International DJ & creative music director DJ Aries on breaking into the music industry

DJ Aries - Twenty Ten Talent

Akua Afram, aka DJ Aries, is a creative music director and DJ. With residencies in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, DJ Aries has been immersed in the music industry for over seven years.

The internationally acclaimed DJ is known for her eclectic mix of fusion with the latest hidden remixes, global house, electro vibes, afrobeats, lounge music, samba, hip hop and bass.

When she’s not on a plane you can find DJ Aries in Dubai, where she’s the creative music director for Vibe Music and one of the resident DJs at House of Afrika. She was recently commissioned by the Nike: Girl Effect campaign to curate an exclusive mix for their exhibition and spin for the festival headlined by Jessie J. Aries also runs point as the music curator for Ghana Fashion Design Week, sponsored by Virgin Atlantic and Blackberry, and played out the closing party as the DJ for Moët.

Born and raised in London, Aries is a frequent guest DJ on BBC Radio 1, Bang FM, Break London and Soul UK FM and she was the first female African DJ to play on BBC 1xtra.

My first degree was a BA in Media Practice at University of Luton which is now called the University of Bedfordshire. Then last year I completed my PGCE teaching degree at the University of Greenwich which was challenging but one of the best decisions I made.

I worked for a music publisher after university as an A&R talent scout and licensing assistant. It was an eye opener to the music business and till this day one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I felt at home and learnt so much that it’s still fresh and I apply some processes to my freelance work.

My responsibilities included creating and sourcing the themed roster catalogue for pitches to media, creative and ad agencies. The artists on the roster included U2, Grace Jones, Kano, Justice and Bob Marley. I administered and created the extensive titled online catalogue database to enable efficient searches for clients. I cleared various music licensing requests from record labels, advertising, media and film companies. I also had to scout for talent such as songwriters and producers.

Akua Afram Twenty Ten Talent - 2

The turning point was literally a natural chain of events. I was playing at a family member’s 30th birthday party as she purposefully used platform that to get me out there. It takes guts to do that and it was very nerve wracking at first but once I’m on the decks you see the alter-ego come out.

So, after my set, a number of the guests asked for my details then the million dollar question – “how much do you charge?”From that point, I thought “Aha!!! I can make a brand and some good money out of this.” The rest is history.

I get up read my bible, pray and meditate to get me mentally and spiritually in tune for the day. Then I drive to the office or sometimes work from home with some breakfast. If I’m in London I head to a Shoreditch cafe. From there I check emails, have a bit of office banter then put some music on in the background either on earphones or on speakers. I need to hear the full effect of the sounds in wide spaces. Sounds are like colors, it paints the picture and aids to my sound design.

I’ve recently been appointed as the creative director for Vibe Music Group in Dubai. To put it in a nutshell, I meet with clients and go through their briefs with them on the exact music they request for their premises. I find this fun as I also advise them what type of music is best for the time of day, pace of the atmosphere and their clientele. Funnily enough if I’m with a hotel client I will sit in their resort and seriously take in the ambience so I can mentally hear what goes musically with their resort.

Sometimes there are entertainment events or exhibitions I attend to build contacts and see what the scene is about in Dubai. Once the day is done, I sometimes catch up with friends over dinner or go home, cook a meal and then plan activities for the following day.

I can be so passionate about my work so I’m obsessively researching new music, looking out for new trends and developments in the music business. It’s part of who I am, I love discovering new amazing new music from around the world. It expands my knowledge as a tastemaker and music expert and is fantastic for my DJ sets.

I’ve been in London over the summer and worked with the U.S. Grammy nominated singer-songwriter and emcee Maimouna Youssef, aka Mumu Fresh, who often tours with The Roots, Erykah Badu, Common and many more. She performed at the Jazz Cafe in Camden which was a huge success – it was a very packed house. I couldn’t even move.

I’m also going to go back into music producing and putting an album together. So the world will see a different Akua.

Akua Afram DJ Aries Twenty Ten Talent - 2

To be honest I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished… passing my PGCE teaching qualification, being nominated for the Best Club DJ award in Dubai; I was the first African female DJ on BBC 1Xtra and I’ve been the warm up DJ for international DJs, artists and more. But to be honest, the biggest of them all is actually being me. It’s been such a battle.

When I’m not working I love to give thanks, relax on the beach, explore the Middle East, Skype with family and friends, read, eat good food, enjoy pamper treats and surround myself around good company. But I’m occasionally a sucker for retail therapy.

I can’t live without my bible, Apple Macbook and DDJ-Pioneer decks. They both go everywhere with me.

I’m always inspired by other fellow women and men who are in the same world as me or even on a different journey. Just seeing the perseverance and passion for their craft, I completely relate to them. But the following people are particularly inspirational to me. First up is Michelangelo L’Acqua, he’s the global music director for W Hotels. To me he has the best job in the world and I always follow his work… I feel like I’m almost there.

One of my favorite DJ/producers is Black Coffee from South Africa, he’s a legend, if you listen to his sets then you’ll know why. He’s taking SA House global. Lastly, Boddhi Satva who’s from the Central African Republic. He’s such a humble figure, he works and remixes for artists I love and his sounds are just untouchable.

Both of them inspire me to connect the new language of African music to the people. I love the fact they are not your typical Afrobeat producers. They create ancestral and soulistic sounds of African house music. It’s spiritually beautiful to hear. Black Coffee played in Dubai and the experience was magical. He’s a loved man amongst his fans and peers. Now he follows me on my social media so you never know… I might be his support DJ on a tour in the future.

I can vocally arrange complex harmonies. They are like the color palettes.

I’ve received so much advice but the one that has stuck with me was from an employer who I mutually agreed with that recruitment was not for me. The manager said in these words: “You are a creative, a good writer and passionate about music. Do what you’re good at and follow your path. YOU ARE AN ARTIST.”

Those words stuck with me. I respect him so much for that. He could’ve just escorted me out of the office but he took the time to outline my qualities and told me to pursue my dreams. To be honest I wanted out, so I think he sensed it too. However, what employer does that? It was such a profound moment. Since then, I haven’t looked back.

I’m focusing on my album, developing my artistry and hoping to become one of the best music curators in the world.

I’ve worked so hard to get here. It’s been a tough road and I’ve paid my dues, from unpaid, badly paid to OK paid jobs, but the experience was unforgettable. I look back at the people who have undermined me and didn’t believe in me and I just smile. I thank God for my determination and sticking to my guns.

It’s been such a battle to be me as I was developing myself, but now it’s easy and everyday I’m so thankful and count my blessings. I’m being paid well to do a hobby that I love in an amazing location. My dream has come true. Don’t ever stop believing, no matter how hard it gets. God delivers when you ask.

Interview by Octavia Goredema @OctaviaGoredema

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