From performing solo in her childhood bedroom to performing with her collective at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, meet the Dutch-Manc selector whose life story is one of compassion and charisma.
Rambling with the residents is a monthly series on Limbo Radio where we collaborate with a local photographer and give our audience the chance to get to know our residents a little more.
Abena - pronounced ‘ah-bin-naa’ not ‘ah-bee-nah’ - a student social worker by day, DJ by night and an all round caring human being, no matter which way the Earth is facing the Sun. After kick starting her career curating radio shows, armed with only a cassette player in her childhood bedroom, Abena has since hosted shows on an array of European radio stations: in Glasgow, Amsterdam, London, and Manchester. She has held a residency with us on Limbo Radio for just over a year now.
We caught up with the Dutch-Manc selector over the interweb during lockdown and organised a socially distanced photoshoot in her local park of Ardwick Green. This included David Clemente behind the lens whom some of you may know as d. clemente - the DJ that stole the show during the Manchester & Salford Save Our Scene livestream, on United We Stream, last month.
“I wanted to DJ like Tiesto”, Tracy Duah recalls telling her mates in primary school back in Amsterdam. Her classmates must not have known just how cool Tiesto was as, “a guy called Daniel, who everyone fancied because he had a bit of a tan and could draw really well, laughed at me with all his mates”. She tells me that she has forever loved music and admitted that she was the one at parties who would always hijack the aux lead. Her time to ‘DJ like Tiesto’ came once she went to university in Glasgow, where she hosted a show on Subcity Radio called ‘Sanfoka’ and DJ’d under ‘Abena’.
The name ‘Abena’ comes from her Ghanaian heritage, she explains, “it’s common practice across Ghana to give children day names when they’re born. So all girls born on Tuesday are called ‘Abena’ which comes from Ɛbénada, the Twi word for Tuesday”. She continues, “normally you get a second name with that as well so that you can distinguish yourself from all the other girls born on Tuesday – my full Twi name is Abena Bema”. Both of her parents are from Ghana, however her formative years were spent in Amsterdam before moving to Manchester when she was 13 years old.
“Everything truly kicked off in the summer of 2017 when I moved back to Manchester,” Duah says. She remembers listening to Limbo Radio as a way to grasp an understanding of the music scene in Manchester upon her return. “I think radio is such a great medium to showcase and discover local talent”, she declares, “I don’t want to sound like your careers adviser at school but I think radio is also a great stepping stone for people from various communities to gain really useful skills”. Her first time playing out in Manchester, with her friend Ciar, is highlighted by a successful blend - DJ terminology for smoothly mixing two tunes together - of Fade by Kanye West with Gin Nation by Tiger & Woods. “I remember us absolutely losing it”, she reminices.
Following her return to Manchester, she joined Partisan Collective and later formed her own collective ‘All Hands on Deck’ in the summer of 2018. All Hands on Deck was born to, “create a space for women, trans and non-binary people who wanted to give DJing a go but didn’t know where to start”, Duah says upon forming the collective, “the scene in Manchester was very much dominated by white cisgender men”. This then led to her first show on Limbo Radio in October 2018, hosted with the collective co-founders of All Hands on Deck.
During this show she remembers how her USB crashed when it was her turn to play, leaving her devastated as the show had to end. Looking back at this point early on in her career, she now believes, “USB problems are honestly part of it all”. A year later she played her first solo show on Limbo Radio with no USB troubles. Her collective has gone on to host multiple workshops and open deck parties, in addition to receiving many bookings that have taken them far and wide. Most recently, they performed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London at the end of January this year.
Abena, now 26 years old, has gone from strength to strength since hosting solo shows in her bedroom. Her ultimate dancefloor filler is Funky Dee’s ‘Are You Gonna Bang Doe’ due to its ability to switch up the mood of a space, in which she has experienced at both Partisan Collective and the V&A. “You know what, I have wanted to be on the radio and play tunes out since I was a kid”, she concludes. We hope to hear her on the airwaves and ‘playing out’ for many years to come.
Photography by David Clemente - @d.clemente_dj