Chino Amobi has been on a steady rise to mass notoriety since his days at VCU. Originally performing under the moniker Diamond Black Hearted Boy, he has more recently joined forces with some like minded musicians to form NON Worldwide, a record label / collective who’s mission is to “challenge binaries and boundaries across virtual and physical realms.” Through music they have created a platform to break down the walls of critical conformity and liberating the artist through experimentation, collaboration and insurrection. We had a chance to catch up with the NON citizen while he was in town for his performance at the New Museum and posted up on one of the many conversation inducing couches at the Red Bull Studios for brunch as he took a short break from his unrelenting creative production in the space’s recording studio.
Interview by Mauricio Vargas
Hey Chino, how are you? You still in Chesterfield?
Currently in Richmond, right by the Byrd theatre.
Nice. Love the Byrd. Such a great Richmond landmark.
Prior to doing music full time you were a counselor at a community center in Chesterfield correct? When was the full switch over to music. What was the event that allowed you to begin doing that full time?
Yea. Mostly with NON which we started a year ago. More opportunities came about as a result of the collective efforts.
That’s great, yea I’ve been observing the escalation of the label via you Facebook and instagram and it seems like the collective approach has really benefited the group as a whole, creating a sort of rhizomatic, power in numbers effect. What triggered the move from your solo project Diamond Black Hearted Boy, to using your own name and building this more collaborative approach to your music?
I don’t know I guess it kinda just happened naturally. Touring and meeting more people, I feel like, just opened up the dialogue for collaboration and cross pollination of ideals. Opportunities arise and you kinda just go with them.
Haha actually it did kinda all start with myspace. There’s people I’m working with now, that I originally met in Myspace like 8 years ago. Pamela who I was just talking to, I had met her friend Ashley via myspace and one day she sent me a message like “Yo come play a show in Chicago” Yea but that tour was like the beginning of playing shows outside of Richmond. That sort of ‘Top 8’ philosophy still carries over into the Nexus. I miss that. Like customizing your page.
Yea I feel you. Geocities vibes.
Yea man it was mad democratic.
I agree these days its difficult to find a platform that gives the everyman free hosting and also freedom through unrestricted back end / php setup.
So I wanted to also talk about your fine art. You paint, and have done some really fantastic video work somewhat unrelated to your music, but there is still a consistent aesthetic thread that weaves through it all; whether its referencing globalization through branding and consumer fetishism or geopolitical themes or anime. Tell me what YOU would say are some of the more recurring themes across you fine art practice as well as your music/performative work?
Thats a good question. I would say a certain type of optimism. Like an optimism in the face of dire circumstances or optimism within a threatening environment. Or cultural violence. Like bright colors in an environment that can seem harsh. I would say hope has been a certain motif or the spectacle, but making a point of showing care or empathy in a space that can seem like a void. Empathy through the matrix. It’s sort of an emotional language that cuts to the core of our lives as 90’s kids.
Tell me about the collective, NON. Who are the founders and the history of that movement?
So i wanted to start a label because I felt like there wasn’t anything out there that I would attach myself to that would encompass my ethos. And the beauty with starting something of our own and the way things are moving is that you can really mix references. Because that the way that we think these days. Theres no more of that regionalist mindset like ‘ok I live in DC so I have to make gogo or you know punk rock like bad brains. Thats another thing that I think resonates in Richmond. It’s freed up in a sense. Noone’s gonna say ‘oh thats a Richmond style’ because there’s a freedom that is generally ambiguous about it.
(Dutch E Germ walks up to say hi as he walks into the Red Bull space)
Yooo what’s up Tim. Everybody’s in the studio man. It’s deep in there. I’m doing this interview with my boy Mauricio, I’ll be down in bit.
DeG: Ok cool I’ll see you down there. (He walks down to the studio)
That dude is a legend. I’ve been working with him on some collaborations. I stayed at his place last time I came up here and we recorded some stuff for my upcoming album and just experimented with a bunch of stuff. Our style have a lot of similarities and based of iterations so it made sense.
That’s awesome. Yea I love Gang Gang. One of my favs to see anytime they’re playing. Nothing has beat their show on the booze cruise a few years back. Unforgettable day.
So the aesthetic of the label uses a lot of historical and political reference; socialist / communist propaganda comes to mind particularly. What is it about the collective that you think draws people these days to that sort of conversation?
If we had tried to do this like two years ago, all this wouldn’t had been able to happen because there’s an openness to the dialogue of things like identity politics for example. Sometimes it can be to the point of ad nauseaum but at the same time I feel like there is an importance to it, like a salient and necessary conversation so people are really receptive to it. I think people are kind of sick of shoving things under the rug. But its not like we planned it like lets capitalize on this sort of awareness, but I just wanted to start a label that reflected the ethos that was important to me. Then I came across AngelHo’s music on soundcloud and I was like ‘Woah I gotta work with them’. It just worked. Sometimes you just know. Yea so i reached out and he was very responsive. Then from there I reached out to Melika who I had played a show with when I was touring in Europe with Elysia Crampton. I just knew I had to work with her to some capacity, but wasn’t really sure what it would become. I also like to do things in threes. I don’t know it just feels right to me. The trinity. So I hit her up and she was totally down and then all of us started talking. So the core is founded by members of African diaspora and that’s like our primary expression, but it’s not just about that, really its all about context.Turned out all our backgrounds were very similar. Like her family is from the Congo and grew up in Belgium, my family is from Nigeria and I grew up in America, AngelHo’s mother is from South Africa and father from Portugal. So there’s this interstitial relationship between different histories and all of is existing in this sort of liminal space, so we just got a dialogue going and and had so many similarities we just started to releases mixes and then people were feeling it and started to reach out and sending us music.
For me, personally, I feel like I have submitted to the pop card since the conception of this magazine, in some ways accepting the need for sustainability by building a popular and commercial facades through an entrepreneurial mindset. I mean the magazine is called BLAAAH. A dismissably ironic title, but that was the point, a sort of punk attitude through a kind of sentimental otomotopia.
I feel like you guys do something similar in the way you approach the industry in a very fashionably conscious way that can be seen as trendy but its very well executed, in a smart and considerate way, sort of breaking down assumptions through the control of trope. Of course it is a treacherous space to traverse.
Yea. Often times I feel like there’s a false dilemma created between pop culture and counterculture. People will be like ‘Oh this is dismissible, I can’t listen to this Beyonce song, It’s not serious enough’. But you know I feel like theres false despair between academia and pop culture. Really they feed off each other. It’s not like academic thought exists in this sort of vortex hyperbolic chamber, they both inform each other. That’s the thing with NON, we think a lot about the fluidity between spaces because often times there’s classification or nomenclature, and that’s a tool used to divide and eviscerate the power of the creator. So we make a point of tearing down those structures and ideologies.
Absolutely. That makes sense. On that note, and going back to your mention of Beyonce. There was a lot of talk and critique around the video that was released for Lemonade, saying there was an inconsistency in it and that it was a sort overtly capitalistic aspect to the way it was executed. I personally thought the scene with Jay Z was a bit histrionic, but there were definitely some points that captured certain beautiful truths that are non-existent in pop music at that level of visibility. In particular the Malcolm X quote and some of her lyrics in general.
I thought it was dope. She caught a lot of flack from intellectuals, but that’s just pop music. But if you go to the opera you know, and you’re watching someone like Racine, or like a greek tragedy like Euripides, or Orpheus, it’s easier to watch and disassociate yourself and be like ‘ok these are Greek Gods and they’re fictional.’ But with Beyonce she’s playing a character in a certain way herself, but it involves her real husband and real dramas, so it starts to become a sort of meta-narrative that picks things based on fact but exaggerated. Artists do that, you know, and it’s not easy for someone on her platform to do that. She’s got a team of people of course to help her strategize all this but it’s not a lite decision to just be like ‘ok lets put a Malcolm X quote in there.’ Anytime you see critique like that where someone comes up and is calling it disingenuous, you kinda have to ask what about the hegemony of pop culture that doesn’t include quotes by figures like Malcolm X. Its really rare to see.
Yea absolutely. Especially this many years after his death for it to just be breaking into a main stream acceptance, it says something in itself.
It’s provocative where it could mean so many things, but at the end of the day it depends on what it means to the individual.
So what can we be looking forward to in the future?
More releases, more social justice collaborations and civic engagement ; working with non-profits and collaborations with like minded organizations and basically just empowering as many people as we can through the means we’ve been blessed with, both on a local and international level.
Well shit man, super good catching up. Always is. Please hit me up next time your in town, would love to keep up the good hangs.
I’ll be back up for a performance at the Queens Museum in July so yea lets meet up.
I’m there. Much love and thanks again.
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