A Conversation with Bambii

PUBLISHED IN ISSUE 17
WRITTEN BY JESSICA CANJE
PHOTOS BY NEVA WIREKO
STYLING BY TAYLOR THOROSKI

Kirsten Azan, a.k.a Bambii, is, by her own admission, unapologetically herself and all that she comes with. “I feel empowered because my heritage is special. I’m Caribbean and there’s a rich culture there to feel inspired by. It’s a privilege to be able to take up space and to share what informs how I approach music, and what I’m trying to say with my DJ sets,” says Azan.

After returning from a three-month European tour with Mykki Blanco, Azan has attracted a growing fan base through her carefully curated mixes. “I think the idea of listening to music only in English is pervasive, and can be problematic. It’s important for people to be exposed to different things.” The ambitious 26-year-old has built a career through her progressive sets, with intricate mixes she sources from hours of internet research. Her mission is to get empty souls dancing again, and for the shy individuals to “free themselves up.” When Azan hits play, the dance floor becomes a place of unity. Speaking about her ambitions she says, with an undeniable confidence, “I want to see the world via music.”

Azan’s doe eyes fluttered, and she seemed preoccupied by the memories flooding her mind, while trying to construct the words to explain her initial, loose idea for her ongoing Toronto-based party, JERK. “When I started JERK, the Toronto music scene felt stratified, you wouldn’t hear dancehall and house music in the same night at a bar.” This problem turned into a solution—Azan filled the void with her party, to combine all different kinds of people and sounds. “I think a good party relieves people from the stress of their lives. For a lot of the LGBTQP community, a party is the only place where they can be themselves. A lot of times, you’re holding in your gayness for the whole week, until you go to a party where you can wear whatever you want, act however you want, and talk to whoever you want.”

Azan is starting to dip her toes into the pond of production, and anticipates her music will sound something like her sets. Global music is a priority when curating and producing. Azan grew up in Toronto as an only child. Her mother had her at the age of nineteen, and her politics are very clearly bred from her own flesh and blood. She—without a doubt—attributes her morals and values to her mother. “All my politics on racism and sexism really come from her. They’re embedded in my childhood because of the types of friends she’s had over the years, and all the different cultures she surrounded me with.” Azan has always had a passion for music. She attended an arts high school and went on to work an array of odd jobs. The most coveted work for Azan was the non-profit organizations, particularly working with queer people of colour, where she curated music events for aspiring artists. Her two loves intertwined when she began to DJ, and her politics surrounding intersectional feminism and racism were reinforced.

It’s getting late. We’re sitting on a couch in the living room and the lighting in her cozy one-bedroom apartment has dimmed. Her phone goes off multiple times throughout our conversation, she ignores all except one from her manager, Nick Yim. Azan has been friends with her manager since before their business relationship started, and they share the same passion for music, curation, aesthetic, and politics. “My first and last phone calls of the day are to her. She never takes a day off,” Yim wrote me in an e-mail. “We are only involved in projects that are genuine extensions of her identity as an artist. When you succeed in that way, you can build a foundation that survives the hype and trends.”

A suitcase lays half unpacked in her apartment, since her recent return from South America. Azan is set to lead her own ten-day independent tour across Europe. She returned from her last trip armed with knowledge, and an awakened sense of how music can touch people in an intimate way. “A lot of things are pre-set, pre-determined, circumstantial, and contextual. One of the only things you truly possess is how you understand your place in the world, and your exchanges with other people. One of the only things you have to arm yourself with, to walk with, to give you peace as a person, is that understanding.”