Juba's creative horizons are boundless. Already known in London and Berlin as a genre-hopping DJ, she made a whole new set of waves when she creative the documentary Assurance, about the experiences of women DJs in Nigeria for the Boiler Room platform. Assurance then spawned a podcast, each episode featuring an in-depth interview with a female or non-binary artist from another part of the world. That in turn led to a stunning compilation featuring the work of women producers across various areas in Africa, Asia, South America and the Pacific.
Completely aside from its audible aims, the compilation is a truly extraordinary piece of work. It showcases both the rude health of international dancefloor electronica and bass music and its interconnectedness. We see how styles like South Africa's amapiano or Brazil's funk Carioca are now influencing other corners of the world just as much as house, techno or drum 'n' bass do. Just through sonic impact it tells stories about globalisation, about the effects of communication technology, and about the actual movement of bodies on dancefloors, just as Juba's interview does in words. Taken altogether, the expanding Assurance project is a window on many, many parts of the dizzying movement of the modern world.
We spoke to Juba at home in Berlin to find out what led her to follow this path of investigation.
To start with you: where did your interest in club culture begin?
It was a weird one for me – my interest in DJing and DJ culture started before I was really consciously aware of it. At university, I just thought about dancing - I was an Afrobeats dancer and even danced at the Olympics - which was probably my main route into music.
Then after university, I was in that whole world of trying to get a job, but nothing was working out and I was really down and tired of feeling shit about life, so I made a decision that I wanted to concentrate on things that I had fun with and enjoyed. I basically picked DJing as a random skill to learn, because I thought I might have fun with it, but also because it aligned with my dance life.
Because I had really strict Nigerian parents, I didn't really go out clubbing when I was in school so I missed that whole first leg of under-18 raves. However, when I went to South America for a gap year I would go out to hear reggaetón, cumbia – all those Latin American, often Afro-diasporic kind of sounds. It still penetrates me and what I play now, though the tempos I play are slightly faster. So my interest in clubbing and club music started outside Europe, in South America.
Did you join the dots in your head that early on between the different African, Latin, Caribbean, British styles?
When I was in school it was all about UK funky house. There's a certain groove that definitely has those Afro-house feels, and when you think about those rhythms and percussions, you can hear those in some reggaetón, some cumbia and other Latin styles. That focus on that rhythm and movement are what stood out to me and joined those dots for me. When I started DJing I'd definitely join funky house to Afrobeats to reggaetón, bachata sounds and even moombahton [fusion of Dutch and US EDM with reggaetón rhythms] as well. I've definitely always felt drawn to that cross-pollination, I guess.
It sounds like those initial senses of connection between cultures were made by feeling and instant response to rhythms as a dancer first.
Yeah, definitely. I listened to radio as well and loved it, but I didn't have any experience of imagining myself curating [music]. The connection was very much through movement and dance, which led me towards this focus in music that I have now.
So what drew you towards investigating or wanting to share music?
I studied history at university, so I've always found it fascinating how humans have used music away from just dancefloors - and how things like music, dance, food and drink tell wider social stories. So when I got the chance to make Assurance, it was a chance to look at gender disparities and patriarchal ideas in society, but through the eyes of electronic music.
Was there always the intention for Assurance to become part of a wider project?
No, not at all. I just started talking to my cousin, who's a videographer, about doing something. In the end, we were choosing between alternative youth culture in Nigeria, and female DJs - and female DJs just made sense because by then I was working with the Boko Boko collective getting more women behind the decks. Looking at the conversations I had filmed, I realised people would really engage with what we were talking about. Then afterwards I discovered it was really nice interacting with the DJs and maintaining those relationships past the documentary, because the issues don't just stop after you've talked about them.
Between the documentary and the compilation, you expanded your horizons a lot from Afro-diasporic to a huge sweep of the global south. Did you have any knowledge of, say, Southeast Asia or Pacific islands culture before this, or were you learning as you went?
A lot of it was literally just googling things like "female DJs in the Middle East", and seeing what was there. It's been really interesting talking to DJs in Japan, a country which I had no connection with. It really fed my curiosity about the different ways we interact, cultural norms and perspectives. One part of the world thinks this is the truth and this is how we should do it, and others think that's completely ridiculous. Who's right, who's wrong, you just don't know.
Has the process of this investigation led you to any conclusions about gender functions specifically in the world of club culture?
Well, there are overarching conversations and consistencies, particularly about being taken seriously, also who's pulling the strings and actually has the power. And they're consistent with the overarching female experience in the world, which is still very much patriarchal – even in Western societies and more equal societies there's still that major inequality. I realised that class is a huge thing, especially in the global south where class is bigger than just gender.
Class in somewhere like Southern Nigeria – which is quite socially controlling and people tend not to move outside of what is accepted as normal – makes a huge difference. If you are a woman of a higher class there, you can live almost like guys do. In Pakistan, I remember talking to Lyla from Karachi. She told me how a woman like herself, educated abroad with parents who are diplomats means she's able to move around. In Britain, that wouldn't distinguish her from her peers, but in Pakistan it puts her literally in the 2 percent, where she lives in this very small, sheltered community that doesn't necessarily represent her society. Very often when I've found people who are able to DJ, there's a connection to some level of wealth or social privilege.
Do you feel things are improving on these fronts?
It really depends where you go. This is why I don't focus on places in Europe where there has been a lot of progress even if things aren't perfect. In Berlin, you see equal representation on the dancefloors, and increasingly behind the decks too. But when you go to Tanzania, or Pakistan, or Afghanistan, the conversations about electronic music are so far behind that women even being on the dancefloor isn't happening. You can't be blindly optimistic that the progress we've seen in our corner of the world is going to be replicated elsewhere, but there are more conversations happening. The question then is who's starting those conversations, who's leading them, and are they dominated by people who essentially live in a bubble of privilege?
Do you think the push of women artists and DJs into the scene in Europe has altered the creative dynamic at all?
Once you shake up what's been the norm, you're always going to get different sounds; but actually I think gender has less of an effect than an opening up of locations and influence from elsewhere, especially Africa. But then maybe the changes when different people are allowed in are simply down to disruption. Of course there is the question of lyrical messages too, like Sonia Calico's "Turn the Mics Off" on the compilation, which is essentially aggressively feminist: it's saying "turn the mics off and let the women talk"!
What's next for you? Are you following this where it leads, or do you have specific lines to pursue?
I'd be interested in repeating the documentary but in a different location. Obviously I know Nigeria, so I'd be very interested in doing it with somewhere that I'm really not familiar with to make a comparison. Another compilation could be on the cards, though not speaking too soon. But what I've found is that a lot of the women I've interacted with are still talking now between themselves, whether it's thinking about doing parties together or connecting on radio shows, so the nice thing about Assurance is it's given me a great catalogue of artists and producers that I am able to interact with and do things with.
Do you lean more towards being a DJ, or the investigative side, or are they part and parcel of something bigger?
Because of my interests in society and in why people do things, the journalistic investigative element will always be there. I want to look at sustainability in the industry too, because that's probably the most important conversation worldwide but also in the industry: looking at how everuthing has been rebooted this year and where that will go. That'll always stop me from going "let's shut that off and just focus on music", because there's always going to be an element of prying and asking questions!
Cover Credit: Assurance
Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs.