SPOTLIGHT SERIES | Zuki on the Job of the DJ, Peanut Butter and JAMS, and House Party Beginnings

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Welcome to Spotlight Series, a monthly feature shining a light on emerging local music makers in the stellar music community in Manitoba. Come back every month for a new interview!

By Graeme Houssin

Winnipeg-based DJ and producer Zuki’s first introduction to live DJing was the infamous – and  notoriously particular – house party circuit. 

As a teen and a young adult, he was always “the music guy” of his friend circles, handling music for smaller gatherings, something he still describes as “high pressure.” 

“I realized very early on that as a DJ, you’re playing for the people – you are doing a service to whoever’s there to enjoy the vibe or have a good time,” Zuki says. 

“House parties are a great place [to learn] that because most of the time you’re in close contact with the dance floor, and then it’s usually someone you know or your friends. Friends will let you know how they feel, and it’s often much tougher to play a house party, even in my years of playing, than it is to play a bar.”

The lessons he learned DJing house parties still inform his approach to the practice. The house party-ethos of entertaining at all costs still holds – but that doesn’t mean playing the expected tracks over and over verbatim. Zuki blends together his wide range of influences, including hip hop, funk, dancehall, Afrobeat and more, to create a wholly new sound.

“Every time I got a chance to play, I always wanted to introduce a new sound, a new melody,” Zuki says. 

Before moving to Winnipeg at age 20, Zuki lived all over the world, including Nigeria, Switzerland, and Russia. At the time, he didn’t expect to stay much longer than the four years necessary to earn his economics degree from the University of Winnipeg.

“Every time I got a chance to play, I always wanted to introduce a new sound, a new melody,” Zuki says. 

“To be absolutely honest, I wasn’t planning on sticking around – I was like, you know, I’m going to do this university thing and I’m gonna be out of here,” Zuki says, “but it caught my heart and I couldn’t bid it adieu.”

The music and arts scene in particular held Zuki’s attention, and it wasn’t long until the up-and-coming DJ was playing shows and booking gigs with artist friends – including his first headlining show with frequent collaborator and local hip hop artist Anthony OKS in the early ‘10s. By 2013, the duo held their first residency, a weekly gig at Bar Italia on Corydon called Peanut Butter Thursdays.

“It was an opportunity to play consistently and frequently,” says Zuki, “and that was a great place to really feel out what I wanted to be as a DJ and what kind of music I wanted to perform, and really see what it’s like to rock a crowd.”

Peanut Butter Thursdays continued for over six years. Around the same time, the duo found another home for their music: JAMS, a recurring party first held at Union Sound Hall (and then briefly at The Good Will Social Club). 

Last year the JAMS Collective reunited for a run of First Friday Afterparties at The Tallest Poppy – a stint cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Increased regulations and the closing of music venues forced Zuki to shift from performing to creating and finding new ways to share music with friends and fans. He’s especially leaned in to his two-and-a-half year project, Zuki’s Gumbo, a monthly playlist series that he began curating in November 2018 to help spotlight DJ mixes and share his breadth of inspirations. 

The slower pace of life during COVID has also pushed the DJ and producer in another direction. Sometime in the future, Zuki plans to release a “solid collection” of music he’s created over the past two years, perhaps as an EP.

“It’s great to be at home and practice and do all that, but it’s not the same seeing someone get up off their seat and shuffle over to the dance floor, grab a drink or pull a friend over, and really feel the energy of the people out there,” he says. “I’m most excited just to be out performing and DJing again.”

Keep an eye on Zuki’s SoundCloud page for new flips and original tracks, and tune in to Zuki’s Gumbo every month on Spotify and Apple Music, and watch his MB Live Sessions video.

Graeme Houssin is a freelance music journalist, beadwork artist, and dabbler in many creative arenas, as well as a proud citizen of the Métis Nation. They are the founder of Drag in the Peg, a podcast series celebrating Winnipeg's drag community.

Zuki · CJ - Burnin' Tha Whoopty

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