ZAKIA is a London DJ, formerly behind the counter at Honest Jon’s and a monthly host on NTS with Questing, unloading spiritual jazz and psychedelic soul on Sunday mornings. We discuss, in-depth, her life as a record collector, which is also accompanied by a vinyl only mix themed around “songs of struggle, resistance and redemption from across the African diaspora”.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
Definitely. Both my parents are musicians and I spent a lot of my childhood being dragged around to rehearsals and gigs. Now I know how lucky I was to be immersed in music from such a young age, but back then it was a bit of a bore! My parents weren’t hugely into vinyl, but their tastes have definitely helped to shape mine – I’d be listening to Ashanti and Lethal Bizzle at school, then coming home to Alice Coltrane, Donny Hathaway and Pentangle… It caused a bit of conflict during my (wannabe) rudegirl years, but the eclecticism serves me well now!
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
Hmmm… I guess I’ve always been a bit nerdy about music. I used to be a big downloader in my teens and moving towards vinyl was quite a natural progression. I think the actual turning point was meeting an ex-boyfriend of mine – I asked for his number so that he could give me some advice about buying turntables (classic chirpse) and of course I had to stick to my guns once we started dating…
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I wish I had an interesting answer to this question, but alas, no. Ikea shelves. By genre.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
I was lucky enough to work at Honest Jons for a few years and it still remains my favourite record shop in London. It has an amazingly eclectic selection, a wicked label, and the place is steeped in history. I had many magical exchanges behind that counter and learnt so much while I was there. Most notably, that there is a real & tangible connection between record collecting and insanity and that reggae collectors are the worst for it. If it’s not HJ, it’s SOTU, Flashback, Cosmos and charity shops when I’m broke!
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
Big love and eternal shout outs to the late Mr Al Capone, otherwise known as Tony. He came into Honest Jons every single day pretty much since the shop opened and though he was very suspicious of me when I first started working there (female, young ting, played too much free jazz), we became great friends as time went by. He had the wickedest collection and was a proper old school Ladbroke Grove G. RIP!
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search for strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
When I first started record shopping I found the whole thing quite intimidating, so moral support was helpful. Now it’s more of a solitary process for me… I get into a bit of a meditative zone when I dig.
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
I like to believe in serendipity, so often I just grab a load of stuff that stands out to me. However, engaging the person behind the counter is a much safer method – the vinyl Gods aren’t always on your side.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
A big role! I like a lot of cosmic music so anything with suns, moons, planets, seascapes, skies, occult symbolism or psychedelic visuals will immediately catch my eye – again, this is not always a successful method. In fact, quite often it’s not. But it’s fun!
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
It’s a selection of Black Atlantic sounds, with African rhythms, creole fusions, spiritual jazz, reggae and traditional music – songs of struggle, resistance and redemption from across the African diaspora.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
Errr… you tell me?
Finally, what have you got coming up for the rest of the year that you’re looking forward to?
More NTS shows, doing an RA Live in the coming months, gigs here and there, but most excitingly, I’ll be working on a radio documentary on West African drumming traditions in the Caribbean for the BBC! Keep your eyes and ears peeled!