts scene as “incestuous”, and yearns to take part in the creative community because of the so many people she has met with roots there, including Ursula Rucker herself. Because of this, plans have been set in motion to visit the US in the summer of 2012 in an attempt to flex her creative muscles and networking abilities.

You can keep track of Carys and her many endeavors on the internet. Check for the videos the contributes to. Her soundcloud page at offers a collection of her audio works. Her blog is predominantly hip hop related and used to cover other artists.

~ by ripcitytoseoul on April 13, 2011.

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