Name: AMÉMÉ aka Hubert Ameme Sodoganji
Occupations: DJ, producer
Current Release: AMÉMÉ's "Carpe Diem", a collaboration with Paso Doble and part of the Maga & Friends compilation, is out via Children of the Future.
If you enjoyed this interview with AMÉMÉ and would like to stay up to date on his music and creative activities, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Growing up in Benin (West Africa) with parents who always played music at home, I was exposed to a variety of genres from an early age. From old French classics, to all types of African music such as Ndombolo from Congo, Coupe Decalé from Ivory Coast, Zouk from Martinique, and acrobat from Nigeria, there was always music around me as far back as I can remember.
I also come from a rich culture that is full of rhythm as drums and percussive elements are integrated into everyday celebrations and traditional rituals.
These influences are the reason why music has always been super natural to me but its the emotional impact that music has on me that really made it stick. I remember daydreaming a lot as a kid and I would get lost in the music creating my own visuals in my mind to go along with the sound.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I did musical theater in primary school and when I got to senior high school I started a French rap band with my brother and two other friends where we participated in multiple national competitions and performances around the city.
It was only when I was around 16 that I started to get into electronic music. This started when my brother came back from his school year in Lyon and forced me to listen to it by blasting it in the house all summer.
When I ultimately decided that I wanted to produce my own music, I had all of the familiarity with music and a strong sense of what I liked but had zero technical skills. That's when I took it upon myself to learn the necessary skills and learn how to use the necessary tools in order to pursue my dream. I moved to Berlin to focus on finding my own sound and connected with folks that provided guidance ultimately developing into the artist I am today.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Being born and raised in West Africa, I found percussion and tribal vocals very natural to me which is why it's the base of my style. I also wanted to showcase my culture to the world in my own unique way and I feel that is present in all of my music.
Nowadays, as I have been on the road for quite a while you can find a lot of different elements incorporated into my sound. The use of dynamic sounds from Berlin, techno based synths, and latin American influences are all a product of my travels over the past few years.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The creative challenges I faced early on were really around my lack of technical skills. I had an idea of what I wanted to do but without the ability to actually create it I had no outlet to pursue this creativity. It forced me to learn on my own and to evolve my style as my technical abilities grew.
Today, the creative challenges I face are more around collaborating with other artists and when I say “challenge” I mean it in the best way possible. Every artist is different and has their own unique sound and way of doing things so it's an ongoing journey where I learn something new each time. It has been very rewarding and has helped me build some amazing relationships along the way.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
In the beginning I was working a lot with the MPC LIVE, it's a semi analog- semi digital stand alone device that allows the production stage to be easier and faster but still hands on. It allowed me to create a fast and agile approach to building the essence of a beat.
I then moved to Ableton, which allowed me to step up my game and access more plug-ins. When I moved to Berlin, I collaborated with many talented engineers, went through many geared up studios and at the end figured that the best set up for me was a lean one. For every analogue gear out there there was a plugin that I could use allowing me to keep a simple setup.
Now don't get me wrong, there are definitely advantages to having access to a dope studio with a bunch of analogue gears. But with my hectic travel schedule, being able to use plug-ins and access remote shared sessions to finish my mixing has definitely changed my life.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Splice has a really cool platform that I use along with their sample data so that every time I save a project, it automatically goes in the cloud and allows me to share with others in real time. It has made the production process so much more efficient and allows me to seamlessly work with others.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaborations are incredible opportunities for shared growth and to do really unique things. It comes in all of those forms for me. Jamming, file sharing, brainstorming ideas, it's all part of the process.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Regarding a typical day in my life, there are “post gig days” and “post no gig days”.
Whenever I have a no gig day, I usually wake up the next morning super early to allow me to be ahead with my emails and communication. Then I go through a round of all the projects I have pending and update my timelines to stay current. I am also in constant communication with my business, management, and PR teams regarding upcoming shows, releases, PR & marketing opportunities, etc. I also usually dedicate a couple of hours to social media in order to update my followers with whatever I have going on.
I also spend time on my label and brand, “One Tribe”. We are in the process of really ramping things up so I have been dedicating more time to this as well.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
One of the highlights of my career so far came this year when I had the opportunity to open for Black Coffee as the only other DJ on his lineup. I had played on the same lineup as him twice before but in earlier sets. Each time he showed me love and really left me with the sense that I was doing something he appreciated.
Those feelings were validated when I was given the opportunity to play right before him at his show at the Shrine in LA. To be able to play for him and his fans really meant a lot to me as he is someone who has really inspired me and has been a trailblazer for not just African DJs but for all DJs.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I would say “ Fluid”. I usually get inspired very spontaneously. I always have my iPhone on stand by just to put down any ideas I have or record anything at a moment's notice.
For preplanned studio sessions, I would say that “being prepared” is definitely the way to go, as I am more productive going into the studio with ideas that I have started to map out in the past, usually with notes and inspirations. I also love to send out projects to talented friends and also friends outside of the industry to get the perspective of other professionals and of fans.
Constant travel can be a distraction to my state of mind at times as changing time zones, lack of sleep, and ever changing environments can create some challenges.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music is definitely an amplifier of emotions and can heal or hurt as you suggest. It can do so for example by reminding you of different moments in your life for good or bad.
Where I think music can be a useful tool for healing is when it's used to bring people together and that is something I hope to do with every track I release.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Cultural appropriation is something I am well aware of as a black African man. I have seen our culture being appropriated on numerous occasions without credit. But there is a big difference between appropriation and appreciation.
We live in a globalized world where cultural exchange and appreciation is a valuable way of life. There are so many important pieces of art that were created by the influences of multiple cultures. The important thing to me is ensuring proper credit is given to the originators and unfortunately that has not been the case in many situations.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
For me as a musical artist its sound and how it can trigger certain emotions and memories. Like I said, music can heal or hurt and it's because of the things we may associate with certain sounds or songs. There are songs that remind me of my childhood and songs that remind me of heartbreak and I can't think of another sense as powerful for me personally.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I want my art to not only bring joy to others and stir up strong emotions but to also raise awareness to important causes and ideas. It is something you can see in my song “No Justice No Peace” which was inspired by the George Floyd protests at a time where we saw millions of people stand together to demand justice. I felt incredible inspiration in the movement and as I normally do when I'm inspired, I decided to channel that into my art. I let my inspirations guide me as an artist whether those inspirations are rooted in personal, political, or social issues.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
We have talked about music and emotion throughout this interview so it's fitting that it ends on this question.
Music evokes certain feelings and every element plays a part in that. Melodies that remind you there are better days ahead, percussion that allows you to let go of your inhibitions and dance as if it's your last day on earth, vocals that can give you goosebumps and have you lost in the moment.
And isn't that life after all? Our journey of experiences and emotions and wanting to live life to the fullest before the music stops forever.