Artist to Artist: Mans O & Baba Sy


Barcelona has long been a destination for electronic music, with festivals like Sonar and clubs like Laut and Razzmatazz putting the Spanish city on the map. But away from the techno and indie dance sounds that have dominated nightclubs both large and small, are artists, collectives and musicians pushing forward and disseminating more diverse club sounds.

DJ and producer Mans O is one of them. His singular sound combines everything from bass and gqom to grime, footwork, dancehall and trap, which can be heard on his new release HI-TECH TONGUE, set for release on XXIII, a Portuguese label that specialise in Afro-diasporic sounds and club tracks. On the release, Mans O is joined by several collaborators, all fellow Barcelona residents, who contribute vocals in Wolof, Spanish, Berber, Catalan, Darija, English, French and Creole.

One such collaborator is Baba Sy, a Senagalese DJ who, as part of a collective called the Jokkoo crew, is also working to broaden the city’s musical boundaries through disseminating electronic, experimental and contemporary African sounds and their diaspora.

Ahead of the release, the collaborators discuss Barcelona’s changing music scene, their collaboration on the track ‘ENTEROS’ and sharing empowerment within the city’s electronic music community…

Mans o: What changes do you feel have happened over the past few years in Barcelona’s clubs and venues? 

Baba: There’s a lot more variety now. A few years ago it was generally just Techno or Indie Pop in the big clubs and also at smaller events. Now, I see more colours and more of a mixture, but I understand that 10 years ago it wasn’t the moment for change. Our collective Jokkoo wouldn’t have made sense before because it’s defined by change, forcing change and embracing it. Now there’s a lot of diverse grooves and also a broader acceptance of African club music styles, something that we’ve focused on. 

Mans o: What were you trying to say in ‘ENTEROS’ by naming us and clarifying that ‘we don’t play’? 

Baba: We go out to dance, but also to learn. In 2019, it was totally normal to come and see my set and then go on to another club or venue to see somebody else. That’s why I say we’re not playing because we’re studying and working either behind the decks or discovering things on the dancefloor and meeting each other. Rats however, they do play in the night! That idea was something that I transformed into Wolof on this track and explained that the collaborators on the record are not playing, but at night, rats do!

Baba to Mans o: What do you think about the historical changes in production techniques? How do you approach it? Everything was analogue or archaically digital before and recording was a more complex process. Now the big majority of tracks are made on a computer and can be done really quickly. 

Mans o: What I like to do is to mix both worlds. I love to have my computer and mouse to operate as a brain because of their accessibility and because I can go really fast. I also like to use some of the [hardware] that made the records sound like they do and work within their limitations, utilizing the analogue colour and respecting that legacy. It’s amazing that now you can have your own studio, that would have been incredibly expensive before. 

Mans o: With Jokkoo, you’ve expanded the team, the scope and activities of the collective as well as your individual projects. Even though there’s limited money for the artistic sector here in Spain, do you feel a shared feeling of empowerment with other collectives in Barcelona? 

Baba: Yes, definitely! Jokkoo was born from the need to connect. In Wolof, Jokkoo means connecting. There was a need to connect with each other and share each other’s music here in Catalonia. For example, I love the Catalan singer-songwriter Albert Plà, but the fact that you didn’t know that I do, I! In fact, my birthday present was a ticket for his show (laughs). 

I also felt that here, African music was only played during the day and only certain types such as the older music, kids singing and ceremonial music rather than that of a real party. I was always speaking about the lack of connection between the real Africa and Europa and how Europe has just kept our ‘morning music’. In Africa, everything has its time. In the morning, they listen to instruments like the Kora or Halam. Then at midday there’s often a more energetic sound, a band like Orchestra Baobab. After lunch comes Pop music, but at night there are all types of hard electronic music. It’s like a synthesis of all that has been listened to during the day transformed into a broad range of heavy styles. I felt that there wasn’t a connection here in Europe with that African night time sound. 

I remember when I sent some mixes with Gqom on them to radio stations here, they didn’t want to play it because it was too hard, but in Africa that’s music that kids dance to after school! (Laughs). Again I realized that maybe the African club sounds weren’t seriously considered here, only the folk sounds and Mama Africa. 

Jokkoo was born to confront that. We started playing at Razzmatazz and other places and I would play many African productions, often selecting the more melodic housey stuff that people would connect with quickly. Much of the so-called Afro House popular in Ibiza was produced by white European producers and some considered it African music, but it really wasn’t. Over the course of three years, we’ve tried to establish the culture of the harder electronic music culture from Africa and not just party. We’ve collaborated with Macba, Radio Africa,, etc. 

Our mission has been clear since the beginning. When I went to a club I enjoyed techno, but there was something missing for me. We’ve embraced our past and since starting this journey, I’ve felt young again. Being able to bring African artists to Barcelona and see them playing local venues is amazing. I couldn’t ask for more. 

It’s also nice to see that there are other collectives focused on different aspects of African music as well. Voodoo Club is one example. They recreate the Nigerian club with lots of dance and afro-beat, a broad style that is having a major impact outside of Africa. It’s great to see that determination to play those styles while we are exploring our own raw sound. 

Baba: What do you want to communicate by including so many collaborators on this release? What’s the driving idea behind the 9 features and 8 languages across the 6 tracks on Hi-Tech Tongue? 

Mans o: It was exciting when XXIII reached out and offered to release something, but I had the instant urge to share this opportunity. Previously I had used vocals very experimentally, but I was also interested in producing beats for different voices. With this record I tried to illustrate the cultural mix present in Barcelona and the diverse origins existing in our circles. I was also trying to explore the idea of language as a high-end technology and not just something human. 

I wanted the release to feature vocals from people I’ve been excited to work with, mostly close friends and bass lovers, people I know have been immersed in music their whole lives and are now starting to raise their voices, release stuff and become more public. It’s a nice snapshot of a part of Barcelona that I’m taking to Portugal (via XXIII) and beyond! From the outside, this expanding scene is not always visible, so I hope this release can provide a new perspective on our city. 

Baba: What do you think of the feminine scene in Barcelona? 

Mans o: There’s now an increasing and loud feminine presence in the club and pop scene and it helps to educate the public and artists of all genders about historic conditioning and stigma. This is something that we all carry and have the responsibility of balancing. I want to thank all queer and feminine artists in Club and Pop music for creating some of the most intense and vital rhythms that have influenced us all. Feminine energy must now eclipse the masculine dynamics maintained by Neo-liberal values in order for us to find greater levels of acceptance, joy and cooperation.

Follow Mans O and Baba Sy. Buy HI-TECH TONGUE.