Where are the Diasporadic DJs?

A couple of years ago Tanzanian megastar Mr. Nice, whose music I much admire, came to do a concert here in Stockholm. I missed it. Never even heard of it. The concert took place in the immigrant-heavy suburb of Norsborg, far out on one of the subway lines, and as this video shows the attendance was almost 100% diasporadic East African. Any white faces you might spot in the crowd are very probably friends or spouses.

At the parties of DJ Thomas Gylling, who plays Soca, Dancehall, Reggaeton and other caribbean music at large upscale clubs in central Stockholm, the reverse is largely true. Here's a video montage of some crowd photos - there are probably a couple of diasporadic Trinidadians and Jamaicans in the crowd, but I'd guess not many. The majority are middle-class Swedes, some of mixed race, most white.

Now, I'm not going to tiresomely go around and try to argue that this is all somehow wrong. It's inevitable, considering the different cultures and classes involved. But what I do wonder is - why isn't there more exchange of DJs between the two club forms?
I'm a frequent RSS feed subscriber to a whole bunch of sites of DJs in the "nu whirled music" scene, like Dutty Artz and (Rupture's) Mudd Up! and (Maga Bo's) Kolleidosonic and Wayne and Wax. As DJs, they all frequently advertise club nights they participate in. I've been searching through some of the names on the bills and found almost none that regularly play events for a diaspora in the same country. I think DJ Chief Boima (weclome to the blogging world, dude) might do, from some of his comments, but it's certainly not a frequent occurence in general.

And as for the opposite, DJs who regularly do diasporadic events doing mainstream club nights, that's unheard of too, no matter what kind of music is played. Sweden has loads of interesting clubs playing non-european music, like Re:orient Club. Looking over their DJ roster you do see non-swedish DJs but none of them are from the same set that would play your local Lebanese night. No, names like "DJ Shazam" and "DJ Cheb Oman" belong to white europeans, not arabic immigrants.

It seems that deeply entrenched diasporadic DJs just never get to play to more mixed crowds in different settings than the diasporadic one. And I'm kinda wondering why. How come you never see someone like DJ Oslus DJ a party of largely college-educated white kids? If you're after knowledge of African music surely someone like that would be a good choice. Are they not good enough? Don't they send out the right kind of hipster signals?

I think there's a deep inherent danger in only allowing middle-class DJs with existing access networks to present music from the developing world. The DJ is a story-teller and manipulator and can form the discourse concerning a musical style at will - are we only ever going to hear one side of the story at party nights? I do realise that bringing a new audience and revenue stream to people might alter what they play for the worse. But is it worth the risk of one-sidedness in transmission and translation?

If Mr. Nice ever does come back to Stockholm I'll try to go see him, whatever the venue and however uncomfortable I'd feel. I'm keeping tabs on the community now through the Kenya Stockholm Blog. But wouldn't it be awesome if some club promoter would have the courage to bring him and his DJs to Berns instead?


Anonymous said...

The problem is actually a pretty structural one. Take "Makka Mondays," a reggae night that plays right across the street from "Beat Research" (which hosted Bo & Boima on the same night recently!). "Makka Mondays" brings in a lot of people from the diasporic Jamaican/Caribbean community, but the guy DJing is a white dude from Boston. Why? Because he can get the job (i.e., convince the mgmt to let him have Monday nights despite all the riffraff that real reggae's gonna bring in). On the other side of the river, you can find lots of actual Jamaican or Trini DJs playing to diaspora crowds, but many of those same folk like to party in Cambridge to the white boy who chats in patois and has all the latest chunes.

I'm actually quite interested in having more guests at Beat Research who regularly DJ at diasporic events. I guess you could call our representation in that area "diasporadic" at best (heh). When KidDid and OsSantos came through they brought a large swath of the Brazilian ex-pat crew, and it was great. I suppose I just need to do a little more outreach.

It's a good point, though, that this post raises, and I'd love to see more integration.

Anonymous said...

Also, I think we need to be careful -- at least here in Cambridge/USA, I don't know about Sweden, where things may be more clearly demarcated -- not to draw the lines too starkly between what constitutes a diasporic community and what does not. Here in Cambridge/Boston there are many (recently) diasporic communities (we all came from somewhere else), some of them very long established here (and integrated with all the others). So when we're talking about 2nd or 3rd generation Jamaicans, for instance, who's to say where they should play and listen -- and among whom?