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Optimistic Soul on bringing African electronic music to Glasgow, escapism in music, and Otherlands Music & Arts Festival 2022

Sibusiso Mpofu, better known as Optimistic Soul has spent the formative years of his music career channelling the rich sounds of his South African roots into slick dance music in the heart of Glasgow’s nightlife hub. The DJ, producer and promoter has proudly founded inclusive party Africa Is Now, taken up residency at club night JAIVA based out of Glasgow’s legendary Subclub, and recently celebrated the release of two-track EP Emotion Code.

Having already taken to one of Scotland’s top electronic music festivals this year at Riverside Festival’s bank holiday bash, Optimistic Soul now prepares to join the debut weekend of Otherlands Music & Arts Festival on Friday 19th August. The three day festival combines top DJs and genre-spanning artists including Bicep, Jamie XX, Folamour and Biig Piig, whilst also offering industry talks, wellness treatments and classes, and a fulll boutique glamping experience in the regal grounds of Perth’s Scone Palace.

Let’s start at the beginning. Where did your passion for electronic music begin? And who were your early influences?

Where I’m from, electronic music is pop music so it’s what you listen to growing up so back in around 2013 I was in high school and very much into my music, my cousin was a DJ and he first got me into it, next thing you know I was a kid with a laptop who just wanted to make beats.

As for influences, I was into a lot of Afro house DJs like Black Coffee and there’s a band in South Africa called Mi Casa who used to do a lot of soulful house. I was into my old school stuff, I used to like Louis Vega, and South African DJs like Oskido who made it easier to fall in love with the music I listened to when I was growing up. Then as time evolves you open your ears to more diverse sounds but I think just sticking to that as the core music I play has been very important and has played a vital part in my sound today.

In a previous interview you described music as an escape from reality. So, when the music is on, and you’re drifting out of reality, where exactly does it take you?

To me it’s a release. Given that life in itself, especially these days, is a challenge. Some days I’m just like I can’t wait to get back to the club and just play music. It just makes me happy because it takes me out of reality and in that way you can influence other people to be happy as well. I think that’s the best way I can describe it, music is an escape, it takes me somewhere I just always want to be.

Tell us about your bi-monthly club night Africa Is Now at the Berkeley Suite in Glasgow. What’s the ethos behind the night and your vision for the brand?

Africa Is Now is something that I’ve always planned for years and I just waited for the right time for it to come to fruition. When I was hit up a few months ago I thought it was  perfect timing and the perfect club because the Berkeley Suite is amazing.

The whole purpose of Africa Is Now is to bridge the gap between the wider electronic scene in Glasgow with African electronic music. Working with people who are emerging and those further ahead in the industry so that we can learn from them. But the most important thing, I think, is to bridge the gaps in Glasgow’s music scene and work with everyone despite race, gender, sexuality, in putting all of our ideas in one room and seeing what we can come up with.

You’re joining the line-up for Otherlands Festival’s debut weekend in Perth this August. What were your first thoughts on the overall event concept?

I’m playing with ButhoTheWarrior which is amazing for me, he’s been a great friend. We are similar in that he runs JAIVA and I’m part of JAIVA as well. So, when I first heard of Otherlands I was like this is the best opportunity for us to influence our sound on a bigger stage because that’s what it looks like to me, a discovery platform, so I thought that there’s no other place I’d rather play at than Otherlands because it allows us to bring our taste, our sound and our influence to a wider spectrum of people who came here thinking Oh, what are we going to get and they see me and Butho playing and they’re like wow we’ve never heard Afro house we don’t know what it is, what’s Afro techno? and they hear that. So, to me it’s an opportunity to progress the sound.

Who do you look forward to seeing live at Otherlands when you’re there?

TAAHLIAH is amazing! I’ve met her a few times but I’ve never really had the chance to listen to her sets in an extended way. So, I want to see her set because to me she’s a revelation and what she’s done over the past few months and over lockdown is definitely a revelation that you can really make it if you keep your head down and just go for it, she went for it so I think more than anyone I would say TAAHLIAH.

What can we expect from your live set on the day?

To be honest what moves me is the crowd, the people. I’m just gonna go there and be myself and play what I know. But typically, you can expect a lot of House, Afro house, melodic techno, I really love my Connect Music crew, the guys in Berlin, they influence me a lot as well so expect more of that style. It’s giving Hï Ibiza vibes!

Out of the full weekend schedule at Otherlands, what are you most looking forward to?

I definitely want to try the wellness part of the festival, and I’m keen for music industry talks with professional panels, and most importantly I’m just keen to play to the crowd. I’d say those are the top three for me.

Who are some artists from the Scottish scene that you’re loving at the moment and that we should be checking out?

At the moment I really think Bemz is doing great. He’s a good friend of mine. Also, Kilimanjaro, he is a brother to me, he recently played his debut Boiler Room set. He has drive, he has ambition and I think he’s doing amazing. For sure,  I think that those two artists are examples to look up to in the scene.

Finally, what are your plans for the rest of 2022?

I plan to keep on releasing music. Gigs are a bonus to be honest, if that comes then amazing. I want to continue growing Africa Is Now by working with more club nights which is what’s going to happen for the remainder of the three nights this year. And work with people that I really like, that I think are good people because to me that’s a big thing, working with nice people who want to see you progress and who you want to see progress too. Finally, and most importantly, I’m trying to register a label which is hard work. I’m in the process of trying to do that, it will be called Optimistic Music and hopefully will create a base for black artists in Scotland and launch at the beginning of 2023.

Catch Optimistic Soul performing B2B ButhoTheWarrior at the debut weekend of Otherlands Festival at Scone Palace, Perth 19th-21st August 2022. Visit www.otherlandsfestival.com for more information.

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Words by Jo Dargie

Posted On 3 October, 2022