Toronto
4 min

For the love of music

But a little lust doesn't hurt

TUNED IN. DJs Verlia and Nikki Red have been a couple for five years; they're producing the Afro De Asia party with their good friend DJ Vashti. Credit: Paula Wilson

Verlia Stephens, her partner Nikki Red and their friend Vashti Ganga-Persad – aka DJs Verlia, Nikki Red and Vashti – are ladies with soulful grooves and mindful mixes. They have a lot to say about the spinster life in Toronto – the perks, the myths, the barriers and their plan to make us groove with their latest endeavor, Afro De Asia (think aphrodisia), coming up Sat, Jan 26 at the B-Side.



There is no disputing: These three DJs throw a hot party. They’ve been spinning at popular events for the last decade and selling out parties like Savour at the Mockingbird. And Nikki Red is currently a resident DJ at the Sunday girl night at Ciao Edie.



All three women got their start at CKLN (though Nikki remembers fondly her first gig being a gay youth dance in Ottawa in the early ’80s. “I would steal whatever of my father’s records that I actually thought were cool,” she says laughing).



Vashti got into DJing by accident, starting at CKLN as well. “I had no intention of getting into radio or DJing but I kinda fell into it. Now I can’t imagine not wanting to.” Her first musical dream involved being a drummer and “getting all the chicks that way.” She smiles.



Verlia came from a musical family and played a variety of instruments when she was a child. “When I came to Canada, it was too expensive to take classes. This is my way of staying involved.”



The trio speaks easily around each other; there’s a sense of solid history and intimate friendship. Nikki and Verlia have been partners for five years, and Vashti is a long time friend of both. She sincerely admires their relationship. “You hear about all these couples who get together and you hear about all this shit and drama,” says Vashit.



“I got into a relationship the exact same time that they got into a relationship and [mine] recently ended. And just seeing the kind of relationship that they have – that they’re not just lovers but they’re best friends – for me, it gives me faith. It’s not an illusion that’s never going to happen.



“I told them that the love I see between them, makes me feel really good.”



The three speak lovingly of early house parties where Nikki Red and Verlia spun. “One woman who had these monthly house parties for, in particular, black dykes,” says Verlia. “And I was the DJ. Nikki joined up and we’d have to bring all the equipment, speakers, everything. We’d be there from nine at night until seven in the morning.



“Those were great times. Then I had to stop, cause getting $60 a night, it was hard.”



There is a myth that DJs rake in the cash. Most DJs do it for the love of music. The rate averages around $200 a gig, depending on promoters, the cover and how long you spin for. “Sometimes you do double-takes when people tell you how much they want to pay you,” says Nikki Red. “It’s not worth it for me to even leave my house.



“Most people don’t break even, buying records is expensive. As much as I love it, it is work. If I just wanted to spin records I’d just invite my friends over. I think people need to be a little bit more respectful.”



And respect is an issue close to these women’s hearts. Let’s face it – the whores of vinyl are mostly men. For every 10 guys on the mic, you might see one woman setting her stage. “It’s a boy, male establishment,” says Verlia “I think sometimes there’s only a certain amount of slots for women DJs. It’s a lot more interchangeable if you’re a guy.”



Vashti agrees. “My experience has been: You go into the booth and you’re trying to DJ. And they [the boys] are standing there with their arms folded in front of you, like, ‘You’ve got that? On vinyl!’



“A couple of years ago at the Bamboo, I put a piece of vinyl on – and I guess it’s a very hard to find. A guy comes up, is standing there watching it go around, and he’s like, ‘I’ll give you $200 for that.’ I’m like, ‘No, why should I give it to you? I DJ too, this is my piece of vinyl.’



“They don’t grasp that you’re serious because they see that you’re just a girl. You’re a girl, and you’re a dyke and you’re spinning – and we’ve all experienced that.”



Another barrier is race. Chicks Dig It, a recent event that focused on local women DJs, overlooked all three women, despite their long-standing status in the scene. The three women DJs profiled on the cover of Eye for the event were all white. Verlia thinks this is because there is a clique that is happening.



“They were playing reggae, R’n’B, hip hop or house or jungle, and we’re not there? I question that. It pisses me off, to tell you the truth. There was one woman of colour [at Chicks Dig It] who’s a DJs girlfriend. She’s not been DJing for long. I mean no disrespect to her; she actually does some interesting stuff.



“And I can understand if it was only punk or heavy metal or something. But the music is hip-hop, reggae, and you don’t even think about asking Nikki – she’s very easy to find at CKLN – my question is how come?”



Verlia’s inquiries about protocol with Chicks Dig It organizers received no response. “I don’t know what you’re supposed to look like, how young you’re supposed to be. But it’s unfortunate, because we do a lot of stuff in this city and people appreciate it. If people didn’t like it, fine. But obviously people do.”



With Afro de Asia, the trio wants to bring back the feeling of those old house parties. Concieved while they were hanging out one night drinking martinis, they decided to be pro-active with their boredom. “We wanted to go to a place that was queer positive and fun. It wasn’t the end of the month so [the queer rock night] Vazaleen wasn’t around, ” says Nikki Red.



“Then we were like, ‘We need to organize something. We need a big party.



“There is nothing, especially for black women. I mean you can go to Manhattan on a Saturday – and I love my boys and all, but it’s all boys – or Pope Joan on Friday.”



“You’ll find a cluster of us and we’ll end up sticking together on the dance floor,” adds Vashti.



The name was something that Vashti had thought of using years ago. “There’s no mistaking who’s putting this party on and who it’s going to be about,” she says. “It’s very fitting. We have African influences and well, me, I’m the Asia,” she laughs. “The interesting thing among the three of us is that whatever our ancestry is, we all ended up in the Caribbean, our families ended up there.”



“We want people to have to fun” says Verlia. “We want a whole bunch of girls dressed pretty so I can look, while my girl’s DJing.”



Afro De Asia.

$5 before 11:30pm; $8 after.

10pm doors. Sat, Jan 26.

B-Side. 129 Peter St.

(416) 473-1492.