Just over a year ago, we profiled Ruby Kwasiba Savage as a new inductee to the DJ Directory, in her first online interview since adapting her name to celebrate her Surinamese roots. It’s been a busy 12 months since then, both in her day job as Brownswood Label Manager and her extra-curriculars as co-contortionist for NTS radio show and party In Flames. DJing exploits have gone from strength to strength, hosting an MLB series with some US greats, playing a much-coveted evening slot at Worldwide Festival and taking a close friendship with Jayda G into the booth for countless get downs.
Her all-vinyl, 90 minute mix, titled ‘She Said What!?’, focusses on the varied and unapologetic alternative voices of post-punk, fusing punk, funk, jazz and dub. Read about her life as a record collector below.
Kwasiba Savage plays We Out Here, Gilles Peterson’s first UK festival, on 15th-18th August.
It’s been over a year (damn!) since we last caught up for your DJ Directory mix. Been keeping busy? What’s been some highlights since then?
Hah yeah it appeared to be quite the catalyst, our last conversation! Thank you again for that.
And yes been very busy, doing a lot of shows, getting my hours in, working with people I love, it’s been great. A true highlight has been the support (and push) from friend and DJ/Producer Jayda G who is on her way to reach the stars and not afraid to take her peers with her – now that’s inspiring! Another absolute highlight was warming up for Louie Vega in the Theatre De La Mer at Worldwide Festival. Gilles took a chance giving me that slot but think I nailed it! It’s been great connecting with other music heads along the way and getting feedback from dancers and listeners. I do have to say – and I spoke about this in the last interview – I did struggle quite a bit with anxiety as things kicked off and got to a bit of a crisis point. Imposter syndrome is real yo!! But I managed to get some help with it. I can now confidently say it’s under control and combatting that has been another massive highlight of the past year too.
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?
In fact I think the influence starts from the moment you’re conceived! My mum played a lot of reggae while I was in the belly and to this day, soon as I hear a deep, dubby bassline I bee line to the subs and find myself comforted by the sound – warm and cosy like being back in the womb connected to a (heart) beat. Wouldn’t you agree there’s a link there? Lol. But yeah an actual cognitive influence has indeed been my mum’s record/CD collection mainly classical, jazz, soul, West African music and a bit of funk and Gang Of Four. I distinctly remember my Sesame Street LP. On there was this track by Cookie Monster called ‘Me Lost Me Cookie At The Disco’ which, when I think about it today, pretty much sums me up in a tune – a slightly absurd and very groovy disco song by someone who loves cookies! That song definitely got my ears acquainted to a sound outside of what my mum was playing and is what I love to play the most to this day.
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?
I fully trust there is always a new gem to be found and that feeling of discovering a song/artist/album you never heard before brings me pure euphoria. I get quite obsessed with new things and so I’m constantly seeking that bliss. I’m glad my interests stretch across many genres so I’m sure to be thrilled by something or another for a long long time. The only thing that’s discouraging is the cost really…
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
They’re at my place. I really love having them there, in front of me. It’s not a massive collection so I can just about get away with them roughly being filed by genre. I also separate out the 12”s from the Albums which gives me quick direction while selecting for a show. I used to collect more home listening type music but now my dance 12”s collection is growing quick!
I should confess most of the time (unlike in these pictures!!) half the records aren’t in the shelves but rather spread across to room. I’m constantly going through everything and get inspired by tunes I forgot I had and then I make loads of different piles to keep them at the top…with a bit of space left for dancing.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
I love to dig on trips abroad. Discovering new shops is fun and I usually have more time and peace of mind. London local I like Honest Jons, most recently I had success at The Exchange and Flashback, they’re also pretty affordable. Lucky 7 was a killer spot until recently it got closed down and turned into a nail salon :/
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?
Tony aka Al Capone!!! Epitome of an unsung hero. Walking encyclopedia when it came to tunes from reggae to disco to rare groove. Killer DJ too. When I worked at Honest Jons he used to come in every day – always a chat and always left me with some new suggestion to listen to. Just such a vast well of knowledge. Sadly he passed away a few years ago. I have a recording of his set alongside Budgie at Plastic People which I regularly turn to cause it’s still so fresh! Other than that I’m lucky to be surrounded by really incredible music lovers and collectors – all who are insanely supportive and often send recommendations my way. Big love to all of them.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?
Yes plenty. There’s one I don’t think I’ll ever find but it’s ok…the search is taking me to other great records. Have been nudging my repress label friends to put it out tho- or maybe I should just do it myself hah!!
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
I love going alone – just get in the zone – can be super meditative too.
Do you have a process when walking into a record store that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
I do a quick scan of sections and once I get a general idea of what’s about I usually check the disco 12s and new arrivals first then make my way through the rest. I also try to spark conversation with whoever’s working the counter which can be helpful too…or not.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
Big! It’s my day job putting them together for Brownswood Recordings and when I ran Wildheart and Sound Signature the visual element was one of my favourite parts of running the labels. So I’m always checking what works/looks great/matches with the music. I guess me digging for music is as much digging for visual inspiration. Great artwork can really lift an entire project. I also tend to memorise music by their sleeve which helps a lot with digging and DJing.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
Come to think of it I reckon if my mum ever tried making music with my father around the time I was born – 1983 – the outcome would’ve probably fit perfectly in this mix. The musical fusion of punk, funk, jazz and dub which you can hear such strong references of throughout post-punk music paired with political and unapologetic lyrics is pretty much an amalgamation of both my parent’s range of musical and social interest. Any further interpretation I’ll leave up to the listener.
As for the where/when and how…had a bit of a tech nightmare (something to do with mercury retrograde apparently…?) but I’m not mega meticulous when it comes to mixes – I like them instant and as is. Alas in spirit of the mix’s DIY content- it’s a bumpy ride at times…but it works!
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
All. Of. Them.
But Saâda Bonaire’s This Is A Man’s Man’s World always hits the spot for me.
I’ve personally struggled a bit making my way in life being a woman…in this man’s world. I realised early there were setbacks based solely on the fact that I wasn’t a dude. So for a while I started acting a bit like one in the hope to get a seat at the table that way. It took me a while to figure out that wasn’t gonna work. I am after all a woman! So in more recent years my journey’s been about defining what it means to be a women on my terms and being confident about that. I might not have a pair of balls but ovaries got super powers too u know! This is why I love so many of the bands of early 80s post-punk scenes, so many were fronted and run by women. Such a wide variety of unapologetic, truthful voices. Setting new rules for themselves. Slowly transforming the establishment by doing so.
There’s an obvious connection to the mix with the In Flames party/NTS show you run with Josephine. How’s that going?
Yep this mix wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for the show! Doing the radio and party really got me digging into early 80s left field dance music. Now I can’t stop. Uncompromising music but without ever losing the groove. We do everything ourselves and it’s super DIY. We’re in complete control of our output and create all the artworks together. Basically embracing imperfection since 2016! Love every part of it and it’s going very well. Check out @areyoufreezing on instagram for jokes.
Actually also gonna take this moment to give a humongous shoutout to Josephine aka JACC Artist – she’s an incredible selector and put me onto some heavy tunes over the years – some ended up in this mix!
Brownswood has had another great year. What are some of the campaigns you’ve been most proud to work on?
We Out Here has been pretty awesome. Nominated Jazz Album of the year by Jazz FM btw – fingers crossed. But mainly it’s been down to the team – we all work our asses off to make it happen for the artists. Proud to be part of that.
The connection with your 2018 comp and Gilles’ new UK festival is hard to hide. How will you be bringing the flavour of that release to the label’s role at the festival?
Yeah the comp was all about highlighting all the players of London’s New Jazz scene so that extended from the musicians to the artists that did the cover artwork to the person who wrote the liner notes – all of them already part of the scene and therefore equally important to the project. We’re now working closely with the festival to make sure that all inclusive element is translated there as well. And I hope you can see that achieved in the line-up thus far!
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
There are loads but I would like to specifically point out DJ Jnett from Melbourne, Australia – apart from being the warmest and most humble individual she can literally meticulously mix anything from house, techno to dub soul and disco. And she makes music too! She’s an incredible role model across the board and I wish I could get to check her sets irl on a regular basis. Until then, her soundcloud will do 🙂
And are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
Alex Rita of Touching Bass – an unapologetic and truly promising collector.
Finally what’s coming up on your horizon this summer and beyond that’s getting you excited?
Got a couple festivals booked in – Jam on Rye is looking to be ace! Kelis (hero from my teenage years) is playing the main stage and I’ll be warming up for her whooooop. There will also be a bunch more gigs with Jayda G which will undoubtedly be insane amounts of fun. And in May I’ll be leading workshops for young aspiring female DJs which is organised by Women In Jazz. Looking forward to all of it!
Damn…did she just say all that. Well, thank you for reading – x Ruby
Kwasiba Savage plays We Out Here, Gilles Peterson’s first UK festival, on 15th-18th August.