Oakland-based DJ Namaste Shawty — known more familiarly as Nono — wastes no time in making her presence known when she walks into a room. Her wardrobe reflects the eccentricity of her mixes — take, for instance, her lightning-bolt-emblazoned, red leather jacket or her fur-covered lilac handbag — which contain anything from hip-hop to punk to clean, dance-y house.
But no matter the genre, what Nono aims to bring through her music is positivity through movement, making a point to avoid playing anything that might achieve the opposite of that — a substantial feat in a world of misogynistic hip-hop and rap in a male-dominated industry.
In her interview with The B-Side, Nono offered words on her inspirations, how she expresses, and the importance of building a community through empowerment — and through music, of course.
What’s the inspiration behind your mixes?
Dancing is one of the main things. My goal is always to inspire people to move.
What do you want to express through your music?
For me, it’s about expressing freedom and feeling liberated. When I’m DJing, I kind of go into another world where nothing really matters. It’s all about having fun and expressing joy through movement and dance and music. I feel liberated because I’m orchestrating a whole party.
For that hour, I feel free, I feel heard, and I feel seen. As a Woman of Color, it’s often that we don’t get seen or heard. When I play music, I get to experience that through performance art…and fashion too. I like to dress up when I perform. When I perform, I kinda go a little extra, you know?
Going off of that, what was the hardest part about making your way through a male-dominated industry?
I haven’t really experienced any real battles yet. I feel like, dealing with bigger cities, like L.A. or New York, it is more of a fight sometimes. In the Bay, it’s not like that. At least in Oakland. San Francisco can be a little bit challenging, but Oakland — I’m from here. I have a pretty strong community. I’ve actually gotten a lot of support from friends who DJ and promote, who are males, so I feel really blessed about that.
Do you think being a female DJ carves a narrative in an untraditional space?
Yeah, definitely. I feel like there are a lot more women artists in general, just coming up in the DJ scene. More women see other women DJing and feel inspired to do it. I think even being called a “female DJ” can be a little bit of a thing for a lot of women. It’s like, why can’t we just be DJs?
The whole thing is, “oh, female DJ,” which is like, we can’t compete with the guys? We have to have our own category or what? Just being considered a “female DJ” or “female anything” really is limiting in this patriarchal society.
What first inspired you to start mixing?
I was inspired by the scene. I never really said, “I’m gonna be a DJ.” It was kind of like, I listen to a lot of music. People say I have a good ear, so I was able to DJ house parties. Just for fun, not seriously at all. And people were like, “Yo, you’re actually really good, you should start DJing,” and I was like alright, I’m down. I’ll start DJing. I started doing little bars and friends’ parties and now, tonight, I’m DJing at F8 which is a pretty poppin’ club in San Francisco.
In an article with SFMOMA’s Open Space, you talked a bit about your spiritual journey in connection with your radio show. Do you mind telling me more about Las Brujas Radio and its mission?
I wanted to talk about what I was experiencing in a way that wasn’t super personal, but relatable. Mostly, Las Brujas focuses on conversation around femininity and what that looks like. It’s me, my friend Queens D.Light from House of Malico, and another friend called Imani.
We basically just have a conversation about trauma, abuse, addiction — anything that we’ve experienced, that we’re trying to or have overcome. Keeping it very WOC-oriented, trying to spread news that’s empowering for our community versus all the negative shit the media is always trying to show us. We try to get community involvement too in a segment called “Ask Las Brujas.” We want people to ask us super personal questions that we can answer anonymously. That’s almost my favorite part.
And I play music. Not a lot, but I try to choose music that is women-produced or with vocals by women, or anything that’s about something empowering and beautiful. I never play mainstream music or anything that’s degrading towards women. I’ll play anything from hip-hop to punk music, just whatever I feel like.
Is there anything you really want to talk about or something you want people to know?
I just — I don’t know if it’s corny or some shit…
Go for it.
Sometimes, I really feel like this spirit is running this show for me, the way that my DJing career has unfolded. It’s happened in a very synchronized way while I know a lot of people struggle. And I wonder if it’s because I’m just doing this for fun. When you’re doing things for fun, you’re not really thinking about the money or the fame. You’re literally just doing that shit for fun.
You know, you read books and shit where it’s like, “Do what you love” and that shit’ll pop off, and that’s kind of what’s going on with me. I mean, I love it. I love fucking DJing. I can be heartbroken, but as soon as I get on the decks, I’m in another world. I go into another realm and it’s almost healing, to be able to do that and not give a fuck. I really don’t give a fuck about anything.
Written by Vivian Chen
Photos by Fiona Duerr