DJ Switch, 13-year-old children’s campaigner

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DJ Switch, 13-year-old children’s campaigner

DJ Switch is a 13-year-old campaigner for children’s rights. She talks with Subi Shah.


Photo: Kenglorhy_studios

I’m in London, in a taxi on my way to interview 13-year-old DJ Switch, Erica Armah-Bra Bulu Tandoh. Because of Covid we have to do this with a studio link and not in person, as Erica is at her family home in Ghana.

The taxi driver tells me his name – Adjo. He came to the UK from Ghana in the 1990s. He returns every year to check on his farmland and to see his elderly aunt. When I mention DJ Switch, his eyes light up. ‘I know of her! She is very famous in my home country. So talented and she does a lot of good work in girls’ education. Tell her we bless her and pray for her.’

DJ Switch was just 10 years old when I first met her in Vancouver. She was performing at the Women Deliver Global Voices Conference. She also talked about girls’ education and healthcare for her not-for-profit organization, the DJ Switch Foundation. I saw how calm and relaxed she was with all the attention.

When I invited her mother Lilian to sit in on the interview, she just laughed: ‘I’d better not – Erica hates it when I interfere!’ Three years later, Erica is really the same. She has won many important awards for her DJ’ing in her country and abroad. But she is still very much focused on the DJ Switch Foundation.

I ask how the DJ’ing is going. ‘It is so good! When I am playing and I see the audience dancing and laughing, it just makes me feel really good. I love all types of music and mix Pop, K-pop, Country, and other genres… When it comes to African genres, we have the Afrobeat, South African music, and Ghanaian music. Ghanaian music has its local styles: Highlife, Hiplife, Old School, and Ghanaian Trap. They are all Hip Hop.’

She started as a performance poet in her own community Suaman Dadieso, North West Ghana ‘because I like writing my own words and reading them aloud’. Then she started mixing music and won a Talented Kids Competition on TV3. And so she began to get offers to work as a DJ. People were excited when she arrived on Ghana’s music scene at age nine. She won prizes against much older male DJs. Some were not too happy about ‘a little girl winning’, she says.

‘I will never see what I am doing as a competition. I see myself as winning awards to do something good. It’s like with the Foundation When we raise money for desks and chairs for a school so the children do not have to sit on the ground; or we give healthy school lunches or extra lessons on health and hygiene. For me that is a win, it means I did something I wanted for myself.’

Her foundation is working to stop ‘child marriage’. UNICEF says Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world – 533 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, or 200,000 maternal deaths a year. This is over two thirds of all maternal deaths per year in the world. The global charity Too Young To Wed found that girls as young as 10 are having female genital mutilation and are dying in childbirth because of bad healthcare and because their bodies are not mature enough to give birth to children.

Erica tells me she wants to be a gynaecologist when she is older because ‘there are not enough doctors to help these girls’.

She says, ‘We must have education across the world to explain the rights of women and girls to stop all of this. Children cannot read and understand that they have rights and this is why bad things happen.’

So, she is starting a new project with the foundation called ‘Community Reads’ to buy and collect ‘everything to help children of my age and younger to read. Then I will go with my team to take these materials to schools in remote villages.’

Adjo, the taxi driver, is waiting for me. He tells me he didn’t want the taxi firm to send a different driver as he wanted to know about the interview. ‘Of course, she can be a DJ and a gynaecologist,’ he laughs. ‘All Ghanaians have two jobs! Look at me, I am a farmer and a taxi driver! Yes, I think she can do whatever she wants.’

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(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)