Jamz Supernova is one of BBC Radio's most adventurous musical curators. As a DJ, presenter, label head, journalist, podcast host and A&R scout, she's driven by a perpetual curiosity and a fervent desire to expand her musical universe, bringing her listeners along for the ride.
Making a name for herself as a BBC 1Xtra mainstay, Jamz championed progressive variations of R&B, hip-hop and soul music. After making the move to BBC 6 Music in 2021, she's embraced the flourishing UK jazz scene and shifted her focus towards exploring underrepresented pockets of musical history.
A self-described "student of music", Jamz's taste and outlook is eclectic, diverse and far-reaching, but resistant to snobbery or pretension: she's after music that makes you feel something, whether that's Portugese kuduro or classic US hip-hop, slick funky house heaters or wonky broken beat gems.
We caught up with Jamz Supernova in advance of this year's BBC Radio 6 Music Festival to hear about the 10 records that changed her life.
1. Bob Marley - Forever Loving Jah
“Bob Marley’s one of those artists that is a family favourite. You know when you know songs, but you don’t even know where you know them from? You just know them innately, you know all the words. I’ve had that with various parts of Bob Marley’s catalogue. It’s something that I’ve grown up listening to, whether at family functions, or just hearing it playing from the other room.
“Thinking about the next generation and the lineage of my family, he’s going to be that artist for them. They won’t know how they know him, but they know him. They know his life, they know his story, they know his message, but they didn’t have that experience of discovering him. He’s an incredible artist that’s transcended race, age, and locality. He’s larger than life, and his legacy has continued for so many years after his death. For me, when I think about who’s a real superstar, a mega-star, who’s an artist of the times? In our lifetime, in my lifetime, that’s Bob Marley.
“Forever Loving Jah, I hadn’t actually heard until recently. A couple of years ago, I was in St. Lucia, and every morning by the pool, they would play it. You’d just hear it wafting through the air. So it takes me back to that moment in the Caribbean.”
2. Tupac - Brenda’s Got A Baby
“When I turned 13 I became a massive fan of Tupac. I’d go and stay with my uncle in Birmingham, he’d give me a bit of money and I’d go shopping, and I’d always buy music and trainers. I remember buying Tupac’s Greatest Hits. I remember falling into his world, spending time on the conspiracy forums trying to find out if was still alive, or had been spotted in Cuba… [laughs]
“I printed out all the lyrics, I remember learning pretty much every lyric on that compilation. Brenda’s Got A Baby is one of the songs that I know all the words to. It’s quite a morbid song, and maybe not something that a 13-year-old should be singing, but I think it was a great reference for storytelling. The way the story builds, and the way he portrays the bleakness of it, must have really resonated with me and built a picture in my mind.
“It’s a good example of how he used his lyrics to talk about black male fragility. Through the eyes of Tupac and through his music and his poems, I was able to understand and empathise with black male fragility, specifically around masculinity, what it meant and what it means to be a black man in this world.”
3. Tracey Chapman - Behind The Wall
“I remember hearing this song when me and my mum were driving to IKEA. I must have been about 15 years old. She had the album on cassette. I remember she paused it before it started, and she said: “You really need to listen to the lyrics of this song. It's really an important song and has an important message.” The way that she built it up, it's kind of like what I do now on radio - giving you the context behind a song. Asking for your attention, if you can give it for the next couple of minutes, and really leaning into a record. That’s what we did in the car.
“It’s such a deep record around domestic violence. She went into kind of a mum monologue, you know, about domestic violence and how as women, we need to be really, really careful in the world. Because there's so much of this around. And I just thought that it felt like a really poignant mother-daughter moment.
“It’s a very simple song - there's not much to it, it's just the voice. And again, it's the storytelling and the emotion. So I think it started to build a picture of the sort of music that I'm being drawn to, or that sticks out, was really about messaging. As a teenager, you're feeling so many things. You're just looking for music that feels something. It doesn’t have to be something that you’ve been through, but there's some kind of angst in it. I think that's what I was drawn to in those days.”
4. Dazz Band - You Are My Starship
“I remember hearing this one a lot in the car. My stepmum and my dad would play it a lot, but what I remember picking up the most was the way that the bass made the car windows rattle. Then suddenly, I'm into production, it's not just lyrics now. They would play it all the time, and I would always get excited because they’d play the same songs in the same order.
“So I knew when it was coming, so I'd lean against the window and put my ear on it and just really feel it, and hear it rattling. For me that was a moment, around 10 or 11, that I started listening to different layers of music, and not just focusing on the lyrics but picking out the other elements of what I like.”
5. Alicia Keys - Diary
“I played that song on the piano for about five years, every day. I didn’t really get past Grade 1, because I don’t like tests - I’m not very good at tests, I think, under that much pressure. But I carried on learning at school, and this was my Year 11 piece I played for the test. I just remember playing it every single day, from Year 7 or 8 all the way through to Year 11.
“I remember thinking, Alicia Keys must have really big hands, looking at the fact that she could stretch her fingers and thumb all the way across the keys - I always had to tuck under. For me, playing that song so much made me understand certain qualities of music.
“Thinking about the more theoretical side of it, the kind of notes I liked, and why I liked the sound of them. Why do I always get drawn to F Major, things like that. The piano’s one of my favourite instruments, as well, I’m gutted I never carried on. I probably couldn’t play that song now - I wish I’d kept going with it.”
6. Black Coffee - Superman
“In my area and locally growing up, funky house hit us at 16. That’s what we would rave to. I would hear Black Coffee in the raves, and hear it on the mix CDs that were handed out afterwards, but I never knew the song name, or the artist title, I just knew that I really liked this song. And I actually probably assumed it was a UK record, but it's from South Africa.
“It was only when I went to go and work on BBC Radio 1Xtra, which would have been about three years later, that I heard it playing and could see the title of the track and the artist, and I thought, oh my God, that's it. Then I was able to find it in the system, and then stole it out of the system.
“It’s so rare now, it’s almost impossible to have those moments of discovery, hearing something, having no reference for it and not knowing what it is or where it’s from. Then hearing it again years later, having all those memories rushing in and feeling like you’ve solved a puzzle that’s been eating away at you.
“That’s an important record because I am a massive, massive fan of all the different music that comes out of South Africa. That track would have been the origin of that. Going raving to funky house and soulful house is what led me to the wider realms of electronic music, then through that to dubstep raves, then I started going to Ibiza. And over the years I’ve gotten more and more into electronic music, but that was the door for me.”
7. Frank Ocean - There Will Be Tears
“This is from the Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape. I’ve always been an R&B fan, but there was a point around like 2009 that R&B got kind of eurodance-y, and I wasn’t enjoying it much anymore. After that, this undercurrent of alternative R&B started coming through. What it did is combine so many different influences and a hybrid of sounds. Nostalgia, Ultra is a perfect example of indie music and R&B coming together. I think there’s even a skit on the album that reflects that, where Frank’s talking to a girl and she only wants to listen to hip-hop, and he’s trying to play her Radiohead.
“I always fought off my love of indie music, and buried it for a lot of my teenage years. It was something that was played a lot in the house, by my stepdad, and I dabbled in it for a while in primary school. But as soon as I went to secondary school, it was a different area and a different set of kids, and I didn’t want to be the odd one out - so I parked it and never really came back. My stepdad would try to show me new bands, and I’d say no I don’t want to hear it, I just want to listen to Ashanti! [laughs]
“Coming round to the Frank Ocean era, though, all those worlds came together and it made complete sense. I think that was a good reminder, that moment, to stand strong in the music that you genuinely like and believe in, and recognise that you can be multifaceted and listen to lots of different types of music, it doesn’t have to be tribalistic. If it wasn’t for that album, and Frank Ocean blending and melding those worlds, I don’t think I’d be doing what I do. It gave me a purpose, and made me want to create a different type of radio.”
8. Buraka Som Sistema - Hangover (BaBaBa)
“Buraka Som Sistema are a band from Lisbon. This particular song is always on my USB, it’ll never leave. There’s a couple of songs that my boyfriend says, you can only play that once a year, so I’ve already hit my quota of playing it on the radio. [laughs]
“I remember hearing it when I was working on Mistajam’s show. I used to work behind the scenes, before I was on air. We were in Union House, the BBC studio, in the basement on a Saturday night, doing the Saturday night show. The building’s always really empty, it’s just you, the producer and the DJ. We would turn it all the way up and have it really, really loud. I remember having my mind blown by this song, I couldn’t pinpoint where it was from in the world, what they were saying, what the textures were in it.
“I just fell in love with Buraka Som Sistema, and the music from Angola, the Kuduro sound, how that made sense in Lisbon. For me it opened up an understanding of the diaspora a little bit more, and how through music we can be connected. It doesn’t matter where you are, there’s going to be certain things, that if you’re from the African diaspora, are going to connect you. Then, when you mix that with where you’re living, you can create something beautiful out of it.
“Since then, I’ve been all around the world and met various different facets of the diaspora, and it’s all been through music. There’s this unsaid and unknowing appreciation of your differences, but also your similarities. That song, I could play it anywhere around the world, and it would get a good reaction.”
9. Ezra Collective - Juan Pablo
“I touched on it before, talking about my relationship with indie music. At one point in my life, I was very much like: I’m not into this, I’m into this. I’m not into that, I’m into that. And part of my musical snobbery has got me to where I am. But also, sometimes you just have to fess up and be open to where you’ve been wrong. With jazz, before I knew the history of jazz and where it’d come from, I always assumed that it was a wealthy, mostly Caucasian genre. I just didn’t think that I had an interest in it, or that it was accessible to me.
“When I was on 1Xtra, I started playing loads of music that was coming out of Soundcloud, beat-driven instrumental stuff. My producer at the time said, if you like that, you might like this. He kept doing that, and eventually he put Ezra Collective in front of me. I thought, oh my God, these are people that look like me and talk like me and sound like me, and have grown up in a similar setting to me, and they’re making this music.
“That song specifically opened up the door to the world of jazz. I think it was late 2017, and that was it, I was hooked into it. I think that in discovering jazz music in that way gave me an unfiltered perspective, I couldn’t have that snobbery towards it. It was natural, and a naive way to look at it. And by being naive about it, I was able to share it naively, and open it up to more people like me who maybe wouldn’t have thought they would be into it.
“Supporting jazz has changed my career. If I hadn’t been supporting jazz, I wouldn’t be on 6 Music, I would never have got to cover Gilles Peterson, or have got my own show. I would never have made the friends that I’ve made or supported the people I have at their shows. It’s just crazy, money can’t buy those moments. I’m so thankful to the UK jazz community for welcoming me and allowing me to be naive, allowing me to learn and to go backwards, starting at the new and moving back to the old.”
10. Afronaught - Transcend Me (Feat. Melissa Brown)
“I opened my first ever 6 Music show with this song. I was learning, and digging, and decided I was going to spend a month digging into old broken beat and bruk records. This was one that stood out to me. I started watching documentaries and reading loads of articles on it. I think I’ve always been so new music driven, thinking about what’s hot, what’s new, what’s coming next. But over the lockdown I had the time to lose myself in looking back at the genre, and that’s changed the way that I approach music.
“I want to become a student of music. It’s time for me to start looking back and becoming a student, and really learning what’s come before, to inform how I look at what’s coming next. I’m really excited about how I plan my sets now, finding older records and playing them alongside newer records. I think that’s the next chapter for me in my career, the chapter of the student and the learner, and this song represents that.”