“At the end of the day, I think we are put here on Earth to help each other and we [Africology] try to take that philosophy and move forward.”
—DJ Sirak on giving back.
Sirak Getachew – better known as DJ Sirak – has been around the New York Hip-Hop scene for some time. As a DJ and producer, it’s evident that Ethiopian/African sounds influence his work. Recently DJ Sirak co-founded Africology, ‘an entertainment venture that focuses on educating the world on music of African descent.’
TsehaiNY got a chance to catch up with DJ Sirak to discuss Africology, music, fashion and fatherhood.
TNY: When did you first come to the States and where did you settle?
DJSirak: I first settled in Yonkers, NY, and then a year later I moved to the Boogie (The Bronx).
TNY: Growing up in the Bronx, a.k.a. the birthplace of hip-hop, it’s evident that hip-hop greatly influenced you yet keeping your Ethiopian culture was still important. Was this difficult to do?
DJSirak: It was a very difficult thing to do. Coming to the States at the age of 9, the last thing on my mind was preserving my culture. It was more about how do I fit in within my new community? And there were no habo’s (habeshas) outside of my mother that I conversed with daily. I am sure that if it wasn’t for her, speaking Amharic would have been an issue as well.
TNY: What are some of the services Africology offers to artists that are attempting to take their talent to the next level?
DJSirak: In general what we do and offer is branding, so within that artists can come to us for music production, promotion, marketing ideas, bookings, or for help in improving their online presence.
TNY: What are some of the challenges preventing artists from Africa attain mainstream success?
DJSirak: There are so many things; I don’t know where to start. But I can give you an example as to why: Africa is not considered ‘pop’ by general public or “Western Public” so it’s not considered common to get artists from Africa and gain huge commercial success. From what I have seen, for the most part, people see Africa as this messed up place where starving people come from or a place to fantasize about birth of humanity, life, Egypt, Bible, etc. Believe it or not there are plenty of people that don’t understand the fact that Africa is not a Country but a Continent. South Africa always throws them off. I think mainstream media controls the gates to mainstream success and in the eyes of the mainstream media, Africa has always looked bad. We often have these discussions and Akon always come up; “how come he gained success?” one artist out of 54 countries doesn’t justify anything. Plus, when he came out he was not considered an African Artist. He came out as a dude from Newark, NJ. Then after the success he was a full African. That’s only one of the challenges.
TNY: How challenging is it linking African artists from what you call “Africa’s belly” to the mainstream entertainment industry?
DJSirak: Very challenging because it is an internal and external problem. There are many issues with labels in each country that keep artists trapped and finish their artistic years without really getting any exposure they deserve. On the external side, I think it has become a little easier due to iTunes and others alike. The music industry has lost some of its grip on people due to people taking matters into their hands because of technology. After the fall of Napster, there were thousands of other file sharing programs that gave people a choice as to who to support and not have the main record labels dictate what you should listen to and buy. All in all, it has become more of an independent market. It’s just a matter of having a budget for production and branding. Once you do have the budget then you will work with companies like us in order to move forward. So it’s a challenge but the work can definitely get done.
TNY: You mention the importance of projecting a positive image of Africa and that of the Diaspora in your work, including holding conferences. Are you planning on collaborating with some organizations and or institutions? Anyone you can name?
DJSirak: Yes we are working on collaborating with various groups in regards to casting a positive image of the Continent. I’m on the board of the African day parade so we always try to unite as many countries as we can and attach the Africology theme to things. We have worked with and look forward to working with organizations such as The United Nations, specifically the Youth Summit, African Youth Congress, Winter Music Conference and so on. We basically want to work with the world! If it works out then we may be up to something good.
TNY: Will there be artists that you might not be able to work with because they may project negative stereotypes of Africa?
DJSirak: There are plenty of artists that watch MTV and BET and try to emulate what they see. So in short, we try not to work with the African versions of Lil John and the East Side Boys.
TNY: Your radio show is broadcasting to Ethiopia, Brooklyn and worldwide via Internet. What is the mission of Africology’s radio show? Who are some of the individuals you have interviewed and who would you like to interview?
DJSirak: REAL MUSIC!!! Being that we have the freedom to actually play music and not repeat the same song every 15 minutes. On an average set you might hear music from Gangstarr to Brenda Fassi or even from Jay-Z to Meta and the Cornerstones. Our motto is “play music for the people” and that’s what we do. M1 from Dead Prez said “A radio program is not a figure of speech, so don’t sleep!!” So we try to de-program the public with a dose of real music. We would love to interview every young artist coming out of the so-called Third World Countries and Nelson Mandela.
TNY: Africology is also involved in fashion as a collaborative effort with Color Heritage Apparel O, is fashion design something you are interested in?
DJSirak: Hip-hop fashion was always my thing. In high school I made it my task to keep up with the trends and even search for the most underground labels just for the sake of the creative inspiration. I remember looking for LRG and PNB when they only made t-shirts and straw hats, which later became commercialized. On the other side my partner has worked with Riddim Driven Clothing and had first-hand experience in building a clothing line and represented these companies at the Project and Magic Trade Shows. Later on we both worked together to promote the Liberation Lab clothing line here in New York. Color Heritage is a clothing line started by Mr. Winston Jack, a former senior designer from Jay-Z and Dame Dash’s label Roca Wear and State Property. Now we have built the collaboration, so far it has become a fun process working together.
TNY: Since I first met you years ago, you always went out of your way to give back. One example is when you donated your services to community churches. In lockstep with this giving-back philosophy Africology seems to be involved with giving back by working with non-profit organizations. Who are some of these organizations and why is this very important to you and Africology to give back?
DJSirak: I always had this way of seeing things, on how it’s my duty as a human to help others. And the same concept is embedded in Africology’s blueprint. At the end of the day, I think we are put here on Earth to help each other and we try to take that philosophy and move forward. But at the same time we do not want to get taken advantage of. So far we have worked with orphaned children’s schools in Ethiopia and Brazil, abused women’s homes in New York, and various human rights activist groups. We are currently working with B.I.N.A. (Beta Israel of North America), Vital Seeds, Project Tesfa, Gemini Health Care Group and various children’s schools in Africa and South America. We believe we have to help each other. Aid should no longer be an option for Africa, let’s create opportunities.
TNY: Five years from now, where is Africology?
DJSirak: We would like to be the trendsetters of African pop culture. Expand offices within Africa (create opportunities). Have a musical/artistic ambassador from each African Nation. Establish Africa as a major stepping-stone for music, it already is indirectly but we want to form a direct link. And create festivals yearly to celebrate our culture and progress.
TNY: You recently became a father how do you look at life now? What has changed?
DJSirak: I feel like I should live a cleaner and child-friendly environment than the one I grew up in. So, I have started not to litter as much. It’s great…it gives me a positive push to do what I do and makes me a bit more conscious.