A two-hour journey into Elijah Ndoumbé's delicious funk and groove sounds
Elijah Ndoumbé is a 24-year-old multidisciplinary artist born in Paris, France, and from the greater Los Angeles area in California, USA. Of the Queer, Black, and Trans Diasporas, Elijah works to challenge the dominant narrative around members of their community as pathologized beings (and rather, recognizing the structures in place as pathological). They are striving towards embodied methods of artistic connection, revolution, and radical imagination. Their work includes photography, film, writing, music, and movement.
What's your sound story?
I feel good. You feel good. You feel good. I feel good. It's a reciprocal energy as a selector and a DJ that makes the magic work. My sound has, and will always have, roots in funk, groove, delicious sounds. That narrative shows up in the variety of music I play from hip-hop and RnB to disco, to dance, deep house, classic house, detroit techno, afrohouse... even rock, man. The list goes on. I'm a big fan of honouring the mélange of influences that have made up my palate as an artist. I'm looking for feeling and spirit, in a song, not genre, if that makes sense? So it's not about which genre I play, but how it is that I move through a variety of genres which inherently all relate to each other and which all have incredibly powerful roots and histories within Black and Queer Diasporas of music ingenuity.
What are your favourite musical memories?
My favourite memories of childhood revolve around my parents, namely my mother, carefully selecting tunes to jam to while she did what she did, on the daily. From Macy Gray to Al Green, to Rick James, to Barry White, to Buddha Bar compilations and Hotel Costes mixes featuring artists like Pink Martini and De-Phazz. St. Germain. That's my childhood. I got to know the music so well that I began to bump it on my own time. Earth Wind & Fire, George Michael, Kool & The Gang. On my dad's side, Prince, Michael, all of the above. I began to see DJing as something I could seriously do when Black and Brown Queers and Femmes encouraged me to play, experiment, and vibe out with music. People like Dreea Pavel in Berlin, a selector and DJ with a soulful and spiritual relationship to the music and its mixing. She is a huge reason I DJ today. She really pushed the narrative with me that it didn't have to just be a boy's club.
How have your musical tastes evolved over the years?
It's interesting because I feel like I left house music for a little bit when I first moved to the States. It's like being shoved through the ringer of American capitalism and its accompanying pop-music industry killed any desire to relate to the sounds of my younger childhood. It took me having to come back into my body, as a Queer person. That is to say, it took me realising my sexuality, my gender, and claiming authority over my (considered) deviant body, as a dancer, for me to get back into soundscapes of movement and spirituality. To me, club music and various forms of house and rhythmic movement worldwide embody that. But then again, I'm someone who has found the Black and Brown Queer club spaces of the world to be some of the only genuine spaces of release and respite from the outside bullshit.
The more I push myself to dig into the roots of the music I love, the more I travel and listen to different types of music, and the more I embody myself in the music I listen to, the more I learn about sound. I think musical taste is something that is always shifting, always adapting, as you are. But I'll always retain the funk, and the groove. That's my baseline, and what I was born into.
You're a citizen of the world, how did you find yourself in South Africa?
I make it my priority to connect and build with people who are pushing for shifts in a current system not built for us. Many of those folks, in my case, tend to identify as Queer, Trans, and POC. I came back to Cape Town following my graduation from university to continue my work with the Sex Workers' Education and Advocacy Taskforce. My focus was to supplement and create visual content and programming advocating for the rights of sex workers, and primarily with those identifying as Transgender women. You can see some of that work here, as well as check out I Am What I Am: Places, Faces, and Spaces, at the Iziko Slave Lodge in Cape Town, for an example of some collaborative curatorial work. The show is up until the 22nd of September, 2018.
Which South African artists excite you?
The first time I saw Manthe Ribane live, I'd spent the afternoon tired, wet, and irritable. It wasn't until her presence and performance on stage (along with her entire team), that life and colour were brought back into me. The second I witnessed her work; I fell in love.
Other artists that excite and inspire me are FAKA, Laudable, Nazlee Saif, Dope Saint Jude, DUMAMA & Kechou, Büjin Buujee. These are just a few – people are making some serious moves. It's empowering to witness Black and Brown fam execute and inspire across genres, regions, and within the intersections that are inevitably bound to occur as a result of today's globalised society.
Talk about the mix you're sharing with us today?
Most appropriately, this mix is a journey into Eli on a casual level. You'll hear a lot of my childhood here, what I was jamming to in the car ride to school, or on a rainy Saturday afternoon, or perhaps a random evening in the week while mom made dinner. You'll be introduced to me as a mover, a dancer, a shaker. I move through a lot of my music – it's a form of release and expression for me as a Trans Person of Color and one of African descent. You'll hear the sounds that helped me release at 3am in a Queer nightclub somewhere in London or New York. You'll hear the sounds of songs that embody my mood while I was recording this mix – a mood of love. Of being in love, of returning to the things that made me, that built me, in order to fall deeper into love with myself, with my partner, with my friends, with my community. To me at the end of the day, the music is all about feeling and trying to just shake it out. Let it out, let go... whether it's to a Luther Vandross classic or a Peggy Gou dance hit. Just feel it. Release. Hit me up afterwards, and let me know what was or wasn't in it for you. I promise I'm listening.
Any local gigs lined up?
Listen, when the promoters who are currently running the scene in South Africa decide to do the bare minimum and pay DJs/selectors their standard rates, I'll let you know.
What's in the pipeline?
I collaborated earlier this year with Nodiggity to throw our first Queer Salon in Cape Town. The idea was to create a space around art, music, and community that centred and uplifted Black and Brown Queer/LGBTI identifying people. We were able to host DJ skill shares by RetroRootz and Nolitha, provide space for live art-making, jammed to dope selections by local artists like Queezy, and even had one of our visual artist's work sell out. Safe to say our testing to see whether or not such an event would succeed, exceeded our expectations.
My focus is to continue building with the folks who are tryna push for brave spaces that can reflect our experiences. Can't talk too much about it now, but know that there will be new music, there will be dancing, there will be joy. Stay tuned.
Anything to add, please do so here...
I'm always looking to collaborate with fam who are on the same wavelength – so, if you're reading this and keen, reach out. If you've got connects to financial support for Queer and Trans Communities of Colour, and are looking for concrete ways to redistribute wealth to support said artists making dope work, reach out. We're stronger together, no doubt. You can get in touch, here: