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In his short documentary film “Finding”, Accra’s most fashionable DJ, DJ Steloo, revealed how he carefully selects the various elements of his distinctive and bold Afro- steampunk-hipster-esque outfits from informal markets around Accra. The film debuted at the 2016 edition of the Chale Wote Street Art Festival. Tash Morgan-Etty caught up with Steloo after the screening to find out more about the film, reactions to his style sense and what Accra means to him.
What was your motivation to move into film?
The thing that kicked me into film is me telling my story in a different way. I’m known as a DJ, and here in Accra DJs are put in a box. People only know us as playing music, and nothing else. So, with me, I’m trying to challenge myself by opening up to other things, explore, experiment through other ways; find other ways of telling my story and communicating with people not just through music. Other ways I can tell my story is by relating with people I connect with through my fashion sense – the uniforms I wear, the music I play, pictures that I take and put out, etc. Those are the ways I want to tell my story.
Also, people are curious where I find my [clothes], and how I pick them, etc. So I thought, “OK, I can tell my story from this space and show that side to the people, and share. I’m sharing the side that people don’t normally see.
You call what you wear a “uniform”. Why do you see it as a uniform, rather than just simply your choice of wardrobe?
I believe we all have uniforms, because we all play a role or work, and “work’ doesn’t mean you wake up and go into a certain office, dressed in a certain way, and work. When you wake up and walk into your kitchen you already have something on, so you are already wearing a uniform. We all wear uniforms. The woman who is selling on the street, that’s her uniform. The kids playing, that’s their uniform. So, it’s not like you need some particular outfit. What you are wearing right now is your uniform for the day. So it changes, it’s not like a constant outfit. That’s what I’m trying to challenge.
Tell us a bit about the reactions you get to your uniform.
Some people find the uniform too much. Like it’s too bold and out there for them. Like it’s too in their face. If it happens to be the first time they see me, and they’re like “Who is this!?” I like the fact that when people see me they question themselves, because I’m art and I’m supposed to question people. I like the drama that it creates on the streets. I’m always on public transport, and the reactions it creates on the bus… sometimes I go on the bus and everyone goes silent, like they are scared. I get a lot of funny reactions. It shows the power that my uniform holds.
The reason I get reactions like that in Accra is that fashion is not really a big thing. Fashion is there, but it’ more the trendy stuff, toned down. So the moment you try to do more people are like, “Wow! What is this?” Like you are the brightest colour in town. So, people find it very weird, and they don’t understand why I will show up wearing this.
[For example], I went to the bank, and they have a symbol on the wall like you can’t wear hats and sunglasses in the bank. I told them, “That’s wrong. Why can’t I have sunglasses and hats in your bank? If I take of my hat right now and I collapse, what would be your reaction? People have reasons why they have hats on. Maybe the air conditioner is too cold for somebody. It’s not too cold for me, but this is me. This is how I live my life. If you want me to still save money in the bank, I will show up wearing how I spend my money. This is how I live all the time, and I can’t change for just coming to your bank.”
Maybe they feel that if you’re coming to the bank you need to look decent; very formal? That doesn’t make sense to me. You created the bank to serve the community, the public, and there are different people in the community who come from different backgrounds. You wouldn’t have people who are always dressed in smart wear to go to the bank. So, you need to accept people for who they are.
Why is Accra important to you?
Accra is very important to me in the sense that this is where I grew up. There are some notions about some things that I have realised, and I’ve taken it on myself as an artist to correct those things. Like being a DJ and living in Accra… most people think you can’t make a living out of it; you can’t treat it as a career. DJs who grew up in this city, and are locally based, are pictured in a certain way. I’m trying to make it clear to them that we’re not just in this box. You can be a DJ based in Accra, who grew up here, and make a living out of it. You need to position yourself properly; have a vision; know where you are going, and it will work.
Accra means a lot to me ‘cause all my inspirations and everything is from this city. This is where I find myself. When I wake up I don’t need to look at what’s happening somewhere else, because everything I need is here. Always inspiration is around me. This is what I really like about Accra, and I wouldn’t need to relocate to anywhere else. I’d rather stay in Accra, and make Accra the place that I want to see. It’s a huge responsibility on me.
What will we be seeing from DJ Steloo in the coming months and years?
I don’t even know. Tomorrow I can do something amazing that I never thought of doing for Accra [before]. I’m always trying to challenge myself to come out with something fresh for the city. I have really huge ideas of what I want to do for the city, and I can’t tell if it’s going to come at this time or that. It’s going to come as a surprise. A surprise for myself, and a surprise for the people.
But, in general, are we still going to be hearing plenty of music?
Yes, there’s going to be plenty of music. I’m planning a couple of shows. I’m also building the electronic music scene with a DJ friend of mine, Jason Kleatsh, and we are trying to start a movement. It’s a venue where we plan to have an electronic music event once a month. So, people who really like underground electronic music could come by and hang out. It’ll be located at Neem Grill.
And on film?
I want to take “Finding” to other festivals so more people can see it. I also have an idea of another film I want to do, which plays a larger role in my music. It’s something I’m developing right now, but I’m looking forward to doing next year.