Tasha Rozez photographed by Kathryn Gaitens at Sunny Diamond Factory Studio • Stylist - Mia at Maximum Exposure
GUNZ’N’ROZEZ at Northern Tropics (880 Ellesmere), Saturday (July 31). $15 advance. 647-281-0432.
GUNZ’N’ROZEZ with DJ KENNY, DJ WIZ, TOUGH KNOXXS, MYSTIC SOUND and more, Banquet Hall (1199 Kennedy), Sunday (August 1). $35. 647-209-5179.
TASHA ROZEZ as part of a panel discussion on QUEENS OF SOUND: A HERSTORY OF REGGAE AND DANCEHALL at Harbourfront Centre’s Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West), Sunday (August 1), 6:50 pm (film screening 5:35 pm). Free. 416-973-4000, harbourfrontcentre.com.
Sugar Lounge is a Jamaican take-out spot in Scarborough that doubles as a dance hall. Tuesday nights, it hosts an event called Fight Club.
"You don't know what's happening and who's going to be there. You don't know who's going to throw the first punch," says Tasha Rozez.
The one-woman sound crew isn't speaking literally, thankfully. In this case, a punch instigates a reggae battle of epic proportions known as a soundclash.
In this contest between DJ teams, the winning group gets the party the most crunk with a relentless combination of hot records and vigorous MCing blaring from a wall of speakers. If there's anyone equipped to win such a war, it's Rozez.
Over the past 15 years, she's demonstrated this at home and abroad, whether decimating clubs in Toronto, Budapest or Tokyo's hip Shibuya district. Rozez established her champion sound rep internationally in 2002, the year she won the first-ever female world clash in Houston, Texas.
She attributes her success to a few things, but mainly to her ammunition - a diverse collection of dubplates (expensive personalized versions of songs recorded by big-name dancehall artists like Sizzla, Movado and Bounty Killer) - and to the fact that she runs her Gunz'N'Rozez sound system completely on her own. Traditionally, one person has his own function; at least one dude's on the mic, someone else is on the mixer, there's a selector, an engineer and so on.
"I'm not a 10-man-deep entourage like some of these guys," Rozez says, prepping for gigs Saturday and Sunday (July 31 and August 1). "Some sounds have four, five, six, seven men, which is that many more hands, that many more pockets. The money is a lot more than mine, and the energy is a lot more than mine. I'm also battling guys who've been playing sounds, like, 10 years before me."
Emphasis on the words "guys" and "men." As a female DJ in her genre, she's exceptional. A product of reggae culture, sound system culture is about as male-dominated as major-league baseball or the mining industry. Rozez acknowledges this with matter-of-fact nonchalance.
"When it comes to dancehall and reggae, the female role is normally the dancer or the showgirl," says Rozez, who discusses the topic Sunday (August 1) alongside Queen Ifrica (see sidebar) and others at Harbourfront Centre's panel on women in reggae. "Nothing is wrong with that, but my thing was just more to be behind the scenes."
While she maintains that her priority is "killing a sound," she admits that her femininity definitely plays a part in what she does, adding a dynamic to her career that men don't really have to consider.
"If I don't look good, that's a problem," she says. "So sometimes you're like, ‘Oh my god, I'm booked all weekend - my face is gonna look like shit.' And I can't go home and sleep all day. I have a kid. I have things to do."
Her daughter is a basketball star, an honour roll student and a clear point of pride.
"That doesn't happen by me sleeping all day."
Rozez picked up running a sound while participating in the now-legendary Fresh Arts program of the mid-90s (funded by Jobs Ontario Youth, and axed by Mike Harris's "Common Sense Revolution"), the youth initiative responsible for honing the talents of Kardinal Offishall, Jully Black and Saukrates, among others.
(The province should really consider reviving that program, since the majority of Toronto hip-hop artists don't have access to a studio).
It was at Fresh Arts that Rozez first met local reggae star Lindo P, the father of her daughter (she's not a fan of the term "baby daddy"), whose influence helped spark her interest in what ultimately became her career.
She was also tired of hearing that she wasn't in touch with her Jamaican roots - that she "had no soul" - so she started to do her research. While at Fresh Arts, Rozez initially concentrated on singing and drama, but she also started schooling herself in using the equipment of her peers.
"When they were finished making a mix CD or playing around on the turntables and I didn't feel like going out with them on the weekend again, I'd mess around. I started to like it," she says.
Cut to the 21st century, when playing in clubs around the city led to two major European tours. She's spread the dancehall fire throughout Germany and in Vienna, and played at Belgium's prestigious Brussels Town Hall, where a promoter had to warn her that the police might shut down the show because her type of music had never been played there before.
At the same time, she established connections with the world's most prominent dancehall musicians, many of whom have cut exclusive dubplates for her. Rozez is affiliated with The Alliance, a DJ union founded by Bounty Killer, who will be her collaborator on some mixes this year; her latest self-released tape, the 74-track Ting A Shot, dropped in early July.
Ironically, after going intercontinental, she now thinks Jamaica should be more in touch with reggae's global ascendancy.
"People there don't even realize how well-loved this music is everywhere," she says.
And after years of witnessing folks' passion overseas for the genre in its purest form, she's grown weary of its token, almost novelty status back home. As a strictly dancehall DJ, she finds it kind of disrespectful when hip-hop DJs garnish their sets with a splash of dancehall.
"It's so funny - you go to a club, and as soon as it gets boring, what do they throw on? Reggae," she observes. "The newest song just came out and the man has it already and he's a hip-hop DJ. And he's playing it in his set. Like, you have the balls to be playing it in your set and I'm standing right next to you.
"They're using it like a gimmick. It's like how they taboo heavy metal. They want to put a stigma on reggae music, but at the same time, it's the music that's taking over the world."
Tasha explains how she got into DJ culture
In her line of work, you've got to make some sacrifices, Tasha says
For a few reasons, the soundclash industry is not what it used to be