Talking with a Dub Mission DJ who hears liberation in sound

Name: Sep Ghadishah

Position: DJ and producer, Dub Mission, Sundays at the Elbo Room

J.: You’re the founder of Dub Mission at the Elbo Room, a Mission District live-music club. What was it that drew you into the world of dub music and all its intersecting sounds?

Sep Ghadishah: Dub is a form of experimental music, and I used to play other kinds of experimental music before I discovered it. So it was a natural transition from post-punk, experimental jazz and the more experimental side of world music to the world of dub.

Sep Ghadishah

How did you get the notion to start a weekly DJ night? And when did you realize that Dub Mission, now almost 20 years old, had taken on a life of its own?

I played a lot of dub on my radio shows on KUSF and KPFA, and one night a woman called my radio show on KPFA and asked where she could hear this kind of music in a club. I couldn’t think of one, so I decided to start one. Dub Mission took a long time to grow. It’s hard for me to pinpoint a certain moment. I would say the fifth anniversary was a significant turning point, but it really grew slowly over many years.

A lot of the music and genres you play have roots in liberation and anti-authoritarian struggles, which can cut in several directions for Jewish folks. How does this resonate for you as a DJ, a music fan and a Jewish woman?

Reggae and dub are considered “sufferah’s music.” They give a voice to people who feel like they’re very much at the bottom of society, politically, economically and in other ways. This is just one of its attractions for me. I also find it to be both extremely soulful and potentially experimental at the same time. There aren’t that many genres you can say that about. I think despite the advances Jewish people have made, they should be very cognizant of remembering what it’s like to be considered “other” in any society.

Can you share a little about your Jewish background and how it has influenced your life and music?

I was born to Jewish parents in Iran and lived there until 1979 when my family migrated to the United States. I think both as a minority in Iran and the U.S., I understood naturally what it’s like to be other or invisible at various times. In my own case I was also an in-between, someone who is a product of two or more different cultures.

The Elbo Room lost its lease, and its 24-year run on Valencia Street will end in November to make way for condominiums. Will this spell the end for Dub Mission? And what does it say about San Francisco’s changing cultural scene and community?

The closure of Elbo Room saddens me tremendously, as it’s really like a second home. Dub Mission started there 19 years ago this September. It’s very unusual for a club night to stay in one place and last this long. I also lived in the Mission for more than a decade, so yes, it’s definitely the end of an era personally. I see this as a beginning of a new chapter for Dub Mission, not the end. It will be interesting to see how things develop from here.

I think we should have laws on the books to preserve places that aren’t necessarily historical landmarks but of significant cultural importance to this city. Maybe the closure of Elbo Room and the fact that so many other venues are feeling threatened will be a wake-up call for many more people. A huge groundswell of support is needed before these places can be saved and a valuable part of this city can be saved with them. Without these laws, you will see what happened to Elbo Room happen over and over again.

What advice would you, as a DJ and a mother of two, have for parents who want to raise children with open ears and open minds?

I think leading by example is the best way. If they see their parents watching interesting films and listening to interesting music, they’re more likely to do the same. I don’t intend to preach. I’ll just point to my collection and tell them to have at it.

What are some good starter dub records for parents who want to open doors for their progeny?

Here’s a top five to start with: Augustus Pablo: “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown”; Lee Perry and the Upsetters: “Blackboard Jungle Dub”; “Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires”; Prince Jammy: “Kamikazi Dub”; and African Head Charge: “Songs of Praise.”

“Talking with …” focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting. Send suggestions to [email protected]

Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson is J.'s digital director. He can be reached at [email protected].