6pm Tonight at SF MOMA: DJ Spooky’s Soundtrack Premiere to Paul Robeson’s 1925 Silent Film Debut

By Lisa Rein

The legendary Paul Robeson in his acting debut – A 1925 Silent Film, “Body & Soul” – Directed by Oscar Micheaux.

When: Thursday, July 12, 2018

Time: 6pm

Where: SF MOMA, Phyllis Wattis Theater

Tonight Only: See the film with contemporary soundtrack by DJ Spooky

TICKETS

See “Body and Soul” – the first masterpiece of the silent screen era written, directed, and produced by prolific director Oscar Micheaux.- Tonight at SF MOMA, with a special Introduction by DJ Spooky.

Besides telling you that Paul Robeson stars in it, I really don’t want to give anything away, but these African American-focused “race” films – made by Black filmmakers, featuring an all-Black cast, and intended for Black audiences – are few and far between. Micheaux was not only considered the first African American to produce a feature length film. He wrote, produced, and directed more than 40 films from 1919 to 1948.

Robeson himself is something of a legend; besides being an actor, he was an All American football player, a lawyer, a political activist and a powerful and inspirational singer.

As SF MOMA explains:

 “A true pioneer, Micheaux and his’s films answered the challenges of racial segregation and provided black moviegoers with an alternative to the mainstream films being produced by a segregated Hollywood.”

The movie is available at the Internet Archive, but this is your chance to see it with DJ Spooky’s new awesome soundtrack for it – and with an introduction, in person, by DJ Spooky too.

Paul Robeson in Oscar Micheaux’s “Body and Soul” – 1925.

 

 

Come to DJ Spooky’s Phantom Dancehall Record Release Party – In Brooklyn On June 13

Who: DJ Spooky with François K.

Date: Wednesday, June 13

Time: 10pm – 3am

Location: Output, 74 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11249

Tickets

DJ Spooky’s new album “Phantom Dancehall” is a Jamaican Dancehall Mashup album available now on Jamaica’s VP Records. Greensleeves, their reggae sublabel, is the catalogue he explored and sampled on the album. The digital version of the album is available for purchase here, and you can here it on SoundCloud here. There is also a limited edition vinyl version that is currently available in record stores and online.

Phantom Dancehall debuted at #3 on Billboard Reggae and has settled in comfortably in the top five for the foreseeable future.

Phantom Dancehall combines sampled reggae tracks, woven in to a finely detailed tapestry of chill electronic beats and melodies. This sample track we are including below is a collaboration of DJ Spooky and Stephen Levitin a.k.a. Apple Juice Kid. Other tracks include the keyboard work of Alex Thompson aka Fourth Shift. Walshy Fire (Major Lazer) on vocals and dancehall new comer Sanjay added to vocal samples of Busy Signal, Lady Saw and Garnett Silk. Everything is blended to give the project an eclectic, modern dancehall flavor.

DJ Spooky celebrate the release of Phantom Dance Hall on vinyl, available online.

Vinyl is available on the VP Records website.

I caught up with DJ Spooky while he was in San Francisco, before he hopped back over to Brooklyn for Wednesday night’s record release party.

Lisa Rein: What’s going on at Wednesday night’s record release party?

DJ Spooky: It’s just a straight up party so people can hear these songs. Most of these were recorded in Jamaica at VP Records’ Fun Studio. VP records is legendary; They are the biggest record label in Jamaica. “VP” stands for “Vincent and Patricia Chin” – so “VP.” They are Chinese-Jamaican, which I have always loved. The fact that they are just quirky, kind of at the heart of Jamaican culture; Chinese and Indian. Jamaica is very multicultural. So the idea was to represent a little bit of an update on Dancehall with a downtown New York flavor. Ya know, there are so many classics you could look at that show how reggae influenced Rock n Roll, Jazz, Hip Hop; you name it.

You could say the beginning of Hip Hop was all about sound systems. When I say “sound systems,” I’m talking like ya know Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, and so on…Those are legendary figures who began Hip Hop as we know it. So, it’s sort of looking at that synthesis between Hip Hop, Dancehall, and that sort of New York/Kingston connection.

LR: So you’ll be blending the new songs into the mix?

DJS: Right. Turntables, scratching. Ya know, doing crazy fun party stuff.

LR: Francois K. is opening, right?

DJS: Yes. It’s a famous party for New York for people who are really into dancing, and who just really want to hear good music that’s got a kind of a Dub & Jamaica connection. So people go there ready to dance. You can just hang out and get a good vibe and it’s fun. Simple stuff. Like the simple pleasure of dancing to good music. There’s no pretension. There’s no extra annoying stuff. You just go ready to party and have a good time. The music’s great and they’ve chosen a really good sound system, and it’s clear. It’s a good party with a clear vision of how electronic music and dance hall music connect.

LR: The other night, when we were walking in the Mission, you noticed that the clubs were playing Jamaican Dancehall. It was such a vibrant scene.

DJS: Yeah. Right in the middle of San Francisco. Every single bar we walked by.

LR: Right. Even the Indian restaurant we tried to go to (Bissap Baobab) was totally packed, with everyone dancing, and Jamaican Dancehall blaring out the windows. So, why do you think this is happening now? It seems like something’s happening, doesn’t it?

DJS: Yeah it’s a retro-future thing. Dancehall was at the beginning of a lot of electronic music, and I think that anybody that goes out to a party and hears it; It’s catchy. It’s immersive, and it pulls you in. That 80s and 90s catchiness, while a lot of the music now is very cold. I try as much as possible to build a bridge between the older styles and some of the contemporary styles.

LR: Yes it was interesting looking these people up, as there is a lot of history there. You went through VP Records’ back catalog, right? What was that process like?

DJS: The idea was to go through some of those memories that those songs triggered, and then update. So, some of it’s old school stuff, mashup-wise. I would go through Dancehall classics, basically.

LR: Is this vinyl that you are going through?

DJS: Yes.

LR: So this is Jamaican Dancehall vinyl from the 80s and 90s?

DJS: And older, yes, from Greensleeves Records. I’ve done projects before with Greensleeves Records.

LR: Greensleeves is a sub-label of VP Records?

DJS: Yes. Exactly. They are both legendary for different reasons. Let’s put it this way. Dancehall is more of a digital approach, and Dub is more analog. What I wanted to do was build a bridge between those two, analog and digital. Some of the producers of VP records influenced my thinking. Digital B a.k.a. Digital Bobby, and there’s also another gentleman, Bobby Konders, who did a whole bunch of projects mixing Hip Hop, Dancehall, and House Music in the 90s. I’ve listened to their styles for a long time. I wanted to make a statement about it and keep it fun; a party vibe.

If you go through old records, you realize, you know, 40 years is a long time for music, but that stuff is still fresh. It’s incredible. The 80s was just incredible. That’s when I was a kid. Ya know Shabba Ranks and so many others.

LR: So we have a song included here in this article, “Buju Banton.” It’s a track you collaborated on with Stephen Levitin a.k.a. Apple Juice Kid. How’d you guys meet and start working together?

DJS: He’s a younger producer who’s getting on the scene, and he’s been working hard on a project with PBS where he goes to different countries and teaches younger kids how to work with beats. I really enjoyed the educational aspect of what he’s up to. So, we had a conversation, and, generally, I’m crazy busy, so I thought I’d give him a shot to help with the project, and it just went from there.

Check out the track: Buju Banton_PhantomDancehall_Dj_Spooky_Apple Juice Kid

LR: So what’s your creative process like when you collaborate with someone on a track?

DJS: The idea is, you make beats, and then you tweak, edit, combine. I’ll come up with a first draft. He’ll come up with a different draft. And we send files back and forth until the track is done.

LR: You are the producer though, technically?

DJS: Yes. I suppose. But I don’t look at it like that. It’s a DJ Spooky “album project” where I have invited others to share in the conversation. I really think of it as an “album project.”

For this project, I was going through VP Records’ releases, and listening to all the Dancehall records, and then editing beats and samples I select from their material.

LR: So, how did you hook up with VP Records?

DJS: They had heard a project I did with Trojan Records a long time ago, and then asked me to do a mixtape. They had asked Diplo to do one. Then they asked me to do the second one. They are legendary. They put out Bob Marley and stuff from the sixties. They’re huge.

LR: You mentioned that you recorded this project at VP Records’ Fun Studio, had you ever been to Jamaica before this project?

DJS: Yes. I’ve been to Jamaica. My mom was an art critic for the Kingston Daily Gleaner in Jamaica. It’s like the New York Times in Jamaica. We knew people there and I would go there every summer.

LR: Ah. Ok. Tell me more about your mom.

DJS: My mom was a Historian of Design, and she wrote for the Kingston Daily Gleaner as an art critic covering Caribbean Art. And we would go every summer because we had “god cousins” there. (People that are like family at an abstract level.) My mother had been room mates with several Jamaicans in college. Everybody stayed in touch. For many years, we visited. And they visited us.

LR: You would go there every summer?

DJS: Oh yes. Constantly. And that’s what left that kind of vibe in my head space.

LR: So you’re mom, Rosemary E. Reed Miller, was an art critic and historian?

DJS: Yes. A Historian of Design. Her main book is called The Threads Of Time: The Fabric Of History: Profiles Of African American Dressmakers And Designers From 1850 To The Present.

LR: So you totally grew up living in the art world, with your art critic mom taking you to art openings? No wonder the two of you have a lot in common.

DJS: Yes, we do. And we really both have had a deep relationship with Jamaica. Because there is both a literary component and an art component there, there was always something that felt like a powerful connection for us.

LR: So this is going back to your roots a little bit. I didn’t realize you grew up there. Even though it was only in the summer; doing that every year can strong cultural influence.

DJS: Absolutely. It just was fun and really life affirming. Jamaica’s got this whole really vivid, flavorful kind of colorful sensibility.

LR: Well I wish I was closer to Brooklyn. It sounds like it’s going to be an incredible show.

If you are in New York, remember to go to the show Wednesday night at the Output. (Tickets)

Limited edition vinyl is available at your local record store & online. The digital version of the album is available for purchase here. You can hear it on SoundCloud here.

DJ Spooky in San Francisco, California, June 2018.