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Charlotte Toney on the Black Junglist Alliance: 8 months on

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Director and Facilitator Charlotte Toney reflects on the ways the Black Junglist Alliance have increased Black ownership and representation in JungleDNB since founding in June 2020.

A few weeks back, I interviewed Black Junglist Alliance (BJA) Director and Facilitator Charlotte Toney at Roots to Jungle: a brand new plant shop where you can sit amongst the greenery sipping on a gin. Alongside shop owners/BJA members DJ Nicky Best and DJ-MD, Founder Chris Inperspective and A&R Manager Darren D-Lo were there filming a wicked live stream from JustJungle for BJATV (subscribe here)! It was all so exciting – I hadn’t had a motive like that in ages!

A lot has happened since the BJA was founded off the back of Chris Inperspective’s viral call-out of Hospital Records and the whitewashing of JungleDNB. For starters, they’re now a registered organisation; the team has grown exponentially, and they’ve been uploading fresh mixes and productions to BJATV! With legends like Kenny Ken, Tim Reaper, Mizeyesis, Loxy & Ink and Skitty to name a few.

To find out more, I caught up with Charlotte to reflect on the progress made within the BJA’s main three strands, music, community and education. We also had a really open conversation about how us allies can do our bit to support the movement, and get more comfortable with checking ourselves regularly.

After months of isolation, this in-person exchange – over a gin with JustJungle shelling down bangers in the background- was refreshing to say the least. Here’s how our chat went down!

Black Junglist Aliliance
BJA leaders: Julia Toppin, Neil Stevens, Caldey Muffet, Darren Skeet, Charlotte Toney, Chris Walton 

Read this next: Black Junglist Alliance announce their plans for 2021

Hey Charlotte! So to start off, what do you think are some of the positive changes you’ve seen in our scene since you and the team founded the Black Junglist Alliance?

Good question! The BJA all started off with a Facebook group, so the positive changes have come off the back of conversation, networking, and listening to peoples’ experiences. Through that, we were able to brainstorm and say “right, this is what’s needed”.

When you compare the climate to this time last year, a lot more artists and ravers are having that conscious thought about race. Because of the pandemic it’s difficult to measure if we’re affecting the events and bookings, but since having these conversations, I’ve seen a massive increase in the representation of people of colour in JungleDNB – women as well!

It’s been hard sometimes. Because as with anything that’s new, people will question it. You know, saying “what’s that for” or “why?” But we’re here, and we’ve been consistent. And until that change is sustained in the long term, we’re not going anywhere!

YES – we love to hear it! So let’s talk about how you’ve got to where you are today. First of all, which strand do you think has the biggest impact since founding: music, education or community?

First and foremost, the BJA is based around music, and it’s centred around our YouTube channel, BJATV. Whether it be New Track Tuesdays, or the Alliance sessions, it’s all about the music. 

But personally I think the educational arm has had the biggest impact. Our #ThrowbackThursday posts (where we’re talking about the Black history of big labels like Renegade Hardware and V Recordings) have had so many people going “wow, I never knew that”.

Black Junglist Aliliance

It brings in the new generation of ravers into this fold of history! Many of them don’t even know that what they’re listening to is Jungle…they don’t even realise it’s Black music! We’ve been helping to trace the lineage of what you’re listening to, dancing to, putting out there or saying you’re a part of. Knowledge is key. 

Yes, the Black Junglist Alliance posts have taught me a lot too! I’d love to talk more about the BJA TV – I had a listen through your Youtube channel and the music quality is really excellent.

Well I’ll say thank you on behalf of everybody that has submitted. But yeah, you know, that’s the thing. Yes, the quality is very high. But why wouldn’t it be very high? Why is it so surprising that the quality is really good? Is it because it comes from a team of people of colour? 

Fair – if it was a white platform, would I be saying it? Maybe it was unconscious.  Thankyou for calling me out on that. I guess what I meant is that I’ve found ‘white male’ JungleDNB platforms to be quite lazy and it’s turned me off the genre for a while – whereas listening to the Youtube BJA productions genuinely excites me!

OK, so to take it in the way you meant it then yeah! It is really high quality. Because we’ve worked hard to be at a point where we’ve got a great foundation, so now we can be even more focused, and increase the production side of things too.

“The production of the Alliance Sessions has developed so well. Learning about film production, lighting, aesthetics. At the end of the day we were just making sure Black people look great on camera. It’s all about changing the narrative.Chris Inperspective (Founder)

We’re not here just for the sake of being here or because we all know a few people. We’re here because we actually are trying to build something. So yeah, it is of high quality – 2021 is a year of high quality for BJA!

And it shows! So obviously another strand is community. Chris Inperspective has said since founding the BJA you’ve had so many members of the Black Junglist community asking you for connections. How has your community evolved?

If you go right back to the beginning of the Facebook group itself, we saw a lot of young people saying they wished they could have had the networking experiences we had when the Black community was more visible in JungleDNB.

Because let’s be real – back in the day, you had more physical presence. You just put your tape in a producer’s hand, know what I mean? Somewhere the paths would cross. So to change that, we’ve made sure to get them up on our Youtube channel! Lost Child, Breakout, Mozie B and Dark Phoenix are just some of the amazing new artists we’ve worked with.

Black Junglist Aliliance

“There’s so much talent out there and I’ve found some great DJs and producers who’ve come down to play. And there’s loads more stuff in store to showcase the black community – it’s going great!”Darren D-Lo, A&R Manager

Because of COVID, a lot of what we do at the moment is via phone and zoom calls. We understand conversations have to happen behind closed doors and trust has to be built. But we don’t want it all to be hidden – the BJA is all about building personal relationships. Even now we’re here in Niki’s shop. She’s a fantastic DJ with her partner and we may never have crossed paths before, so it’s really important. That’ll only continue when lockdown eases!

“We’re Junglists so we want to find any way to bring our community together. We’re doing it legit given these hard times, but we’ve got a wicked backdrop so it’s the best we can give for what we’ve got!” –  DJ MD, RootsToJungle owner

Exactly! So obviously, this is amazing work. But as we all know, there is still a long way to go. How can allies help support the BJA movement?

We’re here to help and support anybody in the scene that wants to better themselves or somebody else. The BJA never said no to white people – we were very specific about the way we named it the ‘Alliance’. We’re just not about people who are ripping off our culture and the music without paying tribute to it. That’s when we’re not about you. 

The best kind of allies are those who are respectful and positive. The ones who’ve gone “we’re checking ourselves”, and want to go about making a positive change. And we’ve pointed them in the right direction! Aside from that, the best thing allies can do is like, subscribe, share, talk, educate. If you don’t know, then go and find out, have a conversation with somebody else that doesn’t know. And then by going out and talking on or sharing what you’ve learned with others! 

Couldn’t agree more – that’s definitely the way to go. So to round it off – do you have a final call to action?

Yes – everything the BJA does is a call for action! We’re calling for people to up their education, their musical talent and how to share their talent. So now, anytime a label goes “we’d love to find some Black artists”, they can check our Youtube channel. If they say we didn’t know such and such, they can check the history posts. 

Black Junglist Aliliance

And to the rest of the world – a final call to action – can we get our industry open again please!? It’s become a joke hahaha. I’m ready for the mass rebellion – that pure act of defiance! 

ME TOO! BRING IT! And there it is – the BJA is providing all the information so there’s no more excuses people! Stay connected, educated and support the movement by following the Black Junglist Alliance on Youtube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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