In the Beginning There Was Music
As a youngster of about seven, I witnessed firsthand the power of music. Our apartment, a small place for three children and a single parent, magically opened up when the furniture was moved aside in preparation for a party or gathering. Mommy always decorated for the event, preparing and laying out food and drink with help from us kids. And chores were never separated by gender. Somehow, she always made preparations and even the clean-up fun by making sure we shared the work. My mother showed me how to set up and change records so she could handle other responsibilities at social gatherings and birthday parties.
I suppose since I always banged on pots and tables, Mommy thought it wise to keep my innate joy of rhythm occupied. Right from the start, I enjoyed how other kids deferred to me while adults stood back and watched — amazed at my ability to NOT fumble or misplace albums or 45s and at my apparent respect for the material. When the music stopped, however, there were blank stares and question marks on peoples’ foreheads as if to ask, “ Well what’re you gonna do now Mr.? ”
Ever notice that everyone stiffens up during a lull in the music? I did.
In fact, I saw that a lull in the music brought any secret conversations between adults to an abrupt halt. On top of that, any plans to run off unnoticed by our aunts and uncles proved impossible without good (continual) music to keep the adults occupied. So, I made a mental note to avoid such uncomfortable pauses at any cost! The adults would speak of political and non-political issues, “Have you heard this or that?” But mainly these occasions were about establishing good solid relations within our family and friends.
I noticed that music connected us so quickly, warmed us to each other. It also served as an update as to where we stood as a family and as a people — music by the Supremes,“Where did our love go,” The Temptations, “I can’t get next to you,” The Impressions, “People get ready,” and Otis Redding’s, “Sittin on the dock of the Bay” come to mind here along with a song by Tom Jones, “What’s up Pussy Cat?” and “Fingertips” by a very young Stevie Wonder — all of these songs informed and strengthened my sense of who I was and where I wanted to go.
ALBUM COVERS 101
By the time I was seventeen years old I held a Masters Degree in album cover credits. I found myself drawn to who played the instruments, who wrote the songs, and who produced the music. Funnily enough, the front cover was of no concern to me since it was the musicians within that determined if a purchase would be made. So, one day I’m in a record store and as I searched the “ Rock Pile ” (as I referred to rock music) a guy came to me and asked, “ Do you know about that stuff?” I imagine he asked the question since I was of Nubian descent.
Now let me interject a couple of thoughts about race and music — From what I’ve seen, race plays into our perceptions of musical taste in many complicated ways. Because music is a profound power and a learning tool, it can also be used as a dangerous weapon of mass destruction. Why? To create mayhem in the minds and spirits of so many people. From selling alcohol and sex to coloring a people as devilish and dehumanizing them.
Certain music actually prevents people from receiving nature’s divine message. Let me give you an example: How ’bout “The devil went down to Georgia” by Charlie Daniels Band? When the fiddle duel begins the devil plays funky boogie woogie style,(R&B/Soul), and when Johnny plays his “Good ’ol boy’ South’s gonna do it again” style riffs, he wins “the battle”. A great brainwashing of European spirits is taking place here. Furthermore, Elvis couldn’t get a record deal at first because producers didn’t want their nation to be cast down to this “beneath us” world of creation. And why is it that one is seen as a “sell-out” or “wanna-be” if their choice of musical taste transcends racial boundaries?
The guy at the record store must have been surprised as I answered all his questions concerning rock music because he actually offered me a job at a go-go bar his friend owned. I was intrigued and told him I’d give it a try.
Well let me tell you, I had no idea what the hell I had signed up for. As soon as I walked in the door my jaw hit the floor. The smell… the light show… the bar… oh and the women. My eyes strained to see as I squinted from the afternoon sun into the seemingly unlit club. My nostrils inhaled a combination of what seemed to be smelly feet, stale beer, and cornbread with a hint of perfume. I followed a patron’s eye line to the stage and saw her — a temptress.
Her hair flowed to her shoulders like a summer rain shower. She wore a silky dress that held to her every curve; her body and legs were beautifully shaped and her sexy ankles seemed to call out to me. Her every movement enchanted me deeper, as she appeared to look at me as though telepathy were indeed a reality. And my thoughts melted away… a few light bulbs, red and blue, flashed unnecessarily on and off while a cheap rope light outlined the ceiling.
Someone tapped my shoulder and I was startled to recall I wasn’t the only person in the room watching this.
I stood there, amazed that this kind of action went on at 12:30 in the afternoon. Don’t these guys work? Well, in time I interviewed with the owner and his first question was to ask what made me so special… I told him to give me the microphone and I’d show him.
Dancing, Screaming, and the Struggle for my DJ Soul
As I spoke sensually into the microphone, the dancers stopped… the bartenders hesitated, the patrons looked at each other. “Who the heck is that?” The sound of my sexy tone had them mesmerized and I slowly faded out their music and slid into “Love and Happiness, ” by Al Green; the women screamed.
As I spoke slowly… my tone not like Barry White’s but more like a lover the morning after before I cleared my throat or brushed my teeth… “Still of the Nite” seductive as I patiently rasped into the microphone… “There she is gentlemen, look at her… so special and sweet… dancing for you alone, her selection of dress and panties just for you. Pay attention!!” I even yelled a little… “Baby please don’t stop… yeah..like that. You are gorgeous.” I asked, “How ’bout a nice round of applause fellas?” and the guys went crazier than I thought they would.
And the women screamed some more. I think women scream in anticipation of the dance they’ll perform when they hear music that tells their story or that they can “work with.” The songwriters’ choice of instruments and arrangements determine this… a sexy saxophone solo, guitar and Hammond B-3 organ with steady bass and drums usually accomplish this as witnessed in “ Love and Happiness” by Al Green and “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Barry White. After all this, the club owner ran to me and asked what just happened and I told him, “ I did. ”
As the women danced with vigor, they seemed to want me to stay and play music that made them look sexier to the guys. But the guys wanted music by Bruce Springsteen that they could drink to (and as I would find out later this would be no easy task). You see, guys are at a go-go club as much for their ambrosia of choice as for the fine women, especially those who drink more than usual.
Being recognized by sexy women is very important if you’re an average looking guy. The music and camaraderie make it “their place” like a clubhouse young boys build up in a tree… it’s exclusive. They expect to hear “their songs” from a time when responsibilities in life weren’t so demanding or revel in songs that remind them of their power in society. “Glory Days” and “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen, “Honky Tonk Woman” by The Rolling Stones, “Girls, Girls, Girls” by Motley Crue, “You Really Got Me” by Van Halen, and “More Than A Feeling” by Boston reflect that along with “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” by Meatloaf.
I found out the guys needed songs they were familiar with and the dancers needed music that made them comfortable and made them look good. But I needed to be an artist, not an order taker and so the struggle for my “music soul” began.
I wanted to find music that would bring a sense of balance to the job. I know people and I know music. Usually there’s a “one at a time” approach to music selection but in a club full of patrons, dancers, bartenders, and ownership who all have an opinion of what the club should sound like, a D.J. must at least seem to maintain balance without falling one way or the other… Heavy Metal, Soul, Jazz, Pop, Funk, Latin, Classic Rock all want your attention and deserve it but the transition from one to another is mentally taxing if you don’t know how to “set it up” as I refer to it. You don’t want to play a radio station format because there’s no individuality in it and D.J.s pride themselves on being stylish in their own right; at least I did.
I wanted everything I selected to be “relevant” especially to me since I hold music in high regard. I searched and researched and came through with artists such as Earth,Wind and Fire, Tower Of Power, The Commodores, The Rolling Stones, The Doobie Bros., The Whispers, Van Halen, Bob Marley, A.C.D.C., Sly and The Family Stone, and Michael Jackson with some Scorpions thrown in for good measure and some “Freestyle” sprinkled on it… I would soon rule the world…. well, Sayreville N.J. anyway… Then came Hip-Hop, and the hurricane of opinions I had sated would soon run amok. And that’s where my story really gets interesting.
Groomed to be an accomplished dealer of funky music from childhood, T’challah has studied all genres of music as an avid listener and drummer, guitarist and singer. He began Dee-Jaying parties at eight years old. He graduated from Essex County College where he majored in communications. T’challah has done approximately sixty weddings and 105 award ceremonies. A graduate from The Center for Media Arts with their “Golden Ear” Award, T’challah studied to become a recording and video engineer. He has worked for Hype Williams and Erik White as a live sound engineer and on videos for successful Rap Artist D.M.X., Ja-rule, and Nelly. He’s currently producing Hip-Hop and R&B acts with Erik White and Michael “Moon” Reuben.