At a time when the world can seem over-saturated with DJs, here’s a different take – teach more, mix more, and don’t forget breakdancing to old Soviet funk records. We have a chat with Russian-born, NYC-based Ma Sha.

If collective action is part of DJ life in 2019, Ma Sha (aka Maria Koblyakova) is … everywhere. In her adoptive home of NYC, she’s built up Kindergarten as a playful, eclectic musical series. That in turn has had various offshoots (Playground, Recess), one of which I got to join once here in Berlin. But there’s also a regular radio show to keep the music and buzz flowing, for London’s Balamii radio. And Ma Sha keeps European connections going, with extended stints in Berlin and around Europe.

Kindergarten – party and radio show – are relentless and regular. So, too, is a new weekly get-together and DJ school, Hone.Social.

Kindergarten, NYC. Photos by Raúl Coto-Batres.

It’s DIY and international and open and constant – and in a way, the opposite of the alternative ethos of DJs which may have been more successful for some in the past. That model suggested keeping DJ technique (and music selections) a trade secret, making appearances scarce, and making the DJ a guarded and mysterious commodity.

That being said, I don’t want to get too far into that, because it takes away from our opportunity to breakdance to some Soviet funk records, in Ma Sha’s just-released mix for NTS in London. So let’s cue this up and set the mood.

You need the jazz/funk/disco/psychedelic you might have missed because you weren’t growing up in the USSR or former Eastern Bloc. Full track listing below, of course.

Can you tell us a little bit about this mix? How did you encounter this music – since you’re a little younger than the end of the USSR? (if there’s no tracklist or background on NTS, that’d be great!)

The mix is a cocktail of jazz/funk/disco/psychedelic from USSR and Eastern Bloc countries. My very first encounter with proper Soviet grooves happened when I was 13 and was learning to breakdance. Our breakdance trainers introduced us to pure psych//funk magic from USSR as well the classics: James Brown and Bomfunk MC’s. I still can picture very clearly us b-girling in the woods during the summer camp to the track of Russian genius composer Aleksander Zatsepin – Tanec Shamana

What are you teaching in the DJ workshops; how do you structure the curriculum?

Hone.Social is a free weekly workshop aiming to provide a place for everyone to learn and practice their skills in a casual, supportive, one-on-one environment. Since we are open to all ages and all levels of experience, the first step for us is to go over the  basic guidelines on how to use to prepare [your Rekordbox library] for the upcoming session (in case someone wants to focus on CDJs).

Next, during the session, we go over the techniques as well as the art and meaning of DJing. I make sure to engage everyone in discussions on the meanings and narratives behind mixes, the goals of the music community, and how we can influence life around us through music.

For people who have specific preferences for genre/equipment, we invite volunteer teachers who specialize in that topic. Since the workshop takes place at the radio station (Newtown Radio), we record all our sessions. We give the recording to our students, so they can track their progress. After a few overview sessions, the students record their first mix; I am available to provide feedback/advice if they ask for it. We can also review the mix later.

Recently we launched a website (shout out to ½ of Hone.Social, Lenora!) with all the information, as well as the calendar listing available slots. We work on organizing a series of events, where students can practice in a stress-free environment to improve the skills that they gained during sessions.

Side note – Leonora is also one to watch; she runs SISTER, a virtualized global collective of female and gender non-conforming electronic music professionals and enthusiasts, and DJs as Circe, in addition to design and art direction work. [about | Instagram | SoundCloud]

What do you wish someone had taught you – anything that you sort of struggled to figure out?

I wish someone would teach me not to be afraid to ask questions! I remember the first time I played a gig with a rotary mixer. It took me forever to figure out how it worked. I was afraid to ask other DJs for help because I didn’t want to look like I did not know what I was doing 🙂 Teaching Hone.Social workshop helped me to realize how much I can learn from thinking about other people questions  I finally started asking more questions myself. It really helps to understand the different angles and nuances of the craft. 

Any music you’re excited about these days? (Including any artists you’re working with in your events?)

After recording a mix of Soviet gems for PZRecords, I caught a spark of re-discovering my old passions. One example of such rediscoveries would be USSR funk, soul, and rare-groove music; another one would be Soviet movie and cartoons soundtracks. One of the greatest masterpieces of that era in my opinion is the cartoon called “Mystery of The Third Planet”. I highly recommend watching it, and especially listening to the music composed by Aleksander Zatsepin (yes, same composer I mentioned earlier who wrote the music I was breakdancing to when I was a kid).

Wow, he’s now aged 93 – check his work: -Ed.

When it comes to specific artists, I am currently very excited –  I would even say obsessed – with a concept of combining performance art and DJing. For instance, one of my projects is club nights and a radio show on Balamii called “Kindergarten.” [She co-founded Kindergarten with Zanzie.] For our last party we had DJ Bus Replacement Service (who absolutely smashed it by the way!). I truly admire how she brings the performative aspect to her DJ sets by using humor and being “a groove digger/selector for Reddit jokes”.

What is a world like that has a growing number of DJs? Is there a way for them to make more opportunities – more chances for music – and not just crowd one another out of DJ booths?

Definitely! I truly believe in empowering each other through mutual support. More artists we have in the world, more minds and spirits can unite and bring bigger exciting and creative changes to our community. Proper education/training is all one needs to be empowered to connect with others.  If everyone has respect and positive energy towards each other, we will move forward as the team and will grow together. Support your friends, share their music with others, do not hesitate to tell someone that they inspire you, take risks! We can only progress if we are not afraid to make mistakes and fall 🙂 Because this is how we learn to fly.

CDM, an acronym which stands for as it has always stood for “Soviet Dance Music” (S looks like an S), glad to bring you the full track listing:

Collage – Mets Neidude Vahel
Оркестр и вокальная группа Диско – Мгновенье, стой 
Візерунки шляхів – Коло Млина Калина
Квартет “4М” – Бэбэл
Оркестър София – С Теб е Бил Той
Kamelie (Hana & Dana) ORM – Video-disco
Valentin Badyarov’s Band – Closer to Summer 
Krystyna Prońko – Jutro zaczyna się tu sezon
Els Himma · Kesköö
VIA Verasy – Aerobics 
Рижский эстрадный оркестр – Zeme zeid
Аида Ведищева – Арифметика
Velly Joonas – Käes on Aeg
Вокальный квартет “Улыбка” – Зимние страдания
Вокальный квартет “Аккорд” – Просто так 
Эстрадный Оркестр Ленинградского Радио – Час пик
ВИА “Здравствуй, песня” – Не обещай
Gunars Rozenbergs – Disco Rose
Муслим Магомаев – Лучший город Земли
Алла Пугачева. Все Силы Даже Прилагая