Chairwomen of the Boards: Q&A With DJ Kamala
Seems like everybody wants to be a DJ these days. Celebrities like Solange Knowles, Erykah Badu, and Alicia Keys have all tried their hand at controlling the 1′s & 2′s recently, and now you have traditional turntable masters like David Guetta, Skrillex and deadmau5 becoming bona fide superstars. Not since the days of Larry Levin, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa has the art form of DJing been more visible.
Twenty-five years later, NYC”s DJ Kamala is helping to carry on that tradition of the disc jockey not just being a human jukebox, but a true artisan that paints pictures with sounds. Her mixing and programming skills have made her one of the most sought after DJs in New York. She’s spun at events for Hugo Boss, Emporio Armani, and the Tribeca Film Festival. She’s moved dance floor crowds at SOB’s, Sullivan Room, and subMercer. She’s reached international audiences on XM radio, handzonradio.com, and axiomstudios.tv. Kamala is the epitome of the ultimate triple threat disc jockey in the new millennium: party deejay, radio personality, & music producer. Come behind the boards and meet a natural music narrator.
Yohance: How would you define your artistic voice as a DJ?
DJ Kamala: I definitely believe that the essence of the individual can translate through their creative efforts. The same for DJing. I find that beyond the songs I select, their is the potential to share a bit of myself energetically through my sets. It gets amplified when the audience is giving a lot of energy back. DJing is a chance to subliminally share all my thoughts, ideals, aesthetics, emotions and spirit accompanying the music which carries it’s own power.
Y: When did you first discover your love for DJing?
DJK: As a child growing up in the 70′s in New York City, Disco and nightlife culture, block parties, and radio were on the forefront of my perceptions. I used to play “discoteque” with friends where I would DJ. I became a music junkie. Still it never occurred to me to pursue it professionally until my mid twenties.
Y: As the daughter of jazz musician Carter Jefferson, how did growing up with a such an accomplished musical parent influence your own musical interests?
DJK: I think my father being as musical as he was just pre-disposed me to be very keen on music. Because he was on the road a lot and eventually he and my mother separated, exposure to the technical side of his training was minimized. Rather than learning an instrument myself, I became more of a listener. Listening to music all the time. Now as I am producing, I wish I had learned how to play but my listening skills is what helps me to know what the tracks need.
Y: How have you been able to find success in what may be considered a male dominated profession?
DJK: Connections help get the gigs, but being great at what you do keeps the demand growing. I take the craft seriously and it has helped me prosper and earned me respect among my peers. It’s still very male dominated, but in a way, that makes what I bring to the table as a woman more precious and rare. Though there exist many talented and skillful woman DJs, we are still greatly outnumbered by the ratio of men, especially at the top of the industry.
DJing is a chance to subliminally share all my thoughts, ideals, aesthetics, emotions and spirit accompanying the music which carries it’s own power.
Y: How has the art of DJing changed over the last 10-15 years?
DJK: DJ Culture has exploded across the globe. I would not be surprised if it is one of the top growing occupations of the century. Where there were a handful in the 70′s, now with virtual software and virtual music, their are millions exploring the art of it. But coming up in DJ culture when more effort was required demanded a true passion and commitment to the craft. It’s like choosing a surgeon who got their degree online vs one who was a disciple for years and has had hands on with hundreds of patients. Skill, knowledge, and experience needs to be earned.
Y: What is your creative process when putting together a music mix?
DJK: I like to narrow down which songs I’d like to use but I never know the exact order initially. I figure out which song I want to lead with and then everything after that happens by inspiration. You just know which would sound great next or which direction you want to shift the mood. Sometimes songs don’t mix as well and you have to change up the order. Essentially having your playlist, but being loose around the order I find most helpful.
Y: You’ve worked events for Russel Simmons, Emporio Armani, and the Museum of Modern Art. Do you change your style or approach depending on the crowd you’re catering to?
DJK: I totally do. Not to the degree that I lose touch with my personal aesthetics or identity. I have to literally stand behind every song I play. So I refuse to play songs that I don’t personally care for. That said, it’s wise as a DJ to have a broad spectrum of genres and styles you appreciate. It makes it easier to mix things up in a way that can appeal to the broadest amount of people. As DJs we are trying to win the minds and hearts in the room to the music. Different people require different approaches at times.
Y: Do you have a particular genre of music that you favor personally and professionally?
DJK: If I were to be labelled under one main genre it would definitely be Soulful House. The music is powerful and is an amalgamation of almost all my favored genres, disco, R&B, Soul, afro-latin jazz, loft and garage classics. It’s all in there. I also love the classics from the 70′s, 80′s, 90′s. Old school hip hop that I grew up on, contemporary global lounge, Nu soul, Mod beats, dub, some pop, I like and will play it all as long as it inspires me.
Y: You have experience spinning at several different types of venues. Which do you enjoy working at more; private parties, clubs, festivals, or radio?
DJK: Well big is best so outdoor venues that accommodate large numbers are most exciting. But my set is more externalized or influenced by the crowd. Darker, more intimate settings let me voyage a bit more. Playing on internet radio is interesting because I am alone in my home and can play whatever I want, but at the same time anyone in the world with access to mobile internet can tune in. I can only imagine who is tuned in at those times.
Y: Electronic music like Dubstep and Trip Hop have become extremely popular over the last few years. Why do you think the public has become more open to accepting DJ-centered music?
DJK: Historically, DJs were the great purveyors of music. When corporations took over and started telling DJs what they could play, the music suffered. Now we have become more relevant again because corporations lost control of the music. Virtual music studios have allowed many new songs to be produced and whole genres created by independent artists. Who has the time to sift and search through thousands of songs and find the best of the best and play for the masses other than DJs? We have cultivated very discerning ears. Plus very often DJs are also the music producers.
When corporations took over and started telling DJs what they could play, the music suffered. Now [djs] have become more relevant again because corporations lost control of the music.
Y: What musicians or DJs have inspired you?
DJK: Most musicians inspire me because I am in awe of anyone who can play the hell out of any instrument. Being in this business, I am so grateful to have met, conversed or know personally many of the DJ/Producers whose work I most greatly respect; Louie Vega, Timmy Regisford, Jellybean Benitez, Boddhi Satva, Joe Claussel, DJ Spinna. The list is very long. I am always absorbing and learning just by listening to or being around these and many other masters of music.
Y: What underground artists or music scenes do you think are on the brink of making a major statement in the near future?
DJK: Its been a long time coming, but I so passionately believe in the message carried within really soulful house. I’ve watched it’s prominence grow over the years, the global network of soulful house parties, producers constantly raising the bar musically. Substance wins with me where music is concerned and of the many genres out there, soulful house just demands a very evolved musical taste. Plus, the world gravely needs the healing energy contained in the frequencies that is soulful house.
Y: What are your plans for the future?
DJK: I am on the verge of releasing a beautiful track that I produced featuring an amazing singer song writer Bridget Barkan and some instrumentation by the legendary musician Brian Jackson who also produced many albums with Gil Scott Heron in the 70′s. It will be the first of many productions I hope to release in the coming years. Besides that I would like to DJ more globally. I enjoy it so much, I could see myself DJing around the world well into my old age. I envision an ancient priestess behind the decks, loving and cultivating the masses with amazing music.
DJ Kamala spins Thursday nights at Bathtub Gin located @ 132 9th Ave 10011
DJ Kamala weekly internet show broadcasts live Saturdays @ 5:30-7:00 pm on http://www.handzonradio.fm/
DJ Kamala music mix podcasts are available for download on itunes
Check out video of DJ Kamala: