040 - Umoja

A few years ago I was entering a phase of significant musical discovery, it was a path that would eventually lead to the formation of this humble project. One of the most notable and significant stops on that journey was a mixtape I heard by this week's contributors, the wonderful Amsterdam based 'sunshine duo' Job and Sjef, aka Umoja. It was one of a handful of mixes at that time that really opened my eyes, and ears, to a world of selectors who were able to build incredible sets and tell unusual stories with a far greater range of sonic and musical diversity than I was used to hearing in 'DJ mixes'. Ever since Umoja have remained selectors that I hold in the highest regard and it is a great thrill to share their music through a platform which they helped inspire.

Umoja operates in three main parts, as a DJ duo, as a production unit and as curators and founders of the excellent record labels Piri Piri and INI Movement. Their own releases have found homes with some of the finest imprints around the globe including ZZK Records, MultiCulti and Mawimbi receiving support from the likes of Giles Peterson, Feel My Bicep and fellow Métron contributors Alma Negra among many many others.

The duo are connoisseurs of music but their heavy Afro influences are undeniable, their chosen moniker happens to be the Swahili word for unity. Having made their first trip to Kenya last year they are planning a return trip to work with local musicians on new material and it is within this space that their Métron mixtape lives and breathes. A story told from the perspective of a bird flying around the world picking up the sounds of highlife, boogie, sega, rumba, and funk as she goes. What the pair themselves describe as 'a soundtrack to an imaginary story' is easily one of the strongest and most fun mixtapes I've heard this year and is unsurprisingly jammed full of diggers delights, including among other things an excerpt from the 1983 movie Kukurantumi. Job and Sjef are propagators of positivity in everything they do and this mix is no exception, it's upbeat, charming and bursting with the feverish energy of African dance music.

I got a chance to speak to Job & Sjef about their love of African music, the origins of their name and why they loved the Bomfunk MC's. Check out what they had to say below

Where does the name Umoja come from and does it bare any reference or relation to the Kenyan village where only women are allowed?

It's a Swahili word meaning 'unity'. It didn't bare reference to the Kenyan village when we initiated Umoja, but now we know about it we embrace it! We men need to respect women more, and listen more to what they have to say.

Can you tell us a bit about your involvement with Piri Piri and INI Movement?

Both are outlets for the music we love and produce. INI movement was founded in 2011 by Job and Mitch to independently release their EP's 'A.M.' and 'P.M.'. It evolved into a platform where we try to connect the musicians we love, merge the styles we adore and reach an audience that we think should here this kind of music. Piri Piri is created with the same intention, but with a focus on all things 'tropical'.

How does the relationship between the two of you work in production and when DJing?

It depends, but most of the time one of us has created a nice loop or texture, or even the skeleton of a track. Whenever we get together we bump our new stuff, and whenever the other gets hit we decide to work out the idea.

The same goes with our digs, we both dig a lot new and unfamiliar music. It's quite special how similar our taste has become, and has stayed while digging for unfamiliar styles. This really feels like a study of the world. How did African Rumba became Rumba? How did it evolve into Kanindo travelling to the East of Africa? These questions help for a deeper understanding of the music and also of the culture of it's rooted people. With our DJ sets, we hope to add a bit of this understanding while entertaining people at the same time. Dancing is such a pure, and powerful activity, because it gets you in a state of mind where you act from subconsciousness. Our consciousness can be misleading and prejudging a lot of the times.

Where did your love of music originate?

Job: It grew on my when i got in contact with hiphop, tracks from groups like De La Soul, Pharcyde & A tribe called Quest who were mostly build on sampled Soul & Jazz records really got my attention and lured me into creating beats and discovering other music out there

Sjef: When I saw breakdancing in the videoclip of 'Freestyler', from a German act called Bomfunk MC's. I immediately went to take lessons. My teacher was really significant in my exposure to the foundations of hiphop and later on funk, soul and disco.

A lot of your work, including this mix, is inspired by Africa - can you tell us a bit about where that connection comes from?

Dance music is essentially African music. We tend to search for the essence of things. Also, out of curiosity and intuitive searching. Africa has such a rich musical heritage that has left a huge mark on almost all contemporary music. You really can not deny it once you start to listen carefully.

What are you up to in 2017?

Our journey so far has led us to Kenya (which makes the choice of the name Umoja extra special). There we met some really special musicians and producers. This year we will try to go back and collaborate on a project with Bengatronics, creating new music based upon Benga music, Kenya's traditional dance music.

We always ask this question, but I know for sure you guys will have good answer. Can you recommend a couple of records for us that we might have overlooked over the past few years?

Alai K - Disco Vumbi (2015)

Super vibes from Kenyan producer/emcee/singer, creating hip and playful dance music with care for traditional styles such a Benga, Chakacha and Mijikenda rhythms. Released in 2015 and tragically overlooked.

Prace - Trencadis (2013)

From the INI vaults, crazy slept on EP by Dutch musical wonder Joram aka Prace. Listen to 'Let's go' and you'll hear what we mean. Besides, this guy is sitting on some gold right now, labels and DJ's beware!!

VA - Decaler Balani (2011)

Super dope compilation of Balani show music, the DIY coupe decale of Mali streets. Released in 2011, but went a bit under the radar. Very hard to find more of this music in Europe, even on the internet. Also, if you're new to this, be sure to check out Sahel Sounds label (VA - Balani Show Super Hits, DJ Sandji - 100% Balani Show)

Blick Bassy - Akö (2016)

Beautiful, peaceful, acoustic music, from Cameroon, sung in Bassa.

Orch. Dar International - Rafiki Sina Pt. 1
Safari Sound Band - Haya Simba
Zazou, Bikaye and CY1 - Eh! Yaye
Zazou, Bikaye and CY1 - Eh! Yaye (remix)
Rex Gyamfi - Efri Tete
Pellegrino - South Wind
(Kukurantumi movie excerpt)
Ray Lema - Boye Te
Jonny Tezano - Major X (shout out to Jonas P / Bon Chance for the rip!)
Sam Fan Thomas - Special Kwongne
Cosaque 1978 - Ingaingo
Michou - Maloya Ton Tisane
Les Pythons de la Fournaise - Maloya Ton Tisane
Toite Sandja - Mais Dis Donc
Aleke Kanonu Meets Tolbert The Miracle Man - Nwanne, Nwanne, Nwanne
Joe Mensah - Shakamo
El Maalem Mahmoud Gania - Track 2
Fawda Trio - La Fou
Mahmoud Guinia - Africa Muwahhada
Yishak Banjaw - Libey Ma'aduley

Words & interview by Jack Hardwicke

Métron Records 2018. Hampshire, UK.