Music, especially of the loud, danceable kind, is ubiquitous in most of Africa. Yet DJs, the artisans behind the walls of sound, often remain in the shadow. This is not how we roll: we want you to find out who is pushing the envelope throughout the continent.
To start this series, we introduce to you Chabela, based in Abidjan (Ivory Coast). I met her at the Africa Bass Culture festival in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) in March 2017, we’ve crossed paths again in Abidjan since, and with time I’ve come to truly appreciate her commitment to music, and to pushing the scene in Abidjan. Her passion shines through in her meticulous mixes, and we are grateful and happy to share with you her latest mix for us, along with the following interview:
Can you tell us about your musical background?
They are very eclectic. I was influence by hip hop and R & B, reggae, soul… and even classic rock! i was always very curious about everything. But Ivorian and African music, especially old school, remain deeply rooted within me.
I grew up surrounded by my dad’s vinyl collection. He wasn’t necessarily a huge music fan, but he had a bunch of records and often said, like any good African parent “ah those were the good old days, good music”. It used to annoy my brothers and I back then, but as time passe and my ear develops, I realize… “my dad was right”…! I often listen to this music and seek inspiration.
When did you start DJing?
Because friends asked me to… A classic story at first. I was the one playing music at parties, the one that would be asked to play. I had the sensibility to bring together genres reflecting the preferences of the people attending, so everybody could find themselves and create a good vibe.
Then I found myself organizing and promoting parties in Abidjan, focused mostly on electronic music fusing in African sounds, such as the Electropique nights which pushed the scene in 2015 and 2016. As I listened more and more to this music, and as I worked towards establishing coherence with my partner, I began to piece together a musical database which I’d share with the people around me, with so much enthusiasm they pushed me all the time to go behind the decks. I finally got my feet wet, and I adore it!
What is your routine like these days?
I have a weekly event at an alternative space in Abidjan called La Fabrique Culturelle. It’s a space which promotes art and cultures through its varied programming. This weekly event keeps me on my toes, looking for new sounds.
Then I have events I organize with my own concept, Eneo, basically house parties, but with a live band, a full bar, and DJs. I also take part in the Kamayakoi collective, with two other DJs, Praktika and Mydriase, and a set designer / promoter, Madina Diallo. And there are always other events and spaces.
Can you tell us a bit about the scene you fit into in Côte d’Ivoire?
I have to admit, I’m still trying to find my place in the Ivorian landscape. I am mainly an electronic music DJ (house, deep house, afrohouse), but we evolve in a scene where everything still needs to be built, conceptualized, where mainstream – mainly Nigerian – music is a steady leader. So, I have to stay pretty open, even while remaining a purist in the genre I want to play, electro with an eclectic edge. But I love this challenge of being in a place where everything still needs to be done! You have to be passionate and love what you play.
Can you tell us a bit about abidjan in general?
How can I put this, it’s not because I am Ivorian, but I am a huge fan of Abidjan! I love the energy of this city, the numerous possibilities, we are rarely bored here. People are open, I can see it especially at Kamayakoi and Eneo events, where we only play electro, and people remain receptive.
Like many, I have the ambition of playing elsewhere, discovering what is being done elsewhere, learn… I was lucky enough to see a glimpse of what is happening in South Africa, which is the reference for this music in Africa, in Europe, I admit the scene in Berlin turned me upside down, in terms of the quality of the DJs, I really want to hone my skills there.
Can you share with us some highlights behind the decks?
Hard to pick, there are so many! The times when I am DJing and I don’t have to worry about the organization of the event. Times when you don’t even know where you got the inspiration from, but you drop a track that turns an empty dance floor into a frenzy! In another vein, I recently had the chance to DJ outside of abidjan with a new DJ collective, I really enjoyed playing that party, I had fun all along!
What is your goal as a DJ, and the next steps to get there?
I want to produce, not only Dj events. I also want to find an agency to handle bookings. For now I handle everything myself, I think it’s important to do that and grasp all aspects, but at some point you need to delegate to open up new challenges.
Can you tell us a bit about this mix?
I prepared this mix the same way I prepare a warmup live set at a party. I like to bring the temperature up effectively without being aggressive. I like to combine organic and warmth.
When Benjamin and I discussed the set, I already had the backbone in mind, I wanted to make an afrohouse mix, with a purely house touch, keeping in African sounds. The hard part is make it all coherent.
For the first three songs, I chose long transitions, to get the rhythms to boil together, speed up as the sounds mash together. I end with an edit of Ravel’s Bolero by Angélique Kidjo, something I wanted to share and which I find adds a nice ending to digest the mix.
1/ Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Orchestra – Too much Information – Laolu Remix
2/ Culoe de Song – Y.O.U.D – Y.O.U.D
3/ Hyenah – Usuthu (Drums Dub)
4/ William Onyeabor – Atomic Bomb remixed by John Talabot
5/ The Black Madonna – Exodus | Stripped & Chewed
6/ Black Coffee Ft Toshi – Buya
7/ Black Motion – Banane Mavoko
8/ Mr Raoul K – Mr Raoul K ‘Just In A Moment Of Balafon Journey’
9/ Angelique Kidjo – Lonlon (Cigarra Edit)