Questing Forth with Zakia Sewell
There's just a few days to go until Chicago's own Sadar Bahar curates his first line-up as Oval Space resident. The very deepest diggers bring their packed bags to Bethnal Green, offering up a soulful, eclectic mix of disco, boogie, funk and house. Alongside the likes of Rush Hour's selector-in-chief Antal and Rhythm Section head Bradley Zero, we welcome Zakia Sewell. From hosting her regular Questing show on NTS, to producing in-depth historical documentaries for radio, the Skin Deep resident's musical breadth is expansive, reaching into the very furthest musical corners.
Zakia reached out to answer a few questions from a sunny spot in Montenegro - amongst other things, we discuss her history on the radio, recent digging finds, and the notion of education through music.
Hey Zakia, how have you been?
Very well thank you - I’m sunning myself in Montenegro at Southern Soul Festival as I write so things are good!
Congratulations on the new documentary for Radio 4. I’d love to know about the investigative processes involved in the creation of the show – where do you start with a digging project like this?
Well this documentary was a little different as it was borne out of my personal connection to Big Drum - a West African drumming tradition from Carriacou. I’ve always been interested in a family story about my great grandad being a famous drummer on the island, and when I tried to find out more I discovered a whole load of history and music that Alan Lomax had recorded on the island in the 1960s. The whole process was a bit like solving a riddle, piercing together shreds of information, and I learnt loads about the deeper history of the Caribbean along the way. You can find the documentary here.
Working as a freelance producer, you also produced a radio show on the life of Ella Fitzgerald last year – historical storytelling seems to play a huge part in your musical involvement and understanding, have you always approached music this way?
I love music, I love history and I find it fascinating trying to understand the context out of which particular kinds of music are borne... Thinking about how time and place can affect musical output. At the same time, you can definitely overanalyse these things, and music in its essence is something to be felt, not thought, so it’s important to keep that balance.
Is musical education something that you consciously have in mind for your listeners when making a mix or picking out tracks for your show?
Maybe not an education exactly but I am conscious about the music I choose and the messages embedded in it. If people feel they’ve learnt something after listening to one of my shows, that’s great. But equally as good if they’ve simply felt something, or wanted to dance!
Much of these mixes often revolve around field recordings and more fragmented pieces, how do you translate these interests to the dancefloor for a live Zakia set – what should we expect?
Haha don’t worry, there won’t be any 10-minute long nose flute solos in my set! Expect global connections, soulful vibrations and heavy percussion.
You’re currently involved with Skin Deep magazine, a publication devoted to amplifying voices of colour throughout London. Can you tell us a little bit more about the platform and your role within it?
Skin Deep are a magnificent publication doing really important work around race, politics and identity - they often put on talks and events and I am their resident DJ!
We’re blessed with a huge amount of choice on the radio now, with NTS, Balamii and Rinse available 24/7. Are there any stand-out shows or presenters that you particularly love or look towards for inspiration?
There’s soooo much out there it can sometimes be a little overwhelming! I’ve been loving my dear friend Abu’s guest shows on NTS - healing, meditative and expansive . Really digging this acid/psychedelic show called Acid Memories. And my pals Champagne Funk do a wicked show on Balamii, here’s their latest show with Ece Duzgit...
And growing up? You’ve mentioned previously that your parents’ taste was a huge inspiration for you, but did radio also play a role in your younger years?
Growing up it was a lot of live music. My mum would blast House FM all day (and still does) - but falling into radio has been a happy accident. It combines my passions for music and chatting shit!
You’re known as a graduate of Honest Jons – where are you hunting most regularly for new finds at the moment?
I’m still a regular at Honest Jons, but also love Cosmos Recs and the Record Tape Exchanges in Notting Hill & Greenwich
In light of this, are there any particular new digging finds you’d like to shed light on for us?
This reissue of Guinean saxophonist, Momo Wandel Soumah, is beeeautiful! Especially the cover of Afro Blue.
I picked up this sick Lovers Rock 12” in Flashback Recs a few week back - killer killer! And only a couple of quid. Can’t beat a good bargain bucket find.
Join us on Saturday 7th July, when four of today's very finest selectors pull out all the stops for a very special evening at Oval Space.