Nearly two years ago, news that Superstar DJ Keoki had moved to Denver created a splash. And why not? As noted in a previous Westword profile ("DJ Keoki, Superstar," July 18, 1996), Keoki's Disco 2000 night at New York City's Limelight nightclub made him a national figure, and the recordings he put together for Los Angeles's Moonshine imprint only enhanced his image. Having such an artist in Colorado seemed guaranteed to enliven the local scene.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the turntable. For someone who supposedly lived here, Keoki wasn't around very much. He was absent for such long stretches that most people figured he had put down roots elsewhere. The truth is a bit more complicated than that. Keoki continues to live in the Denver area; he's finally found a house that he likes, and he hopes to close on it in the near future. But he also has an apartment in New York, and he's been spending a significant amount of time in half a dozen other places, including Los Angeles. When I finally tracked him down at an L.A. studio, where he was putting the finishing touches on Inevitable Alien Nation, a new mix CD that's due in stores within the next several weeks, even he had trouble remembering all the places he's hung his hat of late.
"I've been doing the album--we've got a photo shoot tonight--and I've been coming to Denver a lot," he says. "I'm also doing a gig every six weeks in Florida, one in Atlanta every five weeks or so, and one in San Francisco about once a month. I'm looking to set up a residency in New Orleans, and there's a good chance I'll have something going in L.A. before long. It's just a couple of hours from Denver, so it'd be nice to do shows there and then fly to Colorado to clear my head."
Keoki continues to sing the praises of the state we're in. "Denver's up and coming; it's just booming right now," he enthuses. "There's so much youth around there, what with all the colleges. I was in Boulder recently, and I was amazed at the pent-up sort of art and feeling that you get from these kids. They're all really free spirits, and they made me feel that way, too. My creative energy is always uplifted when I come back to Denver. I don't know if it's the air or being around my family [his brother is a Denverite] or what it is, but I feel it on a daily level, and it has an effect on my music."
At the same time, Keoki acknowledges frustration over some of the attitudes he's encountered while headlining Wednesdays and Thursdays at Tracks 2000, the club that's become his Denver base of operations. "There's a perception that Tracks is a gay club, so some people have been uncomfortable coming there," he concedes. "But to me, music crosses borders, and the more I've played there, the better things have gotten. I see a curiosity, an open-mindedness that's growing in Denver. And I've been blown away by the vibe I've been seeing on the all-ages nights I've done. It's like the kids don't want to drink, and they don't want to do drugs--they just want to come in and dance."
The actual number of people attending these parties keeps growing, but not as quickly as Keoki would like--and the reason, he believes, is his inconsistency. "I missed a couple of gigs, and the kids were just over it," he concedes. "They were like, 'He's not going to show up. He's not coming.' So I had to keep up with my responsibilities week after week to prove myself back to them. I'm trying to do a better job of it."
"Trying" is the operative word. Keoki hasn't been able to make weekly stops here for a while because of the new album. He describes the disc as "a mix of all the different drum tracks that are coming out right now, from speed garage to trip-hop to jungle to intelligent reggae to liquid beats to hardcore breakbeats to whatever. I'm not one for labels, so I'm tying all these styles together to show that even though every one of them is its own thing, they're all coming from the same place."
A CD-release party at which Keoki will appear is likely to take place at Tracks 2000 in late March or early April; the schedule is up in the air at present. But as busy as Keoki is, he's still looking for new ways to express his creativity. After making an appearance on KTCL-FM/93.3 to debut his latest single, "Me," he's been thinking about the possibility of helming a regular radio program. "I've always wanted to do radio," he says. "I think it's a really cool way to get music across. I'd like to do a syndicated show that could air across the country, and if I do, I'll do it in Denver."
If he can stick around long enough, that is.
On Saturday, March 14, at the Holiday Inn-DIA, I-70 and Chambers Road, Manuel Molina headlines Carnival '98, his fifth annual late-winter bash. A native of Peru who's lived in Colorado since the Seventies, Molina is still amazed that the performance has gone from being a one-time party to a local tradition in such a relatively short period of time. "My idea was to do an international event in Denver," he says. "Because if I went to one event with black music, I would only see black people. And if I would go to a white event, I'd only see white people. So I decided to do something that had a Latin flavor but that would appeal to everyone. And it has. At our first event, we were just hoping to get 600 people. But last year we had 3,000, and this year we're expecting 5,000."
The challenge for Molina is to keep improving the Carnival, and he's assembled an enormous ensemble of singers and musicians this year, including John Davis, the director of the jazz department at Colorado State University, who has pledged his services as lead trumpeter and overseer of the horn section. Several other instrumentalists are traveling from Los Angeles and other far-flung locales to participate in the gig. "The quality is very high," Molina boasts. "We have fantastic players in Colorado, and along with some of the other people who are coming in especially for the show, they'll make music that is beyond language. I always tell people, it's okay if you don't know how to dance, because the rhythm is going to get you. And that's what happens. You see people jumping and dancing, and they don't feel weird. It's the magic of the Carnival; they dance because they have to."
More information can be gleaned by calling 366-5087. But the most important thing to know, according to Molina, is that "you don't need a passport to get into this event. It's for everybody."
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On Friday, March 13, the punks from Babihed will reunite at Cricket on the Hill for what member Bill Houston describes as a "fire-sale show." Explains Houston: "Basically, we just want to sell all of the old stuff that we have."
Bring cash. On Thursday, March 12, Rakim headlines the show of the week at the Ogden Theatre; Irie Still, from New Mexico, spreads dread for the first of three nights at Jimmy's Grille; Agents of Good Roots go undercover at Herman's Hideaway; and Phantasmorgasm gets a dose of Concentrated Evil at the Market Street Lounge. On Friday, March 13, Nomos, a first-rate Celtic act, drops by the Bluebird Theater; Harmania, a regional finalist in the annual Harmony Sweepstakes, sounds off at Tryllions Cafe in Boulder; the Young Dubliners begin a two-night run at the Blake Street Baseball Club, with the Indulgers; Pigface and Scorn bring their happy-go-lucky sound to the Aztlan Theatre; and Brethren Fast celebrates the release of its new CD--again--at 'Round Midnight. On Saturday, March 14, the Creative Music Works Orchestra, featuring Ron Miles and Hugh Ragin, surveys the music of Count Basie and Thad Jones at the Houston Fine Arts Center; Nina Storey is an open book at the Bluebird; and Vermont's Strangefolk is up to something Phishy at the Boulder Theater. On Sunday, March 15, Lyric, which includes former Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine, debuts Chocolate Soup, a new CD, at the Soiled Dove. On Monday, March 16, Gov't Mule kicks at the Fox Theatre, and South Carolina's Seconds Flat joins the Dalhart Imperials at the Bluebird. On Tuesday, March 17, the 15th Street Tavern celebrates St. Patrick's Day with Zen Guerilla. And on Wednesday, March 18, Wendy Woo goes to Herman's, and Wash scrubs up at the Lion's Lair, with Moot. A clean body is a healthy body.