DJ China L'One, founder of We Run The World
“My stuttering was a huge obstacle. I remember when I was 16 and I said to my mum, 'My life is over. I'm never going to be anybody, because you have to speak, and I can’t.”
Arriving in the UK as a teenage refugee from war-torn Sierra Leone, China L’One would have never imagined that one day she would be running We Run the World, London’s first ever DJ booking agency with an all-female roster.
“I was brought up in Sierra Leone and I went to St. Joseph primary school, which was a Catholic school. I was extremely clever, but when I was young, I stuttered really badly. At the time, my mum who worked as a midwife travelled to different cities in Sierra Leone, so she would leave me with different family members. I would always stammer when I was with my relatives but never when I was alone with my mother.”
"I came to the UK when I was 13 to join my mum. It was definitely different, because, in Sierra Leone, people spent a lot of time outdoors, whereas, it was the opposite in England. I had to adapt to this, which I found to be boring because what do you do apart from watching TV. You don't go out to play because of the weather, so yeah, I missed Sierra Leone."
China had a dream to sing, act and dance. At the age of sixteen, she attended the Itali Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London, although she was aware that her stuttering could get in the way of realising her goals.
“I would only stutter in certain situations, like if I had to read or where I had to explain myself. It was a struggle for me because I wanted to become a performing artist. I wanted to become an actress, so my stuttering was a huge obstacle. I remember when I was 16, I said to my mum, 'My life is over. I'm never going to be anybody, because you have to speak, and I can’t."
Her aspirations changed when she was unexpectedly invited to take over DJing at a friend’s birthday party in 2000.
“She wasn't very happy with the DJ she hired, so I asked what was wrong. She goes, ‘Oh, nobody's dancing.’ So I went to the DJ and I said, ‘I know big tunes, show me what to do.’ And then I start DJing. Everyone was having fun dancing. And then when I finished, everyone said to me, "I didn't know you were a DJ." So I said, ‘Is this DJing?’ And I literally said, ‘I'm going to be a DJ’. And I’ve never looked back. It's been a challenging 18 years, but I'm still here.”
Frustrated by the lack of women in the industry, China wanted to change how female DJs are perceived by their male counterparts.
“I've faced a lot of challenges. When I turn up to clubs and hotels, they would say things to me, which I don't believe they would say to other male DJs. For me, I think appearance is such a disadvantage to us because we're women.
“There was one situation where I'd been DJing at a venue and was told by a male DJ that he was getting paid more money than me. Again, this is very unfair, and as a woman, they'll assume you're not going to be as good a DJ even though they haven't heard you play.
"I've also had comments like: 'You're supposed to be a model. What are you doing here? You're only getting booked because of your looks.' So these are the kind of things you have to deal with, so you have to be mentally strong to be able to keep going.
China has performed all over the UK and at London’s most exclusive clubs and venues, including the Ministry of Sound.
"My favourite country to DJ in is Malmö in Sweden. I loved it because it was very quiet, everybody had bicycles and it was very authentic. I also love India as well. I went with one of my DJs in Bangalore. I was MCing, and she was DJing. It was sunny, everybody was free, I loved it."
China believes that young women should take control of their destiny. “I feel that it's very important for females to be their own boss so they can hold the key to their life."
Determined to overcome her fear of public speaking, China joined Toastmasters International that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs.
“This year has personally been huge for me. I was hosting Toastmasters on Tuesday and I've never done that before and it was a success. That's huge for me, because I'm always like, 'Oh, I won't ever be able to do that.' I actually did that, and for me, that's a huge personal development.”
“I definitely want to carry on with public speaking to give me more confidence and I definitely would like to pursue TV presenter opportunities if they arise. I did the Paralympics advert for Channel Four in 2016. In the meantime, I'll just continue building the agency, and continue DJing."
So has there ever been a time when she felt like giving up? "In 2014, I was DJing all over the world. I was doing cruise ship DJing, but I wasn't looking after myself, I wasn't eating properly, and I had a breakdown. For two weeks, I couldn't leave my bed. I literally thought I was going to die. The doctors couldn't tell what had happened to me. So at that point, I felt like I'd given up because I thought my life was over. But I'm blessed. I've got such amazing friends and family. So everybody was by my side. My brother was the best, so I had a lot of positive people around me that helped me through."
"In terms of the future, we're growing as an agency, and this year alone, we've worked with some of the biggest companies, like Mercedes-AMG Canada. For me, that's a huge success as I feel we are securing our position in the industry as We Run The World Agency. We're becoming a brand that people come to and it's not just about the DJs. It’s very encouraging that people love what we're about. We're really setting a mark, and for me, that's very positive."
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