A Life Behind the Decks: The Nightlife Culture Interview with DJ Kamala

by Gamal Hennessy

When I began my professional exploration of nightlife culture one of the first DJ groups that inspired me was a trio of ladies that went by the name InJoy. I followed them from APT to SubMercer to Cielo. They captured everything about nightlife culture because they were soulful, sexy and they made beautiful music. All three ladies are still spinning in various venues and one of them, DJ Kamala sat down with me to talk about the life and inspiration of a New York DJ.

                Vital Statistics

  • Genre: Dance Music, House
  • Inspirations: Louie Vega, Timmy Regisford, Osunlade
  • Recent Performances: MOMA
  • Latest Project: Original Production due to be released July 2012
  • Next Local Performance: Thursday at Bath Tub Gin
  • Websitewww.kamalamusic.com
  • Twitter: @DJkamala

NCI: Tell me about the first time you spun in front of a crowd.

KJ: My first time was in the spring of 1998, at one of my favorite legendary New York City night clubs, Nell’s. Even though it was passed it's hey day, it was still monumental in my mind for me to spin there. It was a short set but I got the crowd going with Manu Dibango's "New Bell" and it felt great!

NCI: Wow. You remember the first major song you dropped almost 15 years ago? That’s deep. What inspired you to become a DJ in the first place?

KJ: I was always a music aficionado so at age 11, it became a hobby to collect music and record my own compilations. Being from downtown Manhattan, night clubbing became the thing to do very early on. Going out, dancing, listening to DJs, making friends and finding community. I fell in love with nightlife culture and history, how it related to my own story. I was already a night owl and 9-5 was a routine I struggled to flow with. Djing seemed to me the most fun way to earn a living that I felt I had a talent for and which could potentially become a career. Thanks to it, I've opened up to music production and it's a whole new world.

NCI: Nice. Who are your favorite people to play with? Where are your favorite places to play?

KJ: As a DJ, I've gotten to get to know a lot of DJs and it's always great to come together with talented friends musically. It’s a special treat whenever I get to spin with someone who I perceive as a legend in the business. In terms of places, I love spinning all kinds of environments because I get to feel my range and adaptability to spaces. I get a special kick out of spinning outdoors in public venues and of course anywhere with a big audience. The more the merrier.

NCI: What kind of mood do you try to create when you play?

KJ: My whole purpose as a DJ is to create a mood that evolves through out the course of the night, ideally complementary to the venue and occasion. Personal expression comes across heavily in my selections and I really want to touch the audience on a variety of levels subliminally and outright. I am always looking to turn people "on" with the music. As a woman, there's a natural sexiness that easily comes across which I am happy to exploit if it will open ears but mainly, depending on the occasion, I want to trigger an insatiable urge to respond physically to the music, i.e. dance!

NCI: Where are you playing these days? Do you have a residency?

KJ: It varies month to month the engagements that I play which is fine with me because I enjoy the novelty inherent in the work. A few recurring outlets lately have been Thursday nights at Bath Tub Gin, and the last Friday of every month at the Rubin Museum. I also spin every Wednesday 5:30 - 7PM via a mobile and internet radio site www.handzonradio.com.

NCI: Where do you find new music and the inspiration to DJ?

KJ: Music is the fuel for my DJing, if there were not so many amazing sounds to share, I'd be doing something else. Because of the music that I adore, sharing it, is a pure joy and thrill. I also get into the process of mastery. Of becoming ever greater at the craft I've chosen to express myself thru. Every time is a learning experience that I come away with enriched and it's inspiring to witness my own growth.

I get a good portion of my favorite house beats from sites like Traxsource and Afrodesiamp3. I am forever sourcing for music.  I'll look under any rock to find more songs that excite me.

Have fun.

G