voice of a generation

DJ Clara Amfo is taking over the airwaves one song at a time.

Radio DJ, club DJ, TV presenter and fully paid-up Beyoncé stan Clara Amfo started her broadcasting career as a teenager on Nickelodeon and CBBC, before jumping to radio and earning a Sony Radio Award nomination during her time at KISS FM. A successful switch to BBC Radio 1Xtra was followed by a move in 2015 to Radio 1 where she now presents the station's mid-morning show, aka the students and freelancers' breakfast show.

Ludicrously busy, we literally gatecrashed Amfo's lunch in-between radio shows and rehearsals for the Brit awards (where she presented the red carpet and backstage coverage) to chat about Ghanian delicacies, Beyoncé's scent and calling out bullshit.

What smells feel like home?

Cinnamon. My mum and my dad, God rest his soul, always had those cinnamon sticks in the house. Those and vanilla ones.

Is there a particular smell that takes you back to your childhood?

West African food, definitely. We're from Ghana, like that's where my family are from, so peppers, spices and there's a dish called Jollof rice, a really well known West African dish – Ghanians made it up, you can quote me on that – and that really reminds me of being a kid and my mum cooking it and it tasting delicious.

You've travelled to lots of fancy places, are there certain countries that are evoked when you catch a certain smell?

Do you know what, there's something about a sugary smell that really reminds of New York. It's that sweetness mixed with a bit of grit and fresh cheesecake.

If you could bottle up one smell, what would it be?

I think it would either be vanilla or white musk because they take me back to being a teenager, like 'my first fragrance'. Really inoffensive but warming.

What's more evocative and nostalgia-inducing – music or smell?

Definitely music. I can pinpoint certain songs to certain moments. I'll remember where I was when I hear a riff or something. Growing up I was such a sponge to all different kinds of music and I think my parents getting Sky and cable TV was legitimately the best thing that ever happened to me. I grew up in a house with my four brothers and a sister, and we were all into different types of music. I have a different group or artist that reminds me of each of them in a different way.

If you had your own celebrity fragrance what would it be called?

My corny nickname, which is Amfo Real. My friend used to call me that for jokes. Imagine; “Are you for real? Amfo Real”.

Who's the nicest smelling famous person you've ever met?

Pharrell Williams smells very crisp and fresh. It's not that he doesn't smell of anything, it's just that he smells of crisp excellence.

What do you think Beyoncé smells like?

Warm Beignets. Like Southern goodness, just that rich creole, deep South goodness.

As Adele recently said, Beyoncé's one of the world's greatest inspirations, but who else inspired you growing up?

So many favourites – Brandy, Janet, Whitney, Kate Bush, Róisin Murphy, Lauryn Hill. I just love female artists so much. I needed these women.

Who were some of the female broadcasters you looked up to?

[TV presenter] Vanessa Feltz is the oracle. I love that woman. She's fantastically well read, her vocabulary is out of this world and she doesn't care what anyone thinks of her. Growing up my brother used to play a lot of KISS in its earlier days, when it was a bit more of an underground station, and there was a woman on there called Wendy Douglas, who had the most lovely speaking voice. Obviously Annie Mac, who is now my work mate. Annie Nightingale, who is testament to true longevity in her career. I know it sounds corny, but the people I get to call my workmates are really inspirational in their own different way.

When you were young did you always get a thrill out of sharing new music with friends, or telling them about new artists?

That was my job in our group of friends. In our free periods at school it was my job to bring in the CDs. I remember I brought in The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and was like, 'Okay, guys, you need to get into this'. We would rinse that album. I still love to do that now – it's why I do my job, that thrill of sharing new music.

Do you think the role of radio DJ has changed in the age of streaming?

I think it's shifted. I would be naïve to say that radio and TV and anyway in which to absorb music doesn't feel the peering eye of streaming services, of course, and we incorporate that into what we do at radio. But there is still a need for the voice and people are still encouraged to have conversations via presenters, DJs and journalists. Also, never assume that everyone has the same access that you have to music, or even if they do they might not be using it in the same way. There are people who want to be told what to check out still rather than finding it for themselves, which is great. Keeps me employed.

You've done charity work for Plan to promote free education for young girls in countries like Ghana - why is it so important to give back?

There is no point doing any type of public-facing job if you don't attempt to use a little bit of it to help others. I recently called out a hair braiding company on Instagram for cultural appropriation – they approached me to ask if they could do my hair when literally there are no women on their Instagram page that look like me, and yet they use women like me to do the work for them. That's problematic for me. I think unfortunately we're in an age where people are committed to being wilfully ignorant. If I was to say everything that I was really thinking about all the things all the time, I'd be on Twitter constantly, but really I’m somebody who picks their battles wisely.

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