ABC Music and Pop Culture Reporter Mawunyo Gbogo on her new memoir
With two decades of experience in journalism across radio, digital and TV, the ABC’s Mawunyo Gbogbo recently set her sights on a new challenge and is now a published author.
Hip Hop & Hymns, released in May this year, is a coming-of-age story about Mawunyo’s experiences growing up Black in a country town in Australia in the 1980s and 1990s. The memoir explores the “thrills and pitfalls of young love”, as well as the confusion of growing up that is experienced by many teenagers.
“I was motivated to tell my story because it’s a bloody good story – why wouldn’t I want to share it?” Mawunyo says.
“It’s a story of resilience and bouncing back when the odds are stacked against you, as well as never giving up because your breakthrough might be just around the corner.”
Born in Ghana and raised in the NSW Hunter Valley, Mawunyo has since forged a diverse media career producing and reporting for organisations including the ABC, SBS and Nine Network.
Mawunyo Gbogo photographed by Frederick McHenry.
She says the book also explores some of the challenges of trying to build a career in the media as a woman of colour, including “microaggressions and unconscious bias” in the workplace.
“I think it’s important for people to check themselves and realise that what you think is a little joke or 'no big deal' might be further disenfranchising your already marginalised colleague,” she says.
“I’m also hoping this book will cause people to pause and think about our criminal justice system, about how to date locking up 10-year-olds has not been working and how, while I don’t have the answers, there are people out there who have been putting in the hard yards in the search for solutions. It’s about time we listened to these people.
“And I’m hoping to reach people who can relate to the fish out of water experience – feeling that you don’t really belong anywhere – but making your own way and forging a path forward regardless.”
Despite being a memoir, Mawunyo says Hip Hop & Hymns still required an extensive amount of research, and that she was able to apply some of her journalistic techniques to the writing process.
“I travelled to Muswellbrook [Mawunyo’s childhood town] and spent hours searching through documents I picked up at the Muswellbrook Shire Local and Family History Society,” she says.
“And I actually interviewed people in my life for Hip Hop & Hymns to get a fuller picture of how others saw certain situations I found myself in. I think that was the journalist in me kicking in.”
The memoir is set to a playlist of songs, a choice Mawunyo says reflects the influence of music in her life.
Currently working as a music and pop culture reporter, Mawunyo contributes to various ABC platforms and programs, such as ABC News and Double J. She says her work often involves writing online articles and sometimes appearing on radio and television to discuss these.
“A highlight for News was attending the First Nations Fashion + Design closing runway at Fashion Week where BARKAA and Christine Anu performed. That was a fun write-up with lots of great photos,” Mawunyo says.
“But then I’ve also been captivated by some of the court cases I’ve written about like that of Empire actor Jussie Smollett who was found guilty of staging a fake hate crime.
“And who could forget the Oscars. Or the Super Bowl half-time show. I mean there have been many highlights!”
Mawunyo’s pitching preferences:
“You’d be surprised by the number of pitches I get for stories that have absolutely nothing to do with music or pop culture. That’s the first thing. It needs to be relevant.
“Then I’d say if there’s interesting talent attached to the story – that would certainly make it stand out. And then the angle needs to be unique and newsworthy. So, I might not be interested in a press release about a new gadget. But if you can tell me how this new gadget helped Beyonce write her first solo album in six years and you can get her to dial in from the US and talk to me about it – sold! That’s an extreme example, but you get my drift.
“Relevance. Outstanding talent. Newsworthiness. It’s gotta tick all three boxes.”