DJ MYNA performing with headphones

Interview: A Day in the Life of DJ MYNA

This week on A Day in the Life, we talked to MYNA, a UK-based DJ. She is a resident at Sheffield nightclub Hope Works, and Mondo Radio, a community radio that provides a space for all to express themselves through music.

First of all, tell us about yourself!

Hey, I’m Amina, also known as DJ MYNA (Pronounced Mee-na, not Mye-na!). I’m a British-born Nigerian, based in the north of the UK. I’m a muslim, I’m an artist, I’m an ‘ex-physicist’, and a martial arts fan.

I guess I’m a bit of a nerd? I like anime and /manga, I like playing minecraft, and get a little too excited about physics etc which is what I studied at uni. 

I enjoy making people laugh, as a proud clown, part of the big top that is life. 

Can you tell us a bit about your DJ career so far?

I think that I’ve always been musical in some way or form. When I used to draw and paint as a main way to express myself, music would always play. Picking the right soundtrack to reading a book was crucial to me. I loved to sing and thought that that’s how I’d get into music. I used to make loads of playlists on the bus to school, which in a way was how I got into shaping the flow of a curated musical experience. 

In uni, I learned how to DJ with my now close friend, as part of the RockSoc – No Wave. I learned how to use the Decks with CD’s of all the things! I remember, we had to burn the playlist we wanted to play on to two CD’s then insert them into the CDJ’s. My formal training was this: play one song from deck 1. When it’s nearly over, play the song from deck 2, and move the fader. That was it! 

I took an unintentional break due to uni and my masters, but got back into it when i moved home to Sheffield. At the time, I was unemployed and pretty low, but saw an opportunity to DJ as part of GRL. Sheffield. This was absolutely pivotal to the career I have now. I met some of my closest friends in music through GRL. which aimed to champion and platform women, and non-binary people in music. It really did give me that platform as ever since, I’ve had some amazing opportunities through those connections.

The first GRL event was in Foodhall when it was in Eyre street. It was a relaxed, fun environment that felt safe and welcoming, and open to us newer DJ’s making mistakes – which I did a LOT. At the time I wasn’t really ‘mixing’, really just getting a feel for curating something for a live crowd. I also made the decision to not go back to DJing metal/hardcore as I wanted to reconnect with my afro-music roots. I used to listen to loads of afrobeat with my family when I was younger.

I think a real highlight of my career was playing Tough Act at the White Hotel, warming up the room for I.JORDAN, which was at the time the biggest crowd I had played to (I think!). Tough Act is an amazing non-binary & trans led night by DJ Soyboi, FKA Hardcore, Wife of Lot and D.Clemente. I met some good friends of mine that night, and once again, felt safe and welcome too. I think another highlight was doing the NYE drop last year/this year? I was so ridiculously nervous, but actually I managed to relax and have fun. I went home straight after!

DJ MYNA performing with headphones

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your DJ Career?

I think one thing that I’ve struggled with is a feeling of belonging. I mainly play in the north of the UK and the crowds, and other DJ’s on the line up with me and in the crowds have been overwhelmingly white. I truly think music is for all, but it’s really hard to be perceived and feel like I don’t belong in those spaces. I started out wanting to DJ afrobeats, but music to me feels so personal. There are just some songs or directions I want to go in, that aren’t palatable to certain crowds that don’t have that same cultural background, and to play it in a way that isn’t gimmicky.

I think that I’ve struggled being visibly darker skinned in the scene and have experienced tokenisation too. Sometimes, it feels like I’ve been shoehorned onto an event when everyone else is playing genres and sounds that I really don’t ‘fit’ into.

I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been on the same line-up as another black person, or another person of colour. As a result of this, I’ve embarked on a journey to meet other black creatives in the north and gather us together in a collective called Calabash!. I’d love to transport to a time where clubs were mixed in race, gender, and other things too. I recently learned of Jive Turkey which was a Sheffield night that did that.

“I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been on the same line-up as another black person, or another person of colour.”

It’s odd because I’ve been criticised for working towards this goal, by wanting to put on an all black lineup, or seeking out other black women in music. We don’t blink an eye when it’s an all white female line up, or an all male line up, but weirdly, people get upset when i make my own suggestions for a black only line up. I try not to let it get to me, but it reminds me that we have a long way to go!

I think as a result of wanting to move in the right direction musically, and to respect myself and my vision, I’ve had to turn down gigs that don’t offer the right pay, or where the promoter doesn’t respect my boundaries. I’ve been offered half my fee AND been asked to reject other gigs in order to be exclusive. This promoter simultaneously valued my skills, but also de-valued me in one offer. That was really hard. It’s scary to be perceived as someone who is difficult to work with, in an industry that is so hard to crack into, and one that I do want to grow in too. I’ve taken a lot of free and low paid gigs, and it’s really hard to break out of that habit out of fear. 

It seems counterintuitive to turn things away, and I’ve been told I should be ‘grateful’ for even being offered. But I’ve learned my lessons by checking in with myself after a gig – did it feel right? Am I playing what I want to play as a form of self expression? Or am I wholly pandering to a crowd? 

How do you juggle your personal life with DJing, all the travelling, late nights etc? 

I had a 8 week period of time where I had a gig every weekend, and even during the week. It was extremely challenging, but so rewarding too. It was amazing to be part of so much, and to have promoters recognise me as someone worth booking. It was also where I had to juggle a lot of things. 

At the time, I had to juggle a hen do, personal commitments, religious commitments and family commitments too. The travelling was tricky at times, and I have taken a couple of late coaches to get from one place to another. I effectively lose my weekends if I DJ on a Friday and a Saturday, as I’m usually really tired as a result of having to stay up so late. Especially if I’m booked to close a party at 4 or 5am. 

I find myself with less preparation time for gigs and sets as I like to spend time at Mondo radio, or sorting some admin. I’m working on finding balance and learning to rely on people a bit more, instead of trying to do it all. 

A Day in the Life of DJ MYNA

A typical Friday before I have a gig will start off the same – I’m usually working! I don’t have breakfast these days, and due to the unfortunate WFH thing, I wake up maybe an hour before I have to log on. I’ll usually make a cuppa after my first meeting – then start thinking about the rest of my day. 

Currently, I line-manage a team of 5 people as a data and analytics team leader. I also deliver business intelligence reporting, process optimisation and all sorts. I’ve been in this industry for 4 years, but I’m rapidly learning a lot, and I have to talk to so many people on a regular basis to make sure things get done. 

If I’m particularly nervous, I might use my lunch break to prepare a set – and I likely won’t have much of an appetite! By Friday, I’ve spent a few weeks thinking about the gig. What the crowd might be like, what genres other DJ’s might be playing, what sort of stuff I would like to play, as well as anything new I’d like to try. I do like to challenge myself with a new technique, skill, or blend to perform for each gig. I don’t always manage it – but maybe a new genre, maybe a new way to mix something – depending on how comfortable I feel. 

I usually have dinner as late as possible, because I know I’ll have to be up late! It’s really important so that I can concentrate properly during a 2am set time for example – so sometimes I’ll order a huge pizza as a treat. 

My creative process is largely consisting of listening to music, really. Walking around with my headphones is important, to get the energy right, running through other mixes and blends I’ve done in the past on radio to see if any would transfer. I’d then come up with some core songs that I think represent the energy I’m going for. Then think about the pace of the set. If I’m on first, then I think about how to slowly bring the energy up, maybe selecting some songs at around 100 bpm. If I’m doing this, I then need to think of the right pivot song, or series of songs, to get from 100 bpm, up to 120, then 130 etc.

If I’m in the middle, it’s a little harder, as you can never predict what the DJ or act before you is going to end on, but I love the challenge. This selection has to be more spontaneous in terms of the first few songs, but I think of it as a chance to stamp your identity onto the night following the last DJ. 

The hardest part is having to buy/download and organise all the tunes that will make up your set. This is usually quite tedious for me, but I really do recommend all new DJ’s take the time to thoroughly prepare this part. Making sure all my songs are gridded in rekordbox, with cue points, notes, hot cues, and preset loops allows me to be flexible once I’m behind the decks. DJ admin is so tedious, and I’d honestly like to see if there’s a tech solution I can come up with for it, to automate it or make it easier!

Depending on the gig, I may decide to create a set list. This can be really helpful if you feel a bit lost during a set. Most times I’ll create a list of songs, in a loose order, with other reference folders like ‘baile’ or ‘gqom’ so I can easily dip into them. Every DJ has their own system.

Getting ready is usually quite stressful – l always feel like I dress like someone’s mum at the rave, but I’m working on becoming more comfortable with my style. 

Usually getting to the gig is a taxi affair, and I try to turn up pretty close to my set time. I struggle to be super sociable if I know I’m going alone, but if I know some of the other DJ’s or I have a couple of faces I’m expecting I’ll get there earlier. I’ve actually made friends by just turning up early – and getting ‘adopted’. I haven’t usually got to bring equipment, but on the occasions I do, I’ll turn up an hour early to make sure everything is all set up properly. 

I usually leave pretty early because I’m just a very sleepy girl and I love to be in bed at all times really. This does depend though on if I’m really into the next acts, or if I get to have some good chats in the smoking area. 

The next day I’ll usually wake up pretty late, which sort of bothers me, but I try to get up and go for a walk, get my life admin in order, sort out my invoices. When I get done with those, I’ll probably be doing some admin for Mondo Radio, which is where I volunteer as part of the management team. Depending on where we are in the month, I might be writing the monthly newsletter with the latest round up from our residents.

DJ MYNA performing with headphones

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What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt since you started DJing?

I have so so many. Which one is the biggest? Stay true to yourself. Sounds cliche, but at the heart of every discontented DJ is straying too far from what you set out to do. I came to this industry to share music I love, music from underrepresented groups. I started pandering to drunk students in the crowd and it started to make less and less sense. Keep with what you set out to do, and you’ll find your people.

If I could add one more! Your friends are not your audience. Don’t be surprised if you enter this journey alone, and be prepared to make new friends, because having a community around you will save you. (I’m so grateful for mine!)

Do you see the DJ industry evolving over the next few years? If so, how? 

I do, and the positive things I see are around more space for underrepresented groups. DJing is no longer about who has access to the most power, resources and equipment. It’s now for women, non-binary people, LGBTQIA+ people, for black, brown, asian people and we are all so talented within our niches, as well as dominating the mainstream. We have a long way to go, and I can be hugely pessimistic at times, but I think times really are changing.

“DJing is no longer about who has access to the most power, resources and equipment. It’s now for women, non-binary people, LGBTQIA+ people, for black, brown, asian people and we are all so talented within our niches…”

What do you wish everyone knew about what it’s like to be a DJ?

Sometimes, I joke and say, honestly, us DJ’s are so lame, and all we do is hit buttons and play other peoples music. I don’t truly believe that, but actually DJ’s are really just huge music nerds. I want people to know it’s hard, and the industry can be ruthless if you aren’t a straight white cisgendered man. I’d like people to know how lonely it can be too. 

I’d love people to understand the amount of preparation, sweat and dedication it takes to stand up there in front of 100’s of people and play music you love. I’d love for people to know the gut wrenching feeling of playing to a completely empty room, and conversely the comfort it brings when we see even one person dancing alone while we’re DJing. Oh and please please please don’t request music! I only have me and my lil USB! Please don’t talk to me while we’re behind the decks because we cannot hear you – and in extension to that, don’t hit on us while we’re working, too!

I’ve got two booth monitors pointing at me, and you couldn’t handle me, son.

Find dj MYNA on instagram @aminaminaa

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