Multi-founder and event curator Jojo Sonubi on managing a radio show and maintaining authenticity

Updated: Dec 12, 2020



Photography by Shennell Kennedy

Job Title: Graphic Designer, Photographer, Event organiser and Founder

Based

London

Previous Employment

Museum of Youth Culture - June - Aug 2019

Graphic design, events ect Freelancer 2014 - present

Education

Palmers College, BTEC Science - 2008 - 2011

Central Saint Martins - 2019 - ongoing


Website

Personal: jojoldn

Business(es): blkintheday, rec_ess, theresnosignal




Were you working full time before you started Recess, Blk in the Day, No Signal and all the thousands of other things that you do?


It's mad, I wasn't, I was actually just trying to find my feet through working freelance. The last full-time job I had was at Topshop in 2014, until I was sacked. I had been throwing free parties before then, but it was time to make money. So, I started charging for the parties. And that's kind of how I got into promoting parties and then obviously started Recess.


So, what did you do when you first got fired?


When they finally let me go, it was a sad moment, you know? But I just thought you know what, let me just try this video thing. I was filming like uni raves, and I got like £100 a night, which was quite a lot back then. I also did odd bits of graphic design, but still tried to live a social life in London away from home. It definitely took its toll on me for real.


Are you a self-taught graphic designer, or did you learn formally?


I taught myself from like 13, but last year I started a course, CSM – the bachelor's graphic design course, just to see what it’s like at that level. But, I do wish I did graphic design in college, but you know, Nigerian parents; you know how it goes with Nigerian parents. I understand it now, but at the time I didn't. They have an idea of what they want for you, they have their own plan and unfortunately, that’s a struggle in itself, a struggle that a lot of us seem to make light of, but it's a serious struggle.


How do your parents feel now that you're running parties and a radio station for a living?


I mean, at first, the parties thing wasn’t really something they approved of. But back in 2017 we started really gaining control of the scene with Recess and my parents saw that and thought “yo, he’s making bread.” Then they started to see that I was consistent. In 2019, they noticed we were getting international attention. Someone who works with mum mentioned Recess to her, and my mum was like "how is this person telling me about a party called Recess” and she was like "yeah that's my son's thing". It's one of those perfect stories.




That’s so nice! As an event platform, what were your thoughts when the pandemic hit?


When the pandemic hit, my dad tried to convince me to move to Youtube content creation but I told him I wanted to stick with this music. That’s how NS 10v10 was born. I remember, by the fourth or fifth episode, when people start taking notice, my dad asked how it was going. I had tried to sign on for benefits at the time, but I couldn't because I'm a student. I just told him we're digging for gold right now but I think we're getting close.


Did it affect your home life at all?


There were times where my parent would come in and say "it's time to pray" and I was like "nah, I’m producing a show". After a few rounds of this, they shifted the prayer time to incorporate the No Signal schedule. For the Vybz Kartel show, they were like "let's pray before the show" because we told them how much of a mad ting it was going to be. And we told them the numbers, they were like "what the fuck". We hadn't made money yet but we realised this was our second chance.


Just two months before it seemed like all hope was lost, we couldn't do any events. And that was my bread and butter. So yeah, now my parents are proper happy and very supportive. When we said we were looking for a studio, my dad was like anything you need for me from me, I’ll help you. Not to be cliche, but it was nice to hear that.


You mentioned you weren't making money from No Signal at first. How do you monetize a radio station?


What a question. We know people who pay attention; there's always someone who wants to have access or to speak to our network, that community and demographic. We collaborated with Wray and Nephew and we did the three-part activation. We learnt a lot from it obviously, it was our first time working with a brand properly.


When you work with a big brand for the first time it’s easy to get lost in the sauce.


Yeah exactly! Also, we got paid by Adidas to feature in a campaign and also worked with Adidas for NS10v10. But one of the things we had to tell ourselves was that we actually can't pimp out 10v10 to everybody that thinks it's going to give them the engagement results that it gives us. Because it doesn't always.


But right now, aside from working with brands, we want to figure out other sources of income. Obviously, one of the main ones was the donations, which was contentious. Now we're also looking at stuff like merchandise and also the space that we've got, using that to provide services for people, like podcast recording. Also, advertising is something we'll be getting into.


How do you feel the community you serve could help you reach these goals?


I think God wouldn't put me and my friends on this path if we weren't supposed to be. For black people in the UK, there aren't many media outlets out there, generally speaking, that are actually thriving on a mainstream level, a lot of things are noble projects.


And one thing that kills a lot of people's projects and ideas is lack of support. The most support you can give to any fledgeling media platform is just the take in the content. You don't even need to put a penny down. Just take in the content.


I look at Black Ballad and the subscription model; the least you can do if you really care is pay for the subscription and read their content. Same for Gal-dem, read their content. Same for Yellow, read the content, watch the content, you know, and as long as people just take in what they're offering, then they can grow, but if nobody's reading or listening then these things are not going to survive.


No matter how much money you can pump into something, if people aren’t taking it in, it's going nowhere. That's why some of these white mainstream platforms are so lucky. They're able to put money into something that nobody cares about. For black people, we're not always afforded that luxury of being able to have money pumped in.




This year, it seems No Signal has taken on a life of its own beyond Recess. When you started No Signal did you intend for it to be associated with Recess?


I guess we have to accept that it has definitely put Recess in the shadows. I think it does help when people understand who we are or what we've done before, but what we’ve learnt is that a lot of people don't know where we've come from.


So, some people judge us by some standards that are like "woah". Some people are thinking that we're proper industry folk like we're not amateurs - they see us as professionals. It’s flattering, but at the same time, it kind of kills us a little bit because we're learning these things as we go along you know.


We don't have a fucking clue but we're learning these things as we go, trying to adapt as fast as we can. So that's where it's a bit painful, the people that know us from Recess see us doing this and they're like, “we know what guys have done before” and they trust us. Those are the kind of people that don't mind donating to the Go Fund Me. But the people that are like "go away, we don't know you guys, you're growing too fast", they don't know who we are and what we've done.


Yeah, your OG followers are really rooting for you, for No Signal and Recess because you've managed to create such a community feel. So many people have been excited to see the NS Yearbook around London.


That's nice. That's how we feel too. The billboards were mad for us because there have been so many times we wanted to put Recess on BIllboards. But I can't lie, I do miss our lives during Recess. I feel like we've had to grow up a little bit. There have been these whirlwind successes, especially like stuff with the billboards, but I do miss the summer innocence we had, a year or two ago.


It's mad because there's no turning back right now. We have to keep doing this, especially for people that knew us and interacted with what we've done before. It'll probably be one of those things that you'll back on and people will be able to say they witnessed our growth to success. It's an honour to be able to serve people like this because every generation has its moments and I feel like, for our generation, this is one of those moments. It’s really exciting and you never know what's going to be created after or what this is going to inspire. We’re inspired by the past as well. We're inspired by the people who come before us. It reinvigorates all of us. It's all about the renaissance of black culture.


it's an exciting time because if you look around, Black people are changing the game for real. Like, front end, back end, it's crazy. This is an exciting time. But I feel like only people that are in it can see the bigger picture.


Because everything you do is very Black community-oriented, how do you maintain authenticity when interacting with mainstream white-owned platforms?


We haven't really faced much of that yet. There's only been one time. We wanted to do a show and we wanted to use the word “hood”. The brand we were working with said we couldn't use that word.





It's a hard one to navigate because you want to remain authentic, but to still reach mainstream success and sometimes you can't have both.


Exactly. In the beginning, when I first made the No Signal Twitter account, the bio was "Keeping you Company". But when it started blowing up, I wanted to let people knew what we stood for, straight away, so I changed it to "Black Radio".


I wanted white people to know that we’re unapologetic in who we are and who we are made for. Even in the way we conduct ourselves on social media, some people said it was a bit too extreme, but it wards off a lot of people who don't want to see us for who we are. Us having "Black Radio" has definitely helped the way we're approached by white organisations. The time we weren't allowed to use the word "hood" it was like corporate stuff I guess, but between corporate and racism, there's like a fine line.


I think it's fair to say, a milestone moment for No Signal was the Vybz Kartel and Wizkid clash. Everyone was tuned in.


My biggest milestone was probably us fulfilling our seven days of programming, without hiccups. That was very difficult. And that didn't happen until recently. Some of the hiccups we faced early on were like, a person might not show up for the show. Or there might not be someone to produce or broadcast the show. We might have technical difficulties, we might not run on time. But now we're actually able to do that 15 hours a day, seven days a week, with no hiccups and they run on time. And we're still not even fully there, but it's getting there. And once it gets there, the next step is to let people know that we're more than just the NS10v10, we're a place where you can take your pick you can hop on whenever you like.


How many of you are there?


Let's just say about 100 people. If we talk about all the shows, the hosts and the people that broadcast the shows the designers, music team, management team, social media team. Yeah, there's a lot of people.


Wow. What's your day-to-day?


I tried to keep a calendar. I was told by someone older than me to try and do two things in a day, rather than trying to do seven. I'm more of a seven-thing kind of guy. So, my days usually consist of just trying to complete tasks. Yeah, It's not healthy at all, I don't have a healthy routine for like, leisure.


How involved are you in managing these 100 people?


There are sub-teams. The people that do the programming, and the people that manage the broadcast systems, they sort out the schedule for who's gonna be playing at what time and they're familiar with each other. They're pretty much self-sufficient. Same with the design team and social media, I'm more involved in the branding side of things.


Did you come up with the look and feel of No Signal and Recess?


Yeah, I did. Graphic design is my passion. It's one of those things I wish I could do more of. I don't think management is my bag, I'm more of a free-spirited person.



What have you found to be a catalyst to sparking creativity?


On Instagram, I actually started to follow a lot of graphic designers that I didn't even know and I'm a personal Instagram user. I only tend to follow people that I know, people that I know of people that might want to know. But there was a period where I randomly saw this person's work and was like, "yo, this person is hard."


I realised you actually can't live in a vacuum. You need to see other people stuff. You want to fraternise with these people, you want to learn from them and be inspired by them, you wanna push yourself to where they are. This guy I follow, we've never met before, but we'll always compliment each other. The work is cold and I've never seen the guy's face in my life, but when he messages me saying "this is amazing" I'm so grateful. When you get praise from a peer it hits different for sure. The recommended algorithms pulled them to my attention, so Instagram is really good for connecting with people.


How do you market Recess and No Signal on Instagram?


With No Signal, at first, I always posting those orange graphics. And I was like one, this is hurting my eyes and two, people don't really like it. We realised people just like photographs. Our Instagram strategy is yet to be written down because there isn't the capacity to think of it. I've never really understood Instagram and it takes a lot of understanding. So I'm looking to find someone who understands it better and we can work from there.


With Recess, this summer we touched five thousand Instagram followers which was pretty cool. But it's gone down because everyone just started unfollowing and we haven't been hosting events. But before, I'd make a graphic poster for each party before it drops. I'd make it specific for Instagram. People used to love the photos we posted and the short videos and it was fun, I actually miss doing that.


No Signal has featured big names such as Ms Banks and Jorja Smith. How do these collaborations come about?


One thing we’ve realised is that as a collective, we're quite well connected. With the Jorja Smith collaboration, that happened because someone on her team wanted us to be in her music video because they knew who I was. So when we wanted her on NS10v10 it was easy to ask her. And it helped that she was already a fan and had already shared us on social.


And people like Unknown T, my brother David is his AR, so he put that together. A lot of the people we've had have come through his connections. He's really that guy. But as a team, we're all very well connected so it's definitely a collective effort.



In the future, do you think you'll try and bring No Signal and Recess closer together?


We're actually planning a live version back of NS10v10. Two years ago, we did a Recess clash so we're actually going to bring the exact format back, but just have it on No Signal as well. And hopefully, we'll grow but the Recess essence is always going to be there. People come to us to have fun so we're going to largen the scope of what we can do. So, if we wanted to do a festival and wanted to book people, we would also have it live on No Signal. It's definitely something we've been working towards, so it's really the time now.



Interview by Aisha Ayoade