One of Our Own: Jojo Sonubi and Scully

One of Our Own: Jojo Sonubi and Scully

VERSUS chopped it up with No Signal founders Jojo Sonubi and Jason ‘Scully’ Kavuma to talk about Black British culture and the inextricable link between music and football.

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September 1st 2023

This partnership between VERSUS and Sports Direct celebrates the impact football fans have on their communities across the UK. Football has the power to change the world for the better, and these individuals embody that message better than anyone else.

No Signal is the sound of the Black Britain.

Using the universal language of music to forge connections throughout the diaspora, Jojo Sonubi and Jason ‘Scully’ Kavuma have cultivated a lively community at the heart of Black British culture.

No Signal rose to mainstream consciousness in 2020 when their NS10v10 sound clash series broke the internet. In the middle of lockdown, when people were longing for human connection, the radio station delivered with a pandemic-safe musical escape from reality. Thousands tuned in to see who would triumph between Wizkid and Vybz Cartel, Burna Boy and Popcaan.

Jojo and Scully's creation quickly became a digital space for people to convene, bond, and debate over shared interests, ranging from music to politics to football. Since then, the clashes have been retired in favour of live events, continuing to introduce the music-loving community to new sounds and cultures. Though the format has changed, No Signal hasn’t stopped celebrating Black culture in all its facets, from political protests both at home and abroad, to the rise in Black footballers and their unique connections to the music industry.

VERSUS sat down with the duo to talk about Arsenal in the early 2000s, the club's impact on the Black community especially, the bridge between music and football, and the future of No Signal Radio.

Photography by Holly-Marie Cato for VERSUS.

“Arsenal had all these Black men in the squad, and I remember thinking: “I like this! I want to be a part of this!”

VERSUS: When you ask people why they support a certain team, it’s usually because someone in their family does. How did you both start supporting Arsenal?

Jojo: One day I just decided to support Arsenal! I saw a young Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira – they were very stylish back then you know – so I think about 2002 is when I started supporting the club; I must have been about 10-years-old at the time.

Back then, it was a good time to support Arsenal, too. But, I just remember thinking how cool these players were. And although I lived in Tottenham, no one supported the club. Everyone supported Arsenal, so it made sense.

Scully: When I was growing up, a lot of that Arsenal team looked like me. I was obsessed with Patrick Vieira when I was younger! And they also had the king, Thierry Henry. They had all these Black men in the squad, and I remember thinking: “I like this! I want to be a part of this!

VERSUS: How and why did the two of you get into music and radio?

Scully: I always tell people I never actually planned to do radio, and that I wanted to write about music. But even that initial ‘plan’ was more about me finding an avenue into writing about politics – I was young, and people really didn’t want to hear me talk about politics!

A core memory of mine is: I was 10-years-old, and my parents got me a JVC boombox for my birthday. I remember that moment so well! I used to sit and do my homework every night whilst listening to the radio, and that must have influenced me somehow because years later, I’m writing about and working in music.

Somebody that I used to work with – who funnily enough now works for Arsenal and has me working with the club, too – told me once I needed to get into radio because I’m a passionate and engaging speaker; especially when it comes to things I care about. They thought I’d be a really good presenter and it would be a good step for me professionally. I walked down to Queens Road Peckham, joined Reprezent, and the rest is history.

Jojo: For me, I was just keen on bringing ideas to life.

I had no experience in radio, and to be honest…I had no desire to do radio when I was younger! I did maybe one or two radio shows just for the sake of promotion back in the day, as part of a small campaign or something like that, but I never really envisaged having a radio station. Anyway, our version of a radio station is quite different from everyone else’s – we’re definitely not a traditional radio station.

“We’re hoping people can learn from what we do, then they can have better conversations and better ideas around culture.”

VERSUS: It feels like No Signal has become a hallmark of the young, Black British community almost overnight. How does it feel to be behind such a unifying platform?

Jojo: It goes back to making ideas come to life or attempting to solve certain problems.

I never realised that you can never really represent a melting pot of people with just one thing. The only thing that people can really jointly rep is the city they come from, in my opinion. Everyone has different languages, different things they eat, different customs. However, something that comes just as close as the place people are from – in terms of unification – is music. And being able to bring people together through music means that we also can understand other cultures, too. So the perceived ‘overnight success’ – because they say overnight success is actually like three or four years of work, minimum – the process of that was doing 10v10 clashes where people would learn about each other’s music.

We know a lot about American music, and we did involve some Americans, but here in the Black British diaspora, we don’t know a lot about each other’s music. We did some independence shows: a Uganda one – Scully hosted that, Jamaican ones, Nigerian ones, and even Bajan ones. If you didn’t know about those cultures, those sessions were a way to learn. 10v10 is no more, and we instead do something similar through events now. We do parties that focus on ‘this section’ of Africa, ‘this section’ of the Caribbean. This is all the music from ‘that region’ and we’re going to throw a party championing it.

We’re hoping people can learn from what we do, and then they can have better conversations and better ideas around culture and the diaspora experience especially.

Scully: I think everyone who is involved in No Signal is very unique and very different. But I think there’s a lot of things that unify us, and I think that is a love of different cultures; whether that’s your own or another you find inspiring. We’ve got someone who’s part of the team that loves K-pop, and I think that’s amazing. I think that’s sick because I’m going to learn something new when I listen to that genre of music. When you have a collective that is eclectic, but together have something that unifies them, you can speak for a lot of things.

This isn’t to say we’re the authority on all things music and culture, but I think we are people who genuinely enjoy the intersectionalities of music, fashion, sport in wider culture. So when we speak it comes from a place of honesty and admiration.

“Most of us, we represent where we are from, and supporting a team is just an extension of that.”

VERSUS: How has football shaped conversations within the No Signal community, even when it’s not the main subject being discussed?

Scully: I don’t know if Jo knows it, but he gives bare football analogies! That’s his way of talking to people.

Football allows people to bond almost instantly. I didn’t know Chris before today but within half an hour we were talking about the upcoming season – even though she’s a Spurs fan! Football is just the easiest thing to connect over. People also love to stand for or represent something. Most of us, we represent where we are from, and supporting a team is just an extension of that.

Jojo: Fully agree. The team aspect of football is really important to me, and I use the game to explain things to the No Signal team quite a lot. Good teams – like Arsenal – make sure everyone knows their role, but if someone needs support, they can step in. It makes you more responsible for each other’s success, which is just like football.

VERSUS: Music and football have become incredibly connected in recent years. Where do you think ‘Blackness’ fits into that connection and music’s prevalence in the sport?

Scully: That’s interesting, because I think both music and football are associated with the working classes. With football, all you need is a ball and therefore anyone can play it. And when it comes to music, all you need is a decent voice and an understanding of flow and rhythm. I think the access point for both is more obtainable because of this. Anyone can ‘get in’, but the thing about both of them is: the better you are the further you go. It feels like a place where there’s true meritocracy. If you’re really good at football, you’re going to succeed. If you’re really good at music, you’re going to sell records. Obviously, there’s outside factors that can change this, but that is the simplest way of putting it. I think that is why they’re so synonymous.

People who come from where we come from – from Black culture, London culture, inner cities, working class – whatever culture that is, you feel like you can make it in this space just by being good. It doesn’t matter if I can’t afford new shoes, or if I can’t access the best facilities. As long as I’m good at what I do, I will make my way. And I think in that way they relate to each other – the athletes and musicians themselves, not just the actual activities.

Jojo: With music, now it’s this big part of football in the media. Back in the day, it was the video games that made the connection between music and the sport. In the social media age and the current generation, the way people are socialising now, footballers will be at the same events as musicians. They’ll be friends with each other, because it’s easy for them to be friends now, for example.

Or in terms of marketing, you’ve got Stormzy announcing Pogba a few years back. Or Odumodublvck’s Declan Rice bars earlier this year. For the consumer, for the fans, it can be a really beautiful coming together of ‘their’ worlds.

It’s really cool seeing artists link up with footballers. Both groups are probably fans of one another, at the end of the day. I think it’s great that both worlds collide and it’s not one or the other. Culture nowadays is multi-dimensional and a lot of players – especially Black ones – deserve a community to be a part of, and more often than not, music plays a role in that.

“There’s just so much to be done. The work is nowhere near done, we’re not finished yet.”

VERSUS: Where do you see No Signal expanding in the coming years?

Scully: We definitely want to do something that is related to football. The ideas are gestating, believe us when we say that.

Jojo: We love football too much to not do anything about it! In terms of No Signal, I think it’s just about learning about other things, about our cultures through music – as we’ve already highlighted, that journey never stops. Understanding each other through music. My music taste has definitely changed over the past few years based on what I’ve consumed on No Signal and all the shows I’ve listened to. If my music taste has changed for the better through this thing that we’ve created, we need to present that so that the same effect can be had on others.

Scully: It’s such an interesting question because when you ask it, you’re asking from the outside looking in, and you’re asking what is the next product, but from the perspective I’m looking at it from it’s like a creative hub where there’s a lot of thinkers, and we’re thinking about different things and how we can affect our community in the best way possible.

It’s such an open-ended question because the answer to it always depends on what the community needs. If it’s new ways of discovering music, then that’s what we’re focusing on. If it’s new ways of creating content that isn’t being done – or is being done, but the access point is too high – let’s lower the access point. Let’s make it simpler to do that. There’s just so much to be done. The work is nowhere near done, we’re not finished yet.

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