For DJ Spinna, life is literally an endless party.
Two to three weekends each month, the Brooklyn-born-and-based DJ/producer can be found in a DJ booth somewhere, getting a dance floor full of people properly turnt up. Oh sure, he could stay at home, record albums (which he still does) or produce/remix music for other artists (still does that too). But the man loves to spin for people.
“Playing records has always been my first love,” says Spinna (real name: Vincent Williams), on the phone from Brooklyn. “I’ve aspired to do that since I was, like, 10 years old, and it’s always been my first love. So I love entertaining and getting in front of a crowd, and that kind of keeps you grounded and keeps you in tune with what the people need.”
Spinna also believes that interacting with crowds helps him when he gets back to the lab and works on music. “It influences the production – kind of lets me know what I need to do to make records for club settings or listening settings or whatever,” he says. “I love to see people react. I get off on how people respond to music.”
Spinna is mostly known for throwing a night of music devoted to only one performer: Stevie Wonder. Back in 1999, he and fellow DJ Bobbito Garcia began doing “Wonder-Full” dance parties in New York, where they played music not only performed by the R&B/pop icon, but tunes he wrote and produced for other artists, as well as covers of Wonder songs. These parties led to the pair dropping two “The Wonder of Stevie” compilation CDs.
“He played an influential role to me in my musical career, production-wise,” he says. “I’ve been studying him since I was a kid. So I can honestly say it comes from a real, genuine place, honoring his music.”
These days, Spinna and his wife, Keita, are the ones who keep the Wonder parties going all over the world. “We work with local promoters in different cities and across the planet, really. I’ve done it in Japan. I’ve done it in Amsterdam. I’ve done it in Stockholm, Sweden. I’ve done it in Berlin. I’ve done it in London this year, for the first time.”
And if you’re wondering if Wonder knows about this ongoing salute, not only does he know but he’s been known to drop in on occasion. Over the years, he’s made appearances at parties in New York, L.A. and Washington, D.C.
“The first encounter between him and the audience was in 2005,” remembers Spinna. “He called from the hospital, as his now ex-wife was about to give birth to his son… His daughter, Aisha, came to the party, and that’s how he got to speak at that point. I put the microphone to her cellphone, and he spoke to the crowd. So that was the first time there was any kind of interaction between him and the audience, and it was special. It was incredible – I think I got more choked up then than when he actually appeared.”
Wonder isn’t the only artist Spinna has paid tribute to at events. He’s done shindigs where he’s played nothing but Fela Kuti, James Brown, J Dilla, etc. (Spinna and Durham’s own 9th Wonder did a Dilla-themed afterparty in D.C. last July.) He’s also done nights where he went back-and-forth with Michael Jackson and Prince.
Spinna was originally going to do a theme party for the Thursday night’s “Timeless” New Year’s Eve bash, which is going down at the Durham Armory and hosted by Raleigh rapper/vocalist Phonte Coleman and featuring a special performance by Durham MC Joshua Gunn. Instead, he’s just going to keep the party going and give people a taste of what could happen in the future.
“I want to say that this New Year’s Eve party is happening also as a way for me to get established in that market first,” he says. “And then the theme parties will come shortly after.”
Well, Wonder’s birthday is in May. It would be nice if Spinna – and, hopefully, Wonder – could celebrate it here in the Triangle.
What: New Year’s Eve: Timeless, with Phonte, Joshua Gunn and DJ Spinna
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Where: Durham Armory, 220 Foster St., Durham