Interview: Afro Chill – Shaking Up Estonia’s Music Scene with Afro-Vibes (May 2023)

In the heart of Tallinn, where medieval history intertwined with a thriving contemporary cultural scene, a remarkable annual event unfolds each spring—the Tallinn Music Week. This festival is renowned across Europe for bridging the gap between Estonia’s rich cultural heritage and its emerging music talents. In the midst of this musical extravaganza, we had the privilege of sitting down with two extraordinary DJs, producers and cultural instigators, DJs Yas Lo and DJ Smol, better known as Afro Chill. Our conversation took place just hours before their electrifying DJ-set, which would mark the grand finale of the Africa NOW! stage’s programme (organised by Event Manager and Event Producer Mark Dieler).

Their journey in the world of music is a compelling tale of passion and creativity, driven by a clear and noble objective: to create a space where African communities and enthusiasts of African culture in the Baltic Republics could come together, connect, and lose themselves in the infectious beats of afrobeats, amapiano, Afro-house, kuduro, and an array of other dance-inducing styles.

Their story began unfolding in August 2022 when they embarked on a mission to establish a haven for Afro-vibes enthusiasts in Estonia. This haven was envisioned as a place for individuals to converge, build connections, and immerse themselves in the vibrant rhythms capable of transcending borders and uniting people from all walks of life on the dance floor.

The project Afro Chill started in August last year. So Yassin [DJ Yas Lo] texted me, and he said he had this idea for this brilliant project to host events that target African communities because here in Tallinn, we don’t have a space for Africans or people who love African culture to come together and connect“, DJ Smol reminisced, reflecting on the origins of their project.

Their vision was crystal clear: to nurture diversity and multiculturalism in Estonia by creating a space where the Afro community could unite. This quest led them to the welcoming doors of Luso Lounge, a charming international venue nestled in Tallinn’s historic Old Town. The venue’s proprietors readily embraced their vision, and thus, Afro Chill was born.

Afro Chill & Mark Dieler @ Tallin Music Week 2023

DJ Yas Lo journey to Estonia was quite unconventional, having spent significant time in Finland. However, his unwavering passion for DJing and music compelled him to stay in Estonia when he received an offer to become a resident DJ at Club Privé. “I’ve been living in Finland for a long time, so that’s where my DJing journey started. I was a student there, then I finished university, but the DJing scene, the music, it kept pulling me in that direction. So I decided to keep on this artistic lane. And also, I’ve been doing music production there. I have my own personal projects on the side. So apart from Afro Chill, I have like three aliases. One is DJ Yas Lo, and then the second one is Elowgo, where I make Afro-house and Afro-tech. And then I have Felix Ojack, which is more popular house.

…And how I got to Estonia? Basically it’s the same thing. I used to come back and forth from Finland to here doing the same thing, DJing. Then I received a call from one club called Club Privé to be their resident DJ. So that’s how I started coming here more often, and I decided to stay here for a long time…

On the other hand, DJ Smol, originally from Nigeria, embarked on his DJ journey after witnessing a rather lacklustre wedding DJ performance. This fateful event ignited her exploration of DJing and eventually led her to the Estonian shores. “My story may not quite match that one… [they both laugh] but it’s still my story… Actually, it’s almost similar; it also began in university. So, I decided to start DJing after attending a friend’s wedding, and the DJ was terrible. Even before that, I had already started experimenting with Virtual DJ on my PC, playing music with some speakers in my dorm and for friends, you know, small gatherings. So, the next time a friend was getting married, I said, ‘Hey, I think I can DJ if you provide the equipment”.That’s how I landed my first gig, actually. It was a wedding. It wasn’t the best gig because it was my first, but I think I did better than the previous DJ. I played afrobeats and some danceable love songs by John Legend, R&B, stuff like that. So, I continued, bought my first deck, a Numark, a small white one. I started getting more gigs, even skipped some classes. That’s when I knew I really liked this stuff.

“When I came to Tallinn, one of the travel agents I talked to mentioned his brother, who organised events. That’s how I began DJing in Tallinn. I haven’t really stopped since then, although I do slow down at times due to classes…

Their careers as DJs in Estonia evolved through collaborations with other DJs and event organisers, demonstrating the pivotal role networking played in opening doors to new opportunities and expanding their presence in the Estonian music scene.

As their DJ careers progressed, DJ Yas Lo took a bold step by introducing afrobeats to Estonia’s music scene, diverging from mainstream house music. This move not only paid off but also drew a diverse audience. “To be honest, the afrobeats scene here in Tallinn has improved. We have seen, like, a very big change from when we started in August last year. There’s been a big improvement in the number of people attending our events. Even at our most recent one, it was amazing to see how many people showed up. We never thought that many people would show up. And people enjoyed themselves“.

Apart from that, we’ve been thinking of even going beyond Estonia to even, like, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, you know, places where there are a lot of Africans who live there. We’ve been thinking of organising events there also“, DJ Smol revealed, hinting at their ambitious expansion plans.

DJ Yas Lo & DJ Smol

Afro Chill’s events transcends mere parties; they offers immersive cultural experiences that transports attendees to Africa. Beyond the music, the duo incorporates enlightening presentations on various facets of African culture, enriching the minds of their guests. “The idea behind Afro Chill is pretty simple—it’s all about celebrating African culture. Our main aim is to bring people from the African community and those who love African culture together to have a great time, connect, make new friends, and network.

“You know, it’s not that easy to find folks with African backgrounds around here. My friend Precious, who’s also our chef, once talked about how challenging it was to connect with people of African descent until she joined our team and started handling the catering. We realised how tough it can be to make these connections, and that’s why we decided to create events where people can just come, have fun, and build connections. That’s what Afro Chill is all about. And, on top of the fun, we like to sprinkle in some knowledge at each event. We’ll have a short presentation about something related to Africa, like the history of a particular country or the culinary traditions. We try to educate the people who come to our events, not just for them to have fun. We want them to learn something as well“, DJ Smol explained, highlighting their commitment to infusing learning with entertainment

DJ Yas Lo agreed, “When it comes to our events, we aim for something very special. They are not like not like regular club events. We want to create a cultural experience where people can people can come, have fun, dance, eat, enjoy the music, and reconnect with that sense of being at home. The feedback from everyone who has attended our events has been incredibly positive”.

Nonetheless, organising these events and promoting Afro Chill in Estonia was not without its challenges. Their inaugural event was a leap of faith, as they were unsure of how the Estonian audience would react. “The biggest challenge was actually the first event because we didn’t know how people were going to take it. We had no idea how the people here would react to it. But to our surprise, they really loved it. They really loved it. They enjoyed the music, they enjoyed the food, they enjoyed the cultural aspect of it. And yeah, we were very surprised. We thought we would only get, like, the African community to come, but we were able to reach out to people from all backgrounds. It was a big surprise, and we were very happy about that“, DJ Smol reminisced.

Another hurdle they faced was the prevalence of commercial music in Estonia, making it challenging to introduce less mainstream genres like afrobeats or amapiano. Nevertheless, they persevered, and their distinctive musical approach gradually won over the audience. “If you don’t play commercial music, people might not be interested. So that’s another challenge that we’ve been trying to overcome. But like I said earlier, we try to play something that is different, that is not usually being played here in Estonia and people have been loving it. Every time they come, they ask, ‘When is the next event?’ So I think that’s a good challenge that we’ve been trying to overcome.

“When I started DJing here in Estonia, I decided to try something new. So, I started to play music that was not so popular. I was playing house music, which was popular here, and you have a lot of good DJs who are playing that kind of music. So, I was like, yeah, let me try something new and I started playing afrobeats, and everyone loved it. From there, everything just started going up, up, up!” DJ Yas Lo shared about his adventurous musical choices.

DJ Yas Lo

The memories created at Afro Chill parties hold a special place in the hearts of both DJs. They warmly reminisced about their first event, where the unexpected large turnout filled them with excitement. They also highlighted DJ Smol’s recent birthday celebration, which was a whirlwind of infectious energy and pure joy.”Oh, there are plenty of unforgettable events. One of the most recent ones was incredible. It happened in May, and it was my birthday. I’ve never had so much fun on my birthday before. Seriously, it was amazing. Probably one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. The energy at that event was through the roof, and it was just incredible“.

DJ Yas Lo added, “Yeah, and besides that, our very first event was quite memorable too because we had a huge crowd. It was really interesting because we didn’t expect that. What’s more, we’ve seen so many people attending our events, making new friends, loving the music, enjoying the food. These are the moments that I truly cherish“.

Afro Chill’s future hold exciting prospects. They aspire to embark on a tour of various Estonian cities in response to growing demand from places like Tartu, Pärnu, and Haapsalu. Moreover, their ambitions extends beyond Estonia’s borders, encompassing neighbouring countries like Finland, Latvia, and Lithuania, where substantial African communities resides. Additionally, plans were underway for a grand cultural event featuring artists from diverse African nations.

One of the projects that we have in mind is to start, like, doing a tour to other cities in Estonia because right now we are only based in Tallinn. But we have a lot of people that ask us if we can go to other cities to do events there. So that’s one of the projects that we have in mind“, DJ Yas Lo disclosed.

Apart from that, we are also planning to do, like, a big cultural event where we bring, like, different artists from different countries in Africa to perform here in Estonia. We are still in the planning phase for that, but that’s one of the big projects that we have in mind“, said DJ Smol.

DJ Smol

Their advice for aspiring DJs and event organisers was resounding: stay true to yourself, embrace authenticity, exhibit persistence, nurture patience, and be prepared to take calculated risks. “So my advice to aspiring DJs or event organizers is first to be true to yourself”. DJ Yas Lo began. “Like, be yourself. Don’t try to copy someone else. You know, everyone has their own style. Be original. Be unique. Be creative. And most importantly, be persistent and patient because, you know, success doesn’t come overnight. You have to be patient, you have to be persistent, and you have to believe in yourself“.

Yeah. And just to add to what Yas Lo said, I would say, be ready to take risks Because when you take risks, you never know what might happen. So, be prepared to take those leaps. Additionally, always stay prepared and open to learning because the industry is always changing. Music is always evolving, so always be ready to learn and adapt to new things“, DJ Smol highlighted, offering invaluable guidance to those venturing into the ever-evolving music and events industry.

Networking, continuous learning, and self-belief emerged as crucial elements for success in this ever-evolving field.

Networking is key! Try connecting with others—fellow DJs, event organizers—because networking can open doors and get you where you want to be,” DJ Yas Lo emphasised, stressing the importance of forging relationships in the industry.

Yeah, and one more thing, believe in yourself. Never doubt your abilities. Always have faith in yourself because when you do, others will believe in you too“.

As our conversation drew to a close, it became evident that DJ Yas Lo and DJ Smol were not just passionate about music; they were on a mission to foster connections, promote culture, and create unforgettable experiences through Afro Chill. Their journey has only just begun, and the beats of afrobeats will continue to resonate in Estonia and beyond.

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