Juba has steadily built a reputation as a confident, skilful and daring DJ, championing the sounds of Africa and the African diaspora across Europe and beyond. A child of the Nigerian diaspora in the UK, Juba has been paying musical homage to her heritage as a DJ since 2016, primarily showcasing music from Africa and the African diaspora, while also drawing on other electronic musical influences. Juba is a regular host on Berlin’s Cashmere Radio, a core member of London’s Boko! Boko! collective and creator of the Assurance documentary and podcast. Besides DJing, she also uses her platforms to explore socio-political issues surrounding the world of music.
How are you? Where are you right now?
I’m in Berlin right now. I’m from the UK, but I’m based here now. I’m kind of winding down for the rest of the year after a busy period.
Maybe we can go back to how you got into music and your background.
My musical background is quite random. I guess I was more into dancing when I was at uni, which is when a lot of people decide to take up extracurricular activities. When I was at uni, I used to run a club night called Throwback with a friend called Dorine, which was all about 90s and early noughties music. So I kind of got into organising events there.
But I’ve always just enjoyed music as a passive listener, not necessarily proactively. I never really thought about a career in the music industry. And then when I graduated from uni, I essentially struggled to find work. So I decided to try and have some fun. And that’s more or less how I got into DJing. It was all a bit accidental.
And that was in London?
How was the scene back then and what sort of scene were you involved in?
I’d say the scene I was involved in then was similar to the scene that I still relate to. I played a lot more Afrobeats when I first started because of my Nigerian heritage. So naturally, when I got into music, I played stuff that I was familiar with – a lot of Nigerian music, Afrobeats, Afro pop, and then I transitioned to experimenting with South African and Angolan stuff like Gqom and Kuduro because the rhythms are a bit more upbeat, almost polyrhythmic, more danceable.
Afrobeats can be quite slow and more lyrical and I think veering towards Gqom, Afro house and Angolan Kuduro pushed me towards the more explicitly electronic spectrums of music from within the African context. So I can say that was quite a big transition for me.
And did the interest in music come from your upbringing or your family?
My family isn’t massively musical. I mean, obviously, music was played when I was growing up. We used to go to hall parties, which are these community social events and celebrations in London. But I wouldn’t say that I grew up musical. My dad sings around the house every now and then… There was no real reason, based on my upbringing, for me to focus on music.
You also made a brilliant documentary called Assurance about women in the music scene and gender representation in Nigeria. Your interest goes beyond the musical into the socio-political.
I’ve always had this interest in exploring communities through music because of my history background. My History and Culture degree was heavily focused on social history.
Assurance was a joint idea between me and my cousin, who is a videographer and a photographer. She was living in Nigeria at the time. I’ve always been interested in documentaries and music, so it made a lot of sense to explore something like that because the conversations that are explored in the film were definitely also happening in Europe at that time. I feel that in places like Nigeria it is a pressing issue.
Are you planning to make any more documentaries?
I don’t know yet. I made a podcast about female DJs across the Global South and non-Western world, including Lebanon, Egypt and Japan. There were interesting conversations around the geographical differentiations and how that impacted women’s experiences on the dance floor.
However, I’m not a fan of having the same conversations over and over again. I feel that the conversation is there and it’s been had. On the other hand, I’m interested now, the topic isn’t closed, but I’m now curious about the practical implementation of these conversations.
I would definitely be interested in doing another location-based documentary.
Do you feel that in practice things have changed in terms of gender representation?
I would say that in Europe, at least in the spaces that I’m aware of, it would be a bit disingenuous to act as if I don’t see a lot more women in the lineups. It’s simply a lot more diverse in terms of gender representation, for example, projects like SHAPE platform and several others, and promoters are more aware of this nowadays. Obviously, there’s still work to be done and it depends on the scene you’re in. I think it’s just an ongoing practice of normalising bookings that are more diverse and representative in terms of gender.
It’s impossible to remove politics and sociology from music and from dance floors, because they’ve always been interconnected.
They always will be. And I think everyone has the right to engage with that as they see fit.
I think that right now, regardless of whether it’s the situation in the Middle East or any other situation, there can sometimes be a sort of compulsion that you must be vocal. My main critique of that is that it sometimes runs the risk of us being vocal for being vocal’s sake and not even understanding what we are doing and why we are doing it.
I don’t think that’s very helpful. I think it just adds to a lot of noise and then it feels like the noise that has been made is quite disingenuous and it can almost feel accusatory. I hear a lot of conversations about being like this and like that and people are keeping silent, and I’m like, well, maybe they’re doing stuff behind the scenes, maybe they’re donating and organising.
It’s important for people to know why they’re speaking and for them to speak only when it makes sense for them.
There are certain genres of music that are created purely because a group of people want to express themselves in the face of some form of injustice or oppression. I think it’s undeniable that there’s a real connection there. And it’s most powerful when that connection is authentic and when the noise and actions are authentic, I think that’s when the most value and capacity for positive change can be found.
I guess social media plays a big role because, as you said, a lot of people who are not vocal on social media may be vocal elsewhere but just not visible.
There are so many institutions that are doing things in real life within the community. And there’s so much more space for community-based outreach within the music industry, which is very valuable.
You’ve also been part of several music communities and collectives.
I started off DJing with a collective called Boko! Boko!. I think there’s a real value in collectives, especially when DJs are starting out, and I would definitely encourage people to try to form them because it helps not only in terms of mutual support, but also in terms of branding and bookings. You can be part of a unit that might have a message or might stand for something, but also sometimes it’s just that you like the music you’re all playing and that’s it; it doesn’t always have to be something that’s explicitly based around some kind of political identity. There’s a real beauty in collectives and mutual empowerment.
And in Berlin you’ve been involved with Cashmere community radio.
Between my radio show and working with other people I have a lot of connections and friends. And I haven’t felt compelled to start a collective here or join a collective.
How does Berlin compare to London in terms of the music scenes you’ve been close to?
I think with London, there’s probably just a more diverse offering in terms of the sorts of spaces. Obviously, Berlin is a bit heavier on the techno side. But what I think is nice about Berlin is that in some ways, there’s a lot more uncharted territory.
In London, a lot of groups and sounds have already been established, and people know exactly what they’re looking for. In Berlin, you have the establishment, with techno, and there are some other worlds where there’s a lot more space with the potential for experimentation. Venues like Tresor and some others are also opening their minds to a wider spectrum of music, especially in the electronic world, to reflect the changes coming with the people who are moving here.
I probably also prefer the approach to nightlife and night culture here, because in London, there are little things like phones aren’t typically banned in clubs, so you get a lot more of a recording the whole night kind of energy, which I don’t mind every now and then, but I really prefer it when you go to a space in Berlin and everyone just puts their phones away and enjoys the night.
You can go out and dance and you’re not going to feel awkward or be bothered. Whenever I take my friends from London out, they’re like, nobody talks to each other in the clubs here, and they find it a little bit off-putting. In a lot of places you go to there’s an unspoken expectation that you’re going to meet people, whether it’s to make friends or to hook up. I go to clubs to dance and to have a good time, I go there to enjoy the music, and you can definitely have interactions with people on the dance floors here, but it’s a bit less conversational and more about the music and the dancing.
And I guess there’s more protection, more funding for music and the arts in general in Berlin. But at the same time, it seems that the Berlin Senate is currently attacking some of the institutions and spaces that are valued in Berlin, like XJazz and Oyoun
But it’s interesting that even though the music scene has become more decentralised, it still seems like certain big cities – Berlin, Paris, London, New York – are the hotspots. And it’s not moving so much south or east.
There are some cities that just have the infrastructure to have these spaces. In London, a lot of small spaces are being shut down but you have all these mega venues like Printworks with 5,000-capacity mega events.
I think Berlin has more of a healthy mix of bigger and smaller venues. In other cities you have a lot of cool scenes, but maybe not necessarily the space, infrastructure or funding that these mega hubs have.
And what are your next projects and music-related activities?
I don’t have anything major planned. I really want to focus on learning music production next year. I’d also love to do a few residencies and maybe some more documentary projects, but I’m just in a kind of ideation space right now to see what makes sense to me.
It’s also important to have these ideation periods because there’s also this pressure to always be productive in terms of showing outputs.
If it wasn’t for the ideation periods, I wouldn’t have done the Assurance podcast or the documentary, but the risk of ideation periods is that, especially when there’s no pressure on you to produce anything, they can just become extended periods of slight stagnation.
When you play your DJ gigs, do you prepare ahead or is it more spontaneous, depending on the momentary vibe?
It depends. For the last few years, I haven’t really prepared sets. You can prepare a set and then you get there and it’s like, I don’t know if this is gonna make sense. But I also increasingly feel that I’m able to be flexible while I play. I can play around and add in random spontaneous tracks, so sometimes I prepare, sometimes I don’t. I will obviously prepare more important sets because I don’t want to have a moment of, Oh shit, what am I going to play next?
But I also like the freedom of just feeling the vibe. Somewhere in the middle is nice, having a few set sections prepared but then also giving yourself some flexibility.
And how do you search for new tracks?
There’s SoundCloud, there’s Bandcamp, there’s word of mouth. I follow a lot of Afro dance pages. I get a lot of stuff sent to me as well, which is quite helpful.
So it really varies. Even when I go out, I’m always checking out sounds, always got Shazam on. Livestreams as well. Constantly on alert.
Have you been surprised by any reactions to your sets or how a night panned out where you played?
In November, I played in Group Therapy Copenhagen and I knew the party was going to be a nice one because I know the collective. They’ve created something really beautiful. The energy was a lot more disco, techno, but I really enjoyed the set that I played. It’s such a great vibe. There were a few people who stayed at the front for the whole set. I got a lot of really great feedback. This weekend I played at the Boiler Room Festival and because it was unrecorded, I had no expectations. It was pretty relaxed and it was a really good time, a really fun set and good energy.
Interview by Lucia Udvardyova