In the first of our Littlegig profiles, DJ Captain Planet aka Charlie B. Wilder speaks to me about his influences, loves, and why music is the language of the world:
You have an early background in punk rock and rap, moving on to making hip hop beats, to sampling funk, soul and jazz. How has that influenced your current directions in music? You’ve mixed for View Farka Toure, which is a pretty damn big deal. How was that received and who else have you mixed for that we should know about?
My love and natural curiosity for music became a full-fledged obsession by the time I was a teenager. I started digging for records and I just kept wanting to explore new sounds, so my diverse style is definitely a product of that. My remix for Vieux was one of my very first official releases, that was years ago! I used to host and DJ a radio show in NYC called “Passport”, which featured all global roots music. The label heads of Modiba who put out his first album came onto my show for an interview and I asked to remix one of his songs… I’ve since done remixes for [many others], not to mention all the bootleg remixes and edits I’ve put out as well.
What dreams did you have about the music world and what have been the realities as you’ve established yourself?
Well I don’t think my dreams about music have changed too much over the years, I still am driven by the simple primal urge to bring people together on the dance floor. I believe it’s a human necessity. I also still get a thrill out of taking listeners on a journey to unexpected places through sounds, around the world and into the depths of themselves too if possible. The main thing that has changed has been learning more about the music business and how to live off of my music and pay the bills. That aspect is something I’m still learning how to do haha.
What is it about the sounds you curate that just turn you on?
Ever since I could stand up I have been dancing. So my attraction to drums, rhythms, and music that physically moves your body is the first thing I’m turned on by. I have played many instruments, but drums were my main one, before I became a full-time DJ. My love for percussion and polyrhythm lead me to focus on many musical styles from Africa and the diaspora – into South America & the Caribbean. I can’t really explain why exactly, but even as a teenager I was listening to more Reggae, Brazilian and African music than I was classic rock or pop radio.
Is this a moment where you feel that the label of “world music” will finally be discarded and we will start to give different genres of music proper names? Or does that not concern you?
I try not to put too much emphasis on the “world music” label be honest. It’s a bit silly to put Bollywood music right next to classical Ragas at the record store just because they both come from India, but for someone living in New York City or Cape Town who is interested in exploring sounds from different cultures, it’s helpful to have a beginner’s map I suppose. Then once you get to know the different musical styles, you learn the particular genre names, and of course new ones are always being invented like clothing fads. My interest is on the bigger picture of celebrating these musical traditions from all around the world, juxtaposing them side by side and mixing elements from them together as a way of highlighting that there’s a common humanity throughout them all. [Hearing that] can help listeners realize how small and interconnected we are. It’s very idealistic for sure, but I can’t help it, that’s something I love and I’m continually inspired by.
In some of the conversations that people have been having about this moment in music, there’s always a concern that sometimes some DJs take advantage and go beyond appreciation into a more appropriative territory, where the originators can perhaps almost disappear. What do you think of this conversation?
Of course, that’s been happening since the beginning. Music is always political. It always will be. Music is a cultural narrative, and narratives compete for supremacy to tell the history that the future will remember. As someone who is obsessed with these ideas as much as me, I try to always be very aware of this power struggle. A very famous historical example is the South African song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, most people in USA and around the world think this was written by the Tokens. Only a few will know the traditional Zulu origins. At the same time, if it wasn’t for Paul Simon doing “Graceland”, I might not have grown up listening to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and other South African groups. I’d rather have a million musical hybrids and continuous style mixing taking place, than for people to stay away from a genre because it’s “not their music”. Everybody steals, certainly I do. I just hope that I do it in a way that is respectful, giving legal & financial credit where it’s due, and promoting curiosity in listeners to ask questions and keep searching for themselves. Listening to samples in hip hop did that for me as a kid, and most of those samples were NOT legal haha.
Have you been to South Africa or other parts of Africa before? What are you most looking forward to when you come to Littlegig?
I have never been to SA, I’m so excited for this trip! It’s going to be way too short because I have my first baby due to be born within the same month, which I don’t want to miss. But my hope is that this is the first trip of more to come. I have spent time in West Africa. I travelled through Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Buissau, Guinea Conakry, Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana for 4 months when I was 20 years old. It definitely shaped my musical brain and opened my eyes. I was travelling with only a school backpack, which I was constantly filling with cassette tapes, one set of clothes and sandals on my feet.
Who do you look up to musically, and have you been able to work with? I was listening to Viene de Mi, the La Yegros remix you did, and thought this is the kind of music we’re all listening to now. We don’t have to understand Spanish to love it. Like Bomba Estereo made a big splash when they performed here, so music from around the world appeals to South Africans.
Well the internet certainly helps spread sounds quickly and build bridges. I love Bomba Estereo. I just produced a song featuring Li Samuet (Bomba Estereo singer) and La Yegros is on it too, very excited about that one. I haven’t even met her, just got her vocals sent through the internet! hah. This is also good news because my newest album which will be coming out in February 2017 is a collaboration with Chico Mann. We did a whole album together- Latin, Afro, Electronic, House, Funk – a really cool natural blend. I’m excited about it, and yes, I think even if you don’t speak any Spanish at all you will be able to appreciate the vibe.
As for other people I look up to – the list is too long! One of my all time favorites is David Byrne from Talking Heads, he is a big inspiration for me. He used to come to one of my parties I would DJ in NYC, and do his funny dancing.
There’s something hypnotic about your mixes. It’s easy to just sit there and go somewhere on a journey. Especially on Cookin Gumbo. What attracts you to any particular place when you decide on a piece of music?
What attracts me first is something that I want to dance to. That means it’s something that I want to play when I DJ. I just put out what it is that I want more of in the world. More travel, more dancing, more people coming together celebrating cultural diversity without even realising it. More tapping into our roots – the basic need for rhythm and dance that helps us all be in the present, escaping our daily hardships, rising to another plane.
Who would you still like to work with? Any other names you’re interested in at the moment, on the continent?
I would really love to work with Popcaan or some of the other new Jamaican artists. I’m also listening to a lot of music from West Africa right now like Davido & Wizkid. I have done a few songs with Thomas Mapfumo from Zimbabwe (one of my all-time favorite artists). I still haven’t released those. Maybe we will get back together one day and finish a project, but he is not so easy to work with haha.
Download DJ Captain Planet’s mixtape here.
Join us at Littlegig, 28 – 29 January 2017, just outside of Cape Town.