Kato & Friends: Creating A Community of Underground Superstars

Kato & Friends is a group of independent female promoters, who are organically creating a community of underground superstars through curating events for independent artists to be showcased and celebrated. We sat down with founder Layla Kato to get an insight into the origins of Kato & Friends and ambitions for the collective as well as finding out first-hand who to look out for from Layla. An extremely insightful and delightful interview!


Toren: So, Kato & Friends, how did it come about and what does it mean to you?
Layla: Kato & Friends was born out of … a need. I don’t know what need it was at the time, but I was very low, and I wanted to feel inspired. I didn’t like my 9-5 job at the time, and I have a lot of friends that are entrepreneurial – so at that time, it felt like it was my calling. I didn’t want a clothing line or to provide a beauty service, but I knew I really enjoyed podcasting and music. My whole circle loves music and I remember having the idea floating for a while and speaking to my close friends about it, but I didn’t have a name in mind or know how to go about it, I just knew I wanted to start something. I remember having a ramble with one of my friends and he asked me what you would call ‘this’ event. That’s when ‘Kato & Friends’ came to mind, I asked him “Does that work?” and he replied “Yeah, that actually sounds hard” and the name was born!


Toren: He wasn’t lying! I remember when you even floated the name to me, and I thought YEAH this is a good one! It made a lot of sense!


Layla: Thank you! Kato is actually my middle name and my dad’s first name. I liked the way it sounded. It sounds friendly, and it sounds like family. You know my family name and friends – something I could spin. I remember I then started shopping for venues, but none of the venues that I initially came across I liked and I felt like I wanted Kato & Friends to be intentional, very intentional. From start to finish I wanted it to feel like a clean-cut and organised event. Most importantly, I wanted it to feel warm. I had a strong vision and mood in my mind of what I wanted the first event to look like. I remember coming across the Looking Glass Cocktail Club after attending an event called the Listening Party with one of my close friends and as soon as I went in there, it was like it was everything I was looking for, from the walk-in mirror to the atmosphere. You have to be there to feel and believe what I’m talking about, and I don’t think anyone has put that much intention into a space. But yeah, the rest was history! I took a leap from there, put the flyer together and brought the vision to life.


{The Kato & Friends 1 Year Birthday Event} 

Toren: That’s amazing and to hear the first-hand story of how it all came together is such a unique and incredible way to have done it. I’ve been a fan from the start so that’s such a pure insight for me, especially witnessing how successful the first event was.


Layla: Thank you so much, it means the world. I wanted to put together a knock-out lineup of artists, that hadn’t been put together before. I think that’s why the first event felt so special, it fulfilled me so much!


Toren: 5 events in the space of a year is not a joke! Massive congratulations to you and the team. With all of this under your belt in such a short space of time, I wanted to ask where your love for the U.K. creative scene stems from and what you aim for Kato & Friends to bring into the space?


Layla: I love this question so much because I feel like the easiest thing, I can compare it to is … you know when you watch a documentary, and you start to connect the dots. I feel like the U.K. scene has been so close to home all my life. For me, it’s always been within reach, and I can’t believe I almost took it for granted. It started with J Hus. I think back to when he released “Dem Boy Paigon” and I saw a sparkle in everyone’s eyes. You couldn’t go to a house party back in the day without hearing that come on. It felt like London was beginning to stand up in terms of music and take in its culture. I felt something special was happening. We transitioned from the MC Era where you had the likes of Dizzee Rascal at the time and even then, our music was quite premature. I feel like our generation at that point felt the shift at the time, so from around 2014 onwards, it’s as though everything continued to move up from there. When I was in college, I met Zino (Vinci), Tendai , Icee (TGM) It felt weird but it was almost comical at the time, how so many artists were already around me. I felt inspired around them. So, for me it was as through the likes of J Hus, Kojo Funds etc who were the start of the first major shift in U.K. music for our generation at the time and it was up to us to keep that upward shift going. I think my personal contribution is that I am able to curate beautiful line-ups, from the connections I already do have. I think Kato & Friends can be a front-runner for making things easier for artists and pushing amazing talent.



Toren: Yeah, I completely agree. One thing I can say about your first event was that there was so much talent in the room. I remember just listening to artist after artist and saying to myself – “yeah I need to listen to this one when I get home” and “Ouu who is that, they’re cold”. So, I think there’s definitely a beauty behind bringing together undiscovered talent to the forefront of people who are heavily into music but may have not heard of the artists before.


Layla: Yeah, it’s a great feeling. Especially knowing that it’s all from the ground up and without any commercial backing or funding!


Toren: I feel like you touched on it briefly beforehand, regarding the musical shift in the U.K. and being around a lot of artists and creatives in those pinnacle adolescent years. But when looking at it from a wider lens or a bigger picture, who or what would you say are your creative inspirations?


Layla: You’ll laugh, but you know they are? It’s podcasts. I’m telling you listening to people debate and talk about music inspired me. To keep it a buck, sometimes I don’t even think I have the best musical ear. I think my talent is more identifying how to curate a really beautiful night. Like I can spot a good artist and I can see potential. But I can’t say I’ve listened to loads and loads of music – that’s why your playlists are really useful by the way! Like if you were to see my playlist of liked songs, you would probably laugh, it’s awful! I haven’t sat down and actually listened to projects in a long, long time.


Toren: Ay! Thank you! But saying that it’s crazy because, for someone like me, I’m an album or mixtape listener! I take it seriously to the point where it’s like a second or third job!

(Both Toren & Layla laugh)


Toren: Sometimes I even go back to listen to different projects that have dropped throughout the year and rank them, but I’m a music nerd like that.


Layla: No, but this is why I appreciate people like you who take the time out to remind people what music means. So, podcasts inspire me, notably when yours was around.

(There’s a silence before Toren & Layla let out a laugh) 

I was never going to let that one slide! But yours and even HP pod, go into depth with music conversations a lot of the time. So, I don’t have inspiration in terms of what I want events to look like. It’s more about the experience I want to give people and I feel like all I want to do is make people feel happy and invigorated – that ultimate feel-good feeling. When people tell me they had a good time, and made friends, that’s my version of giving back to the creative space. If I can do it, then I’ll do it and I love that.

Toren: So last few questions from me! These are more to see where your musical and creative ear is right now. Who are 3 artists you believe people should keep their eyes on in 2024?


Layla: Khalil Madovi. Jim Legxacy absolutely & my last one is more of a personal favourite, she was on one of my last lineups and she recently dropped a new single, her name’s Perez (@PerezTheBully). She’s 20 and an amazing talent. I think with the right management and production, she could easily be likened to a Little Simz. I know you said three, but I’ve got one more! His name is Wxterboi. He was also on one of my earlier lineups and he has more of an electronic type of twist on Afrobeats. He also mixes and master’s everything himself. Oh my gosh Toren I’ve got too many. I’m going to have to give you one more. J Sanc & Glasshousetenant, they’re actually twins. They’ve got movie soundtrack songs and I believe they also produce as well.


{The Kato & Friends team w/ Jim Legxacy}


Toren: You know what, I’ll take it! It’s better to have more than less, so I’m not going to complain. So similar to the question before and the last one from me! Who are three creatives that people should keep their eyes on in 2024? That can be within any creative industry.


Layla: Ouu that’s a good question, whose work have I been looking at a lot … Oh in terms of videographer I would say @airtothemanor. He’s a friend of mine but he’s a sick videographer. @sharloola – she’s a poet and she recently wrote a really beautiful poem about women in the emergency room, that was really nice. I’d say those are my main two!


Toren: Thank you so much for that Layla! That was extremely insightful, I feel like I’ve learnt a thing or two and I can tell you’re coming from a genuine place and that this is something that is fulfilling, and you want to do – so keep going!


Interview conducted & written up by Toren

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