How people got to be reggae music lovers or fans has always fascinated me. Maybe partly because reggae still is off/outside the mainstream, also in the Netherlands. It is not found that easily, let’s just say. It requires (to a degree) an extraordinary life path: that is, different from copying the masses, or simply following what’s commonly on television or the radio.
Reggae has of course since decades gone international and widened its fan base, but I have known individually quite different reggae fans within the Netherlands. Black and white (and Asian, or mixed etc.). Males and females. Old and young. Some with little education, some highly educated. Of different class backgrounds. Some combine liking reggae quite equally with other genres (e.g.: some with African, funk, soul, some with hip-hop, some even with non-black music genres), while others on the other hand adhere almost “strictly” to reggae music, and do not get into much else. Some like roots reggae more than dancehall or vice versa. There are even reggae fans – believe it or not - who do not smoke the “ganja herb”.
Furthermore, some have an interest or sympathy for the related subject of Rastafari, some do not, or even despise it. The latter, despise, I find somewhat odd since Rastafari is not the same as reggae, but is nonetheless connected to it.
These differences (and similarities) between and among reggae fans/lovers intrigue me, also in relation to personal backgrounds. That’s the reason why I would like to interview specific individuals who love reggae.
Before this I have interviewed 5 persons – reggae lovers I know, “breddas” (meaning “brothers”, or "friends" in Jamaican parlance) of mine – here in the Netherlands.
I started the series on this blog with a post of June 2012, when I interviewed Abenet. In April of 2013 I interviewed Bill. After this I interviewed Manjah Fyah, in May 2014. For my blog post of August 2015, I interviewed, somewhat more extensively, (DJ) Rowstone (Rowald). In August 2016, then, I interviewed Vega Selecta.
This time, already October of 2017, I interview another “bredda” of mine, that I know from the Amsterdam reggae scene. It is DJ Ewa (Iwan Huyck).
I have known him in fact for years, having been to many events where he was DJ/Selecta or organizer, including Café the Zen (Amsterdam East), but also other places, such as Club Caprice (later King’s Club) or elsewhere in Amsterdam. I knew his connection to the erstwhile Easy Times coffeeshop: a famous reggae-minded place – with almost a legendary status among reggae fans. It had regular reggae DJ’s, was often quite busy, located at the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam. It stopped as such, though, around 2004.
It was a bit before my time, but many people I know (including an older brother and friends), mentioned it to me. DJ Ewa became a regular DJ there, I soon heard.
Ewa is therefore a kind of a "veteran" Reggae DJ in Amsterdam, being also somewhat older than other DJ’s, as well as than the other people I interviewed before for my blog.
Ewa (Iwan) was born and grew up in Suriname, and later migrated to the Netherlands.
Underneath, our conversation based on some main questions (in bold letters). His answers (translated from Dutch, here and there slightly reformulated) are the texts in italic. Additional questions or comments by me are furthermore in between what he says, and are not in italic (M: is me, Michel).
Since when (what age) do you listen to Reggae music?
Since I was around 12 years old, I think. At that time I lived a while with my sister (in Suriname), and my brother-in-law had a record player with a set of records. Not all I liked so much, but some music I liked: notably some Rock and Soul that my father used to play before too. Yet I also encountered at my sister’s something by Peter Tosh. That I loved, and it became a strong inspiration for me.
I also heard Bob Marley before a bit, but Peter Tosh caught my attention much more at first. From that I got to other reggae: Bob Marley among them.
What appealed to you in reggae music (or Tosh)?
What attracted me to Tosh were his voice, as well as his lyrics. He had really “deeper” lyrics. Already since young I was a kind of a “deep” thinker about things, and that touched me, connected me to Tosh’s music as well. I analyzed his lyrics and found personal things. Peter Tosh was my biggest inspirer.
This influence extended to my affinity for sunglasses: I was influenced in wearing them by Peter Tosh, often wearing specific sunglasses too. You notice that in photos of me..
M: After that came other Reggae?
Yes. After Tosh, I found Bob Marley also interesting, and a while after that I also began to listen to and love Ijahman Levi.
Ijahman (Levi), I found, had someting peculiar, and unique to me. Something I hadn’t heard yet in other music: it is a “sigh” that you hear in almost all of his songs.
M: He has a beautiful voice, of course.
Yes. And he sighs even while he sings, consciously. I had not heard that yet of any other artist. It’s in most of Ijahman’s songs. It’s almost like he sings “Blues”, I think.
M: Ijahman Levi certainly made some classic, enduring songs..
M: Some critics claim that Peter Tosh had made some albums of “lesser” quality as well. But that is a matter of taste, of course..
That is indeed just a matter of taste. He preferred going his own way, instead of being directed by Chris Blackwell and commercial goals. I understood and respected that. While another producer before him, Lee Scratch Perry, sold Wailers records without legal artist credits. These ended up being pirated in Britain and elesewhere in Europe without any financial compensation for the Wailers. The Wailers (with Tosh) did not like this.
M: Perry once said about this that he just did that to get them a first entry in the market, as a way to promote the then unknown Wailers “out there”..
Yes, but only he (Perry) made money out of this then. Also because of such experiences, Tosh decided to go his own way.
What other music genres did you listen to then?
Alongside to Reggae, I also listened to other music, notably Rock. I liked Creedance Clearwater Revival, John Fogerty I liked. Good music I found in the work of Deep Purple, ACDC.
I served in the army (in Suriname) – at around my 20th year - and during that time I, besides to Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, also mainly listened to this kind of Rock, like ACDC, or also the Alan Parson’s Project, who were pioneers in “electronic music”.. They had good songs like Eyes In The Sky..
To be honest, at home I mostly tend to listen to this Rock music, more for work I make mixes focussing on Reggae. That’s more work to me than anything else.
M: Those Rock bands have slower songs too
Yes, even Deep Purple has nice “slower” songs. One of my favourites was also Eric Burdon (working with the band War), who also showed a Blues influence. I liked that too. The lengthy song Tobacco Road I liked: telling a whole story, starting Rock-like, slowing down to Blues. It tells an intriguing story about someone having a bad life amidst poverty and addiction, who gets a dream as way to change it, but has to make an “offer” (his life)..
M: I know that song..
In Suriname buses, usually music is played out loud, and I used to listen to this song during an approximately 18-minute bus trip in Suriname, but the song was not yet finished when my trip ended, haha.
Further, I like Talking Heads too. I sometimes look up their old video’s on YouTube..
David Byrne is crazy.. in a fun, good way..
M: And Surinamese music: kaseko or bigi poku?
I never felt too much affinity for that. It’s not really my thing. Although, when I used to go to the Surinamese interior – I am not really a city person - , also when I served in the army, I visited Amerindian and Maroon villages, and experieneced their folk music in the pure, traditional form. That I really enjoyed: pure and authentic. Amerindian music, and the Aleke music in Maroon villages: in their orginal cultural context and real life: that I appreciated: really experiencing it, instead of just listening to it.
Fantan Mojah also made a Aleke song, by the way..
M: Funk and other things?
I also encountered Funk, Disco, and Soul, popular at that time in Paramaribo. I knew a then well-known DJ in Suriname, DJ Lord, and his son. His son took over when his father died and organized parties, I then started to play/spin and mix records for the first time as a DJ, taking over from him at times, when he e.g. wanted to dance with women.. I played/mixed mainly what was most popular then: soul, funk, disco.. My earliest DJ efforts..
At that time I also used to dance in a dance group, dancing disco, and later even modern ballet. Modern ballet had some unusual moves for us, and we could not take it seriously and only laughed, haha. That dancing stopped for me when I really started to play/deejay.
I was then about 16 years of age, when I had these first DJ experiences..
Those were my first DJ steps, but around my 20th year, I had to serve in the army for a few years (late 1970s), just prior to to the (1981) coup. I had a good time, but could not do much with music.. I listened to it , though, in-between and during expeditions: mainly Rock, but also Peter and Bob..
Later, when I came to the Netherlands, my interest in Reggae as such increased.
Do you have any preferences in the broad Reggae genre. Does e.g. Digital Dancehall appeal to you as much as Roots Reggae, for instance?
Generally within Reggae my taste is also quite broad. However, I think the classic Roots Reggae, the old school,: is still the best.. I also like the recent Roots Revival, New Roots by Chronixx, Kababa Pyramid and others. I think that is a good generation. For a period you had not much in that Roots area, most artists did Dancehall, with few exceptions. Now I like that there is a group of good New Roots artists..
I like the fact that within Reggae there is much variation: much to choose from.
M: How does this translate to your selection as Reggae DJ/selecta?
I think I am one of the few DJ’s/selecta’s who plays different kinds of Reggae. Many of them tend to play just one subgenre: Dancehall, Dub, Roots.. I vary.. This also depends on where or for who I play/spin.. I often adapt to the audience, despite my personal taste even.
In the South of the Netherlands I tend to play more Roots. In Amsterdam and the Randstad (the urban, densely populated part of the Netherlands between Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam) more mixed, also Dancehall.
I have organized for a time Roots parties with regular live acts even, such as in de Heilige Zeug (Warmoesstraat) in Amsterdam. Few of the people that I know came.. Other Roots parties I played at had few Roots Reggae-minded people in the audience, and more young people. I then switched to Dancehall. Roots Reggae fans then started to think I do not play Roots.. It made me hard to “categorize” as DJ/selecta for many..
In the same vein, they would never invite me for those Dub Reggae minded DJ events, while I have many Dub cd’s and records, even preparing them for my relative, vocalist/singer MC Priti Pangi (Journy). Yet, they do not know that Dub side of my collection..
How did you develop as DJ/Selecta after those first steps as DJ around your 16th year?
I grew into it . After those first steps around my 16th. When my sister or nieces had birthdays or parties, I sometimes played as DJ. Then mainly vinyl singles..
Not always the guest liked what I played: many expected Surinamese music, and I never played that. Of Surinamese music I only liked Papa Touwtje. There are also nice reggae developments recently, though, in Suriname..
M: That Kaseko is a tradition worth conserving, I think. I see sometimes instruments used, you do not see often: a wooden log for instance..
Yes, certainly. However: live it is often much better than when I hear it on the radio. There are certainly good musicians in Suriname..
You came up with the term Easy Time Crew, that you respresent. This refers to the former reggae-minded café / coffeeshop Easy Times. This was located at the Prinsengracht (not far from the Leidseplein). A bit before my time, but I heard a lot about it. What was so special about it?
Well, it was a real reggae place: open all week, and every day of the week they played reggae. Friday’s and Saturday’s they created a dancefloor with regular dee-jay’s (selecta’s). DJ Aya used to play there a lot, followed later by me.. Since the late 1990s, I played there regularly, up to around 2004, when Easy Times stopped as Reggae-focussed place. I therefore later came up with the term Easy Time Crew, referring to that past there, as DJ at Easy Times in Amsterdam.
It was a very popular and often busy café/coffeeshop for a period among Reggae fans in Amsterdam, even making nearby places switch to Reggae after Easy Times closed for the night: to attract the Reggae fans that visited Easy Times. Reggae artists even visited and performed at Easy Times: Junior Kelly and Glen Washington to name some.
It was influential in that sense. A bit comparable to Café the Zen (Amsterdam East) today: a reggae hotspot. Café the Zen, you might say, took that central role over a bit (also concerning some of the same people), in the Amsterdam reggae scene.. I am now mostly active in/for Café the Zen, alongside quite regular gigs elsewhere In Amsterdam or outside.
You play mainly from CD, as DJ. That is: instead of mp3 or vinyl. That is quite exceptional. How did you come to that choice?
Well, exceptional.. there are a few DJ’s playing CD’s, not just me. I prefer CD's – and more specifically WAV(e) files over MP3’s. The sound quality of CD (wav) songs is so much better. MP3 Pro improved the quality of mp3’s, yet remains still behind WAV’s though, quality-wise. I have a good player (Pioneer) and can mix/work well wit hit.
The best sound is of course vinyl. That’s what I opine too. Yet over time, as DJ/selecta travelling, CD’s became more practical for me: more easily transportable than vinyl albums and singles, and I started to take more and more CD’s instead. I stopped there for quality reasons: I could have switched to MP3s to be able to bring much more tunes to choose from. Yet, as I said: the quality is less. Plus: I like to maintain an overview of tunes. Not too much of them at once.
M: I notice that too.. I used to focus on Wav and CD's for years too, and later heard and made MP3s of my own songs, noticing immediately the lesser quality from Wav to Mp3. While others said it was barely noticeable.. I still noticed it to differing degrees, when listening songs..
Yes. Me too. An added reason is the respect for the artist. Some download/convert YouTube songs to MP3, but you can buy them too legally, via ITunes or otherwise.
M: “The album idea” I miss at times. People tend to think in songs in mp3, while maybe artists have a story they want to tell with a whole album, or it is interestingly representative for a specific period of their career. I heard some say for instance that Luciano’s album ‘The Messenger’ (1996) is great as a whole, while many only get to know a few songs of it. “Cherry picking” songs here and there, this way.
Yes, while an entire CD album is often also cheaper than buying the songs separately.
So, I keep on playing CD with Wav files. I never play MP3s, safe when there is some technical problem playing CDs: for that I take MP3’s on memory stick: just in case.
Do you combine your being DJ/Selecta with other creative activities?
Well, also arranging artists performing: I organized the performance of Verse Ital in Café the Zen, as well as, like I said, also other artists performing under the Easy Time Crew banner in other places too, together with others.
Besides this, and of course my activities as DJ / Selecta, I also am active in visual design, I make flyers, reggae-minded graphic design. This is to be found as Internet site under the name I & I Productions (https://www.facebook.com/easytimeproductions/), also to be found on Facebook. This design is connected to other Easy Time Crew activities. Further, I have a radio show on which I play reggae music, twice a month (Wednesday’s) at the online radio station http://www.royalzionhighness.com .
Further some other things, too.
Does the Rastafari message in much of Reggae appeal to you? How does this relate to your own background, or beliefs?
Well, Rastafari is very broad, with many branches. I am not someone who likes to be in a group. If I would define myself, I would call myself first and foremost a “rebel”. I like the message in Reggae often, but I like to go my own way. As a rebel.
M: That fits with your love for Peter Tosh: who was also known as a rebel..
M: Were you brought up religiously?
Yes. My family was and is very religious, very (Catholic) Christian. They raised me that way, and as a youth I followed a Bible study, obtaining even degrees to eventually preach. Yet, I stopped with it, because I asked too much question for them: like I said before, I was always very much “thinking” and researching. Questions such as: If God as Creator created everything, who created God? Questions like that. I remained curious.
Therefore, in seeking answers for myself, as well as to rebel somehow against my Catholic upbringing, I even joined other Christian groups – temporary- such as the Jehova’s Witnesses or Mormons.
M: Those religions: Catholicism, but also Protestantism, want you to be docile, to not think (for) yourself. You like to think for yourself, you told..
Yes. Since I was a child, I was even known within my family for having "foreseeing" visions.
I simply do not like too much “deification” of people, I guess. I respect people like Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie. I see them not as “religious” figures, though. Marcus Garvey I consider as freedom fighter.
Moreover: I see “religion” as the origins of many wars in this world, a negative influence: the crusades and such..
People believe so much in things, that they stop thinking rationally. While I opine that you should keep on thinking yourself.
I can understand, on the other hand, that spirituality or belief can bring relief, or peace, to people’s minds, in cases..
M: Me too,. I can imagine people find comfort in spirituality, especially when “stuck” in life, somehow..
Yes. Further, the Bible - that I used to study - is very arbitararily made up historically, I have learned. Certain humans just chose certain texts over others. The Bible has been made too holy and unquestionable. Mary also wrote a book, I heard: it did not become known..
I do not see any religious leader for me in the world, preferring thinking for myself. Words of Selassie and Garvey have wisdom, I recognize that, but also words by people like Martin Luther King and Mandela. I see these all more as “prophets”.
Despite all this, I kind of admire Rastas/Rastafari-adherents. I find them in a sense heroic: it is not easy to be Rasta in this society; you will not have it easy.
M: That’s true: you set yourself aside/apart consciously. While “Babylon” is everywhere powerfully spread in society: at work, the music scene, you name it.
Yes. Therefore I have admiration for that life choice as Rasta. I also have good friends active in Rastafari branches, including an order called the Egyptian Order, focussing on Egypt historically, its African roots. Black pharaoh’s, Nubians, themes like that. I found that interesting, I must admit.. I began to understand its appeal. I learn things from that too
Are there any “new” artists, or “discoveries” in Reggae you would like to mention?
Well, Lenn Hammond is an interesting, good artist (related to Beres, indeed) who deserves – I think – a bigger audience in the Netherlands. He is not well-known and popular here, unlike in Britain. I also like an artist like Demo Delgado. I furthermore regularly get sent CDs by several artists: often some interesting things between it, such as the mentioned Demo Delgado..
Any more things you would like to mention?
I miss a sense of unity among Reggae DJ’s and organizers in Amsterdam. Before in Café Caprice (Amsterdam) where I played, or with later Cafe the Zen (Amsterdam) events, or elsewhere. I often organized events with other DJ’s, often younger than me, to promote them. In later reports they almost only highlighted themselves, not the others involved, neither giving me as DJ Ewa some credit. Helping to promote each other would be better, instead of each one seeking their own space, at the cost of others..
M: Like cowboys in a cowboy town, haha
Yes. I think that is not necessary.. I am a bit of a “loner” as a DJ and organizer, not very active in surrounding myself with a supportive “group”, maybe that’s my problem. Still, we could support each other more in the Amsterdam reggae scene, I think. Working together more.
REFLECTION AND COMPARISON
I found this to be a very interesting and insightful interview. It is not even that exaggerated to consider DJ Ewa as a true "veteran" in the Amsterdam reggae scene.
He is older than many other present Reggae DJ’s in the Netherlands, and than the other ones I interviewed. Logically, he therefore “lived” more and has more to say.
Interesting to learn about his time still in Suriname, how he served in the army, and his connections to Suriname. Of the people I interviewed up to now, he is the first Surinamer as such. Kind of odd, seeing the strong proportional representation of Surinamese people among reggae fans (and in the general reggae scene) in Amsterdam, being also a relatively large demographic in the Amsterdam area.
Readers may have noticed, though, that DJ Ewa has a strong own individual personality too, considering himself someone who loves to think for himself, as well as as a ”rebel”. He also admits being kind of a “lone operator” within the Reggae DJ-scene.
That makes his story more interesting and idiosyncatic, I think. His affinity for Rock-like music, aside from his Reggae DJ work, may come as a surprise, and is perhaps not very common among Reggae fans, though neither that extraordinary. Several reggae fans I know like other music too, or switched temporarily to someting quite different. I myself am interested in music in the broad sense, study it all, and then choose what inspires me most. I often prefer Reggae, that is true, but listen to (or even play as percussionist on) various other genres too (Blues, Rock, Jazz). At one jam session, at the Waterhole in my hometown Amsterdam, I played percussion (improvizing) on a Creedance Clearwater Revival song I did not really know, or only vaguely, named Fortunate Son. I found that interesting to do. Ewa said he also liked the Creedance Clearwater Revival.
Besides, the other people I interviewed before liked other genres too, albeit to differing degrees.
Ewa’s “veteran” status indeed proved here that he had more to say and tell, including his time in Suriname, but also regarding the Easy Times coffeeshop as vivid reggae place at the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam.
I heard so many people talk mostly positively about it, including people close to me, that I really began to think I must have missed something great. I began to repent not having visited it before 2004, since I was a reggae fan already in the late 1980s, and could go out more in the 1990s (although I lived not in Amsterdam then, but not far): when I went to Amsterdam I only went to reggae concerts then at the Paradiso or Melkweg venues. I also heard there were occasionally criminals in the Easy Times coffeeshop, as elsewhere in Amsterdam, or some tensions, but not often, and the vibes were according to most mostly positive. DJ Ewa is connected to that legendary history of Easy Times, hence also his moniker Easy Time Crew.
What sets DJ Ewa a bit apart as DJ is his focus on playing CD songs (Wave files), in a DJ/Selecta scene increasingly dominated by mp3 catalogues or, alternatively, vinyl aficionados.
Interesting, because I had such a CD period too, and deplore – like Ewa – the lesser quality of mp3 when compared to Wave.
VARIATION AS SELECTA
I heard DJ Ewa many times playing at clubs or elsewhere, and I tended to like his selection (always some relatively unknown songs in between more known ones, that I liked), and also noted the variation, he himself says he has as DJ or Selecta. One time at his session the focus was on New Roots, another time more Digital Dancehall than he usually plays.
That flexibility is good in itself, as is adapting to the audience, though you can go too far with it in my opinion. I myself am DJ/selecta with vinyl at times, as well. In selecting I of course think about what the audience might like, but often also think that some songs in my collection are so good that they simply need to be played.
DJ Ewa says, however, that he plays some of those songs he deems great too, and is thus not always just "crowd pleasing" as DJ/selecta.
So, I noted some similarities between me and Ewa in our Reggae tastes, while some of the Rock/Blues he mentioned I knew and liked too (Eric Burdon/War I had on cassette, I liked the Talking Heads).
There were also similarities, more or less, in us both being free-thinking loners, and rebellious.
Regarding spirituality there were also some similarities but also differences. My parents were also Catholic, but not as strict Catholic as Ewa says his family was, and brought him up. My own (Spanish) mother was kind of critical and joking about the Catholic Church overall. She critiqued the Church’s sinister role during the right-wing Franco dictatorship that ended up making her younger days hard (and poor). At the same time, she taught me prayers (in Spanish) her mother taught to her, about Jesus, - perhaps for some structure in life/parenting - and my parents took me to church events/services regularly, though not too often. I also went to Catholic schools and Bible studies, that were relatively free and open in this modern, democratic time.
Ewa had, by contrast, a stricter religious (Catholic) upbringing. All the more admirable that he, already as a child, kept “researching” and thinking for himself, also about Christianity and religion, as a true rebel. Just like his also rebellious inspiration Peter Tosh, being also critical about Christianity’s role.
Regarding Rastafari, Ewa takes on a rational approach, eschewing deification and group thinking also within sections of the Rastafari movement. He appreciates, however, that the Rastafari movement is broad, and respects Haile Selassie and Marcus Garvey. He also admires Rastas for their heroic life choices in a (White, Western) society that, let’s face it, not always combines well with main Rasta values of e.g. equality, Africanness, and naturality.
OLDER AND WISER
The cliché is that when you get older, you get wiser. I personally think that not all people that get old get as a whole wiser – some do, some don’t –, but due to mere life experience you by definition have learned more, and inevitably obtain some more wisdom, as you get older. I certainly have noted this wisdom in the nice conversation with Ewa, who is older than the other reggae lovers I interviewed before for this blog, but also older than me. It was insightful and interesting for me.