Broadcasting the sounds of the diaspora
With over 70 residents from 15 countries across 4 continents, Oroko Radio & Artist Residency aims to connect, inspire and empower Africans and the Diaspora across the globe through conversation and collaboration.
Radio broadcasts have always been part of Kikelomo Oludemi’s life. Today, with Oroko Radio & Artist Residency, she hopes to create a platform for African musicians and artists to share music, ideas, and revolutions.
Fari Sow: Could you tell me about your musical journey before Oroko radio?
Kikelomo Oludemi: I feel like every musician or anyone who is involved in the music industry always has a similar story, but I come from quite a musical family. My sister and my dad also love music. Growing up, we listened to a lot of soul and jazz. Growing up as a pianist and singer, I am classically trained, but I think the consistent thing that always connected me to music was the radio. I loved listening to the radio in the kitchen with my mom while cooking or on long car drives. So, music has always been a key theme in my life, and it’s always run alongside everything that I’ve done.
Fari Sow: You’re of Nigerian origin, born in London, live in Berlin and started a radio in Ghana. From all these musical worlds, where would you say your musical influences come from, contemporary or not?
Kikelomo Oludemi: I think my Nigerian heritage plays a strong part in the sounds I’m into, the rhythms, and the percussive elements I engage with. I think by far the strongest influence in my music is being from London. I’m always so thankful to come from such a culturally relevant city that celebrates different music cultures, that is such a big hub for cross-cultural collaboration as well and seeing how that manifest in music and how we listen to it and how we engage with one another, it’s a huge influence of mine.
Then, venturing into electronic music, the role that Berlin plays in its history and the techno-house scene and how that translates in club culture here in general, which is also a massive influence in the way that people club here. It’s almost like meditation in a way. I think there’s this perception of club culture that is reduced to bottle service, but for me, it’s going to into a dark space with like-minded individuals and the expression through movement and listening to sounds that maybe you haven’t necessarily heard before, but that connects with you in a way that is almost indescribable. I think it even comes down to a literal physical sense. I’m reading this book right now that’s called Your Brain on music, and it’s time the connection between neurology and how we listen to music and a lot of that resonates with me.
I think in general, the way that we’re becoming closer together in the world through the age of the internet, through platforms like social media and through the ability to connect with people that you may have never been able to connect with before, A lot of these global influences are being translated into new sounds. If you look at the global music charts now, it’s not uncommon to see music in Korean, Arabic, Spanish, Twi or Yoruba, and people don’t necessarily need an understanding of these languages to be able to appreciate the music. It’s like this amazing decolonization of the way that we consume music and what we perceive to be mainstream music that is also influencing my approach to the music industry and music culture in general.
Fari Sow: Did living close to that club culture push you to become a DJ?
Kikelomo Oludemi: So initially, becoming a DJ came because of radio. I was involved in radio for a long time when I was in the UK, at hospital radio stations and my student radio station in university. I was always very keen to have a radio show and coming to Berlin. From my perspective, radio was just you talk, you play music, you chat. But then I also realized that like a lot of people here have radio shows where they actually DJ, so I wanted to become one to have a better-quality radio show. But then deejaying just took over. And I think the way that that ties in with my music was also influenced by club culture, and how clubbing is considered here, I think there’s something unique about being in a space, particularly in Berlin, your identity, what you look like, how you dress has nothing to do with what’s happening they tend to be these spaces of respect. Spaces where you form connections with complete strangers and all bond over one thing which is wanting to come and hear music and kind of like feel the influence it has on your body. And so while club culture doesn’t necessarily influence my decision to become a DJ, it has definitely influenced my decision to be in it for the past five years.
Fari Sow: There’s this aspect where, no matter who you are. music will touch you and impact you in some way. But do you feel like your identity in your scene is playing a role in how you’re moving through this industry?
Kikelomo Oludemi: I think I never want my identity to be the forefront of the way that I move through the industry, whether that’s being black, a woman, being West African or British. I think that inherently plays a role in the development of the sound that I play for sure. And I think it’s important in terms of opportunities that should be afforded to people who come from marginalized communities. But I think, first and foremost, I want people to respect me for the music that I play and my skill.
It’s been a journey. When I first entered the music industry as a DJ, I was involved with a lot of collectives and industry initiatives that aim to improve the disparity of marginalized identities in the music scene. It’s difficult when on one hand, you want to create spaces and opportunities for people who look like you, who come from places that you do, and also identify with identities that you’re also don’t necessarily identify with equally, if not more as marginalized like trans communities, for example. But at the same time, there’s this danger of being tokenized, and people even reducing your opportunities to ‘she only got it because she’s a woman or she only got it because she’s Black’. I’m always vocal in letting people know ‘Actually, I got it because I’m really good at what I do’.
I don’t let my identity lead. I think it’s important to represent. I wouldn’t have been in a position or felt the confidence I have in pursuing opportunities if I hadn’t seen people that look like me and come from places that I do in those roles in the first place, so I try to represent, but I’m also vocal about what can be done, both from the artist’s perspective, but also from the more corporate, behind the scenes perspective to improve opportunities for marginalized identities. But first and foremost, I’m about music.
Fari Sow: How does this thought process influence your radio when it comes to guest artists and who you decide to feature?
Kikelomo Oludemi: We wanted to have a broad spread, and I think it’s about platforming people, not identities. Obviously, the station is driven by an identity, whether that is being African or of the Diaspora, but we use that identity element to bring people together as opposed to exclude people, in the sense that we share this lineage, we share this connection, and we also share this desire to not be typecast. I like to showcase these amazing things coming from not only the continent, but also from collaborations between these communities around the world. And yet again, the thing that connects us all is the music, so whether that’s showcasing genres that haven’t really had a platform before or don’t have as much visibility as some of the more mainstream sounds coming out of the continent like Afrobeats. It’s also about bringing people together virtually and physically to see what more can be done. So yes, it’s the same sentiment: while we platform and showcase the identities that are driven by the station, actually I wouldn’t say first and foremost that it is about music, it’s about community. Because we have talk shows that are more abstract, more artistic. I’d love to have a few more poetry shows and spoken word shows as well. But first and foremost, it’s about this desire to have a stronger community among Africans and the Diaspora.
Fari Sow: You are building a platform from this radio, how is it a step towards something bigger? Where do you see it going?
Kikelomo Oludemi: We would love to see the platform grow, other than broadcasting all the shows from our radio residents, we engage a lot on the ground as well. We hosted a series of DJ workshops over the past few months with some partners, as well as music production workshops, panel discussions, public radio stations. Not long ago, we did a crossover with a radio station based in Berlin called Refuge Worldwide, and there’s been a lot of interest from radio stations all around the world to collaborate on content together.
I think for us, it’s first about growing and connecting on a global level. We have a long-term vision of potentially building out the radio stations that have satellite locations in other parts of the continent, and to engage that way, maybe even in the Caribbean, to have physical locations that can foster a stronger sense of connection. Also having it self-sustaining, to have this ability to provide opportunity for development and growth for our residents and for our community.
Personally, I think sometimes there’s a lot of skepticism around working with more commercial partners on opportunities. And I think there’s ways to work with commercial partners, particularly in the music scene that can be beneficial to both parties in a way that can lead to the development and growth of people involved from underground communities. But then it can also kind of provide insights and opportunities for growth for businesses as well, and I would love to see it grow that way. That’s just on a personal level I’d be curious to explore that a bit more as well. We’ve already received a lot of great support from some companies in the DJ & music production scene and I would love to use this opportunity to kind of further develop my residencies. I can even imagine, seeing the growth of some of the people that we’ve trained through the residency program and like, they’re already having their first shows and their first gigs and bookings, I think upscaling that even more would be incredible.
Fari Sow: Are your trainings targeted towards people that already have a music background or are they accessible to all?
Kikelomo Oludemi: We’ve had a range of trainings, some of the deejay workshops I’ve taught have been for complete beginners with close to no basic knowledge of music. We’ve done intermediate workshops for people who want to improve their skills and have a go on some equipment that isn’t usually accessible, even on a global level, not necessarily just in Africa. Some of them I only was able to access them through a mentoring system in Berlin as well. We generally have to skew towards marginalized or underrepresented groups, a lot of our workshops have been for femmes in the industry. We also did a music production workshop for school children in Ghana, but we also have some workshops that are open to all. So, it’s been a broad range of people and I think providing opportunities for all that are interested is what we’ve seen to have amazing impact and we want to continue to develop that as well.
Fari Sow: You have just started but, in the long-term, what kind of impact do you wish to have, also socially, by providing those opportunities to some people who could not have access to musical education or to opportunities like that?
Kikelomo Oludemi: I think by showcasing the opportunities that exist within the music industry, but also the more behind-the-scenes roles in development such as software development, artist management, sound design or marketing, we can provide more opportunities for people to grow in these areas. In the long-term, we would love to play a role in the development of the music industry in the continent as a whole because there is a lot of interest. One of the one of the bigger reasons why we wanted to kick off Oroko when we did is because we thought it was important to have a platform that had the right intentions in terms of really fostering this community element and building stronger connections between people. We would love to see a lot of the residents that we enlist being offered bigger opportunities because of the platform that we provide, whether that’s in a career sense, development, or connecting with people that they may not have had opportunities to connect with before.
Also, the opportunity for people to develop the technical knowledge when it comes to gear, software, hardware, and music is important. And I think just building stronger connections, whether that manifests in collaborative music projects or sparking similar ideas around the world, building bridges and opportunities for showcases in other countries, just in general for our residents to grow on a personal level and on a professional level is something that is really one of our key desires from this project.
Fari Sow: Speaking of connections, do you think that being part of the Creativity Pioneers network is something that will allow you to build more opportunities for Oroko radio or your music in general?
Kikelomo Oludemi: Yes for sure. Much like Oroko Radio is becoming a support network, being part of this provides a lot of opportunities for growth for the Radio, whether it is just exchanging with other like-minded creative organizations, sharing learnings or connecting with each and everyone’s respective network as well. It is like a web that can only grow. I think in terms of support, coming up with questions, ideas and thought processes with people that may have also experienced it from their perspective is a unique opportunity for growth and it helps push everyone’s ideas forward, ultimately for social change.
Fari Sow: There is always this element of changing your local context, changing what is around you and then always building bigger. In your case, your local context is a bit more spread out because you have impact in London, you have impact in Ghana, Berlin and you’re open to artists around the world. With these different focuses, how do you use your creativity for change?
Kikelomo Oludemi: For some of my recent experiences, generally we have a global view on development, particularly with social media and generally internet platforms the world is becoming smaller. So, having local focuses, then connecting with like-minded organizations and supporting one another is one of the most impactful ways that you can make a difference, to be honest, by championing and connecting. For example, Oroko Radio has a couple of other partners on the ground in Ghana that foster similar movements. There’s an organization called ‘Where Are the Women?’ which is an initiative to promote and celebrate creative women and their industry pathways in West Africa. We partnered with them on a few workshops and engage on that level. We’ve worked with Terra Alta, which is an art space for performances, events and social engagements. Also in Accra, the Freedom Skatepark which opened in November. So, partnering instead of seeing competition with like-minded initiatives that happen to engage with the same communities. There is so much more that can be done by partnering with them and working together because we are all trying to aim for the same social change and the same engagement and development of our communities on this local level. By joining forces and connecting in this way, we can be even more impactful, and if you think about if, on a local level, all of these organizations did this around the world, you would see great social change take place.
Fari Sow: Music has always been a tool for activism, so are there any social causes that are dear to you and in which you actually want to make a difference in?
Kikelomo Oludemi: Sustainability now more than ever, climate change has obviously been a very impactful topic, and I think even the combination with music with that. There’s the Asa Baako Festival that we aim to work with, which takes place in the western region of Ghana. Their whole ethos is prompting conversations around sustainability and climate change and improving education and awareness of this in the West African context. This is something that feels urgent, when you look at the news with conflicts around the world and politic and economic crises on top of that, it feels a bit doom and gloom, so this is something where I want to act.
And then all the causes you see the younger generations fighting for, climate change of course but also women’s rights, Trans rights, LGBTQ+ rights, equality for ethnic minorities, etc. Sometimes you want to split yourself into pieces to be able to help and promote change in all of these things, but, as I said, working with causes and initiatives that are working for that and joining forces to find creative and innovative ways to bring a lot of these topics to the forefront and to prompt conversation. I think change always starts with a conversation, which is also one of the things we want to foster with Oroko: to have conversations, open people’s minds and bring new ideas in, looking for new ways to make a change if it’s small for now.
In 2021, Oroko Radio was one of the first organizations to receive the Moleskine Foundation’s Creativity Pioneers Fund, becoming part of the Creativity Pioneers network. Today, Oroko Radio provides a stage for local musicians, DJs, thinkers, moderators, and content creators: an independent hub for the expression of self and thought through sound. It also serves as a platform for the content generated through the Oroko Artist Residency.