Talib Jasir caught the podcasting bug in 2017.
He had just launched an audio drama, “The Fussings: Until One of Us is Dead,” a limited-run series that helped juice his creativity for storytelling.
At the time, he was working in big pharma on the creative services side. It was cubicle life, but it paid the bills.
“I’ve always hated being in an office space where I knew that my abilities and my talents would best be served for myself,” Jasir said.
But with the Fussings, he saw an outlet. He could let his imagination and his visions for storytelling come to life. And as he explored podcasting further, he began to see why people were so ready to boost the medium. Creatives and entrepreneurs were finding new ways to tell stories and conspiring on how to build an audience — while making money.
But as Jasir recently explained over a Zoom call from Salisbury, he had a hard time finding a community among audio professionals. In 2017, there wasn’t a space for Black podcasters, let alone those interested in audio dramas. It’s what inspired him to hold the first Afros & Audio Podcast Festival conference in 2019. This year, it will take place in Baltimore, his birthplace. But it was a long journey to get here.
“I was looking for other Black audio creatives around me, and 2017 wasn’t what it looks like in 2021, in 2022, 2023, where Black audio dramas exist,” Jasir said.
As Jasir studied podcasting, he became more passionate about what it could do for creative entrepreneurs like himself. Forty-nine percent of people 12 and older were familiar with podcasts in 2015, according to Edison Research’s Infinite Dial, an industry gauge of listenership and audience behavior. Those numbers shot up to 60% in 2017. This year, 83% of people 12 and older are familiar with podcasting, and 64% have listened to at least one podcast. And industry estimates suggest that podcasting will cross $4 billion in annual revenue by 2025.
It didn’t take long before Jasir was telling friends about how podcasting was going to be a game-changer and looking for ways to build community. He tried his hand at creating a directory of other Black podcasters, but quickly pivoted to a more ambitious endeavor. A friend had suggested he pull together an event, such as a meet-and-greet, for fellow podcasters. That sparked a bigger idea.
The first Afros & Audio Podcast Festival took place in a one-room venue in Brooklyn, New York.
“It was a very small, intimate space,” said Quincy Lewis, a Detroit native and podcaster who showed up in Brooklyn not knowing what to expect.
Lewis went to the first Afros & Audio Podcast Festival because of a free registration ticket he had won as part of a contest Jasir had designed to drum up interest. But when Lewis showed up, his name hadn’t been made available to the volunteer working the door.
“I come a long way, mind you,” Lewis recalled. “I did the contest, but we [Jasir and I] never had a personal conversation.”
The small room in Brooklyn helped fix things quickly, as Jasir’s penchant for remembering names and faces helped diffuse the matter.
“And then he [Jasir] sees me and says, ‘Oh, Q, you made it!’ " Lewis said. “His familiarity with me, without ever having a conversation with me, made me think from that point forward, that’s my family right there.”
Jasir has run with that theme, focusing on intimate spaces, networking and building the type of community he’s always wanted. Now, his friends see him as a pivotal connection point in the industry.
“He’s become the voice of Black podcasters — not only a voice, but also an advocate,” said Genie Dawkins, a friend of Jasir’s since their days at Coppin State in the 1990s, and now a collaborator on the podcast festival. “He’s been able to connect podcasters who have actually been able to come up the ladder. Or work with iHeartRadio or Spotify and call to them, ‘How can we have a bigger voice?’
“When he [Jasir] connects with them, they’re like, there’s other people out there like me.”
Most importantly, Dawkins says, he’s become the first touchpoint for many Black podcasters in the industry. And that’s a role he takes seriously, says Shamiko Reid, another collaborator and podcaster.
“Anyone who can conceive of something grand and bring it to life and remain as humble as he has been in my experience, I think that’s commendable,” said Reid, a former Baltimore resident who hosts the podcast, “The Discussion Room.” “The one thing about my experience and interactions with Talib, he makes it very clear that he is responsible for all the things, but he’s also appreciative of all the people who help do all the things [to bring the festival together].”
This year will be the fifth year of Afros & Audio and a homecoming for Jasir.
“It’s a milestone for the event, for myself personally, to make it this far with limited resources,” Jasir said. “This year, I wanted to bring it home to my hometown because I’m very proud of what we’ve created as a community and I’m proud of Baltimore. I wanted to bring my whole family together, Baltimore and my Afros and Audio community.”
The festival will take place at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. In keeping with Jasir’s original intent, this year’s festival will focus on building a community for Black podcasters and the latest trends in the industry. Attendees have swelled from a few dozen to hundreds who travel from all over the East Coast, Canada, Britain and Africa to partake.
“You’re going to get all the tea on A.I., promotion, podcasting,” Dawkins said. “The ideas and the connections that you’re going to make will sustain you for a lifetime.
“Because people remember your name at Afros & Audio.”