We talk to Chino Amobi, Nkisi and Angel-Ho at Red Bull Music Academy Festival New York to discuss the family they’ve created and the purification of spaces
“I feel like there’s a lack in criticality or critical response for artists of colour, especially in the electronic music field. And I’ve noticed that a lot of concepts, ideas and sounds are stolen from people of colour, whether it’s electronic music or visual art. So we decided to form our own state.”
These are the words of Chino Amobi, founder of NON Records, a “collective of African artists and of the diaspora, using sound as their primary media” that counts artists such as Nkisi, Angel-Ho and Amobi as part of the family.
NON Records began as a method for people of colour to put out music in solidarity with each other away from the whitewashed corporate realm, but with a full focus on disrupting a sanitised music scene, a mission evident with their torn-up, brutal reworks of mainstream heavyweights such as Beyoncé and Alicia Keys. “Ring The Ambience” is all thunderous cascades of drone and broken rhythms, while Knowles’ angry vocal circles menacingly below.
Chino is heavily decked out NON Records gear that’s being sold at the pop-up shop in Brooklyn as part of RBMA. We’re in a hotel in the Lower East Side, waiting for Nkisi and Angel-Ho to turn up. He appears irrevocably confident and quietly driven, softly spoken but clear as day when discussing the NON mission statement. “We are our own state in our own platform and we don’t have to go out and get recognition from an outside organisation in order to be legitimate or canonised by somebody else,” he says. “We are our own canon.”
He talks passionately about how collaboration and unity have helped him to feel more love for other artists and the positive impact that it’s had on his creative output. “It’s felt very cathartic and affirming because I’ve done things on my own for a long time, but haven’t been able to get the results that I want to in terms of affecting people powerfully,” he says. “But uniting with people and seeing the effect that it’s had in such a short period of time, it confirms my belief that when you start looking beyond your own ego, putting others first and helping to serve others, it leads to harmony, peace, unity, empowerment and strength among us.”
We head to the roof terrace of the hotel overlooking Manhattan, where Amobi comes to meet Nkisi and Angel-Ho. The three of them bounce off each other relentlessly: “I feel like when we meet I’m always just like, ‘Yeeeeah!’” says Nkisi. “I’ve always felt more strength in more community-based things.” In a turbulent political landscape, these concepts of community feel more valuable than ever, a vital reaction to the rise of the far right in Europe, Trump’s ascent and the madness of denying trans people access to bathrooms.
The community aspect of what NON does is also about helping others promote their work and personalities. “It’s giving everyone opportunities to represent themselves,” says Angel-Ho. “And that representation is so important right now, because everyone gets misrepresented.”
While the trio can talk effusively and endlessly about what NON means, or what its objectives are, one simple truth about their work is that their sets and club nights bang, something evident when we head down to see them play at the NON Records RBMA show. But what about the Red Bull collaboration, given that NON describes its MO as being “to run counter to current western hyper-capitalist modes of representation and function”?
“Disruption and purification of spaces,” says Amobi.
“Infiltration,” says Nkisi.
“Hashtag we exist,” says Angel-Ho.
“A corporation can do dirty as much as our next door neighbour or someone down the street,” says Amobi. “Sometimes our bodies are corporations. People down the street walking are doing the same exact things that corporations are doing. It’s just easier to point the finger at the institution, but we are institutionalised – the ideology is that our bodies are political.”
The NON Records and NAAFI showcases we head to that night are undoubtedly the highlight of my trip to New York, not only because of the seemingly endless conveyor belt of skilled DJs rolling out bangers (Elysia Crampton, Total Freedom and Nkisi at the New Museum earlier that day are notable highs), but because there is that palpable sense of community, of belonging, of freedom, that we’ve been talking about. The personal is the political and the chaos is community-created, but make no mistake – this is a party.