Interview | From Amapiano to the Future with DJ Nativesun

I met DJ Nativesun on October 9th at Flash. I suppose, more accurately, I met him in the early hours of October 10th. Needing to take a break from the house set booming through the club’s main room, I made my way to the ground floor. It was residents’ night, meaning that the club was full of little surprises; like that my favorite bartender was also a techno DJ, smiling up there on the decks, giving me a wave as I fanboyed from the floor.

I headed downstairs to calm my nerves before I called the night. I had noticed, earlier, when saying my goodbyes to less committed friends, how smoothly the ground floor DJ interwove soul/R&B vocals into drum & bass percussive patterns—a mix of genres that seemed appropriate for that early morning.

I didn’t know then how this distinctive sound underlies much of DJ Nativesun’s discography. Generally, I prefer slower tempos… drum & bass has always felt a little too hectic for me; perhaps I’m not sophisticated enough rhythmically to appreciate all that goes on between the kicks. I’ve found, though, since listening to Nativesun’s many “re-fixes,”  that he’s got the uncanny ability to soften D&B’s flying tempos by blending genres… when listening, expect stems from Afropop hits, famed R&B vocalists, and (most recently) contemporary reggae.

About a month later, DJ Nativesun and I finally got around to an interview, which, regrettably, had to take place over zoom. We chatted about his recent influences, the ongoing pandemic, and the future.

11/12/21

First, who & what are you listening to?

So right now there’s a whole new wave of house music coming out of South Africa. I’m listening to a lot of young producers from the across the townships and hoods—Joburg—you know. It’s a crazy sound. It’s always like 115 bpm, but it’s got hella percussion. It’s like they took a South African house style, kwaito, and slowed it down, adding all these elements to it… there’s this thing called a log drum. It gives it these crazy acoustic kicks, if you can imagine. 

I recently recorded a mix of full of amapiano (a kind of house music originating in South Africa in the early 2010s; a mix of deep house and jazz melodies, driven by atmospheric pads and percussive basslines) for WERA 96.7 FM. This crew called Black Techno Matters took over and aired it live (find it here—Studio 96 #165 x Black Techno Matters).

What specific track, produced by yourself or others, is making you excited?

Right now I’m doing a lot of stuff with this group called Black Rave Culture. We are getting ready to release a single from Volume 2; we already released Volume 1. I’m really excited about it. 

We’re exploring so many different elements of dance music—techno, Jersey club, Baltimore house, some jungle, drum & base… we are taking all those sounds and putting them into tracks. 

We are going to release a single soon—this month… late this month.

Follow Black Rave Culture on Twitter and check out their website… 

How did you weather the worst of the pandemic; any silver-linings for your process?  

Yo, so honestly like, as I was telling somebody the other day… before the pandemic, I wanted to take production more seriously. As a DJ I’ve been very busy—always playing different shows, traveling and stuff like that. I’ve never been able to make much time for production. 

The pandemic made me sit me down and just focus. I was able to put out all those re-fixes; I did a remix for an artist that’s on ninja tunes; and I was able to work on Black Rave Culture with my boys… 

In a way it’s been a gift and a curse—I wasn’t able to DJ as much, but it really helped me hone in on my sound and create more. 

So you know, that’s what I got out of the pandemic; that was the silver lining.

Does your teaching influence your music or vice versa?

This year I took break, took a step back from teaching cause the music was taking over. Teaching was always a little day gig. I also ran an after-school program and a summer camp focused on music and sports; it had cultural aspects as well. I was part of the music program, basically teaching kids to DJ and shit like that.  

Honestly, I feel like teaching does influence my music because you have to stay humble and open to learning shit. 

You know what I’m saying? ‘Cause you are always a student in whatever you do, constantly leaning. It teaches you a sense of patience. Yo, in the music game, especially in production, some people get it and others have to sit with stuff… really sit down and have the patience to learn it.

Working with kids, you learn how to have crazy patience.

All the technical terms and extra stuff [in production] doesn’t ring to me. I’m more of a pick-it-up-by-ear and play it. So, patience really helps me out. I learned that through teaching. I guess it goes hand in hand. 

If you could name a past project that best hints at what’s next, what would it be?  

Honestly, man, like I said, the project that we just dropped, the Black Rave Culture project, it’s something that’s moving towards to the future. It’s all about change; it’s about accepting things as they are and moving forward… that project speaks to what’s going on. 

‘Cause basically, that’s what the project was… it was three brothers (James Bangura, Amal, and DJ Nativesun) who were sitting in their homes—alone, stressed out—who then linked up to make music.

That’s what made us feel better during the pandemic; that’s what got us through. We found a way to focus and create something… it’s all about finding those things that push you through.

As an artist, how do you think the ongoing crisis will affect your shows and music?

Yeah, you know, I feel like COVID is something that’s gonna be around. We are still learning to navigate it… I think a lot of stuff is going to change, especially with the vaccination.

I’m pro vax, I want people to be safe… I want people to be more aware of their surroundings. 

I feel like we are getting to the point where [vaccination] is going to be required even for people to play… we are stepping into a new age—things are going to change. Certain artists are going to adjust, others are not. 

It’s like music, you know… music is always changing; and we adapt with the way it moves, with the way it changes 

More broadly, what does the future mean to you?

To me, [the future] can mean so many different things because it’s a mystery. When I think of the future, I think… honestly, it’s weird in a sense… I always tell people I’m not into astrology because I kinda like the surprise. It’s what makes life exciting—not knowing. It’s something that I prepare myself for, in a sense, but I don’t. 

It’s true… people get mad at me. they’re like: you’re not into astrology… you don’t even wanna to get your palm read!? 

I’m like nahhh I don’t want to know. I like the mystery of this shit… even if it’s bad. That’s life, what fun is it if you already know?

And finally, who isn’t getting the streams they deserve? 

Yo honestly, I feel like a lot of Black women aren’t getting, the fuckin streams that they deserve. 

There’s a lot of dope-ass fuckin DJs—Black women DJs—that I know who are fuckin fire… it’s just they aren’t getting heard. 

DJ Nativesun shared with Blisspop the following DJs.

KG (UK-based)

DJ Shannon (NYC)

ELISE (NYC)