Countdown to Carnival: Q+A with Soca Juggling King DJ Zack

Words by Rishi Bonneville

As we head towards the West Indian American Day Parade in Brooklyn on Monday, LargeUp’s Rishi Bonneville is taking us on a tour across the boroughs and island, spotlighting the personalities behind the madness that is Labor Day Weekend in NYC.

Labor Day Monday on Eastern Parkway draws Caribbean people from across all boroughs of New York City. But in the festive summer build-up prior to the pageantry on the road, folks from neighborhoods like Crown Heights, Canarsie, South Ozone Park and St. Albans gather nearer to their homes, often in affinity groups based around their island of origin. While each community has its celebrity DJs, specializing in mixing American hits with styles like zouk, soca, chutney, and merengue de calle, few NYC DJs cross through niches and successfully navigate the politics of each sub-scene. One person who does is Brooklyn-born Guyanese selector Zack Mangru aka DJ Zack. Raised in the dancehall scene of East Flatbush, he is now ubiquitous in the very insular Richmond Hill, Queens soca and chutney world. Before he flies down for Jabba Strikes Back during Miami Carnival in late September, he first must survive seven parties (including a Machel Montano show) in three boroughs during five days of Labor Day madness, starting tonight. Large Up caught with the man known as “The Juggling King” as he prepared his devastating playlist of dancehall, soca and chutney for this week.

LargeUp: How did you get into playing music?
DJ Zack: I was born and raised in East Flatbush. My father had turntables at the house but all he used to listen to was Indian film music, like Rafi. One day, when I was 12 or 13, I stopped by Beat Street and decided to buy a record. I bought Beenie Man’s “Memories” and B.I.G’s “One More Chance.” I played on the turntables during my sister’s sweet sixteen party, and I was hooked. I taught myself everything from there. In school I met my friend Llyod, who had a sound called Fourplay. I was playing under Blackstone International. We used to go buy records together, at Jah Life on Avenue D, Superpower on Church, everywhere. We started playing together as Fourplay International.

LU: When did you start playing out?
DZ: We got a few gigs at that time, mostly in Brooklyn with local artists who were trying to promote themselves. We also played at Club Tobago in Queens. In 2004, when I was going to City Tech, I got a call that CPAC needed someone to play some soca for their new Friday party. I was mostly playing dancehall, but I had some soca. I went down and mashed it up and they hired me for every Friday. Young Chow, Noah, Magic, all those guys were down there at that time.

LU: CPAC has a rep for being a rough spot. Did you have any crazy experiences?
DZ: It’s on a dead end so people have this attitude “one way in, one way out.” It wasn’t so bad. But I do remember one night that was crazy. Twelve fights broke out at once. When security finally got every outside, dudes came running back inside with burners. We were on stage all mashed up against the wall trying to blend in.

LU: How did you break into the Queens scene?
DZ: In 2007 there was a promoter Bones, who had a “Myspace” party—that’s when Myspace was popping. He booked me, I came and tore it down. That opened up a lot of people’s eyes. Around that time, I also linked back up with my Flatbush people DJ Maya and Micro Don for a big Mavado show at Tobago booked by Kronicle Movements. After that, different promoters at Tobago started using me every week. In 2008, I came to Maracas and jumped on the mic, just vibing. The owner was in house and was feeling my energy. I started playing every Sunday at their other spot, Moka NYC.

LU: Tell me about Team Magnum.
DZ: Team Magnum is made up of the founder DJ Speedy, DJ Rah Rah, Echo, Kamikaze, and me. I’ve learned a lot from all those guys, they know music and are great promoters. I remember asking Speedy, after seeing them around for a while, when they were going to put me down. He said, “It’s funny you asked, we actually wanted to ask you, but didn’t know how.” Moka NYC, Maracas Bay, Club Tobago, Level/Ultra—we’re heavy in all these Queens clubs. And we’ll be in Viva, which is just opening. Rah Rah and I were supposed to do a Chutney vs Soca party at SOBs before Irene washed us out. I also have my own soundsystem, Blackheart International.

LargeUp: Has working with these guys has upped your chutney game?
DZ: Definitely. I started out as a dancehall selector. At CPAC I went heavy into the soca. Working with Rah Rah and these guys has made me step up my chutney game.

LU: You played D-Life’s birthday party last year in Club Nocturnal. How did you link up with him?
DZ: I think we first played together at the old Parrot. We’ve been seeing each other around for a while. I’m very humble, and cool with big selectors like D-Life and Massive B. I get all the blasts for D’s parties, and one day I hit him back like “How do I get on the bill for your birthday party?” I didn’t hear directly back, but our common friend Jennifer Morafire called me up and said he had just asked about me, and was thinking to book me. Recently D hit me up and said Jabba wanted to speak with me about Jabba Strikes Back in Miami. So working with him has been a great experience.

LU: You are booked from Wednesday through Sunday. What are you going to do Labor Day Monday?
DZ: Find a spot, sit down with a cooler, my friends and my girl and take it all in. It’s a reminder of how great it is to live in Brooklyn.

DJ Zack Labor Day Week Itinerary:

Wednesday, 8/31 @ Tic Tavern, 125-17 Rockaway Blvd., Ozone Park, Queens, w/ DJ Speedy
Thursday, 9/1, @Shipwreck, 120-06 Rockaway Blvd., Ozone Park, Queens, w/Backyard Sounds
Friday, 9/2, @ Moka NYC, 130-35 91st Ave., Richmond Hill, Queens, w/ Kerry the Drummer
Saturday 9/3, @ Maracas, 121-08 Jamaica Ave., Richmond Hill, Queens, w/ Machel Montano
Saturday 9/3 @ SOBs, 204 Varick St., Manhattan, w/ Easy Sounds
Sunday 9/4 @ Moka NYC, 130-35 91st Ave., Richmond Hill, Queens, w/ DJ Rah Rah