Opal nightclub, on George Street, have been hosting a weekly event called ‘JuJu Club’. The tag line for the club night is ‘Keep your JuJu good’, though what ‘JuJu’ actually is, is open for interpretation. The posters and decor features a crude mixture of African, West Indian, and African-American religious costume, as well as pictures of exotic animals, perpetuating a stereotype of African culture as savage, tribal, and undeveloped.
A cursory Google reveals that ‘JuJu’ is ‘a spiritual belief system incorporating objects, such as amulets, and spells used in religious practice, as part of witchcraft in West Africa.’ Further research relates the belief system to the Yoruba people. So it was confusing to see a picture of the club’s interior captioned:
‘The JuJu is good ’.
My search on the origins of ‘JuJu’ brought me to Nigeria, and yet the club itself seems to think it’s Ghanaian. This is an example of how African culture is considered interchangeable; a club that’s entire premise is Yoruba spirituality has gotten the wrong country. Additionally, the promotional imagery is drawn from New Orleans Voodoo culture.
The ‘jungle’ aesthetic of the club includes trees and animal pelt blankets strewn everywhere: Africa isn’t a giant jungle. Please leave that narrative in the past with Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling. Alongside this, the music played further conveys the notion that all black people are the same. Black people exist across a vast diaspora, and the music we create differs hugely. How does ‘JuJu Club’ tackle this? Jazz to match the New Orleans Voodoo vibe? Actual Jùjú music: “a style of music popular among the Yoruba in Nigeria and characterised by the use of guitars and variable-pitch drums”? Perhaps reggae to reflect Jamaican Obeah magic, kompa for Haitian voodoo? No. At ‘JuJu Club’ they play house, garage, grime and hip hop, again pressing the narrative that black culture is homogenous and interchangeable.
Worst of all is the ‘JuJu priest’. This is a black man, who sits beneath a sign proclaiming ‘we are all sinners here’, dressed as a New Orleans witch doctor. It is not my place to tell another black person not to profit from their blackness, but it hurt to see them willingly putting themselves through fetishisation most spend a lifetime rebelling against. Flicking through pictures of club-goers posing with him, touching and even kissing him, it is clear that he is simply another prop, part of the general ‘JuJu’ backdrop. It’s concerning that clubs like these empower white people to touch our hair and body without permission, because they are fascinated with our ‘JuJu’ exoticism.
The promoters, organisers, and DJs all appear to be white, as is (largely) the clientele base. The flyers are full of black people, but the club photos show roughly six people of colour in attendance over the course of several weeks. Had they consulted the black people whose culture they sought to profit from, could this have been avoided? Perhaps it could have been done more accurately, or maybe clubs should leave religion and spirituality alone.
Complaints about the club night have come from various activist groups, including the Edinburgh University BME Campaign. The incident must be contextualised against wider debates about cultural appropriation, and exploitation of black culture to the detriment of black people. Edinburgh University, and Edinburgh as a city in general, has a largely white demographic, with less than 10% of the student population identifying as an ethnic minority. Lack of representation probably correlates to the amount of ignorance BME members of the university have to put up with, like annual blackface incidents at Halloween. A comment from the BME group sums up this exhaustion: “I’m so sick of all this. Why is it that so much of my uni experience has been fighting for all aspects of my personhood (black, African, woman, queer, etc.) to be given just the minimum amount of respect?”
After contacting the club for comment, I was directed to the public apology on their Facebook page, which addressed their decision to rebrand following accusations of cultural insensitivity. Their apology focused on their lack of intent to cause offence: “This was obviously not our intention and we never set out to mock or offend anyone whatsoever and we were entirely unaware.” Talking about offence trivialises the issue, and lack of intent to offend does not absolve you from culpability. Offensive is too small a word when talking about racism, using black bodies and culture as props. They also spoke of re-branding with “a load of new crazy decor ideas”, implying that this blatant racism was just ‘crazy décor’ to them. As well as apologising for offending, they should have taken responsibility for their racism.
*At time of writing ‘JuJu Mondays’ is proceeding as normal.
Image: JuJu Club Facebook Official Page
This article was written by Rianna Walcott and edited by Esme Allman.