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Interview | Sef Kombo and Kitty Amor talk all things Sondela

Leading proponents of the Afro-Tech movement speak music, whitewashing and their new Ibiza residency at Bora Bora.

Let us cast your mind back to opening weekend at the end of April, half a season ago already. The first proper parties since restrictions were lifted were taking place and the island was awash with excited holidaymakers, some making the trip to Ibiza for the first time.

Part of what made that first weekend such a vibe was the Defected weekender.

After taking care of business in Eden's room two, NEXT, for the Defected opening party, we spoke to rising DJs Sef Kombo and Kitty Amor - two of the faces behind Sondela Recordings.

Leading proponents of the increasingly popular Afro House movement, we were keen to learn more about the visibility of music from Africa, who we should be keeping our eye on and what the industry could do better in elevating Black artists.

Image by La Skimal

Is this the first time playing on Ibiza for both you?

Sef Kombo (SK): "This is my first time playing in Ibiza, yes."

Kitty Amor (KA): "I played at Amsterdam Bar in the West End back in 2018, but this is the first real club here."

For those that aren't familiar with the Afro House movement, can you talk about its rise and what part you guys have played?

SK: "There are so many different styles of music within the genre that are representative of people's, you know, lifestyles, how they've grown up and especially the area that they live."

You guys are London-based. Would you say that has had an influence on how you produce new music?

SK: "I grew up in Brixton, so lots of Caribbean influence for me, but being Tanzanian, I guess my objective is to support and push music from my continent. Being someone that been back to the Motherland many times in my life, I feel a deeper connection to it. It makes sense to push music from that region."

Images by La Skimal

You both represent Sondela, which is a sub-label of the Defected family. How heavily involved are you both?

KA: "Sef is an A&R for the label alongside Louie Dunmore and I'm kind of like the co-signer, supporter of the label. The relationship I have with Sef has enabled me to back Sondela as much as possible really. I also work for DJ Mag outside of Defected as well."

What do you have coming up on the label this summer? Any exciting producers you've signed?

KA: "Our big summer release is from FKA Mash and Sio who are both based in South Africa. We're really excited about the record. It's a cross over within the music landscape. It's not so much a club anthem, but a track that can be played on radio, in DJ sets."

SK: "It has an amazing vocal and the beat is great. I'm learning A&R in the label - what sticks and what doesn't, but I'm confident this will be a huge release for us."

As an industry, what can we do to avoid whitewashing Black music?

KA: "Authentic representation is important. There are key people that have been part of the sound for many years and I think it's important to have those individuals play a part within the growth of the sound itself.

Not necessarily just relying on one figurehead for the whole sound. It's a whole community where everyone plays an important parts to make it even possible. I think it's really important there is always an involvement of those individuals who have contributed to the growth of Afro House.

To avoid whitewashing, we need to think beyond the present moment of where the sound is. It's more than about what's happening right now."

Absolutely. What names influenced you growing up?

KA: "For me, it's Culoe De Song, Da Capo, Black Coffee, Shimza, Manoo - there's so many that have been the bedrock to the sound. Our role as DJs has been to promote the origins of the music as well as show how far it has come thus far."

"There's been a rapid growth of women who are making moves too. In the last two or three years, we've seen Desiree in South Africa, CinCity in Amsterdam, Jamiie in Berlin and Thandi Draai in South Africa too.

There's lot of women really doing their thing. It's great to see. Before there were few and far between, but now it seems as though, no one is really clasping onto the whole female DJ tag. They understand now that we're more than capable of being one."

How is the clubbing scene developing in African countries? Do you play there often?

KA: "It's coming on majorly!"

SK: "I think it’s already there, it's just something people haven't really discovered or know much about. I've been playing in South Africa for four years now. I've developed good relationships.

The clubbing scene is strong in emerging cities, like Nairobi, Lagos and as well as in Ghana a little bit. It just needs building. In terms of clubbing, Namibia is good, Botswana is good, South Africa and Angola are really strong. Cape Verde as well."

Is it different playing there compared to Europe?

Both: "Ohhhh yes!"

SK: "It's different things. My first experience of House music in South Africa, there was a lot of men, but not so many women. On my last trip, there was much more diversity. A lot more 50/50. Their understanding of music and their acceptance of new music is what makes the scene so great out there. But in the UK, we're probably more used to more balanced crowds."

KA: "One thing I've noticed in Africa, is that the production is moving forward quicker. It has the venues, open spaces that allow for them to invest in production.

Another thing that is different back home, is in South Africa, there is more flexibility, in terms of them being able to create an open space and putting great production into it. Everyone there is serious about putting on a show. It's not just necessarily a gig or a club night. It's a show."

Have you guys got any more Ibiza appearances coming later this summer?

KA: "Yes, we do."

For Defected or?

Both: (laugh)

SK: "We have some dates, but it's just about getting them officially announced, you know. We've got plans in the pipeline. We're going to be busy over here on the island, put it that way."

Keeping your cards close to your chest. We look forward to hearing more when the time is right!

Two months later...

bora bora

Having been tight-lipped during our earlier chat, it was soon revealed that Sondela itself would have a presence on Ibiza 2022. Legendary beach club Bora Bora Ibiza announced its swansong before a full-refit and rebrand for next summer. It's not going out on a whimper though.

Sef and Kitty along with colleague Louie Dunmore are part of the music programme that will see Bora Bora through to its final days. In this incarnation, at least.

Far from being a morbid situation, when time is called on Bora Bora it will perhaps be significant that in its last season it again got to champion an emerging sound

Now that secrecy was no longer an issue, we managed to catch up with Kitty Amor to discuss the residency in more detail.

Hi Kitty, it's good to speak to you again. We now understand why you were so coy on telling us your plans earlier in the summer! When did the prospect of doing weekly parties at Bora Bora get mooted?

KA: "Ahead of the Ibiza season, we had a discussion with the team in March regarding how we could make a mark on the island. Aside from hosting a second room at Defected at Eden, we believe the presence of the music was necessary in an accessible space."

Bora Bora is a legendary music venue on Ibiza. How does a weekly Sondela session complement that heritage?

KA: "Knowing that Bora Bora has a history of exposing new music, talent and DJs, the Sondela residency fits in by doing exactly that. We're contributing to the legacy in fore fronting exciting talent in this thriving Afro House scene."

Memories: Bora Bora will be refurbished this winter and open under a new name and concept

You invited Timanti to join you at the opening party, followed by Sparrow & Barbossa and Fiona Kraft in the following weeks. What other guest DJs have you got coming up between now and the end of August?

KA: "FKA Mash, Vanco, DJ Tomer, Badbox, Kid Fonque have all released on the label and helped build our listenership. In addition to these artists we are proud to be joined by reputable and upcoming artists from Africa, such as FNK Omar, Euggy, Suraj, Dylan S and Foozak."

"We have expanded the invitation to European-based artists such as Rocco, CinCity, Mr Silk, Jalal Ramdani and Klement Bonelli as well as inviting our Defected Unsung Heroes competition winner, Angela Rose.

It was important to have a global representation of individuals who are waving the flag in our scene."

How does throwing parties here differ from putting on events in London?

KA: "Understanding the different habits of partygoers on the island has been important to maximising the success of the residency.

Different challenges have presented themselves. Gaining knowledge on what people like to do on a Monday and which areas of the island are busy to target have been crucial."

In your opinion, what's gonna be the Ibiza anthem of summer 2022?

KA: "The Akan by Caiiro as well as Vanco & Mörda's Xele."

What's the longterm vision for Sondela on Ibiza?

KA: "The vision is to simply keep on growing the sound, to further expand the platform, where artists can showcase their interpretation of African electronic music. We also prioritise building an inclusive culture for a community who can access great music."

Sondela takes place every Monday throughout August at Bora Bora. Starting this week, you have five more opportunities to dance with sand between your toes to the evocative sounds of Afro House.

The next edition sees Sef, Kitty and Louie joined by Hannah Hais, Klement Bonelli and Rocky On Percussion on 1 August.

Admission is free, but the music is priceless. We hope to see you down on Playa d'en Bossa beach sometime before the last confirmed date on 29 August. Head here for further info.


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