Gabrielle Kwarteng is an award-winning DJ based here in Brooklyn, NY. Soul, funk, and disco are her areas of expertise and she seriously knows how to make you forget about your troubles and transport you to a nightclub in the '70s. I was lucky enough to ask her a few questions about her musical background and experiences breaking into the DJ scene.
Gabrielle, you’ve been DJing professionally all over NYC for a few years now. First off, how did you first get into records?
Admittedly, I didn’t begin DJing with vinyl. I had amassed a digital library of over 10,000 songs and felt more confident jumping into DJing with that library. I’ve been collecting records for some years now, but initially it was just for my own listening purposes. I’d come across so many venues where DJs were just playing off of their laptops or on CDJS, so I naively believed that spinning analog was waning. But I always felt this jolt, this rush whenever I found a track that I loved on wax. That feeling is incomparable. So it was only a natural progression for me that I’d return to the OG form of DJing. I only recently began spinning vinyl outside of the comfort of my apartment this past year. I believe it’s the highest homage every self-proclaimed DJ can pay to the art form.
Were there any female figures in your life that inspired you musically?
Oh, God, that list would be endless. As a female DJ, especially a black female DJ, I have to acknowledge that I wouldn't have this profession without the countless female soul, funk, disco, and house singers and musicians who paved the path for artists today. I'd definitely say my top three queens are Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, and Sade — mind you, I have no singing ability… without shower acoustics. These women have some of the most phenomenal discographies to date. And not to mention Chaka Khan and Sade were the sole frontwomen of what would have otherwise been all-male bands. And for Chaka, that was during the '70s. Despite the strides we know women's rights took then with the peak of the sexual revolution in the '60s and music genres like disco, funk, and rock'n'roll allowing women to express these newfound liberations, we have to also acknowledge that it couldn't have been easy. Only a handful of women were lucky to be in that position.
How has your taste in music changed over the years?
My taste has dramatically shifted as I've embraced the old soul I've always known I had, which explains my strong connection to funk, disco, and house. I'm definitely not interested in playing music that doesn't send out positivity and isn't all around feel-good music. Music that vibrates the higher chakras, especially the heart chakra. Admittedly, I did the opposite years ago when I was DJing in college. And I don't regret it or knock anyone for playing what they play – to each their own. But when you look at the biggest hits in music history, they're either about love or heartbreak. Those are the songs that stand against time. Whitney Houston's rendition of Dolly Parton's, "I Will Always Love You" immediately comes to mind. I guarantee that song will forever be a classic and you can't fake the power in that type of message.
Are there certain records that are timeless?
I always find this question a bit difficult to answer because there are just so many timeless tunes. I would say every anything off of Michael Jackson's discography. He was one of the most inspiring artists to ever live. Pointer Sisters "Automatic" and Alicia Myers "I Want To Thank You" are two records that without fail will result in people stopping mid-conversation to join the dance floor.
As a woman in a typically male dominated field, how do you feel this has shaped your outlook and experiences in the DJ world?
It’s definitely been an eye-opener experience facing the sexism that continues to occur today. Men don’t even realize that their back-handed compliments are sexist. “You DJ really good for a girl.” “Oh, I didn’t know girls knew how to DJ.” You’d be surprised at what some guys have said. One guy jokingly asked if I was actually spinning vinyl or if my turntables were connected to an iPod. A joke I don’t think he would’ve delivered to a male DJ. And because DJing was initially male-dominated for decades, it sometimes feels as if women DJs are still viewed as the underdogs and have to prove themselves a little more. But I’ve also met and know that there are a lot of men who simply respect DJs based on their merit, irrespective of their gender. And I have faith as a society, we’ll eventually arrive at the point where a woman DJ is just a DJ and not a “girl who’s really good at DJing.”
Do you have any advice for young artists, specifically DJs who are trying to make it?
Have faith that your hard work will find its due and pay off. Passion and drive combined will take you a very long way, and it’s a huge plus having a strong support system beside you. It’s important to surround yourself around like-minded individuals who share common goals that should hopefully point towards being the best version of yourself.
Photos: Gabrielle's Instagram
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