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In order for you to truly appreciate the wonderfully bizarre victory that was the afterparty, I need to fill you in on the wedding and reception that preceded it.
On Saturday, July 31, 2004, the heavens smiled as two souls were joined together to be married: Dawn Crandell and Baruch Israel. In a world where so many senseless things happen, this event was a reminder that beautiful moments ? the type that you secretly wish for and jump for joy when they do ? can still occur on this imperfect planet. The wedding wasn?t the typical religious service, as Dawn and Baba aren?t typical human beings. In fact, it was its unconventional nature that made it so memorable. Both artists, educators, and activists, the bride and groom culled from their individual upbringings and shared experiences to pull off an awe-inspiring union.
The wedding took place that afternoon at St. Mark?s Church in New York City. For the rest of my life, I will never get their processional out of my head. Baba and his wedding party lined up on one side of Parish Hall, Dawn and her wedding party on the other. They would enter with a personalized rendition of ?The Wedding March,? the women singing in luscious harmonies while the men laid down vocal percussion. It was a brilliant decision, one that still leaves me speechless just thinking about it. As the judge led them through the ceremony, a hush fell upon us all, followed by the feeling that all was right with the world. Few dry eyes were left in the place as Dawn and Baba recited their own vows. Again, we were speechless, save for a lone voice amongst the congregation that simply stated what we were all thinking: ?That?s deep.? And when they kissed, it was magic. It said more than all the words they?ve weaved together ever could.
From there, the wedding party exited the hall for a toast ? well, several actually. Get a bunch of artists and their close friends together and everybody?s gotta have their time in the spotlight. Leave it up to that nutty bunch to spark a bride and groom toasting cipher (?I got next!!?). It was all love, though. Two amazing people became husband and wife that day ? and for that, there?s plenty to say and to celebrate. After that, it was back into the hall for the reception. Amazing food and drink, largely a vegan selection and quite tasty. Did I mention that there was no air conditioning in Parish Hall? I think we all lost five pounds just by sweating. Music was provided by my man Emil a.k.a. DJ Center, Baba?s ace boon and groove purveyor for Open Thought. Moving deftly from soul and funk to old school hip-hop, afrobeat, and other flavors, he held it down, as always, giving folks a taste of what was in store for the afterparty.
So we said our goodbyes, offered more hugs and handshakes to the newlyweds, and headed off to spruce up for the jump off later on that night. And that?s when things really got interesting.
Emil had been briefing me for about a week and a half prior what he wanted the afterparty to be like: ultimately a celebration of Dawn and Baba through their favorite music. ?All I ask is that you bring your Macedonia vibe and I?ll bring my Center vibe.? That?s what he said to me. I was with it from jump. I love how that cat gets down in the mix and I knew that the both of us together would create something special for our newlywed friends. It was located at a place called Le Souk on Avenue B, a two-level restaurant/bar with a Middle Eastern-flavored decor and belly dancers to boot (a few of them male). The party would be located downstairs in an open area spot of the club. Ideally that area should have been closed off to us. It didn?t turn out that way, but more on that later.
Emil said that the owners never pay the DJs what they?re worth, but he could guarantee me a certain amount, which was more than I?ve seen at my last several gigs combined (not hard to do when you?re constantly spinning for free). No complaints outta me. Two nights before the big day, he calls me up stressed because dem shady Souk cats flipped the script on him. They figured they?d cut into our cash in order to make as much money as possible that night without spending a lot. That?s what it?s all about now regarding bars and clubs in the Rotten Apple, so I wasn?t surprised to hear that. He was getting a bad feeling and needed some encouragement. So we decide to stick it out and not let the bad vibe get us down, just feed off the positive energy that our friends would bring. But negativity is a worthy adversary and would show up in more ways than one that night.
The moment that Beth and I turned the corner on Avenue B and I saw all these trendy people lined up in front of the spot, I already knew what kind of night I was in store for. I quickly filed the coming attractions under ?one of those nights? and it played out just like I thought it would. Friends of mine who had RSVPd for the afterparty guest list were getting hassled over dress codes that management never bothered to tell anyone about. So after Emil comes out and tries talking with one of the staff (to no avail), he escorts me downstairs. He looked vexed, but still wanted to vibe out through the music, so he spun some more tunes. The trendy outnumbered the wedding folks 12 to 1. So much for having the room to ourselves. I was ready for whatever, so I tried to get a feel for where Center was at in terms of a rhythm. In the corner, a bachelorette and her giggly cohorts were making a scene. Our people were scattered amongst the room. There were a few heads that looked like regulars that seemed to be diggin? Center?s groove, though.
Dawn entered first, soon followed by Baba. The new husband needed to holler at Center regarding the illness of the evening, so I took over and played the following records:
cloud one*atmosphere strut*p&p
cookie monster & the girls*c is for cookie (sweet version)*ninja tune (uk)
talking heads*once in a lifetime*sire
prince*17 days*warner bros.
prince*i wanna be your lover*warner bros.
booker t. & the mg?s*melting pot*harmless (uk)
While ?17 Days? blasted through the speakers, much to the delight of the bride (a MAJOR Prince fan), I crouched down to find another selection, only to hear the needle skate violently across the record. I sprung up to catch one of the bar backs zoom by out of the corner of my eye and figured they must have bumped the turntable or something. To make matters worse, one of them had turned a huge floor fan toward the mixing console, which would?ve been fine if it was blowing at us. But no?it was blowing directly over the turntables. So the slipmat from the other turntable gets blown over to the one that the Prince record is on and knocks the needle a little further. I pick the tonearm up off the record and shout at the top of my lungs?
?F**K THAT!!! WE?RE HEARIN? THAT S**T AGAIN!!! F**K A TRENDOID, THIS IS MY HOUSE!!!?
People thought I was pissed, but I really wasn?t. I?ve ended up spinning in this type of environment more times than I care to count, and I already knew what I was in for. I figured if they were gonna play those types of games, let me get straight Negrocles on these mofos and speak in my Monsieur Big Nig voice. I let Center and Baba know about the happy haps and keep doin? my thing. This is probably around the time that a Plan B started to formulate. As I switch from ?Melting Pot? into a DJ Vadim joint, Dawn asks for a microphone. We hook up the headphones to the microphone jack and turn down the music. Dawn proceeds to announce to all in attendance that, due to the rudeness of the management, the afterparty was being moved down the street to a spot where her friend tends bar. Packed up our records and whatever else we had and left the place with no DJs, no music, no vibe.
Now, THAT?S how you shut a party DOWN.
This is obviously not the Alphabet City of ten years ago, because back then people who looked and acted like the trendy folks at Le Souk would have been scared to even walk down Avenue B. Gentrification is a cruel and harsh mistress. New York City, supposedly the most progressive city on earth, has become economically draining to artists. Due to outdated cabaret laws, bogus quality of life issues, and everything being geared towards the tourists and the rich, New York has been excluding native New Yorkers for years now. And forget about trying to champion new and exciting sounds at a club ? the owners would much rather play it safe. So everything?s geared towards the beautiful people, needlessly rife with dress codes and way too much attitude. The only time they?ll even consider taking a chance is when they?re down on their luck and figure that they have nothing to lose.
But the heads I was hanging with that Saturday night weren?t goin? out like punks. Seeing as how our time at Le Souk truly Le SUCKED, a mass exodus took place. The party would continue about a block and a half down the street at a discreet yet friendly spot that actually had air conditioning. After all that we had been through, we welcomed the change with open arms. The DJ was playing some danceable tunes with a Moroccan/Arabian flair. While my wife tried to figure out exactly when Avenue B turned into Little Tehran (her words), the people brought the party atmosphere with them. The dining area in the back turned into a dance floor in seconds flat. Want to know the key to getting a party started? Just call Dawn?s father and let him do the rest. No matter what the circumstances, brother Bernard will get it started.
So in a strange way, we won. The underdogs pulled it off. Granted, the music to our victory dance was supplied by a guy who would segue from Punjabi MC into Marc Anthony with a straight face, but who cares? The point is we still won. And the family and friends that surround Baba and Dawn were just the motley crew necessary to pull off such an upset. Emil was even able to spin some joints around two in the morning. Yeah, it was one for the books, all right. It was a conclusion that just proves how much sense it makes for them to be married: they sidestep the pitfalls, jump the hurdles, climb over the obstacles, and make victories happen.
Together. Just the way it should be.