My first point of contact to find out about Caribana is Martin Jay of London, England. He puts me in contact with two people. The first is Dr Jay. I’ve heard of Dr Jay and I’ve seen him play at Berlin Carnival. Doing some initial research, I’m kind of blown away by this man I am about to interview. I really want to tell you a bit about all his achievements, really I do. For it is an impressive and formidable biography. However, we will never get to the interview so let me tell you the more salient points.
Let’s break his achievements down into smaller, more manageable parts shall we? First off Dr Jay (with roots from Guyana and Trinidad) known as ‘De Soca Prince’ and the Soca music ambassador for Caribana has been in the DJ business for over 25 years. He has been hosting one of Flow 93.5FM’s top weekly radio shows, “Soca Therapy,’ for over ten years. It is safe to say he has become a house hold name in Toronto. However, his reputation also proceeds him internationally for he is also known in the US, Trinidad and Tobago, Europe and as far across the globe as Hong Kong.
As record producer, Dr Jay has produced hit records for Skinny Fabulous, Edwin Yearwood, Lil’ Bitts and worked with Soca’s titans such as Machel Montano, Destra and the Mighty Sparrow.
As promoter, De Soca Prince has created events such as the Big People Fete (a crowd of 3,200+), Best Fete Forever, which collects food donations for local Toronto food banks and Soca or Die (2,500+).
As award winner, Dr Jay’s shelves must be groaning under the weight of his awards. Of some, he has won Canadian Urban Music Award for “Best Radio/Media Personality” (2001 – 2004); the Soca Awards Organization “International Soca DJ of the Year” honour twice (2005 – 2006); and for three consecutive years since 2006 he was named the “Soca DJ of the Year” by the DJ Stylus Awards.
Last and surely not least, this ambassador of Caribana has entered the realm of carnival costume design by endorsing his own section in the 16-time Band of the Year winning band, Louis entitled Zuri. I hold all of the above in mind as I grab some of Dr Jay’s time to ask him some questions about the Caribana and soca. I landed in Toronto in the morning. Less than four hours later, I am heading to the Saldenah mas camp to interview Dr Jay.
I’ve read up quite a bit about you, to say that you have achieved a lot is a gross understatement. I would say that you are one of the most qualified to tell me about Caribana. This is my first time in Canada for Caribana. What makes Caribana a carnival to come to? What makes the Toronto experience really good is that we have such a multicultural society. When you go to one of the carnivals in the Caribbean, it’s all about that island you know. Here, you will have a taste of everywhere. Generally, at Caribana, you will get a Lucian artist, a Trini artist. You may not get too much of the Bajan as Cropover is going on but for example, Rupee is coming over this year. What I like about Toronto carnival is that it is not as segregated as other carnivals are.
Is there a large Caribbean community in Toronto? Yes I think so, I don’t know the numbers statistics wise but I feel there is a huge Caribbean population. Again what I like about our events is that there are not just Caribbean people. There are Asians, Caucasian you know? All cultures comes together because of the love of the music.
I really don’t know much about Canadian Soca. Are there Canadian soca artists? Yes! Big time and there actually have been some that have crossed over into Trini carnival. So in the past there was a guy Slammer Cutter who had a song called ‘Hangover’ and he was performed in Trinidad. Shayne Bailey had a song, ‘Leggo meh man’. We have had a couple of success stories.
What is your biggest proudest moment to date? Probably the Soca or Die event at Cabana. The first time we did it was last year. Prior to that, Cabana as a venue did not have any outside promoters, it was an inside event. We did an event and was sold out so they give me an opportunity to go to Cabana. I was a little unsure as it was an untouched venue; how are the soca people going to handle it? To see everyone come together with soca.. there was one moment when I played ‘No Behaviour’. I remember the mix, it was a hypersounds mix and I looped it and brought in the instrumental and I heard the roar of the crowd. I had to step back and be like ‘yes boy Ai yi yi’. And I felt proud because look at what soca music is doing!
I’m heading to your famous Soca or Die fete later on. What can I expect? Really and truly it’s fun! Soca or Die at the Cabana is not a performanced based fete. This is about Djs. We have a cast of DJs and give them ample time and everyone knows not to repeat tunes all night. But the venue itself? is beautiful. When you see the skyline.. .it’s going to b beautiful. So when you get that plus soca and everyone is just jamming, you’re going to be like ‘Oh Gosh, Dr Jay thank ya!!’ [laughter]
What other fetes would you recommend? Well I am glad you’re coming to Soca or Die. That’s definitely one. I’d say go to a j’ourvert. There are about three different ones happening.That’s good for the Friday night. Obviously,there is the parade on Saturday. The Ovo Fest which is Drake’s concert. Normally he does Sunday and Monday and it’s huge. Last year he brought Outcast, TLC and other guests. This year they are actually doing a soca event on the Saturday. And of course Big people fete.
You have played in many many places. What has been your favourite location to play at? I played in Hong Kong once. It was a cultural exchange type of thing. To see people who don’t understand the language but once that music hits, you can see the smiling and they were enjoying themselves. They don’t know what the person is singing but they are enjoying themselves.
Why did you break into the realm of costume making? Well my parents were doing it from way back. And then it was something as a DJ sometimes a band will say can you help promote this. Then my sister started to show more of an interest. We actually came into it and said we will get our designs done, we will handle the production. We will take all the responsibility for it. And this has been six or seven years now. It has really taken off over the last three to four years. I give my sister and her whole team props cause me and a glue gun? We doh mix. But everything is on point.
What do you think about the various soca fusions? You know, I don’t want to sound like the old guy but I do like that purist vibe. However, music has to change, it has to evolve. And with everything there is some good and there are some poor selections when it comes to the change. I think it is very good for the music as if it stays still, you tend not to grow the people who support the music. The more it dabbles, the more people who might not have come to the purist form and wanna hear Baron and Scrunter, now they can hear how Olatunji fused the soca. So it expands the fan base which is good for us when we are playing events you have more people who want to hear the music.
What does carnival mean to you? I have so many different feelings about carnival cause when I was a kid I hated go into carnival! My parents were heavy into carnival. So as a kid I just wanted to play with my friends on the street. I didn’t wanna go push a steel pan. You know I remembered there was one year I was 13,14 and I said ‘I am just going to stay home’. And I refused to get dressed. That was the most boring day, it was like a ghost town. Everyone came home round 11 and I said that I’m never gonna miss this again. From that time onward I just because immersed in the culture. It’s as Lyrikal says, it’s freedom. Freedom of expression and the music is such fun music!! How can you listen to soca and not want to tap your foot and dance you know? It always makes you smile. Even with the music with more social commentary, you still find a way to move yourself and I love to get that feeling with the masqueraders. I love to have them on a yo yo kind of vibe and I know what to make them play at a certain point to make them do this and I can get them back here. Personally I love that.
What does the future hold for Dr Jay? To be honest? I don’t know, I take it day by day. I really love this so even though we are always planning and we have those annual events, it’s day by day.
Make no mistake, Dr Jay is passionate about soca. I mean REALLY passionate. His eyes light up when he is talking about the music, he is emphatic with his gestures. If need be he can talk at length about soca, carnival and this culture. This man is in love with soca. This is no lip service. For him I am of the firm belief that it truly is soca or die.
To find out more about Dj Jay De Soca Prince, please visit socaprince.ca, Dr Jay de Soca Prince on Facebook, Dr Jay-KOS @socaprince on twitter, Dr Jay @socaprince on instagram, socaprince on soundcloud, socaprince on tumblr, Dr Jay de soca prince on itunes, Dr Jay on tunein, www.drjays.com.