At only 25, DJ JEL aimes to return his letters of nobility to Soca and to Trinidad-and-Tobago as well !
© Jivanta Roberts
BJ : Could you describe Soca music with three words ?
DJ JEL : Happiness, Unity and Freedom.
BJ : Could you explain to us why ?
DJ JEL : Sure.
Soca music, especially in the Caribbean and in different carnivals all over the world, makes people really happy. Soca music is a happy music. In regards to Unity, I would say that Soca music was actually created in Trinidad and Tobago to unite the different ethnic groups of people. So in Trinidad, we have Africans, Indians, Chineses, Syrians. And at the time and when Soca was created, it was actually used to unite people because there were a lot of racial tensions, you know, in Trinidad and Tobago at the time. So although it wasn't well received in the 1970s when it came out, throughout the years, they built it and it became something that was a part of Trinidad and Tobago culture, but also the culture of the wider Caribbean and the different territories that enjoys Soca music throughout the year and during Carnival. And then in terms of Freedom, well you feel free when you listen to Soca music. It doesn't matter what you're going through. You could be sad, upset, depressed : as soon as you turn on Soca, it's just a level of freeness that you have.
Be as happy as I am on J’ouvert morning !
© The World is Rich Productions
BJ : We love how optimistic you are and you have some catchy quotes like « always have a happy and safe Carnival », « be as happy as I am on J’ouvert morning » : tell us more about those catchy quotes please.
DJ JEL : I think for us, we don't …and again I'm speaking in a perspective from Trinidad and Tobago but I feel like Trinidad and the rest of the Caribbean, we don't value our culture enough. So I kind of want to incorporate those things into our everyday life and Twang and things that we should be telling the world. Especially now because of the pandemic, we are in a very unprecedented time of fear and uncertainty, but there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. And as I described it with Soca : Soca is a happy music, once we remain positive, positive things hopefully will happen next.
BJ : Your mixing choice sounds unique on YouTube. You credit every time the artist and there are no ads, why do you choose to mix like that ?
DJ JEL : I think I get it from a perspective of two places.
So one, in terms of the « no ads ». In the U.S., they are listeners that actually get ads on YouTube like other ads, like commercials. When they listen, unfortunately the mix is interrupted. So I always prompt them to go to Jelinthemix.com, or SoundCloud or wherever they can get it without ads.
Now the question about my sound choice : I just try to keep the music flowing ! A lot of these songs are mixed in a way in which it keeps that energy, and it builds up to a place that I see people enjoying themselves. So my mixes are sort of based on how I would normally play in an event.
© Dafeterans INTL : DJ JEL, Travis World
BJ : There is another question too. It's about crediting the artist because we see a lot of mixes where DJ's don't put the names of the artists but you do it : you put their names, you put the names of the songs. Why do you choose to do that ?
DJ JEL : …because I want people to learn the music.
I think now we're in a space where Soca music is getting more and more popular and seen throughout the world in places like Japan and Australia and Sweden. But when they listen to a Soca mix at times, they might love the song but they don't actually know who sings it. So even me, as someone who listens to radio and listen to DJ mixes and go to the events, I always want to know what's playing. So I say « let me make it easier for people » . And I credit it on YouTube. And most importantly on my website. So, if you can't find it, you'll be guaranteed to find it someplace.
BJ : How does your singular Taste of music influence your Soca mixes ?
DJ JEL : For that I try to see which sounds work together. A lot of Soca music is very much flexible and about fusions, right? Soca fuses well with Latin music. It fuses well with a lot of the French Caribbean sounds as we see it in Konpa and Zouk. It also fuses a lot with Pop and Afrobeats. So I kind of try to mix in that particular perspective, where the music just complement each other. And understanding, what we call them in DJing the beats per minute or the BPM, that also helps guide me and how it makes that a good mix. Not only in Carnival and Commercial parties but also if I have to play like a multi-genre party where I'm introducing Soca to new people that I have an understanding of how Afrobeats works, and how Latin music works and how Hip-hop works and Pop works.
BJ : What does a Soca mix make a good mix for you ?
DJ JEL : A good Soca mix for me is something that is full of energy and vibes. I usually respect DJ's that take a risk on either play a new song that people don't know or introduce new music or if they're making like a throwback mix. I appreciate someone who isn't afraid to dig deeper into the crates and find a song that people haven't listened to in a long time.
This is an opportunity where all of us can actually come together and unite because we all love music.
BJ : A couple of months ago, you commented on the song « Down dey » (smirk from DJ JEL) yes, we saw the comment !
DJ JEL : I love this : that’s fire ! I love this !
BJ : « The hardest Soca song out for the summer right now. Loving the fusion : 868 meets 509 ». It seems like you acknowledge the impact of Konpa on Soca. Several riddims are dropped like « The Wale Project », the « Sweetest riddim », the « Uncle Joe riddim » too. These are classified in Soca instead of Konpa. How does it benefit to Konpa and to Soca as well, from your point of view ?
DJ JEL : That's a great question.
So actually all the riddims that you mentioned here are fusions : there is Soca mixed with Konpa, mixed with a French Caribbean influence. And I think for far too long as we've seen with Soca, Zouk, and Konpa, we are divided, right ? Because there's the English-speaking Caribbean, Spanish-speaking Caribbean, Dutch and French. So I think this is an opportunity where all of us can actually come together and unite because we all love music. We all really have a lot of similar ancestry as well. So this means that both genres actually get to grow together because we all live in the Caribbean : it makes sense that this is the time to do it !
BJ : Can you tell us more about « Di Soca Analysts » ? What advice could you provide to an aspiring media like ours ?
DJ JEL : « Di Soca Analysts » is actually a group of people : myself, Richard and Ashley. We have a podcast platform as well as a blog, and video content to educate people on Soca music, the culture, some of the artists behind them, the producers. It's really to just inform people because we found that there's a lot of people who don't know about Soca music even within the Caribbean. So people might not know that, for example, last year's « Backyard Jam riddim » wasn't produced in Trinidad and was actually produced in Barbados by De Red Boyz. And like a lot of our music, although we think is produced in one area or written by one person, is written by someone in another area. So for us, we really just want to educate people.
The advice that I would give to you all is just pick a media platform at which you think is helpful and build from there. A number one mistake was trying to tackle too much. We tried to do podcasts. We tried to do videos. We tried to do blog writing. And we found that it was a lot and all of us to do four or five different things at once. But once we stuck to one thing, we were able to get a lot done. And then also just time management, right ? Knowing when to set aside, time to do certain tasks, and if someone needs to edit an article or someone needs to edit the video, just having good time management skills.
BJ : You have a huge project with SirusXM to launch the oldest Soca songs. How do you handle this challenge ?
DJ JEL : Wow, what a big challenge that still is today ! Just to give a little bit of background : The SiriusXM. They had approached me and ZJ SPARKS out of Jamaica to form a Soca channel under their Bob Marley’s « TUFF GONG RADIO », which is a satellite station in the United States and in Canada. So we kind of had to work really hard to get this up and running for last year, we launched it in January 2021.
However, the challenge that we still have today is getting a lot of the oldest Soca songs that are not registered, which means you are not able to physically buy them online. The album exists like as a CD, but you can't buy it as an MP3 or you cannot buy it at all or streaming it. So that's still a problem today. What I've done in my behalf is educating people on registering their music, publishing it in necessary copyrights that need to be done, as well as helping bring us some of those Soca artists on the station to do interviews and announcing when their album release will happen. It's still a challenge today unfortunately because a lot of Soca songs pre 2010 and 2009 are not registered. However it's still something ongoing and something that we're doing to educate a lot of people who are into Soca music right now.
© (UCOM) : DJ JEL, Jamzy
BJ : Recently you stated Soca music might not be around in the next couple of years. And then you asked « are there many Soca artist under the age of 25 that are actually doing Soca consistently ». How do your social medias impact your followers on Soca music ?
DJ JEL : This is something that's been bothering me since the beginning of the pandemic, because I realize without Carnival, our music is pretty much seasonal to any kind of what's happening in the Caribbean. Whether it's Barbados, Trinidad, Antigua, st. Vincent, st. Lucia, Martinique, we have a huge issue with getting new people in Soca music and actually supporting the young ones. Like I myself am 25, but I'm always looking for new talent. And when you look at other genres, like Hip-hop, Latin music, Dance, Pop. Especially in Pop. You always see new talents coming up, that are incredibly young and they help revitalize the genre : where is that in Soca music ? I know that the artists exist but they're not given any platform to succeed or the mentorship from the other artists to do what they need to do. When we talk about the impact that has on social media, I mean it's both positive and negative, right? Because a lot of people have doubted me in this statement that I made and it's bothering me because without the youth, there is no future for Soca music. And I want that to be very clear to every single person who loves Soca, we need to continue to support the young ones, because the young ones are the future.
BJ : Yes, that's a very good statement. And yes, this is the reason why we decided to also create Bonjour Jam because we know that in French speaking people, there is a community who loves Soca.
If you had to produce an event with three Soca artists, who would they be and why ?
DJ JEL : Wow ! (Chuckles) this is a tough question !
Of the start, I would say Kes and the band. Simply because they are able to draw an audience from there and wild. Where I've seen them in any part of the world, whether it be in the US or in the Caribbean or in Europe, they've always seemed to have a huge following because of how they are fusing the music : they do a lot of Reggae-Soca, Dancehall-Soca, they even introduce a little of Calypso and then a little bit of like rock and alternative in their performances. So they're able to like capture a wide variety of people to come and see them perform. And when you see them perform, it's a great show !
© The World is Rich Productions : Kes and the band, DJ JEL
Second, I would say, Skinny Fabulous from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines because he has an energy that's like no other. It's electrifying. Skinny is able to move a crowd of simply just 10 people. I've seen it before where a show wasn't successful due to the weather : he was able to move a crowd of ten versus a crowd of twenty or fifty thousand and you still see the impact.
And then lastly, you see, I like my list to be more well-rounded within the Caribbean because there's Soca artists from all over. So I would say, from Grenada, Lavaman. Lavaman is the next one who has a lot of energy and power when he performs. And of course, there are some other honorable mentions that I want to include like Voice, Nailah Blackman of course from the younger generation of Soca, but those would be the immediates I would pick to headline the show. And I would still include some of the younger artists to open the show.
JUS'SOCA : DJ JEL plays more than the same 15 soca songs and throws bomb events.
BJ : You do a lot of things. Like you said, you are a DJ. You do interviews. Earlier you talked about helping other artists or mentoring other young artists. You drop a lot of mixes regularly and interviews on several platforms. So, what's your next move? What are your goals ?
DJ JEL : So for me, I definitely want to throw more events now that the world is slowly opening again. I think that there's an opportunity there because a lot of people go to events these days but they don't get the quality experiences that they deserve. I also want to do something in the carnival space, whether it's one day owning a mas band or starting a section : that's something that I definitely want to do. And then lastly either mentoring or even managing an artist. I wouldn't do it now, but maybe a couple years down the line, understanding the role of branding and marketing, and what's needed in entertainment : I think that would be something that would definitely benefit me. And then, outside of music, I do want to transition into tourism marketing for Trinidad and Tobago. Simply because I'm watching a case where the Trinidad and Tobago economy depends a lot on oil and gas. Traditionally. For years. There is this case now unfortunately where that gas is no longer available in Trinidad and the economy needs to diversify. Knowing how Trinidad and Tobago is and all the different cultural experiences you can have, I want to play a role in marketing the country.
BJ : Pretty good goals ! Where can we find your work ?
DJ JEL : You can find all my mixes at Jelinthemix.com. You can download them and stream. Now, you'll find me on Soundcloud « DJ Jel », Mixcloud @Dj Jel tune in, on YouTube at DJ Jel, Tick-Tock @Jelinthemix, Instagram @jelinthemix.
It's just a thank you to everyone : all the French Soca lovers.
© LehWeGo Jamaica
BJ : And last question. When do you plan to mix in France ?
DJ JEL : Hopefully sometime soon !
I know the pandemic has kind of slowed it down a little bit but I think the biggest challenge I'm having is whether or not to throw an event in France, since I don't have any real connections in France yet.
BJ : You have Bonjour Jam ! It would be such a great thing if you could come to France or to the French Caribbean island.
DJ JEL : … Martinique or Guadeloupe for sure !
© RY Media
There is something I wanted to include in there as well. It's just a thank you to everyone : all the French Soca lovers. For 2021 my streaming numbers went up in France and in Martinique for those that stream : that has never happened before ! So I definitely want to include a little shout out there.
BJ : You know the reason why ? You are one of the only DJ's that includes in his mix a lot of sounds from the Little Islands like Bouyon. In Guadeloupe we listen to a lot of Bouyon. Bouyon is huge. Since Wetty Beatz cames in the game, and comes with some new texture of music in Soca, he brings with him St Vincent, Guadeloupe, Martinique. We also follow him. And because you love what he's doing, you also bring his songs in your mix and that makes the crowd bigger and bigger. So the reason why is because you share every Caribbean island's sounds, not only Trinidad.
DJ JEL : I think so too : I've heard that a lot lately.
But yeah, definitely I want to shout out to my French Soca lovers wherever they are in the world : they have shown me a lot of love last year and I just want them to know how much I appreciate them..
BJ : Thank you for this moment. It was a pleasure to have you today.
DJ JEL : Thank you. I really appreciated this interview too. There were some great questions. I hope to see you all soon : hopefully at a carnival or a Fete or somewhere.
BJ : We have to make it happen !
DJ JEL : Yes, we have to make it happen.
Alright then : stay safe.
■ Credits on the photos/videos : Jivanta Roberts, Face your proBlems, Da Feterans, YT Down Dey, TriniCityPhotos, @Notting Hill Carnival, The World is Rich Productions, LehWeGo Jamaica, RY Media