An Interview with UK Producer Mina

11 July 2016
Kevin Tshiamala

Mina made a name for herself DJing in packed, smoky basements in Leeds, playing an exciting blend of afrobeat, dancehall and tropical sounds from all over the world. She quickly began channeling her influences from West Africa, the Caribbean, and her native UK as she took her first steps into music production, creating a unique take on global club music that has earned her a coveted spot on FACT’s ‘Producers to watch in 2016’ feature. Catching wind of this incredibly talented artist, we were able to catch up with Mina to discuss her influences, takes on the industry as well as EDM, her experiences in various countries in Africa, and more. Check out our Q+A below. 

Sound & Silence: Having been to Sierra Leone and possibly other cities and countries throughout Africa, how has the culture, community, architecture, and music you experienced throughout your travels influenced your musical preferences and ear?

Mina: I’ve spent the most time in Freetown and Accra, both those cities are very lively and there is so much going on all the time. Music is everywhere, big sound systems are set up on the streets and all-night parties will spring out of nowhere. I tried to learn as much as I could about the musical culture, not just contemporary Afropop but traditional music and instruments as well. I also am slightly obsessed with melody and African music is full of joyful melodies so I guess that’s another reason why I feel a connection with it.

What is it about African tribal music and the rhythm of their drum patterns that evokes so much emotion from the listener? What do you think makes these different types of afro-rhythms unique or special?

I think it’s the way the music and the dancing cannot exist without each other. I remember watching some dancers perform on the beach in Freetown and the drummer and dancer were facing each other having a kind of conversation through music and movement. It feels so natural, you can’t really put into words, you just have to shake your booty.

How did growing up in Leeds and specifically the UK influence your admiration for electronic music or other forms of musical genres you enjoy?

I didn’t actually grow up in Leeds but I went to uni there for three and a half years. Leeds has a great, diverse music scene and the West Indian Centre hosts a regular night called Subdub which has been going for over 15 years. It was my favourite night in Leeds, lots of ear-splittingly loud dub, jungle, and dancehall. In the UK we love bass-driven party music so I guess that influenced me a lot growing up.

How was the musical education in your community growing up? Were programs available, did they have school programs and other after school musical programs? Compared to today do you think it has improved? 

I took piano lessons to quite a high level, which kind of sucked all the fun out of it but now I am grateful to my parents for encouraging me. I remember there was a section in our music GCSE on Britpop which the teacher thought was super cool and relevant (even though it happened nearly 20 years ago.) I’m sure it has improved a lot since I went to school. I think it would be good for schools to teach electronic music production alongside the more classical stuff to young kids, particular girls, as it could help to reduce the massive gender gap. A lot of guys I know started producing quite young but I started when I was 22 and I wish I had started earlier.

How is the community support for electronic musicians and growing musicians in Leeds and the surrounding neighborhoods?

Leeds has a big network for electronic musicians because there are so many students, and also a music college. There are lots of opportunities for new DJs to gain experience and play at big clubs and sweaty basement parties, which is cool. My first gig was pretty awful but playing out regularly definitely gave me the confidence to take it more seriously and pursue music as a career.

What is your take on EDM, electronic music, and the mainstream media? Diplo said DJ’s are a “joke,” do you feel the same way? 

Sometimes I do feel a bit embarrassed to say that I’m a DJ because it seems these days that literally everyone is a DJ and in my opinion, it is quite an over-inflated skill, particularly with technology making it so easy. Don’t worry I’m not some technology bore; I really couldn’t care less what equipment someone uses as long as they play good music. The hard part is actually putting a good set together and getting the crowd dancing, which I think some people forget. It definitely doesn’t help when you get ‘heads’ just standing around the booth staring at the DJ and not moving. I way prefer clubs where no one pays the DJ any attention; they’re just dancing with their mates and having fun.

I don’t really know much about the EDM world but it seems that the media obsesses over a small number of highly paid DJs who create very formulaic music. In the underground electronic scene it’s different- the media values creativity and those that are pushing boundaries and making interesting music.

What do you prefer producing or performing more?

They’re so different I don’t really think you can compare them. I love the excitement I feel when I’m working on a track but there’s only so much fun you can have dancing around your room on your own. When I’m playing out you get that shared experience and seeing lots of people enjoying a track you’ve created is an amazing feeling, particularly when it gets a reload.

Who are some artists that you’re currently into and why? 

My favourite producer at the moment is definitely my friend Svani. She makes really original and fun reggaeton and RnB inspired club music. She’s coming to play at our Boko! Boko! first birthday on July 30th which I’m really looking forward to. I recently downloaded MHD’s album which is so good, ‘Molo Molo’ is an anthem that I always play out. Dotorado Pro’s forthcoming EP on Enchufada is so sick and he’s crazily talented for such a young age. 

Who are some artists that you’d like to collaborate with in any capacity?

I have a huge list of dancehall artists that I want to work with but my top two would definitely be Popcaan and Spice. I’m going to Jamaica in November so I’m going to find out where they live and post a CD of riddims through their letterboxes which will probably go straight in the bin but you never know!

Are there any particular venues, cities, festivals, or countries where you’d love to perform? 

I’m going to Mexico in October so gonna arrange a few gigs whilst I’m there which I’m really looking forward to. Notting Hill Carnival has always been a dream of mine to play at; I guess I just have to make friends with someone with a sound system between now and August. I would love to do some shows in Johannesburg & Durban.

A couple fun questions, what songs or artists would you want to listen to on your death bed?

Haha probably just something really inappropriate for the occasion like Spice’s ‘Needle Eye Pum Pum’ to cut the tension.

What’s the first lyric that comes to your mind or a lyric you constantly remember?

I know every word to Missy Elliott’s ‘Get Ur Freak On’ and I performed it at a hip hop karaoke in front of a large crowd at Bestival several years ago and I got to briefly live out my fantasy of being a world famous hip hop MC.

What’s coming up in the future for Mina? New releases, tours, collaborations, and etc?

I’ve got a whole bunch of music from my time in Sierra Leone so I’m gonna self-release another EP in September. I’ve got a couple of collaborations on the way with Lorenzo BITW, Svani and a rapper called Nane, as well as a remix for two musical pioneers which is pretty exciting/terrifying.

Any advice you can give you up and coming artists? 

I feel like I am an up and coming artist so the advice I would give to myself is keep putting yourself out there, take every opportunity and always be open to new ideas, ways of thinking and creating.  

Lasting shout outs or anything else you’d like to mention?

Shout out to Lorenzo BITW who has always been hugely supportive and giving me confidence when I was starting out. Also to Gabe Meier for always writing such nice things about my music. Most importantly my musical soul sisters Tash LC and DJ Chin, together we run an event in London called Boko! Boko! which is always a mad party; the next one is July 30th at Bedroom Bar.