Interview: J.Derobie Makes His Mark With 'Nungua Diaries'

We talk to the buzzing Ghanaian dancehall singer about his debut EP Nungua Diaries and telling the story of his

Many of us know about J.Derobie remarkable come up story in the Ghana music scene. In January 2019, what was just a mobile phone video clip entry into Mr Eazi's emPawa 100 contest by an unknown artist became the talk of social media, earning him a slot in the shortlist of selected artists, his first hit, and a subsequent artist development deal.

Ghana is a thriving ground for dancehall music and its musicians. Samini, Stonebwoy, Shatta Wale, MzVee, Jupitar, Epixode, all represent the Gold Coast's interpretation of the vibrant international sound. However, there is room for more stars, and many saw the potential of this young kid who turned a short video snippet into a nationwide hit.

J.Derobie, a young dancehall singer from Nungua, a suburb in Accra, is not man of many words—but he is focused and knows exactly what he wants. He doesn't feel any pressure to match up to the grandeur of his beginning days, and he believes in the quality of his music. Paying homage to his hood while at the same time issuing bops, Nungua Diaries is J.Derobie's mission statement. His first project launches him out into the deep waters of the music game, and there's no doubt within him that he will smoothly sail the seven seas.

OkayAfrica sat down with J.Derobie to talk about his debut EP Nungua Diaries, how it was made, and what comes next for him.

Photo: Albert Koranteng.

How long did it take you to make the Nungua Diaries EP?

By February I had finished recording most of the songs. Most of the songs on the EP took me like two weeks to make. "Journey" was recorded in South Africa. The rest were done within two weeks. "Journey" was made in 2019, during Mr Eazi's emPawa Masterclass.

Who are the producers that you worked with?

I've worked with GuiltyBeatz. He produced "Journey," "Fake Friend," and co-produced"Woyoii" alongside UglyOnIt. I worked with Uche B as well, he's half-Nigerian, half-Ghanaian. He worked on "Get That" and "Ginger Me," and Beatzfada worked on "My People."

What was your creative process like?

For "Journey," I had already written some of the songs before the beat was made. For the rest of the songs, I heard the beat and then I jumped on them.

Photo: Albert Koranteng.

Is there a message within the EP that you're trying to pass across?

Yeah! The message is me telling my story in the songs. It's mostly just me telling a story about myself and the place that I'm from.

Do you feel any pressure to match up to the success of your previous singles?

[Laughs] Not really, not really. Because most songs that I do are very hard. But you know, you don't decide that a song is a hit. You know that it has the potential of a hit song, but you don't make it a hit song. Unless it gets into the market before it becomes a hit song. Sometimes it doesn't make it, so yeah. I make a lot of songs that are good. I don't feel pressured, and I know more hit songs are coming.

Photo: Albert Koranteng.

Are we getting videos for any of the songs on the EP?

Yeah you're getting videos! As for which ones, when the EP drops, we'll see [laughs].

What song is your personal favorite on the EP?

I love all the songs on the EP, like all the songs. But I feel "My People," I feel "Journey," and I feel "Ginger Me." I like "Get That" too as well.

After the EP, what's next for J.Derobie?

After the EP, I would drop another EP, and then my album comes. Or we'll see, the market will determine. After this EP, the album might come straight. So yeah, let's see how things go after this one comes out.

(Photo: Nichole Sobecki)

Kevin Mwachiro, journalist, queer activist, podcaster [Kenya]

"The reality of being queer is real. It is not a foreign thing. It is as Kenyan, as African as it may be, and it is ours. I remember I did an interview anonymously for the BBC back in 2006. And I told them, maybe within 50 years, I will see movement, it has happened so much faster. And not just in Kenya, but I've seen very many countries across Africa. And I am so, so happy that that is happening."

I was a church boy for a good part of my life. So, I was sometimes whore by night, Christian by day, if I can put it like that.

I had just come back from the UK where I did my masters and I knew I was not going to go back into the closet. I went to therapy and after going for over a year, I just got to accept myself for who I am. And I realized that I'm okay and I didn't want to come back and go back into the closet. I figure that closet stays in the U.K.

I was trying to find my space and a friend invited me to a group meeting. It was people talking about formalizing a movement or a way of coming together and it was fascinating. It just blew my mind. There were these people in the room and I'm like, "Fuck, these are all Kenyans." These are all Kenyans and I knew that I'd be fine.

And, along the way, being a journalist, I made sure that I would use the platform that I have to make sure that LGBTQI+ people are well represented. So I used to cover those stories shamelessly. People in the office wondered, 'Why is Kevin always doing the queer stories that no one wanted to touch?" I really didn't care. I figured I'm going to represent my people in the best way that I can.

But, Kenya is a lot more open now. It's amazing. I mean, it's fantastic to actually think that you can live a reasonable level of queerness here. Younger people are coming out, because it is possible. There are a lot more resources. There's a lot more support from what we had. There's a lot more, in some cases, visibility. There's community, there's a movement. There's, to some degree, health services. The internet has helped. There's visibility on TV and online.

But, we're not even out of the woods - far from it. But, there is light we're seeing. We've seen trans women being attacked, we've seen people being attacked in clubs. People being kicked out of their homes by landlords, there is still that. We've seen pushback in the arts. There was a movie called Rafiki which featured a lesbian couple - that got banned. And then we had Stories of Our Lives and that also got banned. I'm like, 'You motherfuckers!' They're silencing voices of not just queer people, but of talented Kenyans who want to see themselves represented in content created by Kenyans for Kenyans.

In 2011, there was a clinic in a town an hour away from me in a town called Mtwapa. Like a 'sexual productive' clinic that was targeting men who have sex with men, sex workers, etc. And they were very open about that. And then the community turned on them. Last year, I met one of the people who was at the forefront of this attack and they've made a total turnaround saying, "We acted on ignorance, these people are also a part of the community." These were Christian and Muslim faith leaders. And these same individuals are now engaging with other religious leaders to try and to ask them to be more accepting of the community so there is that. So for me, it's important that we recognize the good work that's been done, but also recognizing that we are far from out of the woods.

A key driver for me with my activism is to make sure that no one ever has to go through that feeling of loneliness as a queer person. No one has the right to go through that. No one. And I feel really sad when I hear of both the young and old killing themselves because of their sexuality. That shit should not be happening. That shit should not be happening anywhere in the world and should not be happening in Africa. I hope to work a lot more with young queer people, queer Africans, because I really want to show them and that it is possible to be black, African, and queer or just African.


Kevin has recently been accepted into Amnesty International Kenya as their first openly gay board member. He has gone on to publish Invisible: Stories from Kenya's Queer Community, a collection of stories from Kenya's queer community, spoken at TEDx Programs and launced his own podcast Nipe Story (Tell me a Story).

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