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Photo courtesy of  RNI Films

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24 May 2023

Spotlight: In Conversation with My Analog Journal

LILY NEWMAN

I sat down with DJ, producer and founder of My Analog Journal, Zag Erlat, and co-founder, fellow DJ, singer-songwriter Shaqdi at their studio in East London to talk everything from Turkish funk and YouTube algorithms to record collecting. 

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Along an unassuming side street in Bethnal Green, I stroll past an enormous plant warehouse with  swarms of greenery, flora and vines shrouding the windows of the store, on my way to My Analog Journal Studio. I jokingly remark to Zag and Shaqdi - the faces behind this cult-followed YouTube channel - that perhaps this might be where they sought inspiration for their idiosyncratic collection of foliage and houseplants that, to many, is emblematic of My Analog Journal. Zag, laughing, tells me of a comment left under one of his videos that had stuck with him: “it's like a boiler room, but in your living room”. And, he says, that's exactly how it all started. As a self-professed devotee of My Analog Journal, stepping into the studio felt like stepping into a frame I had seen no less than one hundred times before. Often I sip my morning coffee to the sound of Nuyorican Funk or cook to the rhythms of Soviet Jazz thanks to Zag’s living room and his weekly offerings of hour-long vinyl sets journeying outernational beats. I sit down on a wicker chair next to the infamous leafy stage and ask from the beginning, tell me about the start of ‘My Analog Journal’.

 

Turkish-born, London-based Zagor Erlat, glances knowingly at his partner Shaqdi. Erlat wears a white t-shirt and is clad in intricate tattoos, with a boyish charm to match. He smiles whilst admitting that she’s heard it all before, and could likely repeat verbatim every word he’s about to share. I’m sure it's a tale they’ve been asked to recount many times. 

 

In late 2017, I inherited a collection of Turkish psychedelic rock from my grandfather.

 

Zag tells me how he was fascinated by late 70’s Anatolian rock, a unique genre that fuses traditional Turkish folk with modern psychedelic rock, and so he began avidly collecting records in Istanbul. A lifelong zeal for vinyl collection was ignited and Zag turned to YouTube vinyl mixes with a longing to expand his collection and stoke his passion. Upon realising it was up to him to fill this void, he decided that he would have to do it himself. Erlat’s first YouTube video was born: an hour-long set of Turkish psychedelic funk played from the comfort of his living room, with the camera angled firmly on the vinyl spinning. It wasn't until six months later that he checked his YouTube account again, after receiving a flurry of emails informing him of likes, shares and activity on a video he insists he had completely forgotten about. One comment left a lasting impression: 

 

“I don’t understand a word but I love this music” 

 

He began to realise that his viewers felt the same way he did for Japanese pop, an appreciation for the synth melodies, the soulful elements, but in a language he was unable to understand. The rest is history.  My Analog Journal now boasts over 800k devotees who tune in weekly with a shared desire to rediscover forsaken melodies in languages and of times once lost. 

 

It all started by realising what there is in the world waiting to be explored, and we then we started to build a community, where like minded people shared their own musical journey.

 

Early on in this tale, a friend and fellow vinyl collector asked to play their own mix for the channel, hence ‘Zag and Friends’ was born. Now Erlat has gone on to welcome the likes of Habibi Funk, Charlie Dark, Coco María and Haseeb Iqbal to his analog sanctuary to present their wax offerings, ranging from Italo-Disco to Indonesian Psych whilst they sip tea and groove around his living room. 

 

To my right is Stockholm-born singer-songwriter Shaqdi, who adopts her Palestinian father’s name as her musical alter ego. She is ethereally beautiful, and with ethereal vocals to match. Her music seamlessly blends soulful beats with a voice that makes you feel reminiscent for a time you can’t quite put your finger on. But on MAJ she is lauded for her vinyl collections which delve into sounds of Japanese City Pop to African and Middle Eastern soul from the 80’s. Music is woven into Shaqdi’s veins and provided the backdrop to her childhood. Her mother was a classical pianist and she grew up studying music production. Now she turns to the rich world of Arabic discography to connect her to a culture whose mother tongue she was never taught. Yet her vinyl spinning days only started a short while ago. Erlat watches with admiration as Shaqdi tells me how she went from being booked to sing to being booked to play other people’s music. Always music, just something different over time. This prompts him to gush that I’m so happy and proud that this channel gave her the confidence and made her realise what she could do. 

 

The pair connected over a shared musical heritage and Erlat now produces Shaqdi’s tracks. He smiles with a glint in his eye as he adds, well I had to keep the conversation going with something, otherwise I wouldn’t have stood a chance. Now, Shaqdi is the behind-the-scenes curator of the channel, first only through a desire to share the burden she could see weighing down her partner, but now it is clear she is an indispensable cog in the wheel. Shaqdi is determined to promote female artists on the channel, as a female DJ herself, she knows first hand the importance of diversity in an industry where women are perceived wrongly to make up only a minority.

 

I ask if there is a certain epistemic responsibility inherent to a task of repopularising the soundtracks of colonised nations and names forgotten long ago. Zag tells me this responsibility dawned on him only with time and now he is committed to facilitating the rightful expansion of names, faces and colours in his viewers musical consciousness. Such a burden is accompanied with the all-too-familiar burnout and Zag recounts periods of exhaustion in his creative pursuit. Yet, it is clear My Analog Journal started and firmly remains a labour of love, spurred by the words of praise from a large band of devotees. I am always struck by the outpouring of gratitude left in the comment section of MAJ’s videos, with Rastas proclaiming that, after a lifetime of reggae, it was only through the channel’s vinyl sets that they were finally introduced to lover’s rock and consequently a “lifetime of joy”, or Japanese DJ’s gobsmacked to witness the day “old Japanese pop music became popular overseas”. 

 

Zag tells me of a recent gig in an esteemed club in the centre of Paris, where he waited anxiously before his set, terrified that the crowd who was clearly enamoured by his predecessors collection of French disco, would hardly bat an eyelid to his prepared set of Brazilian funk and salsa. He was overjoyed to witness a rave response, culminating with the Parisian club owner’s own proclamation of delight at finally hearing salsa in his club. This experience left him teary-eyed and acted as a perfect reminder of why he started all of this in the first place. 

 

Yet Erlat is strikingly humble in his awareness of his own impact, with a constant insistence that what he’s doing is nothing new. I am curious to know what the future is for MAJ - perhaps a record label on the horizon? Zag jokes that maybe one day Boiler Room will pay him £1 million for a set, and then reassures me that no, he’s happy where things are at the moment. 

All I do is give a space for this type of music to be heard, if one DJ feels more confident playing their collection then I’m happy

 

Next on MAJ’s agenda is curating stages for clubs, festivals and more. Again, Zag and Shaqdi express   their profound gratitude to festival organisers for having enough trust in their creative vision to curate a line-up of fellow wax spinners and vinyl collectors, a notion which baffles me considering 800k people have enough trust in MAJ to curate the soundtrack to their every Sunday morning. Yet, the duo’s humble gratitude is refreshing. It dawns on me at this stage of my afternoon with the pair, whom I have long admired and whose faces I recognise only from a screen, that what they have created was truly born organically out of their home.

 

Who would be your dream guest on MAJ? Gilles Peterson Zag pauses and explains, that would be a real full circle moment for me, but Shaqdi is quick to quip -You haven’t actually asked him yet.

 

Watching Zag and Shaqdi interact I can see how his vision and her vision coalesce perfectly, with Erlat admiring how she curates every detail of this artistic project, from each individual plant pot to the way each wire is ordered, and Shaqdi responding that it took time for him to trust another person enough to allow them into his creative vision. I can see that there is a certain kind of love imbued into every aspect of this project, a love that can only be found in two people playing music from their living room. 

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Guest Mix: Three Tracks from Zag to You 

(artist - song - album)

1. Maria Creuza - Me Deiza Em Paz - Seduçâo

2. Banda Black Rio - No Baiza do Sapateiro - Maria Fumaça

3. Tom Browne - Funkin' for Jamaica - Love Approach 

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Guest Mix: Three Tracks from Shaqdi to You 

(artist - song - album)

1. Ahmed Fakrun - Kalimat Hob - Mots D'amour 

2. Ofra Haza - Galbi - Shaday 

3. Shams Dinn - Hedi Bled Noum -  شمس دين

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