In 2045 it may no longer make sense to publish articles like this, but the fact that in 2022 six Afro-descendants take over the curatorship of an electronic music festival in Madrid is a cultural milestone of great magnitude in a country that, to put it mildly, has a problematic relationship with blackness. This year the Jokkoo collective, based in Barcelona, is responsible for programming the Electronica cycle in April organized by La Casa Encendida. This is the only way to explain why from March 31 to April 3 the Madrid cultural center receives a handful of artists from Ghana, Tanzania, Angola and Uganda.
The non-binary genre comes to electronics to end the noise of patriarchy
But who are Jokkoo? Maguette Dieng (alias Mbodj) and Miriam Camara (alias TNTC) are the only members of the group born in Spain. The first is from a Senegalese family and the second has its roots in Guinea-Conakry. Baba Sy was born in Senegal and has lived in Spain for decades. Nicolas Beliot (alias Mookie, born in France and with roots in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe), Ismaël Ndiaye (alias B4mba, born in France and of Senegalese origin) and Oscar Taylor (alias Opoku, English from a Ghanaian family) complete the Jokkoo family. . The youngest is 28 years old and the oldest is close to 40. All six are linked, to a greater or lesser extent, to the Barcelona electronic dance scene as producers or disc jockeys.
The one who has traveled the most is Baba Sy. Between 2013 and 2017 he alternated roles as waiter and resident DJ at the Razzmatazz room and starred in wild aggressive techno sessions at This Is Hardcore parties as 50% of the Babarians duo. “They were a bit scary,” admits Maguette, who knew him at the time. Baba and Maguette are the parent company of the Jokkoo collective, founded five years ago from a cultural meeting of the Afro-descendant community in which there was food, concerts and disc jockey sessions. In 2017, she was still dedicated to pattern making fabrics, but as a music lover she shared with Baba a growing sensation. “We detected that there was a lack of African electronic music presence in clubs and we wanted to do something,” she summarizes. That year Baba got fed up with playing music that did not represent him and decided to concentrate his efforts on making visible African electronic sounds that were already beginning to be in demand by festivals and clubs in the global north.
At Razzmatazz, Baba and Maguette would meet Opoku. The three of them coincided playing as reinforcement in a concert of the Anglo-Ugandan group Nihiloxica in 2019. They automatically added him to the Jokkoo family. Among the audience was Mookie, who sensed that Jokkoo could be a good ship to get on. “I don’t know what it is, but I’m in,” he decided. That same year, B4mba left Montpellier and settled permanently in Barcelona. They did not meet Miriam in the clubs, but in events of the Afro-descendant community. Miriam lived for a while in Nova Usurpada, “a social center occupied by migrant and racialized people who tried to fill the void of anti-racist squats,” she explains. “Migrate and resist!” It was one of her mottos before the eviction. In the Nova Usurpada parties were held. Someone had to DJ and that’s how Miriam started.
What does a black disc jockey play?
“Jokkoo is a project, a vision. Our mission is to foster respect for our sound, our diaspora and our continent in the nightlife world”, says Baba, who has spent decades going to clubs where only white disc jockeys play. “There is an African electronic sound that is not heard. The African diaspora is making brutal music, but we are not represented in the clubs. In Europe neither African urban sound nor African electronics is investigated”, he laments. Maguette adds a nuance: “The electronic black sound that plays in the clubs is Detroit techno, Chicago house… You can see black disc jockeys, yes, but almost all of them are from the American diaspora and from an older generation. It is necessary to update that look”.
The dance club is one of the many spaces in our society where racist prejudices and misunderstandings can take forever. “You see a white person on stage and you can’t tell what he’s going to play. But you see a black disc jockey and you’re already waiting for what he’s going to put on: afrobeat, afrohouse, Fela Kuti… We have to start breaking that”, Miriam proposes. Jokkoo’s self-imposed mission transcends the musical to delve into the sociocultural. “It is very good that an Afro boy from Badalona goes to Razzmatazz and finds us DJing. He’s going to feel welcomed, he’s going to feel like he fits in. And that is of great value.”
Jokkoo is a project, a vision. Our mission is to foster a respect for our sound, our diaspora and our continent in the night world
This weekend Jokkoo has scheduled one of its quarterly evenings at Razzmatazz, with the Ugandan disc jockey Catu Diosis and the Afro-Global collective Maraboutage, among others. Representing the collective was Opoku. These are exciting days for Jokko. “One of the big changes I notice is that both clubs and festivals are opening curatorship to collectives. A group of disc jockeys can be more updated than a booker. It is a formula that has no fault”, celebrates Maguette. On the other hand, the idea of delegating the programming to a collective generates a vital wave effect for Jokkoo’s mission: “It makes a movement be perceived and there is a greater identification of the public with those who play. A large family is generated in the public, beyond the small family that deejays. When we leave the club, the family has already grown”, adds Baba.
back and forth missionaries
When speaking of Africa and missions, those religious who came to the continent to spread Christianity soon come to mind. However, Jokkoo like to refer to their goal as a mission, reappropriating the term and bringing it back to this Europe where they now want to spread African electronica. “Beyond developing our careers, we want to change the perspective of what is understood by quality electronic music. Programming we can introduce this look. Why has this artist never been to Spain if he does it just as well as this other one who comes every year? That is looking beyond your career and that individualism that the disc jockey has always had or of the artist who promotes himself and that’s it, ”says Maguette.
And to expand its mission, Jokkoo is using all the instruments at its disposal: its components broadcast a podcast on the digital station Dublab, they have played at parties of small cultural associations and at municipal festivals such as BAM-Cultura Viva, at Sónar and the Boiler Room, they program in museums like Macba and, in short, stick their heads where they can. “All platforms are good”, they agree. And being six, they are distributed according to where each one feels most useful and comfortable. “It’s about planning something that stings a little bit and opens a mental door. Suddenly, some people can be interested in this music, connect with people who are creating that sound in Africa and, from there, connect with other people in the diaspora who also do it. And all of this creates a spider web that gradually grows,” Mookie senses. Spider webs are the web that sustains culture. And the interesting thing here is that the link between Jokkoo and the Electronica in April cycle was forged at the furthest point of this spider web that intertwines the African diaspora.
It started in Uganda
In 2019 Maguette and Baba planned a trip of pleasure and discovery to the Nyegue Nyegue festival that has been celebrated in Uganda since 2015. “If you represent a sound, you have to know what is cooking and for that it is not enough to be alone sitting in front of the laptop”, Baba justifies. “People say it’s one of the best in Africa because it happens in Africa, but it’s one of the best festivals in the world. Have a line up brutal with representation of artists from all continents”, expands Maguette. Being a festival that embraces all kinds of electronic sounds from the African continent and its diaspora, Maguette and Baba offered their services as disc jockeys and became part of its lineup.
Some people can be interested in this music, connect with people who are creating that sound in Africa and, from there, connect with other people in the diaspora who also do it
The memory of his experience at Nyegue Nyegue goes beyond having played there. “Exciting? It was more than that. It was a black planet, a black paradise”, Baba tries to explain, still transfixed by the impact of being surrounded by black disc jockeys and artists after decades going to 100% white dance floors. “Also, there were many DJs. I think I saw more women DJ than men and it was also very impressive to feel that feminine energy”, adds Maguette. One of the very few Spaniards at that Ugandan festival was Mónica Carroquino, deputy director of La Casa Encendida. Fate wanted them to meet 8,500 kilometers from Madrid and Barcelona. The pandemic arrived and the planet stopped, but the memory of that trip to Uganda was not erased by Baba or Maguette. Neither, to Mónica Carroquino.
In autumn 2021, the Jokkoo collective was commissioned to program the new edition of Madrid’s Electronica in April. It is by far the largest commission Maguette, Baba and company have received to date. And here a striking paradox occurs: cultural institutions are opening their doors to pan-African electronica with more interest than dance clubs. Miriam is suspicious: “The institutions are interested. I don’t know if it’s because of the diversity quota, but now they’re interested in things that they’ve been ignoring for a long time. And it gives them a social capital”, she intuits. Maguette emphasizes that it is the institutions that are taking the step and approaching their proposals, unlike the clubs, which have had to insist and convince over time. “But beyond the quota, there are people in these institutions who are interested in new things and put love and care into it,” celebrates Dieng.
In a country where the presence of African artists on the music agenda is little more than an exotic exception, Jokkoo has completely turned the face of the Electronic cycle in April. From March 31 to April 3, La Casa Encendida will host performances by Ugandan rapper MC Yallah, from the fast-paced Tanzanian singeli duo Duke & Mczo, from Angolan kuduro producer Nazar, from Palestinian hip-hop project Lil Asaf & Ba and the Ghanaian multidisciplinary artist Steloo, as well as unpublished stopovers in Spain by artists from the African diaspora such as the English Klein or the French Nsodos. “It’s the best programming I’ve ever seen,” Mookie blurts out, as he goes over and over in his mind the list of artists that make up this unimaginably black lineup.
FOC, your own club
The penultimate adventure of the Jokkoo collective has been to found their own venue so as not to have to live at the expense of what fits or doesn’t fit into the increasingly tight schedules of the clubs. It’s called FOC (fire, in Catalan) and it’s on the third floor of a semi-abandoned industrial warehouse in Barcelona’s Zona Franca, a few meters from the Montjuïc cemetery. They are still working on the architectural and sound design of the space, but they have already set up a party. In December De Schuurman, an Afro-Dutch disc jockey with roots in the Caribbean island of Curaçao, played. That Saturday night, on the huge and open floor of the FOC club, there was an unusual mix of skin colors in the audience. While Baba Sy and De Schuurman alternated at the controls, on one of the walls of the premises was projected Afro Samurai, Japanese anime with a futuristic aesthetic starring a young man with afro hair who seeks justice in the world.