JADALAREIGN is a dynamic force in the American underground’s Black music renaissance

today21/09/2022 39

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It feels like you are super busy and very much in demand right now. Obviously it’s the culmination of all your hard work, but do you feel like there’s anything in particular that has triggered this current boom period for you?

It feels like the next step in the progression of my work over the past seven years. I started DJing in 2015. I was an executive assistant at the time, working for an association in the construction industry; it was a job I picked up in college, something to pay the bills. I had developed a lot of experience at this job so it was comfortable, but I wasn’t fulfilled. I always had a musical background. My mother grew up in the church choir, and would sing and play the piano a lot when I was growing up. She also had a pretty expansive music collection, so I was raised around lots of different music. I went on to play upright bass in middle and high school, and there was a brief moment where I was playing guitar with a band of kids from my school. There was also a short period where I was learning to play piano. My mother moved to Georgia when I started high school and my father would always encourage me to go to a good school and get a good job, so I never imagined I could pursue music as anything more than a hobby, and eventually lost touch. While I was in college I interned for an entertainment blog that was run by women as music director and it reignited something in me and I realised, this is where I want to be. I was interviewing artists and connecting with lots of people in different areas of the industry. And that’s when I got into DJing. I learned to DJ on a whim one day and ended up loving it.

Did you take to DJing quite naturally, would you say?

That first day I touched a pair of turntables I struggled, but I was intrigued and committed to mastering it. I was still working for the association, but I bought a controller and was refining my skills at home on my free time. One of my homegirls’ friends owned a bar and she plugged me in. I played my first gig at this sports bar in Manhattan, playing mostly Top 40 songs and I really enjoyed myself. At that point I still wasn’t thinking about it as a profession. At the same time, I was miserable at my job, and was struggling to get by despite having been with the company for seven years. I requested a raise and a week later I was let go. I was destroyed at that moment; I invested a lot of myself in that job and I felt used. I decided to get a low commitment restaurant job and invest more time and energy into DJing. I hit the ground running picking up gigs wherever I could. After four years, I got to the point where I was DJing full time, I was able to pay my bills and I was comfortable.

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You say you started learning on vinyl. How long did it take you to get a hang of it?

I feel like I’m still learning, it’s such a fine art. Access has always been the biggest problem with that. In the beginning I didn’t have anywhere to practice and I didn’t feel ready to go out and play records at gigs. And then at one point I thought, you know what you’re doing, and you know you need practice, so just practice at one of these low-key bar gigs. So I started playing out, using Serato at the time. The control vinyl allows you to manipulate a digital track from Serato on your laptop while using vinyl format. I was doing that for a bit and then eventually I bought turntables and that’s when I got back into collecting and playing actual vinyl records. There’s a whole different world of music that only exists on vinyl records that you’re not going to find online. Playing records that no one’s heard or that only the heads recognize, it just makes the experience more special for me.

What about the workshops that you run, how did they come about?

I overcame so much to become a full-time artist and by that time I actually felt like I had the knowledge, wherewithal and confidence to really take it by the horns. I went from working 9-5, feeling trapped and like I couldn’t live off my art, to living off my art full-time and not having to stress about money. I wanted to empower other people of marginalized genders and identities to feel equipped to do the same. Around that time I had a lot of people asking me for lessons and I was busy, but I wanted to commit some dedicated time and I felt like Women’s Month was the perfect opportunity. I partnered with POWRPLNT, a community centre in Bushwick and did a workshop series centering women, non-binary and trans people of color. It was 10 or so workshops spanning different topics related to DJing and production.

Over the span of a month, 100 or so people attended the workshops The need for a community based educational space became evident, so it became a monthly thing. The workshops were always donation-based, and donations would go towards paying the instructors

I really liked what you said on the In Session site, that it’s not about teaching people to DJ, it’s about giving them the confidence to believe they can.

It’s about awakening that ability. In Session came together around May 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Vanessa Newman, Sam Law and I had he idea to host a virtual production camp for women nonbinary and trans aspiring producers of color. It was quite a big undertaking; we programmed an entire week of classes, enlisted instructors from all over the world who shared their knowledge on different topics related to production, had some community building elements like group critiques, and so on– it was great. There were about 300 people tuning in each day from all over the globe and I learned a lot from it too.

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Who did you learn from?

Each of the instructors brought uniquely valuable perspectives to the program. Suzi Analogue’s Black Music History lesson connected dots from Ancient African drums to negro spirituals to modern production techniques. It was informative, but also empowering and affirmed that music making is ancestral and innate within the Black community. Riobamba did a session on publishing and provided a lot of great insight from the perspective of a label owner. Tygapaw shared some resources that they utilized to advance their music making practice. DeForrest Brown Jr. led a really powerful session on Radical Technoculture Theory. I’ve found it’s super important to learn from your peers and members of the community with like minds and interests, and it felt really special to share this experience with so many members of the community that have laid so much of the groundwork for future generations to continue learning and growing in their respective journeys with music production.

[All these sessions are available to view via In Session’s Patreon.]

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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