SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1For Tony Carrera, it all began with a mixtape. When you read the word "mixtape" don't visualize a CD burned from a computer with choice tracks. Imagine a cassette; those four-inch long plastic casings with spools of audio tape, loaded with a playlist sequenced and performed "live" by a DJ. Rare Equations was the tape, Cut Chemist was the DJ, the year was 1997 and Carrera was in love.
"I grew up on Rick James and The Gap Band, but I wasn't exposed to heavy funk and soul until then," said Carrera a.k.a. DJ Soul Fingaz.
The 32-year-old Tulsa transplant by way of Arizona immediately began showing symptoms. He went to see Cut Chemist perform a DJ set in Oklahoma City using only 7-inch vinyl singles, often called 45s. He went record shopping at music stores, thrift stores, and flea markets. He began collecting funk and soul albums and singles 'religiously'. He started a DJ duo with friend Rob Giger called The Wax Museum. Carrera had a problem. He was addicted to soul.
What It Is!
To name a genre something intangible like "soul" seems ridiculous--objectively speaking. But in its original incarnation, the blend of rhythm & blues with the emotional vocalizations of gospel and classic pop sensibilities can shake buildings. The origins of the genre lay in intensity, resonance, and evocation--the most gut wrenching of heartache, the most epiphanous of exultations. It was meant to move you.
And at its best the genre does move you. It reaches down into that intangible place in the listener and tells them when to move a hip with a rumble of bass, when to bend a knee by the crack of the snare drum, when to throw your hands in the air because the hi-hats say so.
"I just love the way people used to beg, scream, and proclaim, holler for their love," Carrera said.
For context, recall the way Aretha Franklin's voice cuts through the room on a track like "Think" or the vocalized desperation of Otis Redding on "Mr. Pitiful".
"Soul [music] touches a different nerve in you. It makes you want to get up and dance."
Where It At?
Carrera, as DJ Soul Fingaz, has been performing for house parties and bars almost as long as he has been collecting records.
But it hasn't been easy. The people of Tulsa have yet to really embrace the sub-culture and sounds that immediately appeal to him. Over the years he has played sets around Cherry Street and at places like The Marquee, often to deaf ears.
"You're taking a chance playing soul in Tulsa," he said describing the lack of response at some of places he has performed. "As far as I know, nobody wants to do this but me."
During the last year or so, however, he has found a more permanent venue at the Soundpony (409 N. Main)--a bar he is quick to praise for being supportive and having an open mind. DJ Soul Fingaz performs there monthly and will play on Christmas Day.
Another obstacle Carrera faces is general misconceptions about the music content of his soul nights. People are quick to assume he plays things like Thriller or Luther Vandross. But the breadth of his record collection is quite concise. At his soul nights, newly dubbed The Nitty Gritty for 2010, expect to hear artists like James Brown, Rufus Thomas, Alvin Cash and The Jackson 5; classic soul and funk artists of the '60s and '70s.
But the night isn't just an aural exploration of decades passed mixed with sweat. DJ Soul Fingaz tries to further the experience by nourishing the eyes as well as the ears. Taking a multimedia approach, he brings along things like a projector screening vintage footage of performers and dancers for atmosphere.
"Setting the mood is really important. When people are in the bar I don't want them to get away from it," said Carrera.
The quickly approaching New Year will find another outlet for The Nitty Gritty at the recently opened lounge Enso (104 S. Detroit) in addition to his Soundpony gigs. A soft opening performance is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 26 at the new location but the proper kickoff is slated for Jan. 30 next year Carrera said.
The contrast in atmosphere and clientele between the two bars excites Carrera. While the patrons of Soundpony are on the young side and often rambunctious, the audience at Enso is an older, more mature crowd. Primarily though he is anticipating having a whole new audience to convert. Regardless of who is dancing, the dancefloor just got a little more crowded and DJ Soul Fingaz' army of the devout is about to get a bit bigger.
Where Ya Been?
"I feel like I've always been into things that aren't popular," reflected Carrera while discussing the opposition facing the proliferation of his soul nights.
His sentiment as an outsider is understandable. For decades two of his other passions, tattooing and graffiti, were looked down upon and considered outright illegal by the state. But once Carrera abilities with a can of spray paint improved, he was hired as a commercial artist; his mural work can now be seen in places like El Guapo's Cantina and White Owl. And since 2006, tattoo parlors have been legalized in Oklahoma, allowing Carrera another channel of expression at Electric Eye Tattoo Mysterium.
The final item on his list is his soul nights.
"I feel like I'm trying to legalize soul," he said.
But he is a little serious, too. There are subtle parallels between opposition to his other callings and the up-hill battle that has been organizing soul nights. Much of it has to do with people being unwilling to step out of the comfy confines of mainstream cultural existence and let something else blossom, something foreign, something challenging, something unexpected.
Ultimately soul music is a unifier and Carrera knows this. So he just keeps trying. He believes in the power of its culture and its ability to bring people together in a celebratory manner. But more importantly people just want to dance. For Carrera, checking off the final item on his list is only a matter of time.
What It Do?
There are three prime activities that every soul DJ (disc jockeys who perform sets of solely 60s and 70s soul and funk music from the original vinyl) does to be good. First, one must hunt. These records don't find themselves and for provocateurs of soul and funk the more esoteric and obscure the track the better.
Secondly and most obvious, one must obtain. You can know as much about an album or song as anyone but if the record doesn't appear in your vinyl crate by the next gig then it doesn't matter. Carrera admits that his collection was lacking when he first started over ten years ago. "You need a big collection [of records]. You can only play the same J.B.'s record so many times."
As an addendum to the second rule, you must also be willing to pay. Carrera has once spent more than $600 securing a 7-inch single from Ebay by the obscure Chicago funk band Prophet and His Disciples.
Lastly and undoubtedly most important, the DJ must share. If a person is hoarding records in their home, they are collectors and nothing more.
A devout Soul DJ is part preacher and their records are their sermon; a tool to incite reactions and movements in the congregation. He or she lives for the energy in the room when the sharing of that message is taking place.
How Dis Go?
The "vinyl only" policy puts Carrera at odds with most if not all of the DJs in the Tulsa area. But he is okay with that. He recognizes that every DJ in town is just filling their own niches and trying to get people together.
"If I wasn't playing soul, I would use a laptop or whatever..." said Carrera. "But the rules have been set... you should play [the music] on the format it was created on. If it was made in analog play it on analog."
So purist must be placed lightly next to preacher, collector, and general master of ceremonies. But how many of these amazing little discs of wax and shellac exist? Isn't collecting obscure records antiquated like a bored dinosaur waiting to turn into petroleum? Carrera deflected such accusations like annoying flies.
"Not everything is digitized yet," he said, meaning that some of his favorite tracks never made it to CD or the iTunes store. He is also quick to espouse the uniqueness of soul as a genre. Many of the most sought after gems are not proper releases but in fact demos of bands putting 'all of their energy into three minutes'; band that were never heard from again.
"The fact that there is so much out there to discover and bring to the dance floor--that's exciting," he said.
Carrera holds a traditional stance on what a DJ really is harking back to the 1950s and the explosion of radio personalities and rock and roll. He believes a disc jockey as an on-air personality is not supposed to sell you fast food or Steven Seagal DVDs like their modern counter part, he is a taste-maker. He (or she) is the person sitting on a stack of records you have to hear. And he shares. That's what separates them from the average person listening.
"That's what makes a DJ a DJ, the records he has. That's what makes it special."
Surely Cut Chemist would say the same.
Share this article: