Hailing from South Africa and Zimbabwe, Glasgow-based DJ Optimistic Soul is one of the leading tastemakers in the city’s growing afro house and afro tech scene. Through his residency at Jaiva in Sub Club, his own club night Africa Is Now in the Berkeley Suite, and forthcoming releases on the afro house label WeAreiDyll, the underground sounds of electronic music on the African continent shine through, always informed by Optimistic Soul’s deep love of dance music across the globe, from Chicago house to Detroit techno. We caught up with Optimistic Soul about his career so far, his philosophy on life and what we can expect from his Kelburn debut.
Kelburn Garden Party: Welcome Optimistic Soul! Let’s begin with an introduction to your mix.
Optimistic Soul: It’s going to be afro house, afro techno, and melodic techno – music that raises your vibration in a way, I would say. Music that makes you connect with people. That’s the music that I play personally, and I hope my Kelburn debut will give that. I’m very excited for it.
What kind of music were you listening to at the start of your musical journey in South Africa and Zimbabwe?
I was very heavily influenced by soulful house growing up. A lot of deep house, a lot of South African house music, and a lot of kwaito. As I grew older, amapiano started in South Africa. It was basically African electronic music. One of my biggest inspirations, I think is Black Coffee. Also, I was always listening to Kerri Chandler and all these Detroit guys, a lot of Chicago house, DJ Stan, and Carisma. There was a very strong house influence when I was growing up. Proper house music.
When did you decide to start mixing?
It was back in high school in 2014. It happened in my bedroom for some time, and then a few years later, I decided to join a few radio shows, like Clydebuild Radio. One thing leads to the other, and you’ve got your first club booking. It’s shut down now, but it was at this club called Discoteca in Glasgow. I was playing with Kilimanjaro, We Should Hang Out More and Shakara – all these great DJs.
On your website you’ve quoted Frederick Delius, who said that “music is an outburst of the soul”. How has that philosophy influenced your music?
I think part of what inspired my DJ name is a perspective that life sometimes just needs you to have a positive outlook. I don’t think I’ve had the easiest life, and a part of me has always been like, you’ve got no choice but to be optimistic about the future. Coming from South Africa and being a young boy who came in when he was 17, it wasn’t easy adjusting to a society that’s totally different – trying to find your feet in a society that’s moving at 100 miles an hour. Where I’m from, everything is laid back and chill. So you go through a lot of changes, some good, some bad. But I think those experiences made me the person that I am, to be quite positive. Mixing that with the music that I consume, it just makes sense to call myself Optimistic Soul.
You released your first EP last year, and have more music planned with WeAreiDyll Records. What kind of sound are you trying to create in your productions?
More industrial afro techno with a hint of soul. I like to think that afro house is becoming more, not necessarily darker, but it’s becoming more for the club. Afro house started off as bongos in the club, really happy music with a lot of soulful vocals. As time progresses, we’re still keeping that same sound, it’s still got those elements that make people want to dance and actually hug each other after a set, but it’s kind of industrial. It’s really fun. A good example of a person who’s doing that well is an Italian producer called &LEZ. He’s my biggest biggest inspiration so far.
How did you become involved in the Jaiva club nights?
I met Butho The Warrior through a friend, then again at Clydebuilt radio when we had a little call-up with Shakara. We did a few mixes together and bonded – we literally have the same interests, we even share the same surname and are from the same country – then I became a resident.
How do you think the afro house and afro tech scene is evolving in Glasgow?
It’s still growing. I can only take the positives, compared to how it was when we got here. There was literally none of that sound. Now we have at least two or three club nights at Sub Club and Berkley Street. People actually know what afro house is now and we have our own niche, our own following, here and there. Compared to other cities that are thriving like London, and Amsterdam is the biggest now, Glasgow is slowly going to get there soon.
You started the Africa Is Now radio show during lockdown, and now a club night too. What aspects of Africa’s dance music scene do you want people to hear?
I want people to come with an intention to actually enjoy and take in the music. That’s the whole ethos of Africa Is Now. It’s about bridging the gap to someone who’s never heard of afro house, and they come to the club night and they’re like, “Wow, I want to come back here again.” Music has changed my life. I don’t know if it could change someone else’s life, but we want to have people come in and empty themselves and enjoy it and get taken away by the music.
We love the name Africa Is Now. Do you think that Africa is playing a big role in pushing the boundaries of dance music right now?
It is, and hence why we activated Africa Is Now. To showcase those underrepresented artists from the motherland, from Africa, even from Europe who still feel like they want to do that kind of music. African music is happening now, so why not?
And finally, what sort of vibe can we expect from your debut set at Kelburn?
I was thinking about that yesterday. I think I want a really uplifting set. Yeah. I want an uplifting set.
Thanks Optimistic Soul!