fRoots World Music DJs


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Article published in fRoots magazine.
Written by Jaimie Renton

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fRoots World Music DJs

  1. 1. f 44 AFAT chance Ever had a secret desire to be a top world music DJ and have the dance floor doing your bidding? Jamie Renton jumps in at the deep end… M B e? A DJ? You’re having a A few weeks later and I’m back at ack in the early 1980s, Dave laugh! I was relaxing on a Darbucka to meet up with Karim (the resi- Hucker pioneered the whole sofa in the newly opened dent DJ) and receive my first lesson. Some- idea of making club crowds Darbucka basement bar in one’s booked a party there for tonight dance to music from around the Farringdon and Ahmad, who and he suggests that we can DJ it togeth- world (or at least “two conti- runs the place, had just invited me to DJ er. I start to feel nervous. “Don’t worry, it’s nents and assorted islands” as he puts it). there whenever I liked. I’ve never DJ’d easy,” he says as he takes me through the He started spinning his tropical mix at before and logic should have told me to technical side: how to fade things up and Soho’s Sol y Sombra club back in ‘82. It politely decline. But the meze and drinks down, how to change the pitch and match burnt down four years later after one of were going down nicely and Darbucka, beats, how to loop a break and sample it Hucker’s sessions (“I knew I was hot that with its low lights, Bedouin tent décor over a rhythm… no, I didn’t understand a night, but not that hot!”) and he’s since and scent of shisha pipes, seems like such word of it either. And with that he leaves hosted tropical and salsa nights in a vari- a relaxed place that I found myself say- me to demonstrate my (non-existent) DJ ety of London clubs (including a seven- ing “OK, I’ll give it a go” with the confi- skills. My simple aim is to fade one tune nights-a-week salsa session upstairs at dence of the truly ignorant. out and another in without a gap in Ronnie Scott’s). “Stay true to what you Deep down I’ve always wanted to DJ. between. At first I struggle with the tech- want to play,” he advises me. “Don’t play Back in the 1980s I’d make up tapes for nology. “What’s happening Jamie?” music just because you think that’s what friends’ parties. But then their tastes shouts Karim from across the (thankfully the punters want to hear. Reading what became more mainstream and mine empty) bar as I leave another Pinteresque the crowd want is an art that has to be moved in the opposite direction. They pause between tracks. “Hey DJ!” he yells developed, not all DJs can do it.” For wanted Phil Collins and all I had was Salif encouragingly when I finally manage to Dave, the key to becoming a successful DJ Keita, it was never going to work. That segue Khaled straight into Ozomatli. lies in understanding structure. “It’s like was why the discovery of club DJs Dave Slowly the ratio of “Hey DJ!”s to “What’s taking people on a rhythmical roller Hucker, Max Reinhardt, Rita Ray and happening Jamie?”s starts to go in my coaster ride. You sometimes go slow, Gerry Lyseight was such an inspiration. favour. Then the party arrives. It’s an have fast bits, that then go into twists They played the music that I loved in advertising company’s annual office bash. and turns and surprises.” clubs full of people who were going wild. They talk in loud voices, play a speed dat- He’s pretty much hung up his head- It struck me that if I was to get anywhere ing game, have an advertising-based quiz phones nowadays. (“I paid my dues, had as a DJ I needed to consult with the and politely tolerate my global selection. my ears battered for 22 years in smoky experts, find out what worked for them “Usually you just play your set regard- rooms!”) and concentrates on putting and use all this knowledge for my debut less,” Karim tells me, “but when it’s a together compilation albums and acting DJ appearance. After all, what was the party like this you’ve got to give them as musical consultant for TV programmes. worst thing that could happen? Well a what they want.” As I drag my bag of CDs I wondered if he could recommend a whole evening of public shame and up to street level, he’s giving them dead cert floor-filling tune to play when humiliation obviously, but I decided not Michael Jackson’s Blame It On The Boogie all else fails. “Kataki’s Hula Hoop Jive.” to think about that. and da joint is jumping! Sorry? “It’s a ‘70s South African jive thing, with nutso violin and vocals urging us to do the Hoola Hoop! It never fails on the floor.” As Dave appears to be the only person on the planet who owns a copy, we’ll just have to take his word for it.Photo: Ahmad Tuba Jamie Renton Next I get some hot turntableist tips from Eric Soul, a West London-based DJ who specialises in bringing global beats to a young clubby crowd. Music runs in Eric’s family: his mother is the excellent Rwan- dan singer Cecile Kayirebwa and he grew up in Belgium surrounded by the Rwandan traditions of music and dance, which pro- vided his family with important links to their homeland. Young Eric was more interested in hip-hop, funk and soul (hence his nickname). “African music was what you heard at weddings, it was for the parents, I thought it was boring!”, the softly spoken Mr Soul tells me as we sit outside a Notting Hill bar. “When you’re young, you’re an African, you’re a refugee, you don’t have that sense of pride in who you are. That comes after, when you have more knowledge.” This knowledge came in 1996 when, having cut his DJ teeth playing every kind
  2. 2. Photo: Philip Ryalls 45 f Martin Morales Eric Soul Photo: George DuBose of music in an all-night Brussels club, Eric Leeds, Martin soon went from presenting impressive compilation albums. So what’s was invited to DJ over in Rwanda. “That university radio to playing Latin sounds at the secret of their success? “There’s no was where everything clicked together. I local clubs. Even at this early stage he plan, that would take all the fun out of it. had a spiritual wake-up call.” A few wanted to reach out. “It’s not about teach- The whole idea is that it’s a free-flowing months later he moved to London and ing the already converted, it’s about bring- musical journey around the world.” Russ is landed a gig at Brixton’s Bug Bar. “By ing in new people. Working in big dance keen to place FWF on the cooler end of now I’d created my own style which I call clubs, I learnt how to entertain, but also the global beat club scene. “Whatever ‘Groov ‘n’ Bass’. It’s the whole spectrum educate by stealth. Just relating to normal you may think, the tag ‘world music’ is of black music: past, present and people and finding those cultural sign- seen as negative and we want to do some- beyond!” Since then he’s DJ’d everywhere posts that they can feel comfortable thing people can buy into without wear- from underground clubs to celebrity par- with.” He emphasises the importance of ing sandals and woolly jumpers!” Sartorial ties. “You must do it with your heart,” is using mood as a way of linking tracks. warnings aside, he advises me to keep my his advice. “Be progressive, don’t try to “Celebratory moods for example can be feet on the ground. “Remember you’re take them from one place to another too found everywhere, in foro, Balkan Gypsy not an artist, you’re an entertainer. If abruptly. Choose tracks that go together. music, salsa and Brazilian batucada.” you’re really enjoying yourself then It can be the sound, the tempo, the voice Martin currently hosts two regular there’s a good chance that the crowd are or just an instrument that makes the con- club nights: the self-explanatory Futuro gonna be as well. But don’t play just to nection.” And when all else fails, Eric rec- Flamenco, and Differente, where he and yourself and keep persevering. Sometimes ommends anything by Senegalese rap- co-host John Armstrong play all kinds of it can take half an hour before you find pers Positive Black Soul or Latin-house world and dance sounds to a Friday night the tune that sets the crowd off, but just legends Masters At Work. West End crowd. So what’s his sure-fire stick with it until you get it!” Russ sug- gests any of the first three tracks from the I n the late 1980s, it looked as floor-filling tune? “A good magician never though the emerging dance music reveals his tricks,” he chuckles, “but, OK, Electric Gypsyland compilation as the per- scene would be a window of oppor- there is one tune: Amigos by Wicked fect way to hit that floor-filling moment. A tunity for world music. Suddenly Lester always does the trick.” few nights later I meet Simon lyrics weren’t important, it was Next up I get some advice from Russ Emmerson at the Afro Celts stu- rhythm that counted and the rhythms of Jones who, along with Michael ‘Cliffy’ Clif- dio in North London. Simon’s DJ the world appeared to be grabbing the ford, DJs as Future World Funk. Russ start- set at the fRoots 25th birthday ears of the mainstream DJ fraternity who ed out on the early 1990s funk scene, then party was a recent inspiration for were queuing up to say how much they discovered global sounds via Brazilian wanting to try my own hand on the decks. loved ‘global beats’. In reality this often music, having helped to set up the special- “Oh that wasn’t DJing,” he explains, “that amounted to little more than a passing ist Far Out label. It was while working was just playing CDs.” Eh?… I thought acquaintance with Mory Kante’s Yeke there that he met Cliffy and in 1998 the that was what DJing was. But apparently, Yeke and Coldcut’s Ofra Haza remix. pair started FWF, a regular world beat if you do it properly, there’s a lot more to Dance music has become increasingly insu- night at the Notting Hill Arts Club. Neither it than that. lar over the years with only a handful of claimed to be experts but, having roped in “Right,” says Simon matter-of-factly. heroes keeping their ears sharp and their some dance music producers to remix tradi- “I’m going to teach you how to beat mix.” minds open to the best beats from every- tional Brazilian tunes for Far Out, they He sets up his custom-built decks and my where. Recently, however, global music were willing to explore similar work in mind boggles at the alarming array of but- has started to infiltrate the mainstream, other tropical areas. “We play good dance tons and levers. Beat mixing, for the unini- not in its own right, but as an insidious music from anywhere. Even five years back, tiated, is switching from one track to influence – with Latin house, African-style dance sounds from outside of Western cul- another whilst staying on the beat and it percussion samples, bhangra’s influence ture all sounded dated. But now the stuff appears to involve the use of every single on hip-hop and the plundering of Arabic that’s coming through is really fresh and bit of scary-looking technology on show. sounds by the likes of Missy Elliott. Nowa- really cool. The technology is easier and He presses, flicks and fiddles, explaining to days everybody’s dancing to a little bit of cheaper to get hold of and everyone’s get- me what he’s doing as he goes along. I world music without even knowing it. Eric ting exposed to the latest sounds via the concentrate hard and manage to take in reckons that this was inevitable. “Hip-hop Internet. Dance music originally came from approximately none of it. “Now you have and R&B have always dug into the 1960s’ the motherland, Western culture took it a go,” he says cheerily. Resisting the urge and 70s’ funk/ soul catalogue. I’d hear the up, added something and it’s now going to run screaming into the cold Islington same sound on and on and just think back to all these cultures where it originat- night, I give it a try and don’t do too badly they’re gonna run out of inspiration, then ed anyway!” But surely there’s a danger as long as Simon tells me exactly what to where they gonna go? They’re gonna go that this increase in technology will do at each step of the way. “Beat mixing’s Latin, Arabic and to Africa.” squeeze out the individual character of fucking hard,” he concedes. “That’s why Like Eric, Martin Morales came to the these regional sounds. And interestingly you get all those DJs nodding their heads. UK from another country and his DJing is FWF are finding increasing room in their They’re not being trendy, they’re just try- tied in with his identity. “Being from a bi- set for ancient highlife and African rhumba ing to pick up on the beat. You need to cultural, bilingual background,” explains tunes. “You’ll get something that’s maybe work at it for a year or so before you really the Anglo-Peruvian DJ, “I feel as though 40 years old but you can play it alongside get it.” I decide to give the beat mixing I’m on a mission to tell the story of people modern dance music and it really works.” lark a miss for my DJ debut. from other places through their music. They’ve spread the FWF message all “I was a crap DJ for years and years,” Firstly it was my own Latin American cul- over the world, played at numerous festi- Simon confides. He started out in the 1980s ture but I soon moved on.” Studying in vals (including Womad) and released four just down the road in Upper Street at the
  3. 3. 47 f G Club Sandino Nicaragua Solidarity Cam- play that anywhere from the dodgiest wed- erry Lyseight was one of the paign benefit nights. Back in those early ding through to your hardcore goatee- founders of the legendary days, Simon’s DJ heroes were Paul Murphy, beard-stroking world music crowd at Mambo Inn club night, another who played Latin dance at the Electric Ball- Womad and it works every time.” early 90s’ world beat institution. room in Camden and Dave Hucker. He reck- The following evening I go out to He’s subsequently been a DJ for ons he only got good when he formed the hear Weird MC at the Spitz. Eric Soul is hire as well as presenting the much- Afro Celts, which started life as a sound sys- the DJ and rather than just enjoying the missed Planet Mambo radio show. But it tem with musicians playing over the top. music as I normally would, I find myself wasn’t until I spoke to him for this piece, Through this he acquired some decks and thinking things like, ‘Aha, he used that that I realised how important he was to began to work with beats and samples. Virginia Rodrigues tune as a bridge my own musical education. Back in the Nowadays he fits in his DJ work around between the gnawa track that preceded early ‘80s, Gerry worked as a DJ for the band commitments, usually managing a it and the latin hip-hop thing that fol- GLC, spinning all kinds of global grooves couple of DJ gigs a month, either on his lowed. Very clever!’ I don’t nod my head at free festivals, benefit gigs and other own or in the Outernationalists DJ duo he’s though (well not much anyway). community events, a few of which I formed with writer Phil Meadley. What I need is an antidote to all this attended. Without knowing who he was, “For world music clubs you can play technical talk, someone who takes an or even what he was playing most of the anything,” he tells me. “You just have to enthusiastic amateur’s approach to club time, I tapped a foot and took it all in. know your intros and outros. World DJing. Fortunately, Andy Kershaw is on the Later in the decade Gerry and Max Rein- music DJs often think that they can plonk end of the phone. Andy was only invited hardt launched the Mambo Inn, initially down their tunes in any old order, but to play in clubs after he became a radio with Latin music expert Sue Steward. “I you soon learn that you can’t do that. It’s presenter. “My first gig was at the Univer- always saw our music policy as African all about mood and vibe. It’s all about sity Of London,” he remembers. “I had to music no matter how many generations telling a story.” At Club Sandino, music convince the people on the door that I removed,” recalls Gerry. “So that includes journalists would occasionally do guest really was the DJ for the night before hip-hop, various forms of jazz, reggae, spots on the decks. “They just couldn’t they’d let me in. Then I was shown into a soca and merengue. You don’t need to be fucking DJ,” he recalls, laughing. “They room behind the stage and handed my a musicologist to point out the similarities had no idea of how to programme a set rider: a Scotch egg and a bag of crisps. I between say soca and soukous or cumbia or run tracks together.” Oh well, at least thought ‘Well, I’ve arrived now haven’t I!’” and ska.” I’ll be a part of a tradition then. Gerry tells me to take special care when Back in the early 1990s, Andy’s weekly S imon believes that club culture Crouch End By Night session in the base- choosing the moment to crank up the vol- and the power of the groove ment of the King’s Head pub was a roots ume and tempo. “There’s a tipping point have had a positive influence on music institution. A club night devoid of where people aren’t actually dancing, but all areas of music making, pretension and crammed with great tunes they’re tapping their feet and loosening up. although he’s aware that there of every musical persuasion. “The atmo- If you try and get them up before that are drawbacks. “It’s generally lowest com- sphere was great. There were very rarely point and make the music too loud, it just mon denominator music. When a track’s any wankers there.” It sadly came to a close pushes them out because it’s too aggres- blaring out in a club, it’s the bass, the in ‘93 and since then he’s DJ’d whenever sive.” Gerry also emphasises the effect that topline and the groove that count and it he’s been asked, most notably some recording quality can have on a DJ set. “The can produce very flat, monotonal music packed-out nights at Club Womad. I won- idea is to keep up a flow as much as possi- with every track sounding the same. A lot dered whether he paid any heed to tempos ble, and something that’s been well made of DJ mixes sound awful when you play or beats. “Oh God no,” he groans. “It’s just recently is going to have a lot more oomph them quietly.” about what feels right and I make it up as I to it than something which is old, or even Simon emphasises the importance of go along. I’m the antithesis of the ‘Dance recent but poorly made.” This difference having a good DJ name. His is ‘DJ Dad’. “My DJ’ with a capital D. They provide a seam- isn’t so noticeable when listening to music wife once suggested to my teenage son less unchanging rhythm all night, where at home and it’s only when I have another that he might like to go and hear me DJ. He the dancers barely notice when one record practice session on the decks at Darbucka was like ‘Duh, no way mum! The worst has finished and another started. They’re that I hear what he means. An old ska tune thing in the world is to go and see DJ Dad!’ as unimaginative as their audience! – sounds positively tinny when played after a So we started thinking up the most embar- whereas what I do is surprise the crowd, smartly produced track by current rassing things I could say if he was in the give them variety. As with so many things favourites Charanga Cakewalk. Gerry has crowd, like ‘DJ Dad in the area, make some in life, my maxim is ‘Break the rules!’ Don’t one more very important piece of advice. noise!… but only after you’ve done your listen to people telling you to analyse how “Don’t get too pissed or stoned, which is homework’; and ‘I want you all to go men- many beats per second, sod that, just give quite easy to do when you’re feeling ner- tal!… but I don’t want to come down in the ‘em tunes that will make them go, ‘Wow, vous.” To fill the floor he recommends just morning and find the place in a mess’.” what the hell is this?’” Not surprisingly, about any version of O Mo Como Va, espe- Given my uncoordinated efforts on the Andy has a few sure-fire floor-fillers to rec- cially 3 Canal’s rapso reading. decks so far, I decide to call myself ‘DJ AFAT’ ommend: the Jambo Sana remix of Salif Back at Darbucka, I get a lesson on the (All Fingers And Thumbs). Simon’s choice Keita’s Africa, The Clash’s version of Pres- decks from the other two corners in the for guaranteed floor-filler is the Hard Floor sure Drop and Junior Murvin’s 70s’ reggae Mambo Inn triangle. Max Reinhardt and Remix of Mory Kante’s Yeke Yeke. “You can classic Roots Train among them. Rita Ray regularly run DJ workshops and Photo: Cathia RandrianarivoPhoto: Philip Ryalls Photo: Philip Ryalls Charlie Gillett Rita Ray Simon Emmerson Dave Hucker
  4. 4. 49 f Tthat experience shows. They home in on hen, suddenly, the night of mythe little that I can do and concentrate on debut DJ session is upon me. I’vedeveloping it. Both Max and Rita started decided to call it Chilli Fried,out playing in bands and came to the decks quite a good name I think. Grant-late in life. Max got the bug through hiring ed it doesn’t really describe whatdiscos for his children’s parties. At first he people are going to get, but then Somejust played the wedding circuit but soon Bloke Who Doesn’t Know What He’s Doinggravitated towards black music in general Playing CDs All Night isn’t really a goodand then African and salsa in particular. name for a club night. I use the train ride Photo: Jak KilbyRita started her DJ career at the Mambo into town to go over the collected wisdomInn. “I originally only came down because I that the DJ experts have imparted: DJing isheard they had a 12-inch version of Prince’s a journey that tells a story, it’s aboutKiss which I didn’t own!” she laughs. matching tunes by beat, mood or style or Post-Mambo, they spread out over a it’s about surprising people. Play for your-variety of nights including the free-for-all self and for the crowd, but don’t try andSpace Race session where they started read the crowd, although it’s good to sec-inviting musicians to play over the beats. ond-guess what they might want and Andy Kershaw (right) & Verity Sharp never, ever leave home without a copy ofThis led to their Shrine Synchro System Mory Kante’s Yeke Yeke! (Unless you ownproject. The Shrine night is a celebration a copy of Kataki’s Hula Hoop Jive that is.)of the music of Fela Kuti and all other AfroFunkateers, it’s currently their main regu- The club starts to fill up while I playlar gig and it’s here that their Synchro Sys- my warm-up set. Friends, DJs and fRootstem lays down beats which interact with people are amongst those happily chat-an ever changing cast of singers, Afro-rap- ting and munching on meze as I ease uppers, jazz players and the like. the volume. When I start my dance set, people are tapping their feet, moving in “Everyone’s a DJ in their head,” their seats and clearly enjoying the music,explains Max. “Everyone’s got their but nobody’s hitting the dancefloor. I playfavourite music, so one of the things that a funky Afro-reggae groover by London-you have to do in a club is field the based singer Ammy Coco and some peopledancefloor rowdies. Whatever anyone start to move. A North African selectioncomes up and asks for, just tell them gets some more on the floor and my salsa/that’s what you’re playing. That usually Latin mix really has them shaking Even if they ask for Kylie and Choosing the right music to inspire com-you’re playing an Afrobeat instrumental, plete strangers to dance is a highly addic-just tell them ‘This is Kylie!’ and they’ll tive activity. I wouldn’t claim to have mas-probably leave you alone.” tered it yet but I’m certainly getting there, “Don’t get too uptight,” advises Rita. and at the end of the night some of the“The best times are when I’ve taken dancers want to know when I’m playingmyself on a journey and I haven’t known next, so they can come down. Gerry Lyseightwhat I was going to play next.” Their Did the (sometimes conflicting) advicesure-fire floor-fillers have a distinctly I received from the DJs I consulted help?Jamaican flavour: Max goes for Barington Yes, definitely. I took something from eachLevy’s Under Mi Sensi, whereas Rita reck- of them and they all contributed to theons that Broadway Jungle by Toots & The way that I presented my set. But I think theMaytals is the one to rock the crowd. best advice I received came when I Like Andy Kershaw, Charlie Gillett is dropped by Darbucka after work oneknown primarily as a radio DJ, but also like evening to have a sneaky practice on theAndy K he’s a formidable, if only occasional, decks. It was early and there was just meclub DJ too. I’ve mainly caught Charlie’s sets and the barman there. “I was a drum ‘n’when he’s provided the music before live bass DJ for 10 years,” he told me as I setbands. A job he likens to that of the come- up, “and I think you need to relax. I seedian at a strip club. (“You’re really not what people giving you lessons here and youthe audience are waiting for.”) Charlie’s always seem stressed. Take it easy! Don’tlong career in music has been well-chroni- be afraid of the technology, it’s the musiccled in fRoots so we can skip straight to the that matters. Enjoy yourself!” I did enjoyadvice. “Regardless of how adventurous myself, so much so that Chilli Fried is goingyou intend to be, you need to have certain to be a regular night. Come down, I’ll dosafe records that you’re convinced you and my best to make you dance and I’ll eventhe audience share as an experience,” he know what to say if you ask for Kylie.tells me, “because they’ll feel more com- Dave Hucker: www.technobeat.comfortable dancing to a record that they’ve Eric Soul: www.ericsoul-dj.comheard and ideally even danced to before.” M. Morales: Future World Funk’s Russ & CliffyMongo Santamaria’s version of Watermel-on Man and Arrow’s Hot Hot Hot are Russ Jones: www.futureworldfunk.comfavoured Gillett standbys. Then there are Simon Emmerson: www.afrocelts.comthe tunes that the audience may not know G. Lyseight: are bound to dance to anyway: Bally Max & Rita:’s remix of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s C. Gillett: www.thesoundoftheworld.comKenna Sohna is a prime example of this. Darbucka: “Then there are the things that peo-ple ask you to play which they could rea- DJ AFAT’s Chilli Fried Fivesonably expect you to have. They want to 1. Ammy Coco Akouamake you feel comfortable and when 2. Sainkho Ohm Suhaa (Martin Moralesthey realise your frame of reference, they Remix)come up to you with the artists that they 3. Asere A Favor del Vientocan think of in your territory, which isvery often Manu Chao and definitely 4. Amr Diab Habibi (Remix) 5. Bucovino Club vs Taraf de Haïdouks Photo: Jak KilbyBuena Vista Social Club. It’s very embar-rassing if you haven’t got the record, Carolinawhen you can see they’ve moved halfway The next Chilli Fried session is on Thursdayto where you are. You don’t want people 13 January 2005 at Darbucka, 182 St Johnto feel that you’re a person from outer Street, London EC1V 4JZ, with live musicspace or that you think that they are!” from Troia Nova. F Max Reinhardt