Our resident disc-spinner Nik Nak sat down and had a two-hour chat with DJ Nubian Soul. Two hours! Here are the highlights: they chatted turntabling, telling a story for your audience, and pigeonholing female DJs.
What got you into DJing initially?
First of all, it was my father’s music collection. He had a massive range of tracks and it was really good hearing different types of music being played. Just a wide range of stuff from afrobeat right through to Neil Diamond [and] indie stuff, and I just wanted to express myself. Secondly, it was more in the sense of asking the DJ to play the music I was into and he didn’t really play it. He kind of said to me, “Y’know, if you’ve got a music collection or a list of tracks, write the list down and we’ll buy it.” So I went there, wrote a list of songs that I felt he should be playing, gave it to him and he didn’t play it, and I remember complaining to my mum about it. My mum just said, “just do it yourself, y’know? You know your music, you’ve got the records, just do it yourself.” And that’s what got me into DJing.
My mother was really instrumental and said, “instead of complaining about it, just do it.” So during my down time, I started doing it and started making beats from that, and then started hosting parties at the university. Then the university got wind of who I was, people started asking me to play at their universities, and that kind of started from there. Then club promoters and venues from the north west were asking if I could open up sets for them, and I think it was quite a novelty at the time because there was hardly any female DJs that played well. At first it was like a novelty and then it wa like “Rah, she’s good!”, and that’s exactly how it started.
Do you prefer DJing with vinyl or digitally?
I have gotten on the laptop, I won’t lie but it’s in recent years because you can’t carry all your stuff with you. But for me, nothing beats actually touching a proper fresh vinyl: smelling it, reading the label, reading the cover, playing it; and to control it, it’s really you rather than a computer programme controlling it. For me, it doesn’t beat that. And when guys come to you and actually see you mixing, and it’s the real deal, they’re like “RAH OK!” In its own right, turntables are an instrument and it takes time to do it but when you do, it’s the best feeling you can get.
I have to say, it is really encouraging to hear you say that turntables are an instrument because that’s something that you don’t really hear or get spoken about.
When you start on a laptop and people go on to the actual thing, it’s different and it’s harder. You’ve got to know your beats, if that BPM will work… When it’s programmed, it’s different to when you actually do it live because the vinyl might be a completely different press to what it actually is. It’s so different. It is an instrument and I really respect the people who can do the real thing because it’s hard, [and] you do need to practice. I don’t care what anyone says to me, you’ve got to practise, just like you would when you’re playing a guitar. When you don’t, people know.
And I think people also forget that you have to follow the crowd as well. One of my pet hates is that sometimes scratch turntablists just forget about the crowd and are just doing it for themselves. It’s important to look at the crowd, see how they’re moving etc: are they feeling it? Are they dancing? The relationship is with the crowd and the audience as well. They’re the ones who are going to keep it going in terms of energy, because when that track gets dropped and it’s amazing, people will be like “Ohhhhh I remember that gig back in…” We [as DJs] are the storytellers and people forget that.
You mentioned how DJs and turntablists are storytellers. Would you consider yourself a storyteller whenever you play out?
Yes, I definitely consider myself to be a storyteller. Three years ago, I was invited to come on to Function Radio and I’m the only woman on there, and it’s really cool. I have a set every Sunday. One of the reasons why the founders asked me to play was that they’d seen me play a few times and they like the fact that I tell stories: I don’t stay in one genre, I play a range of music during the set. I would always put myself in the listener’s point of view. It’s about them hearing things that they maybe have [in their] memory. And then it’s about exposing new artists that you never ever hear, but as long as the genre fits, it works! So that’s when you realise you’re a storyteller. For me, there are so many stories in this world, and yes you can play the same story every week but that gets a bit boring. It’s nice when you can think “I’m going to play a range of stories”. It’s good to just let the music do the talking.
I have a feature on the show about a prominent black woman people may not know, and that’s a form of storytelling as well because you’re opening up new doors to people. And stories change too as you get older, some will stay the same, some will get recycled and remixed but it’s your story and that’s what you want people to remember you by.
We have a brand new Organic Nubians Radio Show for all you soul music lovers this afternoon as we continue our count down to performing live at our first event of the new year @ Hoxton Hall, London on Saturday 3rd March 2018. I am looking forward to playing on the show some banging Hip Hop and R&B beautiful joints for all of you this afternoon. With artists like Eric B & Rakim, Roxanne Shante (as featured on this week’s flyer), KRS One, Paula Perry, Donell Jones, Dazzband, Guy, Rhythm N Bass, Jagged Edge, Tweet, Shai and the likes.. So join me this afternoon Sunday 2:00pm – 4:00pm (GMT), 9:00am – 11:00am (EST), 6:00am – 8:00am (PDT) as we keep you moving and groovin on your Sunday afternoon. Playing some Classic Organic Nubians tunes from the past, present and future for all you Beautiful Sunday listeners. Tune in online: www.sonicstreamradio.net & TuneIn Radio #RNB #HipHop #DJNubiansoul #realmusic #sonicstreamradio #DJ #OrganicNubians #Sunday #Wanderlust #Dance #Radio #InternetRadioStation #Happy #HoxtonHall #Excited #Music #London
What are your thoughts on female DJs being pigeonholed?
I think it’s a very interesting question and I think there are four questions that female DJs really need to be honest about for us to move forward. The first one is “why do we want to play?” Some audiences are fickle; they follow the trends. Other audiences will follow your story if it’s authentic and true, and I think the dilemma that we have at the moment is that we have a music industry that is all about the aesthetic: “Do you look like what I think a female DJ should look like?” and hence from that, they assume what a female DJ should play. You still have an industry that’s still very classist, very racist in terms of who pulls the string at the top. It’s about us deciding who we are, what we want to play, sticking to our guns. It takes a while for it come full circle but when you’re standing in your truth, then you start to see real change in terms of people coming to see you as well as promoters booking you for you. It’s about us as women and musicians being really honest and asking “where do I want to be?” Yes I want to make money but on what terms am I prepared to make money? Am I prepared to lose my integrity to get the money, and be someone I’m not, or am I prepared to play the long game and take time so people will come and see who you’re about, and believe in your ethos in that way.
Interview by Nik Nak
Image: @vintagemisfits1 on Instagram