A new competition was added to the landscape of competitive events in the short Carnival season in 2016. The first International Soca DJ competition (ISDJ) was launched on January 6 to the media as a platform to celebrate the “gate keepers of the music and culture,” according to Harandé Elie, head of Full Moon Ltd. This company along with Perception Management, headed by Andre Jeffers and Andrew Bailey, make the case for promoting the status of the DJ as part of the mix of talent that draw crowds to parties in the season and beyond.
Elie, Jeffers and Bailey were part of a media conference that laid out plans for this new event which has as its goals, the revolutionizing of the phenomenon of disc jockeying, empowering young DJs by creating the infrastructure for a positive showcase of their talent, and becoming a tool for not only cultural branding but also for destination branding, much like International Soca Monarch has done for soca. Elie was operations manager at William Munro’s Caribbean Prestige Promotions, and the template set there has been copied with the potential to promote the art of turntablism in the context of Carnival: “the way in which music is played and mixed by a DJ is one of the most instrumental vehicles for having a good time. It is a catalyst for personal expression that is not officially recognized within Carnival.”
Jeffers noted that the competition will be an experience: “presentation has a lot to do with success, we’ll be creating a bit of theatre in the show.” For their efforts, successful DJ will get prizes ranging from $30,000 to $10,000 for the top places with everybody guaranteed an appearance fee of $5,000. 20 DJs will be selected from video submissions by DJ from here and internationally to move to the Final performance at the Queen’s Park Savannah Car Park on Saturday 30 January: “the DJ has 10 minutes to bring it!”
Criteria to decide the winner will include showmanship and presentation, beat juggling skills, crowd response and control, articulation and argument for the mic man, dubplate creativity, and soca fusion. Josephine Taurel, Darryl Braxton were the two names teased to be among judges. Fine tuning of production happens as they go forward. Elie notes that, “everything is live. Entertainment value is key so there is no limit to what can be on stage.” He insisted that this competition will not follow a soundclash approach.
Amid the stream of jargon of the DJ culture used by the speakers—soundclash: head-to-head competition where the aim is to “kill” the competitor; beat juggling: a mixing technique where two music samples are manipulated to create a new sound; dubplate: an exclusive track not yet in general release, formerly a vinyl record, where a DJ’s name is included—were some pointed remarks that focus on the music industry here.
The importance of the DJ in the mix of artists seeking the attention and pocket of the public would not be diminished if the ISDJ organisers have their way. Inspired by the trend that the fête aesthetic is dominant in Carnival—a point already referenced by Director of Culture Ingrid Ryan Ruben at a recent ACPCulture+ round-table—the producers note that the DJ is in a position to transcend the live soca singer and be in a position to share the accolades of international DJ stars, Major Lazer, David Guetta and Skrillex. Again, this goal syncs with one posited by the Caribbean Dance Music Conference organisers back in August.
Bailey, however, recognised that there is rivalry between DJs reaching to the point where promoters won’t hire DJs if they are affiliated with certain radio stations: “This competition removes these barriers and restrictions, on a level playing field.” With an ear to the ground, and a grasp of the importance of social media in the targeted demographic of young person, the promise of a continued presence on the Carnvial scene and outside was offered by the organisers. Full Moon Ltd.’s reach up the islands allows for performance outside the Trinidad Carnival season, and the idea of a “summer” performance for an expanded number of DJs at a semi-final phase was another idea that was floated. Elie says that, “it’s time for our local industry to take ownership of this DJ-ing art form within our culture. It is time for us to embrace and experience DJ-ing as a part of the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’.”
- A version of this article appears in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspapers published as, “T&T DJs to represent in International Soca DJ competition”
© 2016, Nigel A Campbell. All Rights Reserved.