For Chino Amobi, one of the three founders of the music collective NON Worldwide Records, the creation of music isn’t about technical approach so much as it is about intuition.
“I can’t read music but I play it by ear, by feeling — it’s not a technical process, ” Amobi said. “ I really do love working with programs and I draw out my music in the same way I draw visual art so there are a lot of parallels between music and graphic design.”
It is a tactic that has worked well for the artist since he graduated from VCU in 2010 with a degree in Painting and Printmaking. In the years between graduating and the creation of NON, Amobi went on to produce work under the stage name, Diamond Black Hearted Boy. During this period, he produced four albums — “Untitled,” “Vogue,” “Hommes,” “Japan Digital Volume 1.0,” and “Zero” — worked on a variety of collaborations, and toured nationally and internationally.
Amobi also spent time developing community connections and believes in salvation of people through the act of helping others.
“I continued working on paintings, doing album covers for friends and I would work with individuals with disabilities and at the Boy’s and Girl’s Club,” Amobi said. “It gave me a lot of experiences in human services and interacting with people of different backgrounds which influenced what I am doing now.”
NON is not an acronym for any one specific thing. Amobi described it as a play on the semiotics of the word “non” which capture various conditions and platforms of not sticking to the norm. “It can capture a person being ‘non- of the current state of things,’ ‘non-identifiable,’ and even a ‘non-brand’ since we decided to avoid fixation of branding which would lead to commodification,” he said.
NON formed in February 2015 when Amobi returned to the United States after touring and realized that there weren’t any “ideal” record labels he would sign with if he ever had the option. The only solution? Create one himself, he said, so Amobi reached out to South African artist ANGEL-HO and Congolese artist Nkisi, and the three formed a music-collective which would focus on the sounds of African diaspora and Black identity.
“There isn’t much (African or black influence) represented in the specific lane of electronic music I was operating in, ” Amobi said. “The arts in general and the digital realms lacks representation of African music pushing it forward. I appreciate the afrobeat sounds, but I’m all about hybridity and fusion of other sounds, too.”
Afrobeat blends West African traditional music with Caribbean dancehall and reggae and is often sung in a variation of the many West African languages, English and/or French. Amobi points out that the conception of “African” or “black” music is limited to this genre, as well as rap. While he is influenced from these two genres, he hopes NON will help change this status-quo.
Amobi’s upbringing as a first-generation Nigerian-American also influenced the creation and design of NON, He explained that his feelings of displacement due to his existence as a bridge between cultures, languages and traditions, made him aware of the fragility of people’s existence, especially in the African diaspora at large.
“My family would speak the native language of Igbo and I wouldn’t completely understand it,” Amobi said. “ I felt a simultaneous alienation and warmth of their language because I love Nigerian culture. Also growing up in America, I couldn’t fully identify with black-American history either. There was always this sort of fracture I felt.”
Amobi said that it used to be a source of insecurity, but as he developed as an artist and got older he learned to embrace this fracture and the undefined spaces of people’s identities and experiences via paintings, visual arts and music.
In 2016, Amobi released a solo-album, “Airport Music for Black Folk” which he describes as an auditory guide through similar transitional spaces and the embracement of tension caused by liminal spaces of existence like that of his upbringing, among other influences. For Amobi, an airport — where visitors come and go while there is always a presence of migrant people-of-color working for low wage with little option to leave – is metaphorical representation of this “fracture.”
Since its creation in 2015, NON collective has toured extensively throughout the world and the members the next leg of their tour in May which will include Lisbon Moscow and Vienna.
“With the resources available today, it’s possible to create anything,” Amobi said. “I have dreams for NON’s future: NON-tv, publications, design firms, galleries, clothing, food, farming, internet – a whole community. We can do that, but it’s beyond having a charismatic leader. It’s about leaders raising leaders and working towards a goal in a practical way that involve love.”
The very existence of NON, which now has large international followings, is a testament to Amobi’s belief in resource availability since he and the founders rely on technology to communicate and to spread their music and visual displays. Furthermore, NON hosts a Sound Cloud and Bandcamp which allows listeners and member, called, “NON citizens” to post their work and connect with the growing number of other NON citizens.
Amobi said that none of the founders expected NON, “to spread like wildfire.”
Though Amobi will be touring Europe soon, he is excited to be in Richmond for the foreseeable future as he pursues a masters in VCUarts Graphic Design program in Fall 2017.
“I’m excited because we’ve be doing things around the world and now we can build in Richmond.” Amobi said, “I want to do more things locally with design, collaborate with people and work on a publication, do more NON events and Richmond has so many resources and people down to do these things.”
Siona is a senior majoring in political science with a concentration in international relations and a double minor in media studies and Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. She is heavily influenced by her family’s immigrant background and often writes about the intersection of politics with identity. Siona is an advocate for grassroots activism and political movements, and her dream job involves multimedia-based investigative journalism. She has a plethora of life goals but is only focusing on two right now: learning as many languages as possible and perfecting her Instagram aesthetic. firstname.lastname@example.org