AMÉMÉ is a DJ and producer based in Brooklyn, New York, whose love story with music began at an early age growing up surrounded by the rhythms of African drums in his home country of Benin in West Africa.
Living in New York for a decade allowed him to develop a style that is a seamless blend of electronic, African, and world music. AMÉMÉ is the founder of One Tribe, a creative collective whose vibrant lifestyle events unite diverse individuals and elements Art, Fashion and Tribal Music. He launched One Tribe in 2019 at the iconic House Of Yes venue in Brooklyn, with the aim to connect and unite culturally diverse individuals drawn by our atavistic need to be part of a Tribe. The brand quickly blossomed into a label, which Sodogandji continues to nurture and build alongside his own burgeoning career and releases.
AMÉMÉ’s new track ‘Your Love’ brings his vivid blend of African and world music electronica to ABRACADABRA, on ‘Human Nature (NIGHT)’ compilation. The vibrant cut joins a red-hot resume of releases, including Beatport Top 5 Afrohouse-charted ‘Bangala’ (on Watergate 27 mixed by Hyenah), ‘Your Vibe’ on Berlin’s Rise imprint, and releases on his own imprint One Tribe.
Hi Hubert, it’s really nice getting to chat with you today. Where in the world are you located right now? Is that where you have spent most of your time since COVID took over our lives?
I typically spend most of my time between New York and Berlin but for the past 6 months I have been on the road non-stop around Central and South America.
The last year has been a difficult and trying one for anyone in our industry, but also one with positives and silver linings. How has it been for you, both personally and as an artist involved in various projects?
For the first 8 months of the pandemic I was stuck in New York like most people due to the travel restrictions. This turned out to be a blessing in that it allowed me to spend quality time with my family, focus on making new music, and growing the One Tribe label and brand.
At first, it was challenging making the switch from constantly being on the road playing shows to being stuck inside an apartment with no source of income. It forced me to really look within myself and understand where I wanted to go with music as a career and how I wanted it to impact others.
As an example, I released two tracks on my label One Tribe in the first few months of the pandemic that were inspired by social issues in my community that are near to my heart. “New York Tough” was inspired by the resiliency of New Yorkers during the toughest months of the pandemic and by releasing it on Bandcamp I was able to help raise money for InMyScrubs, a non-profit that provided meals from local restaurants to front line workers. “No Justice No Peace” was the second track released on Bandcamp through One Tribe and it raised money for the Black Lives Matter movement and captured the sounds of fellow protestors last summer as we marched against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
Let’s backtrack a bit… can you tell us about where you grew up and how it was growing up there?
I was born and raised in Benin (West Africa) and lived there for the first 17 years of my life before moving to New York for university. Benin is a country with a rich culture and history. While, like many post-colonial countries, poverty is a major issue for most, there is this unbreakable sense of pride and appreciation even for those with very little economic means. I was lucky to have parents who were educated and who not only passed down their knowledge to me but who also instilled in me a sense of empathy, understanding, and even my love for music.
While I may spend my time in different countries around the world I will always be proud of being from Benin and am grateful for how it has shaped much of who I am today.
When did the move to the States happen?
I moved to New York at the age of 17 when I came for university.
At what stage in life and how did you first fall in love with music?
My culture and family played a big part in developing my love for music. I remember my parents playing all of these cassette tapes for me as a kid. African legends such as Papa Wemba, Meiway, Angelique Kidjo, and Gnonnas Pedro all were a big part of my childhood as well as the traditional percussion that was a part of every festivity and celebration in Benin.
At around the age of 10 I became a huge Hip-Hop fan and would compete with my brothers to see who could make the best mixtape to play in the car on the way to school. In high school I even started a Hip-Hop group with my brother so there was always this interest in not only listening to music but also curating and creating it.
How about electronic music?
My brother Raoul first introduced me to electronic music when I was around 15. He had come back from spending time in France and the whole summer was constantly playing electronic music. I remember some of the first artists I heard were David Vendetta, Roger Sanchez and Martin Solveig and by the end of that summer electronic music had become so engrained in me that there was no turning back.
Was there a deciding event that prompted you to take a leap to be an artist full time?
At the age of 19 I started DJ’ing and continued doing it part-time while working a full-time corporate job at a bank. I made the leap to be a full-time artist after realizing that the corporate world was not for me and that instead of spending all of my time and energy as just another piece in this large corporation I could be creating something for myself that I truly believe in and am truly passionate about which is music.
What I love about your story is how you have integrated your West African roots into your music, but also in your work with One Tribe NYC. Can you tell us about how this project came about and what your role with it is?
As founder of One Tribe I wanted to integrate my West African roots with other influences to create something truly unique. This means music of course but you can also see this in our events and even in the limited edition fashion releases we have done. One Tribe is a label and brand but beyond that it’s a cultural experience and I believe we have created something special in this sense.
As I mentioned in the last question, it is impossible not to see and hear the influences of your roots in your own music. Where does that influence still come from to this day?
The West African roots in my music come from my undeniable sense of African identity and very close relationship with my Mum. Even after living outside of Africa for so long, the culture is still very much a strong influence on me. As they say, you can take the boy out of Africa but you cannot take Africa out of the boy. As I said, we are very proud people and the values that I learned as a kid in Benin still serve me to this day.
Your new track “Your Love” does this exact thing brilliantly, in my opinion, congrats! Where did you produce it and what was going through your mind while working on it?
With “Your Love” I wanted to create a melodic track that was light and emotional but with layers of percussion and a sound that someone could still groove to. It’s easy for tracks to be labelled as one thing and placed in a box but I wanted to create something that crossed into a few different areas and could be appreciated by pretty much anyone who listened to it.
Work on this track sort of spanned a few continents. It started in New York, I worked on parts of it while in Mexico City, but the final most impactful pieces of it came together while in Berlin, which is now where I spend most of my studio time.
It’s definitely a dancefloor-focused track, but produced at a time when we have been away from the dance floor for a while. Is it a track of hope in some ways? Hope that we will dance together again soon?
To be honest, and without sounding too emo, the initial inspiration came from a past relationship I had but as I started developing the track it went beyond just a story of heartbreak and did turn into something looking more towards the future in many ways.
Let’s talk about your life here in the States and NYC. America is still dealing with racial discrimination and the results of a long history of racism, and we saw this much-needed conversation take center stage last year in particular, although it remains an active topic today? What has your experience been as a West African immigrant in this country, and specifically in the music industry?
I moved straight to New York from Benin so in some ways it took time to really understand America as a whole and its history. Whether it’s hearing about people being murdered by police or seeing first-hand the impact of systemic racism on neighbourhoods around the city, it was definitely a wake up call for me as an African immigrant not necessarily in touch with events in America or its history.
In the music industry itself, in particular electronic music, it is just another reflection of that history. You have music started by Black and Latino people in Chicago and Detroit that eventually becomes something almost synonymous with white Europeans to the extent that many people did not even realize that house and techno started here in the States. As a result I think that many young Black and Latino people ended up moving towards other genres and there has been to some degree a void left in the electronic music scene. I saw this recent interview between Seth Troxler and Dr. Cornel West that really touched on this point and highlighted the need for new young artists from these communities to be exposed to the history of electronic music and I hope to be able to serve as an extension of that history in some way.
How do you feel the dance music industry can improve to curb and eliminate any racism that still permeates it? In particular, how can white people do better to be true allies in this fight for equality?
I think access goes a long way. Providing opportunity to artists of colour in the space and highlighting their contributions can help move things in the right direction. I want to be sure young kids coming up in places like Chicago, Detroit, New York, or in Benin know that they have a part to play in the world of electronic music and that they are not limited to certain genres.
Thank you for your insights on this important topic. New York is a cosmopolitan city, but it must be so different from where you were born and grew up. Right off the bat, what do you love the most about living here?
I love its diversity on all levels. Not just the fact that it’s a melting pot of cultures but also the different industries and opportunities. It’s truly a place where you will meet someone new and have absolutely no clue as to what they do for a living.
What are some of your favourite places to eat in the city?
New York of course has tons of great restaurants but what I love most about the food is that my Mum lives here so when I am in New York it’s almost always home-cooked food.
What do you like to do in your free time when you’re not working with music?
I love to spend as much time as possible with my family when I am back home and am not working. I also love to continuously learn new things so when I have some downtime you might catch me watching an interesting documentary or literally just taking the time to watch the news and get caught up on what’s happening in the world.
Tell us something not many people know about you!
I originally was on track do to pre-med at university before changing my major. Can you imagine Dr. Ameme instead of DJ Ameme? It does have a nice sound to it I must say.