London Promoters’ Society Interview with DJ Moocha
After getting a sneak preview of his new sounds we were keen to explore the story behind DJ Moocha’s fresh set of bass heavy hip hop releases. His latest track “Very Fake” (released on 5th March) is an 8 way cypher, featuring the cream of Uganda’s Hip Hop MCs, joined by MCs from Congo,Kenya and Nigeria. Incorporating 8 unique flows in different languages (English, French, Luganda, Pidgin, Lua) and produced by DJ Moocha, label boss of Programmed Cell Death and resident DJ for original jungle pirate radio station Kool FM (now Kool London).
- How did you start working with East African Records?
Through the owner David Cecil. I had known him for many years from being involved in the underground music scene in London. He had been asking me to join him and record music with some MCs and singers in Kampala. After discussing it for a couple of years, I first visited Uganda in early 2017. At the time EAR were involved in filming and providing the soundtrack for their film “Imperial Blue” (available to watch in the UK digitally on Amazon Prime). I became involved in this project and added some music to the soundtrack. At the same time I met a group of MCs based in Kampala (Blessed San, Biga Yut, Ecko Bazz and Lebon) and recorded some of their vocals. The real breakthrough came later that year when I remixed a track by Blessed San called “Traitor”. The original was made by Stalawa from Mungo’s HiFi, but I just took the vocal and re-constructed the track in my own style. This seemed to impress the guys at EAR and they offered me a residency at their studio in Kampala, where I spent 3 months recording and experimenting with different MCs singers and players. I have done 2 subsequent visits in 2019 and 2020, accumulating around 160 original tracks, a bunch of videos and a documentary. We also ran some community projects teaching youths music technology skills.
2. What did you learn from the experience?
Having never been to sub saharan Africa before this, only the North, it was an amazing experience. You learn something new every day there, because it’s a lot different than the UK. I learnt that unfortunately Africa is still being heavily exploited by the West, life is a struggle every day, even if you are lucky to have a job you need another form of income to live in any sort of comfort. As a result there is a lot of corruption in all sections of society. The main vibe though is that Uganda is a totally welcoming culture, people are super friendly, and make you feel part of them straight away. Despite it being a poor country financially, people smile more and complain less than most folk in the UK. There seems to be musicians, singers and MCs everywhere; you can go out every night in Kampala to free jams, open mic nights and a massive variety of music events (at least before Covid). I guess the main thing I learnt is that there are so many talented youth whose voices are not being heard outside their immediate environment. Also musicians in Africa often speak for the people and there are risks that come with that. One of the bands I work with (Lion Story) had to leave Burundi for speaking out against the government and are living in exile. Ugandan reggae singer turned politician Bobi Wine is being hounded for standing against the Ugandan regime.
3. Tell us more about the music scenes in Uganda…
The music scene there is very diverse. Probably the most common sound you hear in clubs is Kidandali which is good time pop music mixed with Jamaican Dancehall styles but sung mostly in Luganda. Also a lot of Afrobeat and Nigerian artists as that seems to be the dominant force in Africa. For Reggae there’s an all nighter every Monday (Reggae Mondays) and Tuesday nights at One 54 (a reggae jam). Saturdays you can catch Mighty River Nile Sound or King Raffa playing strictly roots music. The south western part of Uganda was the home of warrior queen Nyabinghi so there is also a direct link with the Rastafari movement and drum circles. There are a bunch of regular Hip Hop events at places like the Five Horsemen as well as the Breakdance Project Uganda. In the north you hear a lot of Lingala, up tempo music originating from Congo. As well as that you have (mainly in Kampala) an underground electronic scene. This includes Grime, Trap, House, Techno and guys like Slikback with his own dubstep type of sound. Basically there is music everywhere, I’m only scratching the surface with this description. However, the Ugandan music scene is really suffering right now due to a 9pm curfew and other Covid restrictions. People can’t really rely on sales revenues there, most income is from doing live events.
4. What was the idea behind your new track ‘Very Fake’, can you also tell us a little bit more about the MCs involved and how the production came about?
The actual music came about because I was in the studio with Blessed San on Christmas day 2019 and he said he wants to make a tune that goes “pah, pah pa pah”. So that’s where the main riff comes from; I sampled a note of his voice and played it out of a sampler. Like most decent tunes, the main body of the beat came together really quickly. Everyone at the studio said they liked it. Blessed had originally written an 8 bar hook, but it wasn’t quite there.
The year before I had been sat watching an MTV awards on the screen in a bar there. I was sat with Ecko Bazz saying how fake the whole thing was, people rapping about money and the whole charade seemed so far away from what Hip Hop means to us. In Uganda it’s kind of an insult if you tell someone “you’re very fake” but you hear it a lot. I wrote a whole load of lyrics down that was meant to be the concept of the tune but it never got finished.
So next year Blessed says to me “let’s make this the Very Fake tune we talked about” and he starts his verse with “Fake system, whole heap of them are victims…”, after that we recruited Muhinder (Congolese rapper living in Kampala), then Mr Raphimus who we met a few weeks later when we were performing in Kenya. Then I asked Magugu to join, he is based in Cardiff but has his own style “Pidgin Rap” based on how Nigerians talk. After that the track was getting hot, so it wasn’t hard to persuade the other MCs (Keya Nemesis and Blaq Bandana) to join. Last but not least, we Recruited Tushi Polo and Elle Bero who brought some female energy to the project. In fact there was a bunch of other guys we wanted to be on the track but we decided to stop at 8. Maybe there will be a remix with another 8 MCs? There are so many dope MCs around EAR studios and East Africa it would be easy to do. The video has had mixed reactions; all clips were filmed from mobile phones so its proper lo-fi, but fits the vibe of the tune; real MCs who are super dope don’t need million dollar videos to shine. Lastly, big ups to Naomi who came through with the “very fake” phone sample.
5. What inspired you to start Programmed Cell Death and what are your plans for the future?
Well “Programmed Cell Death” is the process by which you use cannabis plants to destroy cancer cells, and was inspired by a family member who has defeated cancer that way. The concept is also about using nature (good) to destroy cancer (evil). (Not just cancer as a physical thing, but what we perceive is the cancer taking place in our society). I originally started it in 2014 with my studio partner at the time Jack Screw. He was making this really twisted hammer house of horror style dusty samples music. I was trying to make perfect polished kick drums and bass lines. The 2 styles seemed to work well together. We made some beat tapes then he moved away for a bit so I took the project over as an outlet for the tracks I had recorded in Uganda. This year we have a schedule of around 15 releases by artists like C Wyne Nalakulala, Destiny Nsonga, Shoeshine Bwoy, Black Fenda, Joyce the 7th Star, Keya Nemesis, Agent Kyllah, Justice Osinde and more. I have recruited another producer, an up and coming guy called Greene from Kampala, watch out for him. Also Jack Screw will be releasing tunes at some point again. My plan is just to keep making better music, better videos and better art. We have a distribution deal in place with East African Records and Ditto music so these releases will be available on all major platforms.
6. What impact did the 90s freeparty/rave scene have on your life and the style of music that you produce, and what were your favourite scenes/promotions/parties during those times?
It had a big impact on me because I spent a lot of the 90s DJing at these type of events. More so the Jungle movement because this sampled a lot of music I was already a fan of like Hip Hop and Reggae. I got to say a big shout to United Systems/Dubious crew who gave me my first breaks DJing. Events were happening all the time and the music seemed to have advanced on a weekly basis. Got to say Lazerdrome and the Rocket were 2 of my favourite venues in the early 90s and gave me access to my first proper Jungle raves. A bit later one of my mates from the pirate station I was with at the time (Flex FM), DJ Terroreyes used to do the sound for Metalheadz at the Blue Note. This was every Sunday and used to blow my mind on a regular basis hearing brand new style of music that was basically being invented on the spot. As far as the free parties and squat parties go, they definitely gave us the courage to try out new things and empower ourselves in a small way. I would say that inspired me to move from DJing to producing my own music.
7. How do you create your music and what are the biggest lessons you have learnt with regards to production, what advice do you have for new producers or for those tempted to try?
These days I use a hybrid of Logic software and a bunch of machines such as MPC 1000, Arturia miniBrute and Moog Minitaur to create sounds from scratch. For years I used a lot of samples but I’m trying to get away from that and record bands from scratch. The last few years I have been working with a few reggae bands in Kampala (The Dons and Lion Story), so I have learnt how to record drum kits and so on. Before I record any vocals I just make loads of beats in different styles, but don’t really write the arrangements until I’m in the studio so I can work alongside whoever I’m recording. Then spend a lot of time mixing and tweaking stuff till I’m happy with it. In the past decade I have moved into teaching music technology in hospitals, schools and community projects, this stuff I really enjoy a lot.
I got my first set up over 20 years ago. I was very stubborn and wanted to do everything myself, and I wouldn’t even let other people show me anything. As a result I really struggled to get anything done for the first couple of years but I’m glad I put my heart into it. My advice to new producers? Don’t get frustrated if you don’t achieve everything straight away. There’s a saying that you have to put in 10 thousand hours into any discipline before you can master it. I know that I’m still learning new stuff everytime I sit down in the studio so put in the hours and you will see the results. Stick to your guns and do what you think sounds good, not what people tell you is the right way. Oh and if your only looking to make money from this, look elsewhere, those days have gone.
8. What are your favourite music venues in London (past and present)?
Sadly most of the ones I loved are now closed. Blue Note in Hoxton, Coronet in Elephant and Castle, Silver Bullet in Finsbury Park and the End in Holborn. Venues that I rate now are The Cause in Tottenham (big respect for them to keep things going during lockdown), Corsica studios and for live events the Roundhouse in Camden and Shepherds Bush Empire. Like all of us, I’m anxious to see how much of the non corporate music scene is still functioning after the Covid lockdown.
9. What extra support/expertise do you feel you need to make the most of your projects going forward?
The main problem I have at the moment is I don’t really have a business mind to make money for the label and its artists. Part of this is down to a lack of budget and not knowing about promotion. Hoping to turn that around this year with the next string of releases. I am lucky that a certain person has got behind the label and is helping me build the brand.
10. Before we sign off and stay tuned for the ‘Very Fake’ release on 5th March 2021 is there anyone you would like to shout-out!?
Yes loads of people, but I try and keep it brief.
Firstly everyone at EAR: David, Johannes, Semulema, Greene, Timo, Wana, Naomi, Josh, Richard, Nana and Cuujo.
The soundsystems I run with: Acme Soundz, IRD, Desert Storm
All the artists I have recorded with: Blessed San, MC Yallah, Phero, The Dons, Lion Story, Ecko Bazz, Biga Yut, Agent Kyllah, Justice Osinde, Keya Nemesis, HimKim, Magugu, Muhinder, Tushi Polo, Elle Bero, Shoeshine Bwoy, Blaq Bandana, Black Fenda, Inphynit Da Ghost, C Wyne Nalakulala, Ginsu, Byg Ben Sukuya, Jah City, Lavosti, Mr Raphimus, Brooks Aftermath, MC Ishu, Emcee Killa, MC Wideye, Ordinary Childhood, Destiny Nsonga, Tizzo, OSilver, Daddy Freddy, MC Poison and any more I may have forgotten. Please look out for these names and check out their art.
11. How can we stay in the loop with your projects and releases?
For info on the label: www.programmedcelldeath.com
Also follow me on Facebook DJ Moocha and Instagram @joemoocha
Also you can send demos to: firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in working with us