You say you want a dance, dance, revolution?

Soul Shakedown merges dance and politics while carving out a much-need niche in groovy world beats

Toby Moorsom—also known as DJ Redfoot—spins pan-African and Latin sounds.
Toby Moorsom—also known as DJ Redfoot—spins pan-African and Latin sounds.

Soul Shakedowns are refreshing. The series of DJ nights—featuring an atmosphere and musical fare completely different from Kingston’s usual dance spaces—revolves around the idea of a dance party with a social conscience. And, as it turns out, people are responding by way of making the gatherings part of their dancing priorities. Saturday night’s Shakedown was a lively success. The venue, Time to Laugh Comedy Club, was packed to capacity and some hopeful soul-shakers were being turned away at the door.

I spoke to Toby Moorsom, also known as DJ Redfoot, who created the Soul Shakedown along with Alex DaCosta, also known as DJ Fictitious Commodity.

“People are coming to this, committed to be open, to move in different ways, to listen to other people’s music,” Moorsom said. “It’s not a judgemental space.” This lack of judgement and crucial respect for difference are probably the most striking—and welcoming—parts of the Soul Shakedown series. Where Kingston clubs often feature thinly-veiled hormonal hostility and oppressive over-sexualisation, Soul Shakedowns boasts a positive, honest and accepting environment. Soul Shakedown hopes to show that dance music has a deeper potential for connection, more than just as a grinding soundtrack. Hey, maybe just dancing can be a good time in itself.

Surely some of the party’s appeal stems from the music, which isn’t heard often in Kingston. It’s an incredibly groovy mix of classic soul and funk from America and Africa, fiery Latin and Latin jazz, and intricate beats from South Asia. The odd Top 40 tune pops up—usually remixed and underlaid with a polyrhythmic beat.

“That people love the music I spin is understandable. It is performed by people who are schooled in polyrhythmic drumming and dancing from an early age and they then replace some of the rhythm parts with horns and add guitars—that, for me, is a definition of funk,” Moorsom said. Moorsome’s impressive and eclectic collection was labour of love. He has collected records from yard sales, thrift stores and in his travels to Cuba, Chile, Mexico and all through Africa. Shakedown’s music is excellent for simply enjoying and dancing to, but it also carries with it expressly political connotations.

“I hope that people are recognizing that music played at Soul Shakedown is very political and very critical of the global economic structure,” Moorsom said.

“African music has been interpreted in anti-colonial struggle as a form of shaking oneself of one’s own alienation, shaking off the ‘evil spirits’—the ways that capitalism and colonialism have destroyed their lives.”

Moorsom refers to Fela Kuti, an influential Nigerian singer and multi-instrumentalist, as an example of political strength through music.

“Certainly, Fela Kuti was very aware of music’s capacity [to engage against colonialism],” Moorsom said. “He would provide an analysis of the political situation and ideas of how people could respond to it in their lives. Since he was a musician, he could get away with more; it was much harder to suppress the music. In places where there aren’t a lot of democratic freedoms, these political ideas can be passed around as poetry.”

Relating music to political struggle is clearly important to Moorsom; he is currently pursuing a PhD in history, focusing on capitalist development and the political economy of agriculture in Africa. By e-mail, he recounted the story of Soul Shakedown’s inception.

“I was a DJ in Toronto before I moved to Kingston in 2003. Since then I’ve made a few attempts to get a DJ event going, but had a hard time finding the right setting for it. When Alex and I started the Shakedown we saw it as just an experiment to see if it would work. Its popularity has continued to grow since. Ekta Singh (DJ E) joined last fall. She has been a close friend of mine since we worked together in the SGPS.” Last Saturday’s Soul Shakedown was DJ’ed by Moorsom and Singh, as well as Brennan Mercer and Avi Grand—Nuphonic and DJ Grenadier respectively. The party raised funds for CFRC, and previous Soul Shakedowns have raised funds many organizations, including QCRED, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and Bob Lovelace’s defence—a dance vision that clearly touches upon local and socially aware initiatives.

Despite a few technical problems, the night was a success.

“The crowd is always really gracious about [the technical difficulties]. People are happy, and they don’t seem to mind when mistakes occur,” he said.

This speaks strongly to the nature of the Soul Shakedown. Attending it, it’s clear that everyone was so laid-back that technical problems were completely trivial. This accepting, easygoing attitude is Soul Shakedown’s specialty. You can go for the politics, for the music—or both—and keep dancing in Kingston for years to come.

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