Introducing: Kitty Amor
Introducing: Kitty AmorOctober 30, 2023
The night before we catch up with Kitty Amor, she’s been neck-deep in the belly of London’s underground. Skepta and Jammer were throwing an impromptu street party in Camden to celebrate their release, “Can’t Play Myself”, out on their fledgling house label Más Tiempo. Watching the MC-turned-DJs represented a full circle moment for Amor, now one of the leading lights of the UK’s Afro house scene, who used to book Skepta when she was a student promoter. “Skepta has no idea I’m the same person that booked him in Nottingham,” she marvels. “It’s mad to think I am now on stages with these individuals, where I used to book you because your music was our safe space and people identified with you, even though they were so far away from London.”
Music’s connective power informs Amor’s own approach to mixing. Don’t come to her for wall-to-wall floor fillers, she tells us – they’re certainly present, but framed by something deeper. “Storytelling is a key thing for me,” she says. “Even if you don’t connect with it on a fist-pumping level, you’re going to connect on some emotional level.” Her sets adopt an unhurried pace, luxuriating in minimalist 4/4 grooves and organic polyrhythmics, which evoke serenity and self-possession. “It is very important for me to have my identity being the focal part of my sets. Me being a Black African woman but also a Black gay woman, me being Black British,” she says. “It’s knowing how to adapt those floor fillers with things that are uniquely Kitty Amor.”
Kitty Amor’s origins can be traced back to South London, where she grew up in a household saturated in Afrobeat and American jazz. An avid vinyl collector, her father hoarded Blue Note records and introduced his children to Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, and King Sunny Ade. “I always thought there was a synergy between the two worlds,” says Amor. “My dad wasn’t necessarily playing Afrobeat that we know today, being quite commercial and pop. He was playing Afrobeat, which is heavily embedded in jazz and soul.”
Funky house defined Amor’s early rave experiences, then being championed in London by DJ Kismet, Tippa and Marcus Nasty. But when she sought out the tracks she heard at home, she discovered a familiar tempo. “When it was slowed down, I realised this has more African rhythm to it. It’s got African percussions,” she says. She began seeking out more African electronic music, with Culoe De Song’s “The Bright Forest” particularly grabbing her.
“I will never forget when I first heard this. This is electronic, but this is African to its rawest form.” Stumbling on the website afrodisiamp3, a vast bank of music produced by South African artists, was like a homecoming. “This is me. It moves me. It speaks to me. It allows me to tell my story authentically in an electronic music space.”
When she landed at Nottingham Trent, Amor found a somewhat less rich clubbing landscape. “There was no one catering to people that looked like me that had come from London,” she says. Luckily, she found some co-conspirators in what became the PDT collective, who started a hip hop, R&B and Afrobeat party called Tribal Tuesdays. “They were playful. They were lighthearted. They were replicas of London in the Midlands,” she says. “We wanted people to feel their home away from home, because it is very different when all you know is London culture and then you go to the Midlands for education.”
The group pooled their student bursaries to bring up giants like Skepta, Tinie Tempah, and Ghetts. But the most important booking was Sef Kombo, whose night TilTwo was building an Afro house hub in London. “I knew of Sef being the only person that really understood the music I like,” Amor says, though the nerves kicked in when she discovered her set was scheduled straight after his. Even worse, rather than clearing off at the end of his slot, Kombo chose to stay and watch her work. Amor kept her eyes on the decks. “Though the masses mattered to me, the approval of Sef is what mattered the most,” she says. Despite her trepidation, something clicked. Kombo booked her for TilTwo, where she has since graduated to headliner.
Amor returned to London after university, where she launched Motherland in Hackney’s club Grow, which she co-promoted first with Jonny Miller and D-Malice and later with Kombo. “Motherland was meant to be a one-off Afro house party, but the amount of people that turned up, we were like, we need to do this more frequently,” she says. In 2019, she created Motherland’s sister event Sessions, which drew in international Afro house artists like Da Capo and DJEFF. “Motherland is one party that everyone has really found a home with. When they think of Afro house, everyone speaks of Grow Hackney and Motherland.”
A small, committed scene was brewing, though it took a while for Afro house to gain a foothold in the city. “I used to judge it every time Black Coffee came to London,” says Amor. “It sold out. It was a no-brainer. I was like, I don’t think these people know, whether he’s here or not, that this music still exists in London.” Amor and Kombo stepped up their promotion every time the South African DJ was in town, hoping to bestow his magic touch upon London’s parties. “We’re getting there,” says Amor. “People are not waiting for Black Coffee to come before they hear Afro house. They’re trusting in someone like Kitty Amor to be their Black Coffee.”
As much as Amor has concentrated on spreading Afro house beyond its South African birthplace, retaining those cultural ties remains imperative. She visited South Africa for the first time in 2019, seeking to better understand the music and culture. “I came to learn how Afro house is embedded in their every day,” she says. “It’s in the shops, in the taxis, on the roads, outside people’s houses, on the radio – you can’t get away from it.” That abundance, she says, has everything to do with the country’s recent wounds. “People forget that a lot of the music is deep rooted in pain,” she says. “It’s like the skeletons of apartheid are still in certain people’s closets. The story of freedom for South Africa is deep rooted in Afro house music. That’s why whatever I do outside the continent always reflects back to the people and the motherland itself.”
Nowadays, Amor is reflecting that connection from ever bigger platforms. In 2019, she became the first Afro house artist to perform in Printworks (beating even Black Coffee) and appeared alongside Kombo on Mixmag’s front cover. A new label launch will further cement Amor’s role as a scene rep, giving a home to her new productions (she remixed Nigerian songwriter Somadina’s “I Saw An Angel On The Roof & Wept” earlier this year and her first solo original track “Solitude” is forthcoming) while facilitating connections between Afro house and the wider music scene. Some early signees include AVG and London’s BADBOX. In addition to teasing some studio time with Skepta and Jammer, she’s also just released a fresh and sultry remix of laur.a and Monki’s collaborative tune “Feels Darker, Feel It” on Monki’s &friends imprint. “As much as I am known for Afro house, I think African electronic music is the best way to put it,” she says.
And the name of the label? Mahaba, a Swahili word for “love” – an appropriate mirror to Amor’s moniker. “It’s important for me to be a being of love through music,” she says. “I love the music. I love what I do. I feel the only way I can represent and connect with individuals is through music and how I pour into other people.”
Becca Inglis is a freelance writer living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Find her on X.