Name: Whitney Mkok
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current release: Whitney Mkok's Nakupenda, including beautiful remixes by Hanna Hais and Breeze and The Sun, is out now on My Other Side of The Moon.
Recommendations: I love 2 books: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Becoming by Michelle Obama
If you enjoyed this Whitney Mkok interview, visit her 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?
I started producing /writing about 1 year ago. I have always loved music and it has been my passion for as long as I remember.
Previously, before I got into djing, I was a dancer which made me love music even more.
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 approached and developed the profession of DJ and producer, after meeting some DJs and in particular Federico Scavo, with whom I found my address and inspiration.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
My identity, with my African roots, influences my music, both in productions and in the choices I make during my dj sets.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I don’t think it was a challenge rather more a learning curve. I started to play music from others, changing also genre preferences and then I landed on Afro house music, just to express more of my identity. Now I can also play my own music and this makes me happy.
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?
My first equipment was a CDJ200, then I upgraded to a CDJ1000 and later to a CDJ2000 to play. In the studio, I work on Logic pro with my sound engineers team.
I tried to learn vinyl which was difficult but I am glad I've added a skill, because when it comes to music I always want to learn new stuff and more things.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I only started doing music professionally recently and there have been no big changes.
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?
All the above are ways I use to engage with others creative side, with some friends we talk about music, I also like to listen to recommendations from others, just to get an ideas of the tracks they like. Also when I am out I like listening to other Djs play. You can never stop learning. Also file sharing like Spotify playlist or song exchange. So many ways, everything can be part of the creation 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?
I don’t have a fixed schedule since my days and nights are unpredictable. I have lots of late nights, I am not an early person so I wake up at 9:00. From then I will put on YouTube or Spotify (the genre varies with how I wake up, mainly they are my life soundtracks) to play on the background as I go about my daily chores like morning shower, breakfast, a little cleaning. I always do this on a daily basis.
In the afternoon I will sit under a tree with my laptop to try find new music for my sets. After an hour I'll try mix it out for a few hours. I don’t do this on daily basis but at least twice or three times in a week.
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?
Honestly I feel like I have had a lot of breakthroughs during my career. From my first CDJ200, to the first gig that I scored. My first big arena which was at Cala Felice, in Tuscany, Italy.
Also being introduced to Federico Scavo was so huge. Through him I learned to dj even much better since I took a course at his studio named STUDIO1 and my skills developed. He helped to find my course of music which is Afro House. I did my first production with him that is set to be realesed on 30 July through “My Other Side Of The Moon.” This production is the latest yet the biggest chapter of my career. So happy to see this through.
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'm a very positive person and I love to be surrounded of people like me. The ideal state of mind is mental freedom and a happy mood. This can help to be creative. Good vibes only is the key, no strategies. (laughs)
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?
For me, music is just a cure. It has never hurt me till now and I hope it never will. My work as DJ allows me to always be between people, during happy and carefree moments such as into clubs or aperitifs by the sea. This does more good than any medicine.
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?
I think that everybody can tell elements from arts and culture but is important to well understand what you're saying and how. I can express my African roots in my music cause I live that culture and is part of me. I couldn't do the same way if I was only an estimator without being part of it.
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?
Each cell of us is connected with the others. Especially the senses. Hearing is clearly one of my favorites, it let me listen to the music and this is the starting point of this whole magical journey.
Thinking about overlapping, I love listening to seeing when I play, where I can both listen to music and see people's reactions. Part of the job, I like to see fused with taste, because I live in Italy and you know what it means: the best cuisine in the world.
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?
Art is a great communicator and I hope to convey good messages through my career and in my productions. I was a model, I have a lot of aesthetic sense and I am passionate about everything that makes me feel good: a painting, a song, a picture ... I still do not think of me as an artist but as a dreamer.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music has the power to express everything that words alone can not say. Both good and bad things, conflicting emotions, particular moods. Everything.