Only connect: Jokkoo are the crew platforming Black, experimental music, re-energising Barcelona’s club scene one party at a time
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In Wolof, the most widely spoken language in Senegal, Jokkoo refers to a connection made between people. For the Barcelona collective who have adopted it as their name, the word’s meaning neatly embodies everything they stand for: “We like to bridge gaps between different sounds, networks and people,” says resident DJ and producer Oscar Taylor a.k.a. Opoku. “And to create some vibes.”
The collective was founded six years ago by DJs and live performers Baby Sy and Teresa Maguette Dieng. Their aim was simple: platform Black and experimental music in an otherwise unrepresentative club scene. But what began as a one-off, 12-hour event dedicated to African genres such as kuduro, kwaito and Afrohouse, has now grown into a movement. “Before, [Barcelona] was just techno, pop music and EDM in the clubs,” says Sy, who has been performing under the alias Pasaporteman since 2013. “After the party we thought, ‘OK, we need to continue this job. Let’s go to all the clubs to show them this sound, let’s go to all the festivals, let’s go to the streets, let’s go everywhere we have the opportunity to go.”
As well as hosting fortnightly parties at their own space in Zona Franca, the now six-strong team have collaborated with venues like Sala Apolo and Razzmatazz and festivals including Periferias de Huesca and Archipiélago in Madrid, as well as Kampala’s famed Nyege Nyege festival. At a Jokkoo set or event, you’re likely to hear a broad spectrum of sounds and styles from Africa and the diaspora, from blistering gqom and industrial dancehall to raucous jungle and footwork. But they also champion music from across the Middle East, Asia and Latin America too. It’s a global outlook shaped by each member’s multi-layered roots, which stretch from Senegal and Canada to the UK and France.
“We also do ambient nights so you could come and just sit on the floor, close your eyes and travel,” says core member Nicolas Regis Beliot a.k.a. Mookie, smiling. “Or, you could come and sweat for ten hours straight.”
The events are curated with the emphasis on encouraging innovation. Their flagship b2b parties invite DJs from across Barcelona to explore their common musical ground. The concept is simple: every 15 minutes, an algorithm randomly selects a pair to play together on stage, from club circuit regulars to those used to only playing in their bedrooms. The results can be surprising, revelatory, but never boring. “There’ll always be music you’re going to discover,” Beliot says. “It’s kind of educational, but always fun.”
This sharing of the platform and resources feeds into Jokkoo’s mission to create a “spider web” between like-minded people. Taking this even further, the collective have co-ownership of a studio and performance space alongside local artists. Here, they host production workshops, as well as events run by other collectives in the city, from club nights to ballrooms. “The venue is a place where people think: this is their home, I’m invited into their home and now I’m a part of their home too,” says Beliot. “It’s home for the whole community.”
“After the first party we thought, ‘OK, we need to continue this job. Let’s go to all the clubs to show them this sound, let’s go to all the festivals, let’s go to the streets’”
Accordingly, the events are intersectional affairs that bring in a wide cross-section of ethnic backgrounds, gender identities and generations, in the booth and on the dancefloor. “We even have the jazzy grey-haired dancers, says Taylor, lovingly. “All sorts of different people from Barcelona come through here.”
Crucially, operating a DIY space puts the crew at the helm of decision-making, from curating exciting and inclusive line-ups to paying artists fairly. “The people making decisions [in the city] are still white,” says Beliot. Not only does he feel there is a lack of local Black and POC people in managerial roles, he also believes they are an afterthought in a nightlife industry that seems to cater to touring international DJs and holiday makers. “We have sick festivals and club spaces but the [artists and organisers] from here get paid shit money while those from the outside get paid a lot,” he explains. “It’s favouritism for the tourists, so we are changing [that].” For their sixth birthday celebration last month, they showcased local talent by inviting 11 grassroots organisations from Barcelona to perform across 12 hours, including Azadi Sound System and Don’t Hit A La Negrx, which brings together queer, marginalised artists to perreo, twerk and vogue.
The venue also enables Jokkoo to create a safe and inclusive environment on their terms. Instead of hiring external security, the core members are on hand throughout each night, and their policies against discriminatory and aggressive behaviour are communicated via social media posts and upon entry. “We share our model and mentality every time,” says Beliot. “We tell people that this is a space specifically made for racialised and queer people to be free and feel safe.”
With events capped to 250 people, the team feels they can host parties that are “controlled without having to control”. They’ve also fostered a regular crowd, which lends itself to a shared understanding of Jokkoo’s ethos and a tendency to take care of one another. “There’s a lot of respect and trust here,” Beliot continues. “They trust us to bring them nice line-ups and something different, and we trust them to enjoy and respect the space.”
After years of fighting for representation at an underground level, Jokkoo will take their work to new heights next week when they take over Sónar, one of Spain’s most prestigious electronic music festivals. The crowd will be bigger and broader than at their usual events, prompting the question of how they will retain their usual DIY spirit at the same time as reaching a whole new audience. It’s a challenge that the collective are excited to embrace. “People are starting to understand what we are trying to do here and most of them know that in some ways this can be their future as well,” Biolet says, resolutely. “Now we’ve got to be even louder.”
Jokkoo Collective will present a new audiovisual show, created through an artistic residency in Kenya, during Sónar+D at Sónar, 15-17 June in Barcelona. Dr. Martens will be connecting with artists and fans to celebrate and explore the future of festivals