Notting Hill is just two weeks away and there is absolutely no way London carnival season will pass without an interview with one of the most iconic members of the UK Soca community; Mr Martin Jay. What he has done for the recognition and growth of soca and the carnival culture in the UK and Europe (visibly and invisibly) can be said to be almost unquantifiable. And similar to my interview with Dr Jay of Toronto, I find that my challenge is struggling to reduce content rather than scrambling for more words. Let me attempt to give you a brief synopsis of Martin Jay’s achievements. For he has many and all are significant.
To be as concise as I can be, here it is. Martin Jay made soca visible to a wider audience beyond that of the local UK soca community. By simply having a dedicated soca show (The Caribbean Affair) on a legal capital radio station, it was the beginning of more widespread awareness of soca and carnival. He gave many DJs their start on Choice FM and made them visible to a larger more diverse audience. He gave the UK black community the opportunity to know more about artists of similar ethnicity such as Beyonce and Rihanna by interviewing them. He gave the UK black community a voice. Our humour, way of saying and dealing with things was made visible every day on the morning ‘Two Tonnes of Fun’ show. He has built a carnival mas band with some of the most loyal masqueraders and when asked why they stick with him, they simply reply ‘Because I trust him’. This is the man I interview.
Mr Martin Jay, I think most people know of you, you were a morning presenter on Choice FM (now Capital Xtra) and you had the Sunday evening soca show. You now have a mas band called Funatiks. I think your name internationally is synonymous with the UK soca community. But how did you get into soca and have your own soca show? I went to Grenada in 1985 at the age of 14 and stayed by my grandfather. I was already into music; reggae and rare groove. Whilst in Grenada, I was loving this soca music and I was looking at people my age and a little bit older and they were loving soca. This was their music, they were raving to soca. On our way back home to London, we had to spend the day in Trinidad (in those days you had to spend the whole day in Trinidad for a connecting flight). My mum and I took a taxi and went into Port of Spain where I bought my first soca album. It was Tiny Winey by Byron Lee & the Dragonaires. I remember cause on the album there was picture of a woman’s bamsie and my mother was like ‘What kind of record have you bought?‘. It had all the hits of that year and that was where the seed was sown.
I returned to London and still did some Djing but had a better knowledge of soca by then. On the mic at the time, everyone had a Jamaican accent but I didn’t talk like that. I had my British accent and everyone said ‘Oh you sound like one of those radio DJs, you sound like Tony Blackburn’. And someone said you should try go on radio. I sent a demo tape, I got on the (WLR) West London Radio pirate station. I was called Krazy MD at the time. Ironically, Smokey Joe was on the same radio station at the time and one day couldn’t do his show so I was asked to cover it on a Saturday afternoon. He was off for three weeks and I covered it then. From that I got a soca show got sponsored by Orbiton records in Harlesden. I did a soca show every evening and I was enjoying it . When Choice Fm came on air, everyone was trying to get on it. I sent in a demo as there wasn’t a soca show on there. I rang them every week and they were fobbing me off. I hadn’t worked out a name for myself but me and my girlfriend at the time had an entertainment company called Martin Jay Entertainment. I was Martin, she was Jay. I don’t have a Jay in my name. That’s her name. But Choice FM called one day and asked ‘Hello, can I speak to Martin Jay please?’ I replied ‘Who?‘ They said ‘Martin Jay’. I asked ‘Who’s this?‘. They said ‘Choice FM’. I responded quickly ‘This is Martin Jay’. And that’s how I got the name.
Choice said to me the Daily Mirror were sponsoring carnival (1990) and they needed to put a carnival package together but they didn’t know anything about it. They had all this money but didn’t know. They wanted a schedule of songs and interviews. They called me at around 12′ o’clock at work. I was working in an solicitor’s office then. I finished work at 5pm. By 6pm I was parking outside Trinity Gardens (home of Choice FM/Capital Xtra) with a typed out schedule of interviews and records and when to put the songs of rotation. When it was all done and the Daily Mirror were happy, they asked ‘How much do we owe you?’ I said ‘You owe me a show.’ I said ‘I don’t want your money, you owe me a show. I have been knocking on your door for how many months. You called me and I did it in a day, so let me have my show!’ And then I was told ‘you go live on September 30th! And that’s how I got into soca.
How did you get into having your own carnival mas band? I never wanted to have my own band. I think that whatever I have been involved in, I always wanted to make sure that it is of a particular standard. I was quite comfortable doing what I was doing for the bands I was doing it for. I am of the old school. I felt that we should have inherited the old bands not that we should branch off and do our own thing. But unfortunately the old bands weren’t ready to pass it on. And at one point you say to yourself, I have to do this on my own. We got some friends together that shared the vision with us and here we are four years later with Funatiks. We want to make sure that people come on the road and have a great time. We have a lot of people that return because of the way that we treat them. If there is a problem, I will fix it, I will rip off my arm to fix it, it will be alright. My father died when I was 13 and that taught me that lesson. I had to put my arms around my brother on that day and say that it will be alright. Things will be alright.
What has been your proudest moment in your career so far? It would be my outside broadcasts. To do an outside broadcast takes a lot of hard work. And you are never sure that you will get the connection. We broadcasted live, our first from the Cockspur distillery in 2003 in Barbados. We returned in 2005 and broadcasted live from the boatyard learning from our mistakes. There was only 20 people expected. Turns out there were over 100 people. We did soca idol in 2005 and this was all broadcasted live back to London. George Kay from Greece has no love for soca music whatsoever. But he is a radio man. When we finished the show, he said in the feedback, ‘Now that’s how you do a live broad cast‘. That moment there? That was when I said ‘We can do anything!’ We have done many broadcats internationally since then. Every time before a show I would jump in the sea. My boss would know what I was doing, no one else. I would say a prayer in the sea. I would come out dripping wet and start my show. Those were my proudest moments.
What makes Notting Hill Carnival unique? Why should people come to Notting Hill Carnival? In terms of carnivals world wide, Notting Hill Carnival is in the top 5 of the world! The energy, the route, the length of the day. Notting Hill has a lot going for it despite the difficulties. We still have a lot of freedom on the road and I have heard too many artists say ‘Boy, after Trinidad? London right dere you know!‘ And Trinis who come over here outside of season say ‘But you guys do this all year round!‘ The Trinis do it hard for three months. But come Ash Wednesday, they done. It’s not an evergreen thing for them. But for us over here, it’s 52 weeks of the year. It’s just the vibe. You know what I will tell you about London and England in general? If you are in this culture, you are in it because you want to be in it. And when you are in it because you want to be in it, your passion is greater than a lot of people that are born in it. For example people always say to me, ‘But you’re not Trinidadian!‘. No I am not Trinidadian. I was born in Paddington. My mother is St. Lucian, my father is Dominican. I do not have a cell of Trinidadian blood in me. But the moment I started doing the show on Choice, I had to learn the craft. And learning the craft was studying a huge part of Trinidad. And I embraced learning about the culture in a big way. To the point that people would swear I was Trini. In the UK we have a stronger passion for soca and carnival than most people.
What do you think of the soca at the moment? If you asked me that question 20 years ago I would have said the same thing to you. And that is we need to have our own industry. We’ve always been concerned with crossing over and that’s our problem and that’ the difference between us and the Jamaican reggae industry. An artist can be a superstar in reggae and never have a pop hit in his life. But he’ll be a superstar in his own right. And just being a superstar in his own right makes him cross over. Jamaicans don’t give you a watered down version of their music. If you like it, like it. Jamaican music became part of everyday life. Soca needs to have its own industry and that’s hard because there are different islands with different concepts. There needs to be a soca music award that is respected throughout the Caribbean region.
What is next for Martin Jay? I dunno. There is nothing else I want to achieve. I don’t want to sound complacent. I think that people that know me know that when Choice FM finished, it’s like someone had cut my leg off. I went through depression, my diabetes went through the roof, my blood pressure went up. I just became a very sick unhappy man to a degree. And now, I look at my granddaughter every morning and it doesn’t bother me anymore. I just do whatever I can do that I am doing now with a smile on my face until it’s time not to do it. I don’t think there is anything else I can achieve without there being a major turn around. Unless someone buys a black radio station and says ‘Right we need some big hitters to come in with some ideas’. Even then, I would want to go in at a supervisory level. It’s not really about me anymore. I’m comfortable.
Three onlookers witnessed this interview and listened in total rapt silence (with the odd outbursts of laughter) as Martin Jay spoke openly of his pain, sorrow, anger, joy, pride and content; leaving himself completely vulnerable knowing absolutely this would be shared with a far far greater audience. But Martin Jay has given so much of his self to soca, carnival and the UK black community. It would be out of character for him to stop now.
Martin Jay continues to have his Caribbean Show in Bakanhal Radio online, Sundays 6-8. For more information on Martin Jay, please visit www.djmartinjay.com, thisismartinjay on mixcloud, martinjay on Facebook, twitter, linkedin, bigpappy70 on instagram. For more information on Funatik Mas Band, please visit www.funatikmas.com.