Taken from the spring 2021 issue of Dazed. You can pre-order a copy of our latest issue here
“We are doing a clash that involves two absolute beasts from the east, and I think it’s only right that I give you a special disclaimer – this is for entertainment purposes only.” When, towards the end of last April, Jason ‘Scully’ Kavuma hosted the seventh episode of NS10v10, the flagship gameshow of online radio station No Signal, no one realised it would cause the internet to explode. The “beasts from the east” in question were UK rap breakouts J Hus and Kojo Funds and the concept was simple: two guests take turns playing 10 of their favourite tracks from a selected artist and a social media audience votes every round to determine the winner. It’s a format drawn from Jamaican soundsystem culture, where crew members from opposing systems engage in ‘sound clashes’ with the intention to ‘kill’ the competition. Without physical space, NS10v10 is less animated than an actual clash, but there’s still a lot of fighting talk. The episode, and controversy over Funds’ win, catapulted the No Signal brand into the Black British public conscience. “That’s when people really took notice of us,” says Jojo Sonubi, who founded the station with his brother David last March. “People were excited. We reached 4,000 listeners that day. We were like, ‘What the fuck?’ The rest is kind of history.”
When lockdown presented a fresh challenge to Black nightlife, Sonubi, who also organises the popular Black Recess parties in London with his brother, found that audio space offered an opportunity to bring people together in the face of isolation. Like the sonic paradise that Black pirate radio has offered Black Britons in the past – Dread Broadcasting Corporation in the early 1980s, Kiss FM since its launch in 1985, and Voice of Africa Radio in Newham in the 2000s, to name a few – No Signal’s birth under the harsh conditions of 2020 was testament to the long-term resilience, creativity, and community spirit of Black Britain.
Whether it was to discuss the latest twist in Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, or to become Bake Off-style judges during the ‘sprinkle cake epidemic’ of Black Twitter, Black social media timelines congregating online made those lonely and unpredictable days of lockdown bearable. And No Signal was front and centre in all this. “The way NS10v10 happened, I was looking for a show that would be interactive on social media,” says Sonubi. “Because obviously you grow up watching football and culture clash on the timeline. So it’s fun, listening and watching along (online).”
“We want people to find their stop. Say No Signal is a transport network – everyone gets on at different places” – Jojo Sonubi
Beyond NS10v10, regular No Signal shows include the agony-aunt platform 0800-ASK-OLONI from sex blogger Dami ‘Oloni’ Olonisakin, and music journalist Jesse Bernard’s Spot the Sample, which discusses hip hop samples and influences. With hosts and guests including Julie Adenuga and Ian Wright, NS10v10 reached fever pitch in May when it pitted WizKid against dancehall legend Vybz Kartel, in a show that amassed more than a million international listeners and captured the attention of rap A-listers such as Burna Boy.
Sonubi’s central vision for No Signal is to educate the world about Black Caribbean and Black African music. “People think the Caribbean is just about dance or reggae and Africa just has Afropop,” he explains. Instead, No Signal aims to paint a map of sounds from across the Black diaspora. “On Sundays, we have a gospel show, a Ghanaian hip- life show. We have a Francophone music show, music from the Ivory Coast, Congo, music that Senegalese people make. Senegalese music is close to French hip hop, pop and even reggae. In Gambia, even more so, there’s a lot of dancehall and reggae. On Sundays we have songs from the New Guinea region, Angola, all the Portuguese-speaking people. On Fridays we have Tia Roberts, who plays the latest music from the West Indies that’s not just dancehall – all the latest soca and calypso.”
In 2017, Sonubi hosted an event in Peckham called Face the Facts, exploring what a Labour or Conservative government could mean for Black British people. He reprised the format for No Signal during the Black Lives Matter uprisings last year. “There’s always space for Black political discus- sion,” Sonubi explains. “Even with #EndSARS we had (Nigerian musician and son of Fela Kuti) Seun Kuti on, and we had people speaking on the Congo crisis too.” At the end of 2020, No Signal announced the launch of the NS Academy, a training scheme for young Black people to develop technical skills for careers in broadcasting and audio production, headed up by Black Ticket Project founder Tobi Kyeremateng. “It’s important for us to share knowledge. Not just within ourselves, but for people that are coming up.”
Despite No Signal’s long-term goals, the station is plagued by the same difficulties that so often vex Black music spaces. “We’re in a period of time where there are megacompanies, some that own four or five radio stations. They own a lot of ad space, they control and shape the landscape. We’ve also had our content ideas stolen and we know for a fact that, at the height of NS10v10, that shook the table for the industry because they now realise, ‘OK, there really is power in Black voices.’” It’s the desire to remain protective of Black cultural spaces that has empowered Sonubi to refuse outside investment – he even recalls being criticised for choosing a community- funded model to finance a physical studio for the station. “An investor will be like, ‘I’m gonna give you this and by next year you have to start making it back.’ And how am I gonna make it back? I gotta start twerking online. You’re gonna have to be doing outlandish stuff just to retain that attention.”
”We’ve also had our content ideas stolen and we know for a fact that, at the height of NS10v10, that shook the table for the industry because they now realise, ‘OK, there really is power in Black voices.’” – Jojo Sonubi
As for the short term, Sonubi is in the early stages of developing the Pick Your Corner and Enjoy campaign, through which he hopes to develop and expand ambitious programming ideas. “We want people to find their stop,” he says. “Say No Signal is a transport network – everyone gets on at different places. Some people listen to #MorningsWithRBC, 10am to 12 – they start their day and that’s it. Some people at the office leave it on all day. Some people listen to soul music in the night-time. Some people listen to the 90s and 00s classics at 5pm. There are so many places you can get on and get off. We want to show people that we are more than NS10v10. We’re hoping to expand to Ghana, South Africa, hopefully Uganda. Maybe South America – but it’s bit by bit.”
Hair Shamara Roper, make-up Bea Sweet at JAQ Management using Gucci Beauty, nails Aliyah Rianna Johnson, talent No Signal, photographic assistants Thomas Pigeon, Evie Shandilya, Florence Omotoyo, styling assistants Sofiane Simayya, Stephanie Brown, hair assistant Deborah Adefioye, make-up assistant Lizzie Checkley, on-set production Zara Walsh at Farago Projects, on-set production assistants Oliver Lee Shipton, Sasha Simpson Vanner, Ieva Kolupailaite