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Sondela x Electric Mode

On a chilly Friday night in the centre of Hackney, we paced over from the tube and across the frost glazed streets. A slow-building queue of revelers snaked through the gates and into the NT Loft. The first greeting was a wall of energy and heat which hit as percussive notes pinged through the cold staircases from above. As we were called up towards the ruckus of stomping feet and the deep pulsing of a live drum, you could tell a party full of character and aliveness was in store. You’d be forgiven for not necessarily expecting the soundscape to be playing out in an edgy loft bar in East London. But the intimate nature of the space was the perfect pairing for the African-inspired melodies floating across the dancefloor. We were in the capital to sample the showcase of Sondela Recordings – the Afro house imprint of the world famous Defected Records. And what a year it has been for them. 

As part of my DJ duo Kakura, we’ve been to countless nights, festivals and events which host the sounds of Afro, in venues everywhere from Ibiza to Uganda. Here on UK soil, the genre has always been popular in the swankier, Mayfair spots and member’s clubs across London. But this experience felt different. Inclusive, welcoming, accessible – the perfect alchemy for the sounds of faraway nations to be enjoyed on a dancefloor that feels like home. The night was commandeered by artists Atjazz and Badbox, alongside the Sondela residents, Kitty Amor, Louie Dunmore and Sef Kombo. 

In a year and summer clubbing season which has seen Afro House reach new territories and enjoy exponential growth in the charts, I wanted to find out what the future for the scene in the UK might look like. Once we could peel ourselves away from the dancefloor with everyone hip-swaying under a vibrant red ceiling light and gazing out at a stunning view of London’s city skyline, I caught up with two artists from across the generational divide. 

At 23- years-old, Louie Dunmore is the youngest of the Sondela team, founded alongside fellow artist Sef Kombo. He built up a taste and preference for his style of electronic Music, like many of us, during his time at Uni in Newcastle. Also joining me for a contrasting take, was a veteran within the journey of modern Afro House, Mario ‘Badbox’ – who makes regular appearances alongside his friend Black Coffee at their residency at Hi-Ibiza. Few people know more about the longevity and the development of this music than Mario.

Both artists are witnessing the unprecedented explosion of their sounds, but from different perspectives – through the bright-eyes of Louie and the wisdom of Mario.  


 Mario, how do you look back on this year in music and reflect on how summer was? 

I think it couldn’t have gone better. People have had a real appetite. We’ve been locked up for almost two years. Based on my Ibiza experiences and a few other cities around the world, it’s been brilliant. The music has been really thriving, good vibes all round. 

We were out in Ibiza this summer, it felt like there’s a bigger presence than ever…

The fastest growing scene and the fastest growing genre! 

Yeah, we went to Summerians in Blue Marlin, I know you play there a lot. Chinois, we dropped by to see these guys at Sondela too. You have been building within this scene for such a long time and it feels like it’s really reaching a peak now. Where do you see it going?

Its reaching places you would never have imagined. Places even like LIV in Miami and big places in Vegas. Even residencies in Ibiza – look at the number one club in the world on a Saturday night, its Afro House. Blue Marlin, Chinois, Wednesday with Themba, Sondela out there on Bora Bora. There’s scenes popping up everywhere. Not just even in Ibiza, in Dubai, America, New York – the scene is at its strongest. 

Q And of course, the music is just one aspect of all of this. Particularly given where a lot of artists you’re very close friends with are from – the journeys they’ve been on and the adversity they’ve pushed through. You must sometimes walk into Hi sometimes and think ‘fucking hell, we’ve actually done this?” 

Every single week. We sometimes pinch each other or slap each on the cheek and go ‘look at this man!’ ‘how mad is that!?’

If you want to talk about moments… Drake walking down from the VIP into the booth – these are like peak moments in the residency. 

But the music is so interesting, it’s so colourful. And for me to come back as ‘Badbox’ – like you said, I’m part of the furniture when it comes to the sound of the scene! As an artist and as ‘Badbox,’ it’s a year old. My first release on Sondela was September last year, so ‘Badbox’ is a year old. It was never about Mario knowing everyone within the scene. ‘Badbox’ needed to stand on its own two feet and deserved to have a release with Sondela, deserved to DJ at certain places like Hi and Blue Marlin. 

 I really rate you for saying that – for being honest that even with your connections, you still needed to re-brand and come back 

Yeah, it would have been hard for me to re-ignite it. If the music was static and was like the Afro house we knew from “back then.” But because the scene is forever evolving, the sound. Mate, there are some SERIOUS young producers out there.

At ADE (Amsterdam Dance Event) – I can’t really say any names, but I was having some lunches and dinners and speaking with artists and management who weren’t even in Afro House. Like big, EDM, commercial names who are like ‘bro’ 

Ohhh, they want a piece of the pie yeah!? 

Yeah! They’re like ‘bro, yeah we wanna collab!’ You just can’t beat the rhythms which are coming out. I’m not trying to be biased, but you can’t beat it.

Did you see what’s going on in there!? 

Oh yeah, it’s like a full-on wall of energy from the second you walk in. Across Europe this is really having its moment, but where do you think the genre is at in London and in the wider UK?

Its reached pockets and places you’d never thought. Its attracting producers and collabs you never expected. Some friends of mine are here tonight and their friends have wanted to come to this Afro House night, they’re like oh “this brand new scene!” But for us, its 20 years, maybe more in the making. But its fresh, its reaching radio, its reaching the clubs and commercial clubs you never thought of before. 

What I like personally about tonight is it can feel sometimes like this music can often be in swanky, luxury clubs that maybe are a little inaccessible to some people. And I love that this is in Hackney, I look around at the crowd and it’s such a mixed bag of different types of people. 

You know what, there’s different genres. I’m not gonna generalise, but let’s say, like harder, techy house, or hardcore, even funky house, or whatever. Different genres attract a specific type of person, like you’ve gotta be a real “head” like a “house head” to listen to it. I think this sound that everyone is coming out with now, its very sociable. Its hip-swinging, its beach bar, its clubs. You can play it outdoor, indoor. It’s always going to make you move your hips. 

I mean you could argue it’s sounds that are within all of our origins. Within who we are. 

And its attracting people who aren’t within the scene, which is really important. Not only artists, but listeners outside of the scene as well. 

What advice would you give to Louie, Sef and Kitty and to Sondela about how to thrive moving forward? 

Be consistent. Keep doing what you’re doing it. Keep believing in the direction you’re going. In a business, there’s many factors. Yes we’re a label so we’re releasing music.

 Sometimes you could be swaying with ‘let’s go more towards selling more records’ or sometimes you go more towards ‘let’s become more specialist.’ I’d say just always believe in what you’re doing. Trust your dopeness. Trust your ears and in the sound you’re pioneering, as its forever changing. Every month the sound is changing. One producer will have a great track which many DJs will support and before you know it, that sound has influenced a follow-up from other artists. Trust what you’re doing, keep doing what you’re doing. I mean you can see the vibe in there at the party – its banging, I actually can’t wait to get in. 


How do you reflect back on the summer and how it’s gone?

Summer has been amazing and crazy in terms of the schedule. We’ve been trying with Sondela to do as many events as possible. And the appetite has been there, which has fed the need to try and put on more events. 

I wanted to know exactly how Sondela began, because I don’t think we talked about this when I met you guys in Ibiza. What inspired you to start this journey with Sondela? 

So I actually started Sondela as an event whilst at Uni, up in Newcastle. I got to the next stage in my DJ career where I wanted to start my own night. I’d just started getting into the Afro scene and was collecting loads of Afro, so I decided I was going to put on my own Afro event. Sef came to play for me on the night. We had the one event, I wanted to keep it rolling but then Covid happened. So the next logical step after that, because we still wanted to share the music – I had only recently discovered this music and I wanted to continue to spread it. So me and Sef sat down together and we were like ‘right, we should turn it into a label!’

So over lockdown we set up the label, started signing some releases. Thankfully we had the backing of Defected to do that under their umbrella. So we had our first couple of releases over lockdown, came out the other side and then we had the label and then the events side of things. 

So it’s been a really crazy journey. Nothing has been a real masterplan, but we’ve taken every step as its come. For me, the music is incredible and works so amazingly in the event’s space and is so accessible to absolutely everyone. I think people just need to stumble upon it and discover it, because they don’t even know what it is. Like if you ask people what Afro House is, the majority of the general consumer won’t be able to tell you. So I want to increase the awareness of it and I think the event’s space is particularly important for doing that. 

I think it’s such a versatile type of music that can lend itself to such a variety of settings – whether it’s a daytime, beach party, or a late night club. 

100%. What I really love about Afro is that it lends itself to any kind of space. It can be really deep and soulful, you can listen to it chilling by the pool. Or it can be listened to in a club, sometimes verging on tech, techno in style. It’s got that range. In between that, you’ve got all the different forms – Latin influenced, German, melodic influenced, deeper sounds, it ranges the whole way through. And that’s so interesting to me, how this space hasn’t been explored more.   

You have probably always had such a close connection with Ibiza, given your family’s journey on the island. What do you feel sets it apart from other places? 

I feel like Ibiza really is a place within the dance music industry where a brand and a sound needs to put its flag in the ground. Once its established in Ibiza, it’s like ‘ok, you’ve really got something here.’ It’s the gathering of everyone that loves to party basically! So once you’ve got an event running there, or you’re recognised there, its shows you’re on the right track within the dance music industry. 

With the label, what are you guys looking for on Sondela? 

Our strapline used to be ‘where afro meets tech’ initially, but I think nowadays, the sounds go beyond just Afro or Tech. For me personally, I love the deeper, more soulful sounds. We’re thinking of changing our strapline to ‘African-influenced dance music.’ That could be anything deep and soulful, all the way to tech. As long as it’s got those kinds of rhythms, the drums, or the vocals, whatever it may be that are influenced or taken influence from Africa. We’re really looking to diversify in the releases we’re taking on, not just Afro Tech bits. For example, we released ‘Bumblebee’ by FKA Mash and Sio, which was much more on the deeper, soulful side. We’re just looking to try and increase awareness within that space and every space influenced from Africa.

On the events side, I believe the events are where we can really spread awareness for people to stumble up on something they haven’t discovered before and be like ‘wow, what is this?’ to hear it in the club, where a lot of the music is meant to be heard, is where I believe we can really start to turn heads and hook people into the genre.  

I feel like you guys as trio [Louie, Sef and Kitty] have a really interesting vibe going on. As a three, what do you think you all offer? 

I think we as a three, myself, Sef and Kitty, have a lot of different experiences to offer. Sef has been involved within the scene for the past twelve, thirteen years, he knows it inside out. Every kind of artist, release, Sef knows if there’s anything happening. Kitty came about in the scene a few years after Sef, but equally she’s absolutely smashing it in the DJ space at the moment and getting the recognition that not only she deserves, but everyone deserves and the genre deserves. They play together, back-to-back sometimes and I love it when they do, they really vibe off each other and its really good to see. Myself in particular, I’ve come at it from a completely different angle, perspective, I’m from a house background getting into Afro. So my aim is to try and pull house heads into Afro – so I come at it from more of a commercial angle than what Sef and Kitty do, but that’s what makes us a really good trio together. When we come together and talk and have different perspectives on how it could work within the scene, particularly myself from a more commercial aspect and the guys, from more of an authentic, Afro House perspective. 

So you’re headed to South Africa for the first time, what do you have planned? I feel like it’s quite a significant trip for Sondela? 

So the tour is Defected, Glitterbox and Sondela. We all have events going on – two Defected parties and one Glitterbox and one Sondela. We’re really excited and using it as an opportunity to showcase the artists on the label so far coming out of the region. From there, I think Sef and I are doing a talk as part of the British Music Academy. It’ll be great to be out there and experience everything firsthand. 

Your pops [Simon Dunmore] is one of the most respected people in dance music, what advice did he give you when you began Sondela? 

He’s advised me throughout my whole journey within the industry, from the moment I decided I wanted to start my own event, all the way through to where we are now. I don’t run everything by him, but if I ever have a dilemma, I’ll always ask for his opinion on how he would handle the situation. He’s really happy to see the place we’re in now, we’re trying to push something that isn’t a new genre, but it hasn’t got the awareness that it deserves. He think that’s important. When he started off, house music didn’t have the awareness it deserved, so I think he’s excited that we’re trying to push something new, especially in the UK scene. He’s always very open to conversations and offering me advice, guiding you. 

The Sondela brand, label and parties open the door to so much more than just the music alone. With a core vision to educate, accelerate and invest into the Afro scene here and across the globe, they’re beginning to get the musical recognition they deserve for a new and developing brand. The Hackney showcase had the sounds and rhythms of the diaspora at its front and centre, but from the range of ages, backgrounds and the refreshingly equal mix of genders, it was clear to see that they’re succeeding in their hopes to make this music for all.  

From uplifting, emotive Amapiano, to the darker, driving, grittier grooves of the newer Afro House styles, the genre has something raw and elemental about it, whilst also being fresh and evolving. And I really feel that there’s a certain ‘truth’ about Afro House music. Whether it’s from the streets and communities of the continent in which it was created, or the truth of the place within all of us that the beats connect to. And Sef, Kitty and Louie are embracing that truth, whilst innovating and using all the core tenants of the British house music scene. I can tell that this really means a lot to these guys. With a clear, humble, yet fiercely ambitious plan, the motives are there and they’re in it for the long game to grow alongside the genre. Going into 2023 and another exciting year for this exploding style of music, the Sondela journey is certainly one to watch in the UK and beyond.

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Sondela x Electric Mode


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