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.


6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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