DJ Delgado on the Evolution of Oakland's DJ Scene and Celebrating Five Years of Fresh Jamz
Attending middle school with artists such as Opio, Casual, and Touré of the Hieroglyphics crew in the early '90s, Oakland-born DJ Delgado sought to find his own creative outlet amid the beats and rhymes of hip-hop. He was attracted to "the constant positivity and push for social change" in reggae music, and spent his college years hosting a popular radio show on L.A's KSPC, as well as winning an L.A. reggae society's Best DJ award in 1998. In 2003, he decided to return to Oakland to start the socially conscious Aztlán Rootscollective and parties like Fresh Jamz, a happy hour that celebrates its fifth anniversary this Friday. We recently spoke with Delgado about Aztlán Roots, his old radio show, and his love for Oakland. Fresh Jamz takes place every last Friday of the month; this edition features guest DJs Crimson, Platurn, Hector, and residents Odiaka and Delgado.
Tell us a little about your college radio show. What do you think was responsible for its popularity?
I don't really think I had the best radio show, I just think that I had the most accessible one. I was on Friday evenings from 6-8 p.m.; that's pretty prime reggae time. I don't have the encyclopedic knowledge of Chuck Foster of KPFC or the enthusiasm of Junor Francis who was on KSPC with me, but I was at every show and every club, and I would play my show like a party. I'd start off with classic roots early and at the end be playing the latest dancehall. With no commercials, I could really develop a coherent mix, and having grown up in Oakland I could DJ in a more accessible hip-hop style than many of my peers.
Having been so successful in LA, what prompted your move back here?
I'm from Oakland, I needed to get home. College and my early twenties were great in L.A. and I had a ton of fun in the music scene, but my mission is to improve my community. I strongly believe that you can only help and build a community from within, and there is no community I know better than Oakland. The way life has gone since then, I know the timing was exactly right for the move.
In 2003, you started Aztlán Roots, a confederation of Bay Area artists and DJs brought together by a love of conscious fun. How does the concept of Aztlán represent your collective?
Aztlán refers to the Aztec myth of the promised land of Aztlán--commonly used today to refer to the lands taken from México by the United States. It refers to where we are physically, the promised land we are aiming for as a community, and the colonized social conditions we work within and against.
I think Boots Riley of the Coup explains "conscious fun" best when he says we are here to 'laugh, love, fuck, and drink liquor... and make the damn revolution come quicker.' Creating a new world and working for a revolution of sorts is not just a serious task -- we have to live life, have fun, and build relationships in the process, or we will not succeed.
This week you celebrate the five-year anniversary of your happy hour Fresh Jamz. What's the history behind a long-running happy hour?
DJ Odiaka started Fresh Jamz five years ago because he wanted a great happy hour with his friends. The next month he invited me to join him so he could socialize as well, and the rest is history. It's always been an amazing group of folks, mostly young folks who work within the community at schools and other nonprofits. The work we do requires an emotional release, and dancing is the best way to really share that. We create a microcosm of the positive community that we strive to achieve and are re-energized by it.
Can you share with us the vibe on the anniversary CD that you guys will be giving out Friday?
Creating an anniversary CD is a trip! How do I express five years of joy and growth in 20 minutes? This year we were honored to be joined by a superstar -- DJ Platurn -- who provided a really eclectic mix of tunes you never hear in a club but we know our patrons will love. Odiaka provided a great mix that really encapsulates his style, with high-energy mixes of up tempo funk, soul, and hip-hop. For my piece, I crammed in dubplates, dancehall, Golden Age hip-hop, new Bay Area Rap, and some classics. Unique and unusual, it gives a taste of our event. Of course I snuck in some of our favorite Fresh Jamz Family, with tracks by Esinchill, produced by D-Sharp, Relic Secure, and a fun intro. I'm sharing my piece of the mix; for the rest of the mix you are going to have to join us early this Friday for a free copy.
Your motto on your blog is "Thoughts from an old school DJ in a new world..." What does that mean in the present?
I'm old school. I learned by carrying boxes of records for older cats so they'd teach me how the equipment worked. Now kids can borrow their mom's laptop and watch YouTube to learn DJ software. On the one hand today's world allows a tremendous amount of creativity, but on the other, passion for music is no longer a prerequisite. The most important part of DJing is bringing a group a people with you and transcending normal for a shared cathartic experience. I think that's hard to learn if you're not watching it in real time, and I think the gulf we have between veterans and new DJs hurts us all.
Oakland's DJ scene has evolved quite a bit in the past few years. Since you've been a part of the scene for so long, can you share with us some of the positives and negatives?
The number of great places to party, that are serious about hiring good entertainers in Oakland right now, is mind-blowing to us natives. My wife and I can ride our bicycles downtown, have a great dinner, and dance to two or three great DJs any night of the week. As a kid, I remember downtown Oakland being a wasteland of empty lots and ancient abandoned buildings.
For DJs in general, times are interesting. In the '90s, I used to go door-to-door begging places to let me spin for free. Then again, there weren't too many of us with the dedication to spending every penny we had on equipment and vinyl. Today, I can play a bunch of venues within biking distance of my house, and there are a bunch of young kids like I once was who are still trying to get experience, but now can join the game for the price of a laptop and play for free. Bar managers look at the bottom line, but many veteran DJs are trying to live off their art and it is harder than ever, especially as we get older.