I’ve always been passionate about music. I think it is one of the only art forms that I have felt is innate to me actually. I grew up singing in choirs and at church and I used to songwrite back then in London too but DJing was only something I started in Vienna
During the past decade, the music scene of Vienna has gained a variety of new sounds. One of the most interesting music collectives that has popped up on the scene is Sounds of Blackness. We had a great conversation with Tonica Hunter - a member of the collective- who gave us insights into her life as a female DJ and shared some thoughts on how she found her place as a socially conscious individual and an all-around self-reliant person in Vienna. With a background stemming from the UK and Jamaica, Tonica uses the influences of both her roots in her music, which can be heard in the vibrant flavors of her beats.
B: Thank you for joining us in this interview Tonica! Ever since relocating from the UK to Vienna you have been making interesting strides in the music community. This has led you to create events such as “On Fleek” and joining Sounds of Blackness as their only female DJ.
Were you this passionate about music while still in the UK? What sorts of communities and events did you contribute to when you were home?
T: Yeah I’ve always been passionate about music. I think it is one of the only art forms that I have felt is innate to me actually. I grew up singing in choirs and at church and I used to songwrite back then in London too but DJing was only something I started in Vienna. When I was in London and after university, I was involved a lot locally with youth development events in London especially after the Tottenham riots in 2011. Then I worked on my own events aimed at young people specifically from ethnic communities on career development and skills-building.
B: What led you to try your hand at bringing attention to the black communities in Austria specifically?
T: I don’t think my aim was ever to bring attention to the black community. I don’t think that is something we necessarily need. I think a black community in Austria has existed, has fought, has resisted, has created, has bridged the way for various generations and movements. I think that what was necessary was the acknowledgment of those things, recognition, and respect from our peers. What was needed was space, claiming it and owning it, a role in decision-making equal to our allies and telling our own stories. I would like to think I have contributed to that, not always on my own, but by also making connections to others with the same objectives.
B: How did you come about joining Sounds of Blackness?
T: 3 of us met at a street party in summer in 2015 and we talked about forming a collective for music events. I think given all of us were kind of partied out in Vienna and also politically motivated, the vibe was always to create something with purpose and to make a point.
B: For those who haven’t heard of you yet, how would you describe the music and what the group represents?
T: We are called ‘Sounds of Blackness’ since we pay tribute to the originators of and/or contributors to music within the black community from the motherland to South America and the Carribean to the USA and Europe. We are all members of the diaspora so we also include the complexity and plurality of those identities too. Amongst us we play afrobeat, reggae, ragga, dancehall, afrobeat, ska, dancehall, dubstep, RnB, neo-soul but we have invited other DJs to play at our events who specialize in Techno, House (to take just two examples) – since a common misconception is that these are not ‘black’ sounds or styles, which is, in reality, quite the contrary.
B: Whether you played solo or with your group members, would you say there is a difference in crowd response from your Austrian audience as opposed to a UK audience for example?
T: In terms of audience and reaction to our music and parties, there is no difference in response. People feel the music and move. It is also hard not to feel the energy coming from us four as a collective, this is (we’ve been told) part of our uniqueness.
What we noticed at the beginning though are DJs who had been playing the genre of music we play and of heritage being slightly jilted that we had our own events and felt it a threat to their own events. This was strange to us since music is for everyone. We are not excluding anyone from our events or from playing black music, that would be absurd. I think there is space for BPOC however to talk about and boast their own heritage and this is what we do.
B: While Vienna houses many artists of different genres, coming from your own experience would you say it is nonetheless difficult for female DJs to make a career and name for themselves?
How do you hope to make a change in this area?
T: I don’t think anyone alone can make a change to that area, in that not only one woman or women as a whole can change the plight of women in the music field. It takes many people who think and work intersectionally to be able to make a change and make space for others. That is to say in consideration of gender, age, ethnicity, ability, sexuality, religion or whatever it is and make it possible for people to be and create as they wish and, on top of that, be treated equally and fairly.
B: Are there any upcoming shows and events from you or SOB we should keep a lookout for?
Yes! We would love to see everyone at the Volksgarten Pavillon in Vienna this 22nd of June for the presentation of MAJIRA.
B: And lastly, as a fashion brand, we focus on not only having our audience look their best but also to feel their best. How do you prepare to feel most confident before a show?
T: Usually for me, it is about all the details before the event (tech, logistics, the team at the venue) and getting them clear in my head. Then I can focus on the music and really get into it.