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DJ in the House
Typical of Carnival for every one of her seven years, Ziya has been falling asleep hearing soca on loop through day and night, as loud as the chorus of crickets, frogs and barking dogs outside, but drifting through and from under the studio door across the hall.
Before roadmixes hit airwaves and all-inclusives, she’s heard them produced from beginning to end; the experiments with hooks, cowbells and synths, and their ability to add dramatic crescendo, breaks and pace.
For weeks, she’d been going to sleep with “hello”, “hello”, “hello” on repeat. This past week, it was “start”, “start”, “start”, rolling over added drums and vocals.
I’m thinking of the unlikely soundtracks to her childhood memories and how she’s inherited an experience I’ve had for almost half my life.
Stone began to invent Carnival roadmixes twenty years ago, before producers started regularly sending a tune for something extra and more extended than needed for fetes and radio.
I’d go to sleep while he moved coloured lines and bars around on a computer screen, fixing vocals, pulling out buried horns, sweeps and strums, and re-arranging pan notes.
Turning over in the night, I’d hear a section of sound being moved back and forth, back and forth, as he edited songs the way a DJ would, with breathing space for smooth openings and endings that could cut and mix.
Meeting other producers, remixers and DJs, I wanted to write a book about these men working from home, so different from the women’s home-based labour documented in scholarship and in poems about Caribbean mothers working as seamstresses, cake-makers or weavers while children played about them.
Did men working from home have the same experiences? Did they do as much care work while also earning income?
Was there a playpen in the studio for those times when they were on parental shift and on creative deadline?
Were they always “at work” ordid they plan times specifically for family? What was it like for their partners and children for men to be breadwinners at odd hours of the night and in their pyjamas?
Did music always pay the bills?
What could we learn about Caribbean masculinities and labour from these studio guys?
Stone’s own history in first editing tapes before transitioning to hardware such as cds, drives and computers, and then finally ending with software, tones and sample libraries, highlighted the technological shifts that enabled these home studios to impact Trinidad and Tobago’s musical sound. It made these a lens for tracing how globalisation’s wider shifts in knowledge, products and capital impact local culture even in small, near-equatorial soca kingdoms.
When we think technological shift, we think “Big Truck”, but it probably started with drum machines and four track tapes in these fellas’ teenage bedrooms and, later, in their home-based music studios, even more common today when all you need is a laptop and headphones.
The baby came and the book idea, titled DJ in the House, took second place, but I remembered it as Ziya began to dream to 2018 tracks not yet publicly released.
Between us, we had fallen asleep and woken up to various stages in official mixes for Kees, Destra, Rikki Jai, Machel, Sherwin, Dil e Nadan, Andre Tanker, Ultimate Rejects-MX Prime, Patrice, KMC, Trini Jacobs, Bunji, Faye-Ann, David Rudder, Treason, Alison Hinds, Mr Vegas, Chinese Laundry and even, now deceased, Rocking Randy.
She has more of a subconscious sense of the “cutting floor” or final cut, a reference to unimaginably obsolete days of splicing thin reels of tape, than most of the nation dancing to versions that appear effortless, rather than debated and negotiated.
From today, extended road mixes rule the road. Thinking about their production, and not just consumption, you’d be surprised who could tell us their backstory.
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