Five Questions with ZJ Sparks
When it comes on to carnival season, local disc jockey and producer, Tricia ‘ZJ Sparks’ Spence, is ready to ‘shell it down’. She is known as a firecracker – energetic, feisty, and always makes her opinions heard, as well as a pioneer – earning her place on national radio at the early stages of her career.
Female disc jockeys were far and few between and those establishing their careers needed to have more presence in the streets, but ZJ Sparks decided to challenge the status quo. Looking back, ZJ Sparks recalls persons were so intrigued by a woman being at the controls, “that in the middle of a party, patrons would find themselves behind me just to see if I was actually playing the music or if it was a mixtape”.
Fast forward, more than two decades later, it is not strange to see her or any other female on a flyer and she is one of the disc jockeys who are in high demand, and has further stamped her name and her label, Twelve 9 Records, in the area of music production by delivering quality reggae, dancehall, soca and afrobeats-infused songs. One of her most successful songs, is actually the dancehall hit, Indicator, by Spice, which was featured on American TV stations and gained popularity on the US Pacific coasts, Europe, and Africa. Currently, her soca project, Shell It Down, which features Brush1 and Elephant Man is ‘mashing up’ the carnival scene on local and international grounds. ZJ Sparks shares in Five Questions, interesting titbits about the song, what keeps her going, and how she is preparing for carnival in Jamaica.
1. Is your method of producing reggae-dancehall tracks different from the way you approach the soca genre?
The method isn’t different. I believe it’s the same for any genre. As a producer, you always want to ensure things are sonically good, that the lyrics makes sense, and that the artiste on the track has good delivery. You also take the time to visualise how persons will consume the music. Everything in life is a learning process; there are certain things you learn as you get involved and being in this, over the years, I hear things a little differently, some things, I never heard in my earlier productions, I hear them now.
2. What inspired the rhythm and the overall composition of Shell It Down?
Well, Dan Evens, my co-producer who is from Martinique, and I have a good chemistry … he plays a lot in soca fetes, and being that we are both lovers of soca music, we decided to work together on some projects. Along with Brush1, who we’re working on an EP for, we knew we wanted a variation in the tempo of soca; from mid-tempo, to the type we hear when you chipping behind the big trucks in a road march, to the groovy soca to the power soca. I love the energy of power soca because I love to see people jumping with excitement, enjoying themselves and Shell It Down ended up being that. Here, in Jamaica when we think of energy, we can’t leave out dancehall’s proclaimed ‘Energy Gad’ Elephant Man, he and Brush 1 did a good job. Also, shout out to Tessellated, Circa Eleven and Jesse Royal, who beside the main artistes, myself and Dan, provided backing vocals.
3. When did you started DJ-ing; what were your early passions and who were your influencers?
I always loved music and the parties, for me, it was just about the music, not the alcohol or anything else. Kurt Riley is one of those DJs, who I loved watching perform, because he exuded so much passion in his delivery of his craft. He wasn’t just about plugging in and playing music. I also listened to the late Arif Cooper, Collin Hines and DJ Wayne because I found something so magical about their transition and their scratching techniques. How dem deal with music was almost like a chef serving good food. There are just a few of my earlier influences when I was looking to become a DJ.
4. How do you prepare for an event that you’re booked to play at and how ready are you for Jamaica’s carnival season?
It is constant preparation. Being a DJ is a daily process and it requires you to constantly go through the genres because you never know what the next event, you will be booked for. You have to be consistent in how you play and also try to discover new music Everything calls for preparation and am I ready for Carnival in Jamaica … yes I am … absolutely ready!
5. You’re know for your high energy … as your name implies, but ZJ Sparks when are you ever not high energy?
I play for fun, and when I play my music, I speak, so I’m involved with the audience. Though there sometimes are events which don’t call for that high, extreme energy which I naturally possess, I’d say it’s just my playing style. But, for the most part I’m not much of a speaker. I’m really low-key, I’m an observer and I enjoy my time alone in nature and I spend a lot of time with my head in books.