Archive for January 17, 2011
THE TRADITION EDITION
“Guys we’re closed. The DJ’s car broke down but he’s on his way. Trust me, once he arrives we will open,” mentioned the gruff, goateed gatekeeper.
The night consisted of boisterous headscarves, receded hairlines and silver beards. Not only were the afro-centrist out but so were the vanilla explorers all making their annual journey to the music Mecca. Every walk of life from every part of town would join the ranks of the holy land’s pilgrimage. It was MLK weekend. Sunday night’s meeting place was MJQ and the night’s destination was Freedom Village.
MJQ, the dark, dingy and shady underground shack trapped in the middle of a retail business complex of shops and restaurants, sat hidden from the naked eye. The club’s main entrance and main room were closed off for the night. After all, it was the Sabbath and bars were normally closed due to dry Sunday sales. However, MJQ’s Café, the second room; a space no larger than the interior of one of those shoebox shaped automobiles was the night’s party bus. In the room barely lit by red strobe lights, a 3 by 6 feet DJ booth was perched against the front wall. Underneath a painted ceiling a lone disco ball shimmered over a wooden floor which was practically empty with dancing feet. Along the left side of the café sat a drab bar, with no flashy wall mirror or glass liquor bottles, that entertained most of the room’s guests. Besides the single bartender that bounced back and forth in delight of patron’s tabs and tips, not much kept the eye inspired. Except for the door-less unisex bathroom area towards the room’s rear equipped with three stalls that actually received more business than the bar. Uhmmmm.
In the heart of the dance floor, a few guys chatted with beers in hands while a couple of gals danced with each other. Although the pilgrimage started out with a handful of gatherers, this would soon change as additional pilgrims joined those in rank dancing on the floor. Alas, the musical journey was set to begin.
Cullen Cole with 1970’s porn-stache, of former MJQ Deep fame, started the night’s bon voyage traveling southbound on Deep House Lane. Cullen provided the sounds that were not only soft on the ears but easy on the feet. The grooves, so deep and mellow, cleverly blasted from large speakers with clear and precise sound. Every knock, beep and burp could be heard within an ear split of the audio equipment set about the place. There was one large speaker and subwoofer positioned in the front of the space near the DJ booth and another large speaker in the back of the room near sitting benches. Whoever hooked up the sound system did one heck of a job to ensure massive eargasms of auditory delight. No one would have any qualms about traveling the distance, if these sounds accompanied the trekkers.
The musical journey was off to a rave start. Twenty or so minutes later, the box was completely packed from wall to wall with bodies in motion. There barely existed breathing room. The room became so hot it felt more like a mass Hebrew exodus from Egypt in the summer’s hot desert sun than a winter night out in a club.
Before long the smooth sounds of deep house gave way to afro-beat. Unbeknownst, the legendary DJ Kemit was behind the dashboard and made a mad left turn onto Afro-Beat Parkway. With the volume turned up to full blast, Kemit kept the Fela Kuti coming to a room of hyper-acting-like children in the backseat of a car on a long voyage before being released at a fast food restaurant’s play area. People stood up on benches, threw their arms in the air and roared like jungle lions. WTH?
As if that weren’t enough, DJ Kemit had the audacity to make a sharp right onto Disco Drive as BT Express, “Peace Pipe” poured from the box’s speakers. An escalating stream of hoots, hollers and whistles let loose. Once again, the crowd went absolutely bonkers and displayed a mad scene of bedlam.
The excitement didn’t subside as Michael Jackson commanded the crowd to, “Get On The Floor” and dance with him. Within the song’s disco break, lil’ sister Janet arrived and took control with “Go Deep” (Masters At Work Thunder Mix). The song’s spiritual flute played under Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous proclamation, “I have A Dream.” With a slow fade the music disappeared into oblivion as Dr. King’s vocals were the only sounds left standing in the room of rousing handclaps and stunned visages. One would have thought the people had reached their destination, Freedom Village, but they were a plenty miles away. So the music continued with Donnie’s, “Holiday.”
Like a pillar of fire by night, DJ Kemit continued to lead the voyagers eastward on Funk Avenue before making a quick right south on Soul Boulevard. The multi-ethnicity crowd followed suit and haphazardly danced and sung through the skyscraper laden city streets of Music Town, for they knew their music maestro would lead them to safe pastures.
However for some, a dose of fresh air was greatly needed. Some experienced car sickness and needed a quick, ‘catch my breath.’ Honestly, the box was just too hot with heat and sweaty bodies, not to overlook the gray cloud of cigarette smoke that hovered over the crowd.
After a quick cigarette break for some and a burst of fresh air for others while dancing in the café’s foyer, the crowd danced off Soul Boulevard and onto Interstate 101 a.k.a. House Music Highway. Percussions from talking drums lightly banged as a female’s voice thundered from the heavens that welcomed the trekkers to Dennis Ferrer’s, “The Red Room.” One quick glance around revealed that the pilgrims were in the red light district of town. Hooray!!!
The sweet scent of sex permeated the air. A soft touch, gentle rub or warm hug from someone meant more than a friendly “hello.” Such gestures were masked with carnal sexual desires. Throughout the free(k) zone, flesh groped flesh, groins gyrated against waists and wet kisses were exchanged with total strangers. Yes, the freaks were in the house.
After exiting the over-charged red light district, DJ Kemit dropped one of the many ‘WTH’ music surprises of the night. That of a smooth four-count beat resonated from the three giant speakers positioned throughout the room to the rescue of Stevie Nicks on vocals. It was “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac.
“I can’t believe he’s playing this,” mentioned some guy with dreads walking in the room right before he joined the others singing the chorus, “Thunder Happens Only When It’s Raining.” Once again, DJ Kemit bought out the smile in everyone. But wait a minute. Was that Moloko’s, “Sing It Back” accapella riding over a gritty house beat?
Not long after, Kai Alce former resident of MJQ Deep Saturday nights, took over the musical steering wheel that led the people to Freedom Village by way of Old School House Highway to Disco Drive. The appearance of Freedom Village was left open to individual interpretation. The destination was more spiritual than physical; a sort of state of mind that could be intangibly reached rather than tangibly touched. Whatever its shape or form, the people enjoyed its every offering of love outpoured through music and expressed through dance. Upon their arrival, the people danced like never before. They danced harder, their feet moved at lightning speeds and sweat poured from faces faster than torrential rains. Someone please, help the guy off the ceiling; things were getting crazy.
Abstract Truth’s and Monique Bingham’s, “We Had A Thang” (Matty’s Deep Dub) refreshed the over-heated with cool rhythms, a sultry horn solo and jazzy vocal scats that kept the crowd wanting more. Mr. Kai Alce granted such requests with his recently NDATL release, “I Got Life” by Kemetic Just with Terrance Downs on the mic. The pied piper didn’t stop there but took the congregation to church with his upcoming DJ Rowland Clark remix of the “I sing because I’m free” gospel anthem, “Sparrow.”
The wooden dance floor was besieged with several dance circles as people watched bodies dropping on the ground to do the splits. There was the usual guy hand standing with one hand, completely upside down. Talk about balance. Some even caught the Holy Ghost as English caps fanned the hot air while others jumped up on benches to dance in the spirit. The journey had become a free expression for all to celebrate freedom through any vehicle of choice.
Once Freedom Village was reached the crowd began to thin out, which meant more dance space. Soon, Cullen Cole returned to helm the vessel and dropped a furor of beats that kept the dancers on fire. After a captivating night of a peaceful journey to celebrate freedom, the house lights slowly conquered the former dark space, dimly lit by red lights. The celebration had reached its end and now it was time to say ‘goodbye.’ Never would the pilgrims forget this pilgrimage to the holiest of holies. For within the music, peace, love and joy were found. Through dance, freedom was obtained and all had a right to participate. Dr. King’s speech truly illustrated that people of all walks of life, ethnicities, sexual orientations and creeds could peacefully gather and celebrate as one. “Thank God All Mighty. We’re Free At Last.”
“Nothing could prevent me from getting to my beloved Tambor; not foot play-off traffic, not the homeless man standing in the middle of the street, whom I almost hit with my car, nor the accessory I left at home for my outfit.”-AJ Dance
The wall behind the DJ stage flashed with cutting edge avant-garde images of brilliant techno-acid washed colors from extreme music video clips combined with haunting Tambor images that provided a dazzling landscape of visual sensory. From the room’s rear near the upstairs VIP section to the room’s front wall behind the DJ stage, the venue’s entire space shuttered the darkness with such visual spectacle. Tambor was not only about clear crisp acoustics but high definition visuals.
Once again the time to celebrate freedom had arrived and Freedom Saturday was off to some adventurous start. The tribesters had much to celebrate as Tambor had provided a full year of unparalleled parties that continued to grow beyond mere humble expectation. Upon entering the heated loft space from the night’s frigid temperatures, one was confronted by the venue’s spacious dance floor which seemed barely inhabited with dancing souls. Where was everyone? It was after midnight.
Thankfully, Stan, still behind the CD players and mixer, caressed the crowd with Timmy Regisford’s and Lynn Lockamy’s “At The Club” to hoots and hollers. The sound system, heard outdoors, pumped deep bass grooves that thumped under scattered beats that welcomed dancing feet. It wasn’t much longer till The Dominican Republic’s Ezel dressed in a green vintage tee and blue denim marched through the doors with crate in hand up to the DJ stand ready to set Tambor ablaze with musical flames.
Ocha Records’ founder Ezel started the party off right with the Top 10 single of the past year on one of those electronic music download sites with the self-produced, “In My Life Time.” Lead vocalist, Tamara Wellons’ voice swirled through the air until greeted with a thunder of handclaps. The ever steadily growing crowd was ready to dance, and that they did. From there, the DJ/producer led the crowd on a deep, soulful journey through the Ocha and Yoruba Records catalog. “Pride,” the ladies anthem by Osunlade presents Nadirah Shakoor followed suit with more uplifting vocals over stripped down beats. Next, spicy, Latin sounds with progressive-house flair simmered the crowd that ate the tune up like fresh mango salsa. Everyone went wild, showcasing salsa and cumbia leg work. Suddenly, with one of those start-and-stop DJ techniques, a broken beat punched through the room. It was Ezel’s Remix of “Rock With You” by the late, great Michael Jackson. The room erupted in sheer pandemonium as the crowd sung the lyrics and imitated MJ’s signature moves. Hee Hee Hees and Oouuu’s echoed sweet sentiments throughout the room. From another stop/start mixing technique, “Days Like This” (Spinna & Tickla Club Mix) from East Londoner Shaun Escoffery bounced into action. Once again, the tribesters screamed loudly with joy. But, it was the night’s unexpected that ripped the roof off the building. In a twinkle of an eye, Karizma featuring spoken word by DJ Spen, “4 The Love” (the Pepe Braddock, “Deep Burnt” sample via Freddie Hubbard, “Little Sunshine”) dropped from the sky with vengeance. There was not one closed mouth in the room as bodies jumped in the air, arms twirled above the crowd, and heads bobbed up and down with nods of approval. This was house music at its best! There was no stopping the DJ’s energy that now had a video camera filming his every move of body thrusts and head jerks. To follow suit, Oveous Maximus’, “I Apologize” had the crowd rapping, “I’m so sorry/I’m so sorry/I’m so sorry/I a-po-logize.” Thankfully, no apologies needed be made for this warm pad percussion driven Ezel remix. After the DJ switched up music styles a bit, a Teena Marie tribute classic swept hearts full with nostalgia of old-school delight. Once again, the Yoruba Soul catalog scored with ”Cantos A Ochun Et Oya”, Marie St. James, “Closer I Get” (Club Mix) and Floetry’s, “I Want You” (Remix) hits, all helmed by none other than the man himself, Osunlade. Atlanta, Georgia made its presence known with the NDATL release of “I Got Life” by Kemetic Just and Terrance Downs on vocals. Already an anthem in town for the past six months, the newly digital release resurrected the tribesters to life. From there, the crowd was treated to a house selection from Markus Enohson with James Ingram, “Day And Night”(Alix Alvarez Mix) a song seamed fresh from the 1980’s. The night’s musical assault continued with a dive in the deep tech waters of banging beats and tech effects before Stan Zeff returned to the decks to dry off the crowd.
Once again, Tambor captured the soul with the beating drum provided by the music soundscape of Ocha’s Records founder Ezel. The room, not packed shoulder to shoulder, provided much space to freely drop to the floor and freely bounce around with joy. After all, this was Freedom Saturday.
Photography by Carlos J. Bell