CT DJ VIP's
Ch'Varda, Kasey Cortez, and Sonia Sol
If you follow the CT DJ scene, you're likely a fan of at least one or all of the following DJ's: Ch'Varda, Kasey Cortez, and Sonia Sol. Connecticunt sat down with the artists to learn more about their music, inspirations, and what's next. You can read the article in Connecticunt #11 here.
How long have you lived in Waterbury?
Where did you live before that?
Brooklyn, in East New York off of Jamaica Avenue.
How old were you when you moved?
I was going into the fourth grade.
Why did you end up moving?
A better environment for my family. My mom didn't want us influenced because it was a very active neighborhood. A few months before we moved, a kid was walking home from school and got killed in a park because he didn't want to join a gang. And then, two weeks before we left, there was a shootout a few blocks away. So my mom just wanted to get us out of that environment. It wasn't a bad environment, but you know how people talk about impoverished neighborhoods and stuff. It wasn't an impoverished neighborhood, it was just a lot of kids, a lot of teenagers, a lot of people of the same group growing up with each other and then getting influenced by each other.
My brother would have been one of those people because he's five years older than me. I followed everything he did, and my mom didn't want that.
What were your core memories growing up there?
Being outside, running, drawing with chalk, simple things like that. Jumping rope, and making mini music videos for myself.
What did it feel like to move?
It was quieter and isolating because there weren't as many people outside. The first thing I realized when I moved to Waterbury was, where are the sidewalks? It was also hard to get used to the noise, like actual quiet, instead of weekends when a neighbor is blasting their music.
What role did music play in your life?
It was crazy. My first real favorite artist was Britney Spears. I love Britney Spears so much. And I used to try to sing her songs around the house. I grew up when Britney Spears was hot, like the early 2000s in New York. That's just like prime time. I heard a whole bunch of different reggae music.
We lived on a dead-end street so behind us we had neighbors that were Guyanese, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Jamaican, Cuban. I was influenced by it all. It allowed me to expand my ear before I even knew what my ears could do.
What was it like for your family?
My mom was listening to 112, 50 Cent… my mom's a rap head. She also introduced me to jazz, Sade. Back then, there was a radio station called CD 101.9, and she used to play that in the car sometimes. I would hear all the jazz, all the Kenny G's, all the Sade's. My name is Jazlyn and I like jazz music. I knew there was a connection there.
How did you start deejaying?
My producer name was Basketball Jones. I started making beats in 2015, my sophomore year in college. When I graduated from Southern, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I have a Bachelor's in mental health psychology. I was trying to find a job in my field, but my mom has a lot of experience in banking, so she told me to get a job at a bank. I found a job, and I hated it. Six months in, I was already looking for another job.
I was a teller, and then they made me an ATM custodian. I got to count all this money at the ATM. But I knew it wasn't for me. I wanted this amount of money I was counting, but I wouldn't get it working there. I quit and blocked everyone.
A year after I left college, I started teaching myself how to DJ. My uncle taught me how to beat match, but everything else I taught myself. I began as Basketball Jones in 2021. I decided to change my name because I searched it, and there were a whole lot of Basketball Jones.
I wanted to come up with a new name. Since I have Hebrew in my heart, I used the Hebrew translation of my middle name. My middle name is Volls and Varda is the feminine name for Rose. So Ch’Varda.
I'm studying Judaism now. When my dad passed away he gave me a Torah, and I saw it as a sign that I needed to lean into my faith.
Even though I've been deejaying for five, five, six years, I'm still learning.
Were you making stand-alone beats or for rappers?
Yeah, for rappers, but then I realize how hard it is to get men to do things. So I just dropped them on streaming as easy-listening pieces. I want to create music for people just to do life, to sit outside. My music is for productivity - shower, study, crochet, knit, sleep. I like multipurpose beats. When I sample, I try to touch the parts of your ears that you don't know you have, that touch you in your gut. I like deep sounds, strings, and deep chord progressions. Anything that'll get you to think about life, that's what I go for. And whatever that sounds like, that's what I go.
What do you like to DJ?
My best pocket is Atlanta 2000's music, like White Tea, Laffy Taffy, Swag Surfing Time, lean with it rock with it. I will go so sick. I also like mixing house music because it's energetic and I know how the beat is constructed.
It's hard to mix like salsa and more of those intricate sounds because they have a lot going on in the beginning. But I see that it's all in how you bring it in. So doing DJ Versus Drummer helped me figure out a new way to mix my music and have people feel the music that I'm playing. If I'm doing a basic blend, it will sound cool. But if I make it like a moment, I make it extra, then that's what's going to stick with people.
How was DJ Versus Drummer?
It was so dope to see everybody embracing each other and clapping it up, enjoying not the coolness of it but the musicality of everything. Because of course it's cool, but like, do you hear what they're doing on the drums??
Have you tried any other instruments besides DJ'ing and drum machines?
I do have a guitar and a ukulele. I want to learn the Koto. It's so beautiful.
What do you feel confident about in your deejaying?
My blends. I know that for a fact. Also, song selection.
What makes a really good blend?
Other than timing, it's the feel. I constantly mix weird shit together. But I don't mix shit that sounds like shit together.
Studying psychology must've helped you as a DJ.
You have to know how to read a crowd. You have to be very aware. If you're not self-aware, you're going to be playing your songs, things that you like and nobody will dance to.
What makes a good DJ?
Good range of music. I wouldn't necessarily say emcee or host because I don't like when people yell all over the songs. And don't let the song play out too long.
Do you have a favorite DJ?
I want to say DJ Fire because I watched and have experience going to parties with him. He had a good range of reggae, soca, hip hop, R&B, nineties. He had a good range of all of that, including the 2000s.
If I could tell him anything, I would thank him for always providing the vibe and showing me what a real DJ is supposed to sound like, like my uncle.
What was it like to see your uncle Muzikman Edition perform?
When I saw my uncle for the first time, he was deejaying at Coney Island. We had a moment in my grandma's basement because that's where his setup is, and he was scratching and mixing off of my computer with my songs. He said he's proud of me, which means a lot, especially because my dad's not here to tell me. He'd be proud, too.
My mom and my dad were married before I was born. After I was born, they got a divorce. My dad was a rapper and producer. Oh, wow. He was supposed to teach me how to use Pro Tools and stuff, and he'll teach me one day. I just don't know how exactly.
My mom is musically inclined. She knows how to play the piano. She's not like Beethoven, but she knows how to get hip-hop on a piano. She makes beats too.
Have you produced something with your mom?
I have it, it came out nice. She did the bass and I did the melody. I'm proud of her.
Does your brother DJ too?
He works in IT, he's a single dad raising my nephew. But his beats are really good. He's better than me. He's more technical, and it just fits since he's in IT. My brother's been the main person for me that puts me on to all the music, all the hip-hop stuff, all the underground stuff.
How does Judaism play into your life?
I've only really understood what it was to have a relationship with a higher power once I started learning about just Judaism. I'm not orthodox, but I read and apply it to my life. Music is very spiritual. I have a connection to music because of my family's spiritual connection to music. It just got passed down.
How would you say that your music has changed?
I'm getting into who I am and trying to emulate that as much as possible through my music with bright, clear sounds. I'm trying not to be so sample heavy. I'm doing more original pieces, playing with my fingers and experimenting with my ear, making sure I can hear certain tunes and keys.
Is there anything else you want to add?
I would say find out why you are here because everybody has a contract on this planet, and we must do our best.
And why are you here?
I'm here to spread love and be that. That's all I'm here to do and help people and give back. That's what I'm here to do.
How are you doing? What's been on your mind recently?
I moved recently. I've been adjusting to a new kind of lifestyle, too. I moved into Sonia's house, funny enough. We're not roommates technically, but we're housemates only until she leaves again. That, coupled with just gigs picking up for me in the last four months, which has been amazing. I didn't anticipate reaching this goal as quickly as I was able to, so I am thankful for that. DJing is something that I love so much. I've worked over 60 different jobs in my life, and this is my favorite job that I've ever had.
What were some of your previous jobs?
The first one that comes to mind isn’t the craziest, but I worked at a dog kennel in Bloomfield for about six weeks. People that work there are dog LOVERS. I like dogs, but that is not my passion in life. It was actually disgusting, lots & lots of poop. I also was a nanny for 11 years, which also dealt with a lot of poop. And that was the craziest when I think about it, because I couldn't do my job wrong. If something goes wrong on a nanny job, I go to jail!
Now, I'm DJ'ing for my rent. I am making art. I'm doing yoga events. I’m a super all-over-the-place artist. I continuously have four or five things actively going on. I still work a day job at Comma Vintage, that's thrifting & fashion buying. I'm doing all these things I genuinely enjoy and am leveraging them to pay for my life. The goal is to keep scaling that.
When did you start DJ'ing?
I started in December of 2021. I’d just lived in L.A. for five years and finally returned to Connecticut. So I was seeing the thriving scene happening when I got back. DJing was something that I had wanted to do since I was literally in high school. Do you know that T.V. show, "Made"?
I wanted to go on Made & be “made” to be a (female) DJ. I wanted to study with like Grandwizard Theodore & Grandmaster Flash & those dudes, the inventors of scratching. I'm a hip-hop head, too, so that was a part of it. I've always loved music. I'm a musician, too. I've been a singer my whole life, so it was a sort of a natural progression.
Josh Jenkins (the owner of The Caf in Hartford) & I have been friends for over 20 years. He said once, "It feels like this is the one thing that you haven’t done yet, but should have picked up like ten years ago." Sonia is actually another integral part of my little deejay story now. I got started because I was inspired to see young people my age playing all this music, and I was just like, wait a second, why not?
How did you learn?
One of my oldest friends, his name is Xavier. He's basically like family, we've known each other since we were 12 years old. He's in a D.J. duo called Free Wi-Fi. He taught me the fundamentals of blending & how to use the software, & I'd studied music/audio my entire life so it was very intuitive. After he’d helped me through the foundational work, I taught myself the bulk of it. I have lots of DJ friends I constantly study from too. Also YouTube.
How was it transitioning from being a singer to being a D.J.?
I said that very confidently, and I love that for me. Because I am a singer in the depths of my heart. I grew up singing, so when I hear D.J.s who are nervous about playing, I deeply understand, but the context is very different for me. I never feel nervous about DJing, but I do about singing. So I enjoy DJing because it gives me the means to perform, but it's low stakes.
I also like having something to do, a task, at the party. It's a sort of instant gratification.
And it's play. That's my vibe in general. It's almost like being a child, having fun playtime.
Deejaying is something where I can really have fun & do whatever I want.
What was music for you growing up?
I grew up performing in musical theater. That’s where I started singing. My parents are much older. My mom had me when she was 40, and my dad was 43, so there's a big gap. So they were playing Motown, like Phil Spector or the Supremes, Carly Simon, James Taylor, that sort of stuff. My mom was super into disco so Gloria Gaynor, Thelma Houston. ABBA was a huge part of my childhood. And she played the debut En Vogue album in the car all the time. My dad played Bob Marley, Eric Clapton and classic rock, like Gen X stoner music, also other classics like Antonio Carlos Jobim & Tito Puente. He loves Joni Mitchell alot too.
My brother is seven years older than me, so when I was a kid I listened to what he was listening to, like Nine Inch Nails, Tool. He was also into Lauryn Hill, and I was deeply moved by her at a young age. And then I got really into rap pretty young, which is still the foundation of my favorite things to play when I deejay.
Is there a rapper you gravitated toward?
Kanye West was my childhood. I was 13 when College Dropout came out. We would leave our high school and go to Target on the days he would drop the albums, buy them, come back, and listen to them together in our audio recording class.
Where did you grow up?
In Windsor, just north of Hartford. I went to Windsor High School and the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts. I studied theater & music there.
What brought you to L.A., New York, and Hartford?
Oh, being chaotic. I moved around for years. I went to college in Chicago, and then moved to New York a bunch of times. And then I moved to L.A. just because. But, my life is portable in a sense. I got my yoga certification in New York and lived there for six years. I was doing my thing, but I knew I could live my same sort of life in New York, in L.A. You know, teach yoga, nanny. So I went for it.
Then I moved back because I realized that all the things I thought I could do in these cities were super hard, and getting my brand & business off the ground was going to be easier for me in Hartford. I can enjoy being in Connecticut, especially since I'm at an age where I'm happy to do that. And I grew up here, all my friends here are sick & cool as hell.
How would you describe your deejay style?
It's probably rooted in what you want to hear at a rooftop daytime party. That's where I like to live—and then, based on the crowd, I know what I'm working with. I played at a biker bar in Manchester, and it was straight up AC/DC., and they loved it.
It's very energetic, almost like a child, it's my vibe. I mean that in a good way. A big part of growing up was playing dancehall and reggae at parties. That's what got us dancing. I gravitate towards that when I play, but a lot more infusion of house style and Spanish music.
As much as I super love DJing, I feel I'm here to do a job. I'm here to offer you a service. It's important to me to make sure that I am thinking about what the audience wants to hear.
How did you get connected to Sonia?
I knew her father first. He's just been playing in bands around here forever. He's played with everybody, all the musicians I grew up with. I didn't even know he had a daughter when I met her. And then I was like, Oh, shit, I know your father. We're very similar so now we're friends.
How do DJing and yoga intertwine for you?
Great question. I explained a little earlier about feeling who's in the room and reading the room. In yoga, I can prepare a class, let's say 60 minutes flow, and I'll have a very strong idea about what I will teach. But then, let's say, twenty 85-year-old women show up to my class. I'm definitely going to revise my plan to fit the needs of the students I'm giving this offering to. It's the same thing for DJing and a super similar ebb and flow. It's a similar feeling of having a plan but needing to adjust it based on who's in front of you when you get there to do the job. It's almost the exact same. I've made that connection before.
How do you prepare your sets?
It's an ongoing process for me. If new music comes out and I see it on someone's Instagram story, I take a screenshot. I take screenshots all day. I'm friends with so many deejays & I'm diligent about staying on top of new music. It's a lot of downloading and organizing them into playlists so you can quickly know where to go in real-time. It's like Tetris. I also Shazam music like you would not believe. Shazaming constantly.
Is there a song you have been playing a lot recently?
On my own time, it's funny, I don't think anybody would want to listen to what I’m listening to. I swear, people would be like… girl. I would say I listen to the most neo-soul-y, baby-making type music. That's what I'll listen to to get hype. Like, oh we're going out? Let me put on some slow jams.
How has your style changed over the years?
I never listened to any electronic EDM growing up, but I've been getting more into that. I've been into U.K. garage and jersey club. And Bad Bunny.
What inspires you to keep deejaying?
I deeply enjoy it, on a soul level, and as an artist, I get to share this part of myself with the world in a way that feels so natural for me. In my mind and my heart, I'll never stop doing this. It's like with all my other things. I am a singer because I'll always be a singer. I'll always be a photographer, always be an actress. Now, I’ll always be a DJ. When I’ve reached my current goals with it, it'll just stay in my life in whatever capacity makes sense for me. And it's such a valuable service. People always want to hear music at celebrations.
Any recommendations for other D.J.'s?
Make sure you really like doing it, cause it’s quite a large energetic commitment to get good. It is a lot of work. It's constant downloading, organizing, practicing, booking yourself gigs, that sort of thing. You work for yourself so you really have to take care.
But it’s also experimentation, really playful. It's not a job you can be super serious about.
I'm just so grateful. It feels as if it belongs in my life. It was like a puzzle piece that just makes sense to me now. It's a good feeling.
How's it been going? What have you been up to recently?
I've been traveling a lot. I've been in Mexico and Costa Rica for the past four months, really the past eight months. I've been in Costa Rica for five years but go back and forth often.
What brought you to Costa Rica?
I moved when I graduated from Southern in 2018. I started DJ'ing there; I taught myself during lockdown.
Do you have family in Costa Rica?
No, I just moved there by myself.
How did you teach yourself how to deejay?
I just got a starter controller and played around with it. YouTube videos. Yeah. I was already making live music with my band, so when everything opened up, I asked the owner of a place if I could DJ there on Sundays as practice. That Sunday party turned into a huge thing, and that was the start of my deejaying.
What bands were you playing with in Costa Rica?
I had a reggae band, a neo-soul band, which I still like to do. I also play with my dad; he's a guitar player. I do more deejaying now because it's easier by myself.
I sing, but I prefer singing with live instruments. It sounds better, but I've been singing a little bit more.
Why did you start DJing?
Once the lockdown happened, making money with a band was hard. I needed to figure out a way independently without relying on people to make money. I also just really liked it. I started playing around in my room, and I really liked doing it. Then everything kind of just fell into place.
What role did music play in your life growing up?
Music was big because my parents love music, it was always played in the household. In middle school was when I had a computer, and I would go down YouTube rabbit holes, finding so much music, even still. It helps with all the music I find. I always had music playing in my headphones, no matter where I was. It was always just a part of me.
Were you a full-time musician in Costa Rica?
I was teaching English, and I used that to get my foot in the door. But I realized I could make more money doing music. And not even about the money; I enjoy music more than teaching.
Do you have a memorable performance?
So many, but I remember at the first Sunday Funday, it was raining a little bit and it was like a movie. Everyone started jumping up and down, and where I was deejaying, I could jump into the crowd. I told everyone to put their hands up, and the crowd dove and it became a trend.
How has your style changed from then to now?
I've always been an open-format DJ; I love many different genres. When I first started, especially during those Sunday parties, I would do four or five hours straight, and it would always turn into a tech house rave at the end.
I'm moving a bit away from tech house, and more toward UK house music in general, like drum and bass, garage. I really love Afrobeats and dancehall. It mixes island vibes, like soca, dancehall, and Afrobeats.
Have you ever produced your own music?
I'm in the process of that now because I've never released my own original music yet. By either summer or the end of this year, I'll put something out on my own.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Hartford in the South End. I went to school in West Hartford for high school and New Haven for college. But my whole childhood is here in Hartford.
How has living in Costa Rica and Connecticut influenced your style?
In Hartford, we have a very big Latin and Caribbean population, so I grew up listening to dancehall and hip-hop. Costa Rica gave me a bigger perspective on electronic music.
It also opened me up to House in general and especially like a lot of Latin music there that I wouldn't have known from being here.
How do you curate your mixes?
I do everything almost on the fly. I always download new songs before each set, but I never know the crowd in front of me, so it's whatever I'm feeling at that moment. I curate playlists on my computer by genre, and then at the show, I'll pick songs from those.
I still haven't recorded anything live; I haven't recorded any mixes yet and posted it, which is absolutely absurd because it's like, How can I be doing all this? I still don't have any mixes. I just need to sit somewhere and properly do it. But all my mixes I do live, so I would like to just set up by myself somewhere in a place and record a nice mix. The first mix I want to record is going to be an Afrobeat mix. I'll go somewhere quiet in nature with my laptop and get it done.
What inspires you to keep deejaying?
There's always new music to find, which is what keeps me motivated to keep going.
What do you think makes your deejaying special?
I really like to interact with the crowd. People should just come for themselves if they vibe with it, but I definitely like to interact with people and make it fun for the audience. I like to incorporate live instruments and drums into my sets, depending on the genre. Afro House is a great genre to add live instruments to, and I think that's what separates my show a little bit. Also, at some shows, I'll dance with the crowd and do backflips. Oh my God, I got so many videos on the beach of me doing backflips.
Do you remember your first performance?
My first performance of singing was so long ago in high school. My dad and I played in a little bar. He brought me on early to do live music with him. We did a mix of covers, like Amy Winehouse. It was a bunch of random covers, but mainly now I stick with neo-soul, R&B, hip hop, and reggae vibes.
How long are you going to be in the US?
So I'm in the States until July 10th. I'm going to be deejaying in London, Spain, and Paris.
What's it like traveling around deejaying?
It's crazy. It's like being on tour constantly. I don't have a manager or anything. I'm starting to work with booking agents, but everything I've done to this point has been on my own, and it's a little exhausting at times. Money, flier, promotion, photoshoots, booking travel, organizing… But it's amazing because I love traveling and moving. I don't like to be in one place for too long.
What are your tips for someone deejaying?
Be consistent. Do not let anything stop you or discourage you. There's always going to be a technological disadvantage when you start because you have to learn the equipment, and that part can be time-consuming. But once you learn how to use the equipment and have an understanding of music, it'll become natural. When I first started, I would do mixes in my room every night and record myself to see how they sounded and how they progressed over time.
Did you ever deejay at Southern?
I ran track there, so I was a student-athlete for four years. My life was track and field, and then when I graduated, I said I'm done with this.
I did 100-meter hurdles or 400. It was exhausting. I was a good athlete on the team and scored points, so I enjoyed it, but I would never do it again. I would practice, do homework, and sleep. No parties, no nothing.
Anything you want to add?
If you love music, keep making music, keep listening, keep creating, and put your stuff out there. Sometimes people are scared to put their stuff out there, and me too, but you never know who's watching or listening.
When was your big break?
Costa Rica is a very small country, so once that Sunday Funday Party started, I was getting booked everywhere in Costa Rica. My big break, I would say it was like I got booked with Moto Festival last October, which is a party in Cancun. Ashanti was there, all these huge deejays and big artists. Mexico honestly changed my life. I'm moving to Mexico City at the end of the year. I did this party in Mexico City called Diaspora, and so many cool deejays played there. Being in Mexico changed my life as a DJ and an artist. And that was just six months ago.
I don't feel by any means like I've made it yet, but this is just the momentum that I need to keep going and traveling, doing events and meeting other artists.