Irie jamming with Cali B

Observer senior writer

Sunday, April 15, 2018

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This is the second in a 10-part series on Jamaicans who have made their mark on North American radio.

Most Thursdays, Calvin Barrett takes time out to select the songs he will play on his weekly radio gig, or in one of the clubs where he works as a selector on the weekends.

Known in music circles as Cali B, he co-hosts two programmes on Irie Jam Radio on Fridays with veteran DJ Jabba and Markus of Platinum Kids. The first, with Jabba, is a four-hour marathon that starts at 4:00 pm, while the second alongside Markus, begins immediately after and runs for one hour.

The Irie Jam show is Barrett's only radio assignments in 14 years on the airwaves. Since those early years at the Queens, New York station, his playlist has pretty much been the same.

“Our show is meant to be entertaining. Irie Jam on Fridays is supposed to get you ready for the weekend. You get to hear some music that is new and retro while stuck in traffic or on your way home from work,” Barrett explained. “I don't like to have a set playlist; I usually just dig up some music either from the '80s or '90s and early 2000s to start with, then later on in the show you get to hear what's new and hot in the streets of reggae, dancehall, and soca. I like to play music that you haven't heard in a while, then play what's hot and what's new,” he added

The lion's share of songs on the shows are from Jamaica. Barrett said he is saturated with music from artistes, producers and managers daily, looking to break their songs in the competitive New York scene. It is something many of his predecessors and contemporaries have experienced since the 1980s.

New York disc jockeys like Jabba and Bobby Konders were responsible for exposing hardcore dancehall music from Jamaica to the Big Apple in the 1990s when they co-hosted a show on Hot 97 FM. Barrett is aware of his potential to 'bus' a song or artiste but stressed that it has never been a priority.

“It's not about who plays it first or who plays it the most. At the end of the day, it's what kind of awareness you can bring to others about the record. There's no reward for breaking a record unless you are getting paid to do so,” he noted. “But, if a record is hot and you as the DJ plays it first, and breaks the record on radio and in the clubs then one can say you are responsible for that record.”

Barrett was born in Toronto, Canada to Jamaican parents from Manchester and Spanish Town. He has lived in the United States for over 30 years, but absorbed Jamaican culture growing up in New York through family ties. He was offered an on-air slot on Irie Jam in 2004 after learning the ropes as an intern.

When not on Irie Jam, he 'spins' music in New York City clubs, and has tried his hand at music production.

The key to being a good disc jockey, he said, is keeping current.

“I try my best to listen to most (songs he receives) and organise what I want to play on the radio or in the club. There's new music constantly coming out, so I try my best to stay on top of what's hot, what records need to be broken, what deserves to be heard, or what's not hot.”

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