Foto: Lisa Lind
Becoming the favorite
We’re in NRK’s (the Norwegian equivalent of the BBC) offices at Marienlyst in Oslo, where Adiele Helen Krüger Arukwe works as a music producer. In addition to picking out music and other content for radio channels NRK P3, MP3 and the new online radio channel P3X, she’s also a DJ – you have probably heard her at Blå or other clubs in the capital along with her former partner in Gymmen, Nora Mamdu, or perhaps you’ve even been able to catch her playing at one of the club nights she’s arranged with local DJs in New York.
It’s not only on the club scene Arukwe really shines, she’s also a familiar face in he corridors of the UN’s headquarters in Manhattan. A good combination of journalistic and political interest, combined with musical flair, gave her the rare honour of being mentioned by the Foreign Minister to the press and becoming one of her favourite DJs.
After a short photo shoot on NRK’s rooftop, we’re sitting in the kitchen on the floor of the NRK building where P3 is produced. Fresh spring air oozes through a slightly open window behind us, and mixes with the smell of the coffee Adiele is making for us. She cheerfully says:
- Haha, it’s wild, it’s it? It was a combination of extremely many coincidences and hard work. It all started with me working in the Norwegian UN delegation in New York, which now is working with a campaign to get elected to the Security Council. That entails hard campaigning to ensure that as many countries as possible choose to vote for Norway during the election. How the different countries choose to launch their campaigns is a very big thing in the UN, that’s when they present the merch and the colour codes they’ve chosen to use. It all starts with a huge launch party, and after the party, all the campaigning starts. While Ireland booked U2 and had a super fancy private party for all the top ranking officials in the organisation, Norway had a big party for everyone, where I DJed. It was a huge success – the Foreign Minister danced so much she eventually had to take her shoes off, and that’s how I became her one of her favourite DJs, hehe!
You came to the UN because of your studies, but also worked with music in your spare time while you were in New York. Was it challenging to do two so different things at the same time?
- Yes - I’m doing a master’s in journalism, and my time in the UN was part of this degree. First, I was a trainee in the UN, but for a period, I also filled the role as press officer. Journalism has always been a big interest of mine work wise, and in NRK, I get to combine it with music, which is my hobby. In that way, it’s a very nice combo; two of my biggest interests combined into one job.
What was the most important thing you learned from your stay in New York?
- I learned a lot about myself. I also got a new outlook on working with music and creative things. In New York, there are so many different scenes, so many niches… There’s room for everyone. Instead of trying to force yourself into a role, something you to a larger extent might feel like you have to do here in Norway, you could just be yourself – without having to adapt to anything or anyone. I also learned both through my job in the UN and through my work in music there that the sky is the limit; you can do exactly what you want to do, and reach all the goals you set for yourself. You just have to work hard!
Adiele tells us about how living in New York made her more fearless, both when it comes to being herself as a person and as an artist. We do however suspect that she’s always been a bit more fearless than the average person, and her story about how she started DJing confirms our suspicions:
- I got a temp job as a music producer many years ago, and because all the other music producers also were DJs as well, I thought that I should give it a go too. So I signed up as a DJ at UKA, a festival in Trondheim, without being a DJ. I just wrote a pitch about myself where I said, ”I know a lot about music and work at P3, I can’t DJ technically, but I’m open to learn.” I was chosen to be part of a group of 10 DJs, and worked as a volunteer there for three weeks. That’s how I learned to play with the other DJs: for three weeks, I worked at P3 from 9-5 during the day, went home, worked out, slept for an hour or two, ate dinner, and went to work again from 11 PM and played until 3 AM. It was very hard work, but that’s how I got into it. The rest I learned slowly, but surely – among other things, I asked a club in Trondheim, Diskoteket, if I could practice there with a friend. We practiced for hours twice a week, and eventually, we became good. A colleague of mine at P3 also taught me and another colleague the technicalities – where all the cords go and stuff. It’s vital to know that as well, especially as a woman. I’ve many times experienced getting to gigs and the sound guys going ”I’ll take the cords,” implying that I don’t know how to do it to myself, and in those situations it’s good to be able to say, ”no, that’s fine, I’ll do it.”
I’ve actually heard the same thing from practically all the women I’ve interviewed who are working in music – the sound guys (they’re most often guys) never think they know any of the technical stuff!
- Yeah, that’s why it has been important to me from the beginning to learn about these things. I’m like that as a person, that if I’m doing anything, I want to do it properly, and if I’m learning something, I want to learn it properly as well. I think that’s reflected in many aspects of my life, but also in DJing. To me, it’s really important to be able to claim my place as a woman that way - to know what I’m doing, that I’m not just standing there.
While we’re talking about knowing what you’re doing… What exactly does it mean to be a music producer for radio?
- The title music producer often makes people think we’re making music, but producing music for radio is something completely different. It entails that we’re getting extremely many e-mails from artists and record companies with music we listen to – I try my best to listen to everything, I think that’s really important and it’s something we have a responsibility to do at NRK. We evaluate the music we receive and bring what we like the most into music meetings. In those meetings, we are five people who evaluate the songs again for play listing. So, the job is really about making sure the music at P3 and MP3 is on point at all times. There’s a lot of work behind the music; you might think that someone’s just selecting songs at random and then lets things work itself out from there, but everything’s planned down to the last detail – both what songs we play and what order we play them in is very important for the result to be what you hear on the radio.
In addition to P3 and MP3, you’re also working on the new P3X project; can you tell us a bit about that?
- P3X is an urban music project, because we for many years now have seen that urban music is growing in popularity. It’s increasingly important to the youth, and people identify with it. It’s not just about the genre or about artists like Travis Scott or Sheck Wes, it’s about a culture, it’s about style, it’s about clothes and shoes, about ways you talk, series you watch, even humour you have – it’s a whole culture and we want to take this culture seriously. We’ve therefore made an online radio player that only plays hip-hop and R&B 24/7, a combination of Norwegian and foreign music. We play the newest and best hip-hop and R&B, and in parallel with this, we’ve made a video podcast on YouTube where we interview people in the urban music community in Norway. We’ve started with artists, and will interview people in other music industry professions at a later stage. The interviews are in-depth conversations with the artists about life rather than just about their music or superficial things. We’d seen that something like that was missing, that no one was talking to the urban music community about the deeper issues – that’s what we want to do.
Diversity has in many ways been important to Adiele since the beginning of her DJ career, not just when it comes to equality and being taken seriously herself, but also when it comes to creating an environment where everyone feels welcome. It started with Gymmen’s first gig, at the (now closed down) club Fisk & Vilt in Oslo:
- We were supposed to warm up for another DJ, but she unfortunately had to go to a funeral, and so we were left to ourselves like ” oh, shit, we have to do this whole night ourselves now.” We were completely new on the scene and had never played together for an audience as a duo before, but we just went along with it, and it turned into one of the best nights I’ve ever had as a DJ! What I enjoyed so much was that it was such a diverse audience there – there were so many different people both when it came to age, background, skin colour and sexual orientation, and we liked that vibe a lot. It became very important for us as a duo moving forward in our work to try and hold onto this vibe, because we often had seen that music genre and age often determined where you’d go out. The nightlife is very segregated, even though music is not. You can listen to whatever you want to listen to, but where you choose to go out isn’t just about that, but also about what, and who, you identify as and where you feel you belong. I listen to a lot of disco house for example, that’s what my interest in music started with, but I never go out to clubs in West Oslo that play that. Not because I don’t like the music, but because I don’t identify with that culture. Things like that make the club world more segregated than it really needs to be. What we experienced at the Fisk & Vilt night was that it’s all about having fun together and enjoying the same music, but it’s hard – as a DJ, you’re very much at the mercy of the clubs and what they want. Abroad, you often see that the clubs are very clear on having a “no sexism, no homophobia, no racism” policy, and that that’s something they’re very concerned with, but there’s not much of that in Norway yet, and many clubs are also very negative to certain genres.
We continue the conversation on how many clubs, both in Oslo and in other cities, are negative to playing music that attracts a diverse audience. Especially hip-hop as a genre has been blamed for episodes of violence that have taken place at some clubs. Adiele says that the music isn’t the problem:
- It’s a sociological problem. It exists because there are inequalities in this city, and there are inequalities in this world. Hip-hop as a genre attracts people who may be facing difficulties, or are marginalized in society, because it speaks to them. They identify with the music because it is made by people that going through the same things. It’s actually something that should be studied or at least written more about - take the main genres, like house for example: when you listen to house, it’s very happy music, the lyrics are simple and banal, they’re about life and everything being well. It resonates with people who are on drugs for example, because it’s very euphoric. Then, let’s take rock, which can be about everything from love to death, and difficulties attached to those topics - people like it because they can relate. Then, take hip-hop, where you hear about gunshots, about gang activities… That’s also something that resonates with some people, because it’s their reality. Songs reflect life, as simple as that. They’re about much larger issues than the music or a DJ can do anything about.
Hip-hop as a genre has also changed during the past few years, as it increasingly has become part of pop culture. Adiele explains how many artists now express themselves less aggressively and more openly than before: they talk about vulnerable topics such as mental health, and in that way, they reflect society in different ways than earlier. No matter the topic, she thinks the genre reflects real problems that it would be stupid to ignore.
- There are people who walk around with guns, there are people who are gang members, and there are people who are having a rough time. You don’t just walk into Blå and shoot someone because it’s fun. You do it because there’s a problem somewhere. We can’t ignore those problems; we have to take them seriously. That’s why I really like Diskoteket in Trondheim, where I usually DJ. They have a deal with the people in Trondheim they know might be in that situation, like ”we see you, we know what you’re doing. We know you like to come here and hang out, especially when certain genres are played, but if you do anything you shouldn’t be doing within our walls and our framework, you’re out.” In that way, they get that mutual respect. The people in question know that ”ok, when I’m here, I’m behave.” And when they’re not, if they have to sell drugs to survive, that’s neither mine nor the club’s business - as long as they don’t do it at the club. In that way, we’re back to what we talked about earlier, about how important it is for the clubs to have a clear set of rules for how people should behave. This is also the case when it comes to the “no sexism, no homophobia, no racism” policies. It doesn’t mean that people with those attitudes won’t come to the club or exist outside the club, but when they’re there, they have to abide by those rules. That’s a good place to start.
What kind of music do you like to play yourself?
- I think it’s hard to define; I have no idea what to call the weird SoundCloud-remixes I play, hehe! I don’t even know what genre they are, but as time has gone by, it’s kind of boiled down to one thing: black music. That’s the base line, and includes everything from hip-hop and R&B to kuduro and dembow, dancehall and reggae and everything in between! I love hard rhythms and drums and stuff, those things are what ties it all together, but then I also spice it up with remixes and edits.
Both The Doyennes and Adiele have more places to be on this beautiful, sunny Sunday, so we thank her for the talk and for the coffee. We can’t wait to see what Adiele’s up to next, and until next time she’s DJing in a town near you, we recommend that you check out her weird SoundCloud-remixes.