Off the records: An interview with DJ ASMA, Internships Coordinator at McGill

Antoine-Samuel Maufette Alavo is known to many McGill Arts students. As the Coordinator for the Faculty of Arts Internship Program, Antoine helps students find opportunities to enrich their academic studies through learning experiences outside of the classroom. A McGill alumnus with a BA degree in Political Science and International Development, he also connects people to new experiences in a different way. As a DJ, Antoine has worked with several music festivals and events in Montreal, including DJing for Hip-Hop legend Rakim in Montreal. Vinyl collector extraordinaire and music writer, he calls it his “well-developed, well-groomed side thing”.We spoke to him about the rise of DJ ASMA, balancing his incredible devotion to music knowledge, and his personal record collection, currently numbering at over five thousand LPs.

ZH: How did you become a DJ?

ASMA: I always loved music. When I was 18 I started trying more self-expression through records. I thought I would be making beats, but I got too busy with internships and school. Music is My Sanctuary gave me my first DJ gig – 24 hours of Vinyl. I was writing for them and they knew I had a lot of records, so it just happened. Everyone liked my mix, I started getting calls, and it’s kind of crazy because that’s also when my kids were born. But I managed to do it.

Let’s go back to when you first started. Do you remember the first record that you bought for your collection?

It depends on a vinyl or CD. Nas’Illmatic was the first album I asked for and got with my own money, but a vinyl record would be hard because I already had them from my dad. I guess it would be some Quebec rock thing I got for cheap, and I knew about a sample in it. But I traded a lot too, which is a thing no one really knows about.

What’s the trading about?

Through online message boards on sites like Soul Strut, Waxidermy. It used to be record store owners, collectors and producers talking about music online, ‘nerd style’. They would discover records and share them online, and that’s where you would hear it first, then try to find copies. I would always trade Quebec music for different things like gospel or Japanese funk. And I learned a lot, and fast, because of the internet. I was travelling a lot too, that has to do with McGill in a sense.

How?

My internships made me collect a lot of records. When I was in Peru, I met a few people, like the security guard in my neighborhood who was a big salsa guy. He showed me a lot; took me to the clubs, took me record shopping.

Were you a student during these internships?

At first yes. My first trip to Peru was myself, before university. I returned to do a longer internship funded through a Faculty of Arts Internship Award, and then I ended up sending students there. I went maybe four times in three years on these semester-long internships. I would literally leave after my last exam and come back in September. Between my masters, I did an eight-month internship in Brazil with a cultural association, and I DJed there a lot.

Where and what did you study?

I did my Bachelor’s at McGill – PoliSci and IDS double major, 2004/06. My Masters in International studies was at Université de Montréal.

At this time, where were you music wise?

I started collecting in my BA. Mostly local stuff, but the first Peru trip brought back a bunch of salsa records. I guess the DJingwas later. I wasn’t DJing with records, just CDs or mixing, mostly at parties in Brazil. I collected records throughout school, spending basically all my money on that. When I finished McGill, I did a cultural internship in Belo Horizonte Brazil.

Do they ever overlap, the DJing and working at McGill?

One thing I did was DJ to fundraise during theSave the AIO campaign. We had to fundraise to keep our doors open when we lost our government funding, and we did a big DJ event, witha ‘world music’ theme, because of the nature of international internships. That was cool.

Who came, how did you promote it?

All the student associations, and our interns. It was full of McGill students who supported our cause. That fundraiser was also the inauguration of the Churro sales. We were the first to bring diversity to the snack game on campus. *laughs*

Which one is the job, and which is the career?

I’ll make things clear – I respect when people quit their stable jobs to do music full time. I want to manage some producers, but I would never, ever quit a real job. Because of my family. Because I love what I do. And I think it allows me to have the balance. I wouldn’t do mindless work that takes away from the creative, but here I’m able to be myself when I work, which means even when I’m tired after doing the Cypher on a Thursday night, I can still come into work on Friday and I’m cool.

Having a day job at McGill has allowed you to cultivate creativity as an artist.

Yes. It’s also inspiring… because on my walk home there’s record store. Yesterday I was just at Bootlegger, off of Milton. I record shows in the music library, in their study rooms, and play a lot with their records. They have a great classical collection.

So you’ve really been able to utilize what you have around you.

That’s right. And being in writing media let me meet a lot of artists that I interviewed, and they plugged me with more interviews, records from new artists, people I can sell samples to. It’s all about the relationships I can make. I guess the professional-networking instinct that comes with having a project idea that’s interesting and that you’re dedicated to is helpful. I’m even able to place interns at places like Under Pressure.

When you were younger, did you ever think of music as something you would pursue in life as a career?

It was definitely a goal at first. I think I’m doing what I always thought I would be doing. For me it’s always been about linking people together and educating the public on different genres and on deeper levels about music. I also have a passion for politics and development. So music was always a side thing for me, but a well-groomed, well-developed side thing.

What did you want to be when you were in undergrad?
A Professor, or something in the UN. I thought with my languages I could do some form of diplomacy. Now, it’s not what I would envision for myself, but I get to help other students towards those goals, and in a way I am doing development by helping students with their projects.

Who are your musical influences?

Madlib. He got me into samples, was next level for me. Nomadic Massive when I was growing up. Pretty much all Montreal influences. Kalmunitytoo – when I was studying at McGill, every Tuesday I’d go to Sabo café every week for like a year.

What does success mean to you?
Recognition from the real people that matter. The happiest things I’ve done in life is put people in touch and working together. As for success, maybe just continue DJing and being invited to conferences internationally. Having a family, you realize that a job is a job, as long as you’re not stressed and it allows for other things to happen. So I’m very satisfied with where I am.

Do you have anything for students?

I would like McGill students to be more involved in the city. Many students need to go beyond Peel street. I’d like for them to take advantage of the landscape of Montreal as much as possible, which includes going to venues away and to take part in francophone activities. Take advantage of the Schulich School of Music library too. Some musical projects start out at McGill and go bigger. And listen to CKUT. It’s really great.

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