The night of Sunday, April 18, 2004 will be a milestone for DJ and promoter, Yaro Ayam-Ephram “DJ Smoky” DeSmidt. His Sunday club night, “King of Kings” at Berkeley’s Shattuck Down Low Lounge began two years ago as a grassroots effort, bringing together DJs and fans who loved reggae and dancehall music and culture. The Sunday night event has grown into an East Bay staple, consistently solid week after week, thanks to DJ Smoky’s hard work and determination.
When I spoke to the busy DJ, he smiled broadly when I asked him what was planned for the two-year anniversary celebration. The April 18 event will showcase Jamaica’s talented dancehall deejay Determine, who is flying in specifically for the event. The night also appreciates the many selectors who have helped make the club night a success for the past two years. The DJ roster includes some of the best local reggae and dancehall DJs in the area: Rolo 1-3, King Corrin, Doogie, Mr. E., DJ De, Papa Joe, Jah Yzer, Ubald, Ivier, Irie Dole, and of course, resident DJ Smoky himself. “I want to give each selector a 20-minute set, because they have each, in their own way, helped make the club what it is today,” says the enthusiastic promoter, “I feel a real DJ fraternity strength–these DJs are family to me and King of Kings would be nothing without them,” confides Smoky.
In the volatile club world, it is not often that a club makes it to a two-year birthday. Putting on a weekly party is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears often involving months where only a handful of people show up in a night. “I remember in the beginning,” recalls Smoky, “I roughed through empty dance floors and barely paying DJs that first year. There were many Sunday nights at 3 a.m. that I lost motivation, but me and the DJs just kept grinding it out and now, from what all the DJs tell me, it’s their favorite dance in the Bay!” DJ Irie Dole agrees, and remembers those times as well, “King of Kings is one of my favorite parties, not only to spin at, but also to have a good time. Smoky created that and maintained that night, even through the slim times.”
Clearly it’s a labor of love for the 32-year-old promoter. The cover charge on a regular night is $5 for women, and $7 for men. The low price gives everyone an opportunity to come and have a nice time. “I think King of Kings is doing great things for the reggae community because they are putting on quality shows and events regularly,” says Lustre Kings’ record label owner and selector Corrin Haskell, “They are well promoted and thus well attended and everybody involved always feels satisfied when it’s complete.” DJ Mr. E adds, “It is a breath of fresh air when you see a movement develop in your community that is NOT influenced by money or greed but rather by love, community, and culture.”
Smoky’s character does not go unnoticed in the community. He is known as being a very hard worker. DJ Jah Yzer remarks, “Smoky’s a fan of the music; that makes a big difference. Lustre Kings’ Corrin adds, “Smoky is not spacey and lazy with his works. I get along well with him because there is a group of us younger people who are very motivated to push the works out here in Cali (Lustre Kings with our label, Ivier with his store Wisdom Records, Smoky as a promoter, Jahworks.org, etc.). The artists that we work with are also on the rise; basically it’s just us coming together and organizing for the future of reggae in this part of the world,” he says.
“Determine’s a prankster!” Smoky smiles mischievously, “I love that about him!” This Determine show admittedly hits very close to home for the promoter, “I stayed with Determine, his wife Paula and baby boy Runkus in Jamaica in 1997. He had just come out with his biggest hit ‘Kette Drum’ with Beenie Man… Now Determine sells out shows in Jamaica and all over the east coast. He’s got so many big tunes that people hear every night in the dance, but most don’t know who he is. So we decided bringing him out for the King of Kings two year anniversary would be perfect. I think it’s gonna be a real treat.”
Smoky has locked in a few other dates to help pay for the cost of bringing Determine here. The artist will perform in Los Angeles on Friday April 23, in Long Beach on Saturday April 24, and in San Diego on Sunday April 25. Jah Yzer comments on all the guest artists Smoky has brought in the past, “Don Carlos, Sister Carol, Shinehead, Rankin Joe and Phillip Fraser–what more you want? Determine 4/18/04 ? Okay, you got it!”
Smoky doesn’t intend to slow down any time soon, “The future will consist of the same reliable recipe so people can come dance the night away. I want King of Kings to be on a level that we don’t even need to put a flyer or email out and people just show up because they know it’s gonna be nice.” Currently, he is working on bringing Cutty Ranks out in mid-May.
The two-year anniversary will take place Sunday night, April 18 at the Shattuck Down Low Lounge, 2284 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley, from 9pm until 2am. 21 & over with ID. $12 before 11pm and $15 after. For more info, call the Kings line at 888-491-0306. If any sound systems in the area need dub plates, Determine will be available in the Bay Area between April 19-April 22.