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Kuya James

James Mangohig has been spinning his original tunes in the Top End for years. This month, as part of the DF20 Homegrown program, he’s launching his highly anticipated debut album, under his new pseudo Kuya James. We caught up with the local producer and DJ for a chat!

Congratulations on your new album, ISA. We can’t wait to hear some tunes at the Pinoy Street Party! Tell us about it.
Isa means ‘one’ in Tagalog, as it’s my debut album. The street party is a first listen of the record for my hometown, but even more than that, it’s a celebration of some of the amazing artists we have in this town – some that people haven’t heard of yet. May the force of 7,000 islands be with you!

You demonstrate great pride in your Filipino culture – what role has music played in recognising your roots?
I didn’t really connect with a tightknit Filipino community in Australia until I was about 14-years-old. Before that, I had loved our trips back to Tatay’s (father’s) village over the years, but it wasn’t until Tatay started a church here in Darwin that I was surrounded by more Filipinos, including musicians.

The love of music connects me to my roots because I love finding out the history and the way things develop, and also people’s use of music to express themselves and reflect on their surroundings.

You were raised in Darwin by a Filipino father and Dutch mother – how important is your connection to culture?
For me, personally, it’s so important as it gives me tools to navigate a pretty weird society that has a lot wrong with it. Connecting with culture feels grounding but also challenging as culture evolves – some people are okay with that, whilst others prefer to keep things traditional.

I can only learn from others and see what feels right to me, but I am forever grateful to my parents for making sure our house growing up had influences from both my Filipino and Dutch roots.

Territory folks know you as James Mangohig and one half of Sietta with Caiti Baker – tell us about Kuya James.
When I considered doing a solo record, I sought to find a name that represented me as an artist in 2020 and where I’m at in my career. I looked to my community and the word a lot of people have called me over the years is kuya, which means ‘older brother’ in my father’s language. The name just felt right.

Also, one of my biggest musical influences was DJ Kuya, who sadly passed in 2018.

A street party for your album launch – this is the stuff dreams are made of! Was it always the vision to unleash ISA to the world at a street party?
I had previously planned a trip across the Philippines and Taiwan to finish my album, but then the virus stuff happened and the album suddenly became a very local affair.

This also changed how I spent my time here in Darwin this year, connecting more with the local community and discovering some hidden gems that the audience will meet at the Pinoy Street Party. I don’t take it lightly how lucky we are to even be having a festival.

What does 2020 vision look like for Kuya James?
Dropping my debut album ISA. I have a new single coming out this month featuring label mate Stevie Jean, and then another single after that which is a love letter to Darwin called ‘Rewind Our Love’. I can’t wait for people to wrap their ears around the whole record.

Kuya James’ Pinoy Street Party
COST $26-$30

Photos: Jett Street

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