• New Wave

Jojo Sonubi: A Cultural Architect For The Black British Experience

What is culture? some may describe it as the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society - these are all aspects of Black British culture that have been pushed forward by designer, event co-ordinator and entrepreneur JoJo Sonubi. At the age of 28, Jojo has already accomplished many great things in his sector and developed multiple entities that have inspired many from the current generation of black youth in the UK. Jojo along with his brilliant team has not only created moments and experiences physically that many will refer to for years to come but also has the foresight to develop opportunities in the midst of a global crisis and uncertainty. From Black In The Day to Recess and No Signal, Jojo has proven his fearlessness in developing grand ideas with high risk but also high reward.

Previously a young man understanding the experiences on offer during his time in higher education, he also got involved in putting together events himself which had a distinct identity - starting with his birthday parties, which were highlights for him as a child, he used his graphic, photography and videography skills to find his place in creating experiences for his peers with clear messaging and drafting new blueprints on how people interacted with what he has to offer.

In speaking to Jojo, we find him to be an observant critical thinker that is unafraid to break things down and build them back up for the better. In our extensive discussion, we speak to him about the difficult times in what is now seen to be a unanimous success as well as detailing a few key moments that flipped the switch on many of his endeavors, which therefore warrant the title of this story.

You’re very experienced as a graphic designer working with a host of major companies, tell us about where you seemed to be developing your skills.

To be fair, most of the work that people appreciate from me is my own personal projects. Just a lot of trial and error, doing things and it doesn’t bang, etc. That tends to work when doing things down the line. For example, we did something with Ray Nephew - that wasn’t that hard because there was an existing plan. Just experience really.

In being a graphic designer, what were some of the things that attracted you to the industry?

I don’t know what attracted me because there were a few times when I though “This isn’t really the one man”. I started doing it because of myspace and helping out with some church stuff as well. I don’t remember the time I thought this was lucrative but when I realised it was a skill that could come in handy is when I started the parties I was doing before Recess, ACS aswell, just trying to make things different to what previous ACS graphics looked like, which I didn’t like.There were moments when I felt disinterested in doing graphic design, it just seemed so difficult and how do you even breakthrough because the industry was dominated by white people. I didn’t study it as well so I felt like I wasn’t qualified to be in that space.

Tell us about your relationship with music, what were the first artists that resonated with you?

That’s an interesting question, I don’t know actually…

Let’s say at 12/13 years old, what were you listening to?

I was listening to what was on TV man, I wasn’t one of those kids that has a deeper [musical] knowledge. A lot of people my age would say they love R&B because that’s what was popping at that time but I wasn’t really exposed to it like that, I was more exposed to Nigerian music. I was probably listening to an equal amount of Nigeria and western music. One of the first artists that resonated was Lagbaja, absolute genius, I really like Pharell aswell because the choices you had for what you could identify with didn’t seem that many. Pharell was kind of the opposite of the typical guy or what it meant to be/look like a rapper. I would always reference Pharell when asked what I wanted to be later in life but then again, I’m not sure how much of an impact he’s had on me.

Seeing that you are multi-disciplinary, that’s what he is about also

True, never thought of it like that.

You used to be very active in the party and concert scene, tell us about that time, what were some of your favorite memories?

I realised it was a game that was much bigger than me, I don’t think I made the impact that I wanted to but I remember that I didn’t really like the way parties were promoted, but they worked. I didn’t like the way they designed posters because there was too much going on, I used to curse it but looking back on it now – that was the movement of the time and it should be heralded. Hindsight is a gift and a curse.

This time seems to have been your experimental phase of your life/career, looking back – how vital was that to who you are now?

I realised that it was a space for artists to show their craft and use it as a platform to go upwards, I did actually throw one of my own with my friends. It was sick because we had Sona, AdeJosh, Stormzy, and Mover – That was a mad lineup, I was starting to go freelance. I was filming a couple of Uni raves which was interesting. After two I realised I didn’t want to do this for long. It was an interesting period, I learned a lot from it as to how we were going to conduct business In the London party scene.

Who were some of the people around you at that time that you’ve seen a lot of growth in within that space?

One of my friends Christina, we first meet in 2013 ACS, she was in the ACS team in Coventry, she was proper mean and I was thinking “why is she so mean” [laughs]. We became friends and dated for a little bit. 2016 was my second year of freelancing and it was tough. She has just finished Uni and was in a grad job and I was praising her for it, but she wanted to quit and was super adamant even though I tried to convince her not to. She went to America for a couple of weeks, came back and quit her job – 4 years later we are working together right now, she has an agency with her friends, an office in central, she’s doing her thing. Now we're working together with the talent that she manages for a show on No Signal, that’s my favorite story because some other people that we came up with back then aren’t really around anymore, they had a different path. The only other person is my boy RVC, we’ve come up together and we’re still working together.

You’re also an influential part of the platform Black In The Day, What stories did you aim to tell through that platform?

Black In The Day was born from a failed idea. It was 2015 and I helped someone film an event as I went up to one of the people there and expressed how impressed I was with their poetry. I asked her if she wanted to collaborate on something for Black History Month. She was interested so we filmed it, over time I didn’t like it anymore and towards the end of the year, I always go through a slump where I’m so tired so I decided to take the rest of the year off from early December, which felt empowering at the time but it was one of the worst decisions I made. Everything was overwhelming and when January came I still didn’t want to do any work, same when February came. I was really sad, I felt like I had put in a lot of work that year and I expected the come up to be quick because I was doing things quickly, I felt like a failure and I could have achieved more.

But Tanya, who wrote the poem, told me we could release the visual in line with America's Black History Month, but this time she wants to add images of her parents, to illustrate that it’s about her parents. I told her I wanted to add images of mine too because it was a great idea, she suggested making it a project and someone else recommended people should submit their family images and I was like “Yeahhh”. I said a name that was dead, and she said ‘Black In The Day’, and at that moment I felt like my life had changed. Soon after I put down the visual identity, sorted the website and I felt some kind of energy, and that energy motivated me to realised that with the party nights I had at the time, I hated that it was on Tuesday nights and that it’s got my name on it. I was challenged by the venue manager at Ace Hotel to think of something new and that’s when I came up with the name ‘Recess’. I was motivated just off the inception of Black in The Day. That was a life-changing moment but my life didn’t actually change until the end of that year.

Your exhibition in 2019 in collaboration with Nike and Getty Images was a huge success, what were the conversations with these major organisation in terms of explaining what you wanted to execute?

They approached us, that was fun. We turned it around very quickly but it was so fun. I wish it lasted longer because I wish more people could see it. I still can’t believe it happened – the planning of it was so long but it happened so quickly, I barely remember it. I remember the opening night and my mum seeing it, one of the first times she’s seen what I do in 3D, she’s seen posters and pictures

Did it give you a sense of validation?

Not really because at that point she had completely believed in me and what I was doing. It was just nice to see her take it in.

Another amazing facet of Black In The Day is ‘Scanning Social’ – What was it like exhibiting work at some of the most prestigious galleries in the country?

It was cool, I felt like we could have done even more. With these galleries/institutions, you’re just kind of like a flavour of the month and that’s what it felt like with some of them. There was only one that we felt was interested in a long-term partnership. It was a nice moment for me, I wish Tanya was there, she wasn’t able to see it because she was in Nigeria at the time. We had images projected on the brick walls of the Tate Britain, that was nice, we had performances but they finished 45 minutes early so I had pitched for my guy to DJ and he just happened to have his USB on him and we had people partying in the hall of the Tate Britain, that was a cool moment I can’t lie, I wish I had more pictures of that.

Recess is a social event that almost everyone in tune with nightlife in London is familiar with, what mde you stick with that name for it?

That one was God-given, I was just chilling one day and thinking about what this thing could be called, so as soon as you hear it, you recognise it because it sounds so familiar. The ethos is just to enjoy ourselves and everyone needs a break. It was random and just hit me, Recess.

The film photos for recess have become a staple that a few have tried to follow after Recess, as a designer, what were your main focuses in terms of the direction of the brand visually?

One thing I didn’t like about filming raves is that I hate feeling like I’m a pest because people were always running away from me. I’d try to turn my light down, but if I do that the images wouldn’t be clear enough to work with. I think it was Jojo’s 2 in 2014 where I filmed everything on my iPhone, I was lit that day [Laughs]. Because I was filming on my iPhone, people were actually posing in front of the camera because of the familiarity and that is what helps people not be camera shy. I got someone else to film my party in the same year at the end of the summer. This also yielded the same results in terms of people ducking from the camera, 2015 – same thing. So, I started thinking of what I could do. I remembered I had tried something for a 90s themed Uni rave in 2014 where I got a load of disposable cameras just for the aesthetic. I handed out the disposable cameras and kept them but never developed them for so many years. So, in 2015 I decided to do the same thing to get the 90s feel in the photos. When I got them all back I realised, this is it – this is what I need to get the best photos of a party because people are having fun and taking photos of themselves. It’s also the nostalgic feeling of remembering a photo you took or you were in. It’s also cost-effective because it’ll cost me the same amount as getting a photographer but I don’t have to wait to get the photos back. Once we did that, I was like yeah this is the bag – I’ve finally got the solution I was looking for, we’ve been rocking with it since.

How have you seen that influence others?

I’ve seen people coming to Recess with disposable cameras on their own, that for me is amazing, that feels nice because they want to document their lives just like that or they feel inspired and that is fucking nice to see.

We know your latest venture taking over the country is No Signal Radio, we know that was born out of the first Lockdown. What were some of the very first conversations about it?

It was around 2018, I wanted to hear music that lived outside the club. I understood the formula that we had for Recess worked and I know the DJs we work with know a lot more music than what they would play in that setting, I wanted to create a space to know their taste.

So, No Signal is more about knowing what the DJ likes rather than what the crowd likes?

Yeah, exactly that. It was a thing where I wanted to also have a party with no phones. I felt like they were just fucking up things. Also, I was urged by my girl at the time to have a ‘baby project’ rather than focusing on Recess alone. I was kinda like “get off my back” but she didn’t cap. So I thought about it and has No Signal as the name. In January/February 2020, I decided that I didn’t want to do the part with no phones, the logistics were too mad. I just wanted to do a showcase of DJ talent, a bit like Boiler Room. I told the venue my vision in April and they thought it was exciting and could be really big, they still charged me full price so their support was in words alone [Laughs]. We did the first event and it was cool but expensive. We got a lot of sign-ups but not a lot of people turned up. And when they did, they turned up in heels because they thought it was going to be another Recess. But no, it was just an audio-only live stream. We had been trying out audio live streaming for the past 6-7 months and getting it wrong – trying to do a radio show and getting it wrong, etc. We finally did it and the first No Signal was born, then we did the second one and it was okay but I decided to park it for a while, it’s too much bread. It was costing me a grand an event and that’s not worth it.

Someone reached out and said PUMA was doing an after-party event and would we like to live stream it, so I said yeah and that was cool. So, I decided No Signal was just going to be a thing where we live stream parties. Every Recess party was going to be live streamed so people can enjoy it at home. I went to New York and did a No Signal out there aswell so it became a verb – “I’m going to do a No Signal”- I felt like it was going down the right path, live streaming music but having intimate parties that people could hear about. The one in New York was cool, I went 1 man up and took a longshot. I reached out to some people out there and tried to do some small parties. I paid $350 for the space even though they asked for 500 initially but they agreed. That was a good experience because it was a sick way to connect with people I never knew and I’m still in contact with them today. It was actually in their studio that they do their radio station out of – they had never done any events so they were concerned that the police were going to lock it off but we patterned it down to the T. With No signal we didn’t do anything after that, just live streaming Recess’ till the end of 2019.

2020 Lockdown happened and rather than thinking how are we going to use No Signal, it was more about using No Signal to continue Recess. I knew we were going to be here for quite a while so I decided to get a lot of DJ sets from DJs, One or two sets a day. Also, to take people off IG live because the quality was so dead – I found a way where you could DJ from your room, straight to this platform and it's crystal clear for people to enjoy on their sound system, that was my selling point.

Also, another thing I’ve always wanted to do is to get people to interact with the stuff I do like with Football or Love island since 2014. I started a football talk show and it didn’t bang so I started a livestream of it for the World Cup Final, it didn’t bang - but I had been trying to hit that pocket of interaction. So when the lockdown hit, I saw that there was a lot longer of an attention span but how do I turn their heads to pay attention here – That Is how 10v10 was born

The 10v10 series is a major talking point even till now, do you remember the feeling of realising you had something special?

I expected people to watch, but I didn’t expect it to blow the way it did. Because there was already a president of the hit for hit battle set by Verzuz. People were very receptive to that kind of content but when I thought ‘Wow this is crazy’ is when we did the 10v10 of J hus vs Kojo [Funds] and had 4,000 listeners on the site. I was like rahh, that was gassy.

Who is on the team? What roles do they take in the scheme?

First off, my brother, so a lot of the songs during the early stages were selected by him or they would be Co Selected by my friend Ghadia, dynamic duo. Then you’ve got Lodina who works with brands, her experience of working with agencies is very valuable. You’ve got Huda, who’s literally the overseer of everything, the wisest man in the room, absolute boss. Then you’ve got RVC and Triple, they are the people I work closely with on Recess in terms of patterning the party. In terms of programming for the whole station, we work closely together on that. Then you’ve got people like Skully and Henrie, to give us that knowledge of radio – they really help with the creative process of 10v10, aswell as Jamilah. They were the first people I spoke to when the idea for 10v10 came, including Bola, but she doesn’t work with us anymore. There’s a lot of people.

What are some of your proudest moments of the platform? Shows you have done, guests you have brought on, the opportunities you have created, etc

People saying it made them listen to the radio again, or when people tweet something like ‘I’m at work and this is getting me through the day’. That’s nice to hear. When I went to my friend Christina’s office, she said that is what they listen to every day. It’s a nice feeling, impacting the people around you is a positive man.

Looks like you’re achieving the goals you set out for it in the first place.

Yeah man, we didn’t expect this to happen, we had to think fast when 10v10 blew up. We had 2 options, focus on 10v10, make it as big as possible and then that’s it, become a moment in time or take advantage of the attention and now build something that can last longer than the clash, and that is the radio station. We had to build it very fast and it hasn’t been easy at all but it’s defo more rewarding than letting it just be a moment. With the radio station we are creating a platform for so many things that have some kind of life because a lot of avenues have been shut due to the pandemic so, in the meantime, we have something here for you.

Your graphic work seems to take references from everyday things that are part of our life, why is that? And why do you think it resonates?

I’m a daydreamer man. I would always stare at things for a long time and take it in. I always would question why something looks like it does or why they chose to make it look like that. When I was younger, I would always scribble on things, rewrite things or redrew things, do my own version. It always helps a lot because it’s eye catching. You think it’s something you know, but when you look closely it's not. One of my favourite ones is the tub map poster for Recess. I just thought it would be a great way to illustrate the parties we had in August because they both happened to be on the Victoria Line.

You recently showed the process of putting together the No Signal yearbook art direction, you mentioned you wanted to make it very British, why was this so important to you?

The British school experience is a unique one, as it is British artists that we are looking to represent, it’s only right for the art direction to be British. It’s a whole experience. People on the outside looking in, they may not know what it’s like. Just like in America, the reason we have an idea of what the high school experience is like is because they show us in their media. We need to do the same for people to understand our culture here, we can’t just whine and say they don’t get us

Tell us about the process of putting that together, we know getting several artists to be part of one project can be pretty stressful.

I was just involved in the creative [aspect]. The project was actually led by my brother and Ghadia. They handled all of that but only one or 2 artists that they reached out to didn’t get back.

Was there an artist or two that you were very excited to be part of the project?

I was really excited to have M1llionz on there, I was like "well-done guys". I was really happy to see IVD [Ivorian Doll] there aswell, excited to see what she does in 2021, that girl good!

Billboards of the campaign have been showing up around London, what is that feeling like?

It’s a mad feeling, we didn’t plan for any of this to happen, but at the same time we’ve always had these kinds of ideas – we just didn’t have the platform for it to live on. In 2016 we did the 'High Roller Best Of' where we celebrated creativity. Now that we have a music platform that people are paying attention to, we thought this would be the best time to try this. We trust each other in terms of what we can do creatively and in terms of the billboard, that was a blessing because it was given to us by the ad agency Diabolical.

In secondary school, what were you the most likely to be?

I don’t even know man because I went to 3 secondary schools and the one I finally got settled in was in Essex and I didn’t actually like the people I hung around with so I’m not sure what they thought of me. I’m not sure they thought highly of me. I used to just chill with loads of different people so maybe ‘most likely to know everyone’ I guess.

Speaking of billboards, you and your team recently had one promoting your official Spotify playlist, what songs on the playlist are you responsible for?

Zero you know, I’m not involved in the music process at all.

If you could, what would you say?

I’m not a person that listens to a lot of new music, I just listen to a lot of old shit that I listen to all the time. No Signal has helped me a lot in terms of new music, incredibly. For example, we worked with Pa Salieu but I hadn’t gotten around to listen to his tape. So at the listening party, they did a run through his tape and I thought ‘this is hard, I’m going to go listen to it now’. People like me. I need someone to take me to the river.

No Signal was also the recipient of the winning grant by Metallic Inc, how did you hear about that?

We just saw it on Twitter, everyone’s eyes were open for funding opportunities so when we saw that we said yeah, let's get it. Kinda thought we were going to get it but there were moments when we thought we wouldn’t, so it was a mad relief. We thank God for that one.

You are using those funds to build your very own studio – what vision do you have for that studio?

We want it to be a space for our people to work and bring ideas to life – that’s something that always kills ideas, the lack of facilities and resources, we want to has adequate equipment and space to bring ideas to life. Also, as space for us to get better because with a lot of this stuff we’re just teaching ourselves. Learning as we go along. That’s the vision

You recently collaborated with Instagram on a talk titled #Reelself Sessions, what was the objective of that engagement?

They wanted us to be in a space with like-minded people and talk about our creative process, our views, and history in creativity, Knowledge sharing.

What were some of the key points you wanted to share?

My main point was researching – research always helps a project, it keeps you on the path because you could end up creating the same thing every single time if you don’t research.

With Recess and No Signal, although seemingly very different industries, the constant between them is DJs, tell us about the importance of DJs in what you do and in general

I think DJ’ing is a genius skill, the right set of DJs can really stitch together a great time for people. I’ve seen it with Recess and we were privileged to have the same group of people that provided a consistent vibe. Now for example, on a Saturday and Sunday, it's 100% DJs. We’ve created it in a way where you can listen to No Signal all day and be satisfied.

We have a series on New Wave called Mood Spins, what would you play when the No Signal studio is finally complete?

Future, I’m So Groovy.

When Recess comes back, how big of a step up from the epic events prior can people look forward to?

Now that we are in certain rooms and able to have the contacts we do to make our ideas we want to happen, Most definitely as step up.

Follow Jojo Sonubi here: Instagram | Twitter

Recess: Instagram

No Signal: Instagram | Twitter

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