Mastering the Airwaves

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This is an image from one of Brenda Lee Browne’s writing sessions at the Museum. Veteran UK DJ Dave VJ, who headlines the Grown ‘n Sexy parties here and in the UK stopped by to talk about his new book.

I wrote this at the time:

Dave VJ, the UK broadcaster and DJ with the Antiguan roots, who has brought the popular Grown and Sexy parties to Antigua in recent years, stopped by the latest Just Write writers workshop and shared stories of the early days of black radio and the club scene in the UK. The type of thing that’s the subject matter of his book Masters of the Airwaves: the Rise and Rise of Underground Radio.

Having made a career out of DJing, Dave made a good case for following your passion. “My hobby is now my living,” he said. He entered the field in his youth knowing that the odds were long but told himself, “somebody’s got to make it, somebody’s got to buy a lottery ticket and win. Why can’t it be me?” Moral of the story: “Everybody has a passion that can possibly be a job, but they don’t know it.”

This is not to say that you should throw all caution to the wind and fail to plan for the future, Dave was quick to add. “You’ve got to be realistic because it’s not going to last forever,” he said.

To build a brand when making a profession of the passion that chose you, Dave VJ emphasized the importance of skill building. “When I started, the most important thing was learning to mix two records together,” he said, “we had to learn it for ourselves.” And though the technology has changed considerably since the ‘80s, or because of the changing nature of the music, the market and the technology, as he said, “you never stop learning.”

Among the things a good DJ must have, if Dave is any example, are a near encyclopedic knowledge of the music, mental foresight in terms of anticipating what will move the crowd, an ability to think on his or her feet and adjust under pressure to what’s really moving the crowd. “The number one part of it is engagement with the audience,” he said.

That said. It wasn’t all life lessons, there was personal history, music history and industry dish thrown in to spice up an already quite fun and interesting session.

The book, a three-year project in collaboration with music journalist Lindsay Wesker, is a collection of over 100 interviews with those who made the scene back in the day, the UK DJs who would go on to become globetrotting brands with name recognition to the clubbers and listeners who kept them in business, the broadcasters to the music journalists who covered the scene, the promoters and the musicians. And it was written in an attempt to capture a critical time in the evolution of black music in the UK; a time when black radio was of necessity pirate radio, a time when DJs built their name and following in structurally questionable buildings, creating spaces which gave the spotlight to music that as far as the mainstream was concerned existed only on the fringe. How significant is that period. Well, Dave recalls that growing up in Britain “there was no black radio.” He and others like him were a part of changing that.

There is already considerable interest in it; with others lining up to be a part of the next edition and talks of a BBC4 documentary, Dave reports. “Our main goal with it is to get the book into the educational system,” Dave VJ said, his sights sets on the media curriculum in the UK colleges and universities, on creating an understanding of how the things taken for granted came to be during the early days of black radio and the underground scene. Given Dave’s Antiguan roots there’s no dismissing the role West Indians played in creating that scene.

Besides, we’ve skimmed Masters of the Airwaves and the pictures alone, whether you were a part of that scene or not, will spark nostalgia for the old school music that has made Grown and Sexy so popular.

So, that’s what I wrote…just thought I’d share it.

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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