Dubai's number one DJ

We speak to Charl Chaka, winner of a shiny new Nightlife Award


A mainstay of Dubai’s music scene for nearly a decade, Charl Chaka’s CV can be rivalled by very few of the region’s DJs. He’s rocked festival crowds at Sandance and Abu Dhabi’s Creamfields, shared a stage with the likes of Armand van Helden, Fatboy Slim and Jamiroquai, and hosted the popular Rhythm Factory show on Radio 1 Middle East. Originally from South Africa, Charl has gigged as far away as Ibiza and Miami. He rates his own greatest achievements as supplying a mix to San Francisco’s OM Records, which became half of double album OM:Dubai, and co-founding local promoters Infusion. And the 33-year-old South African’s latest achievement? Last week he was named Best Local DJ at the Time Out Dubai Nightlife Awards.

Describe your sound.
Sound-wise it’s good old fashioned ‘four to the floor’ house music that still moves me – all different shapes and flavours of deep, tech, funk and afro.

Who’s influenced you?
I grew up in a house with music being played all the time. My parents definitely influenced me the most. They would always have friends coming around jamming at our place around the barbecue, a proper house party. I would be there in the corner jamming away on my stick and can, playing [makeshift] ‘drums’.

What’s your first musical memory?
The first music memory I have is playing on a tape deck, playing the tape on one side and trying to mix the other tape deck in time with the song, messing around with the buttons. Pretty much for the whole of my high-school career I bought vinyl and tried to mix on the two-hand old belt-driven turntables.

What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you?
I’ve had people come up to me and ask for my signature or have their photo taken with me. Bizarre.

And your greatest fear?
Losing my hearing. The day I’m not able to listen to music anymore will make life really pointless.

Who’s the best DJ in Dubai?
[Laughs] Like I’m going to answer that. Let’s just say there are DJs in Dubai that are world class. The industry heads know who they are.

And in the world?
This is like asking what your favourite food is. I can tell you this for sure: it’s not Tiësto! I’m feeling the groove of the likes of Derrick Carter, Mark Farina, DJ Heather, Joris Voorn.

What needs to be done to improve the nightlife in Dubai?
I’ve been here for a good eight years now and have seen the Dubai nightlife industry grow from one small club to what it is today. There is so much variety and choice at the moment. Honestly, I think the people working in this industry are doing a great job. What really needs to change to improve nightlife is the state of radio play, as this is the only way to educate people. Besides the few specialist shows left on the air, the state of radio play is terrible. The only way to change people’s attitude towards music is to change the state of radio. Clubland is already doing its end of the job.

There’s a big divide between the house and R&B crowds – would you like to bring them together?
I have no urge to bring these crowds together. Don’t get me wrong, I love my urban. I’m a big hip-hop head and enjoy the best of them. You see what I don’t really understand is this divide. If you’re into music, you should be able to recognise a good hip-hop or house track and at least pick up the essence and vibe of the track. Music is music and people who have tunnel vision about ‘their’ precious genre still have a lot to learn.

What music do you love?
Again, that’s like asking what food you love. There are so many genres out there. To paraphrase DJ Greg Wilson, ‘all these are just labels, music is music’. It’s real simple for me actually. There are two kinds of music. Good music and bad music. So I enjoy all kinds of music, but only from the ‘good genre’ side. None of this manufactured radio pop that you hear on the radio these days. Music is life and who doesn’t love his own life right? Music is the one thing that can cross boarders and bring cultures together. You can travel to the other side of the world and enjoy the vibe with people you’ve never met before, united under the groove and vibe of music. It’s really spiritual when you feel that.’
Hear Charl Chaka play at Nasimi Beach, Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626) on Friday March 16 and Friday March 30. Both 5pm-2am. Free (ladies), Dhs50 (men 5pm-7pm), Dhs100 (men 7pm-onwards). Charl is also at The Music Room, Majestic Hotel Tower, Bur Dubai (056 799 6355) on Thursday March 29. Dhs100, 10pm-3am.

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