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DJ Gonnie Garko On The Power of Music And Curating The Perfect Mix

Music has always been a guiding force for Toronto-based DJ and model Gonnie Garko. Here the rising star curates a special playlist for S/magazine, reveals what genres she’s most drawn to, and how she finds confidence to share her mixes with the rest of the world.

What sparked your passion for music?

“Music has always been present in my household. Whether it was my grandparents watching American Idol, my mom playing reggae while cleaning on a Sunday, or my dad playing rap music on our way to Baskin Robbins to get ice cream. Music has always been special to me. The memories I attach to these songs are just as important as the music itself.”

Music is a form of therapy for many, as a DJ, how has music guided you while social distancing at home?

“I’ve always been someone who needs the constant presence of music. It’s on when I cook, when I shower, even when I blow dry my hair—which we all know is very hard to commit to. It helps to keep me calm and it makes me dance. As a DJ I’m constantly searching for new music and now I have more time to actually digest what I’m consuming. I’ve been digging into a lot of music that has decades on me, this free time has allowed me to research these songs. I’m also finally finding the names and artists of the reggae music I’ve been hearing all my life, so I’m quite happy.”

What music genres are you most drawn to right now?

“Soul, Indie Rock, and Reggae”

Curating a mix can be quite intimidating, what’s your process and how do you organize yourself to capture and convey a particular mood? 

“It can be pretty intimidating. I have so much music, all different genres.  I’m still working on the process and my organization—oftentimes I’m rushing to meet a deadline. Rushing still produced good results when I had to study for exams in High School, but it’s different with music. Building something special takes time. During this quarantine, I’m given so much time to just sit back and organize everything. I’m currently just assembling extensive playlists of songs that are tailored to certain moods and sounds, eventually, I’ll create mixes from those using a small portion of songs that fit well together sonically.”

Are there artists from the past you particularly admire?

“Nina Simone, Erykah Badu, Donna Summers, Minnie Ripperton, Stevie Wonder, Stereolab, and Lil Kim.”

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who are interested in DJ’ing but might not feel confident to take the leap?

“I think DJ’ing is great for someone who’s really into music, but can’t sing, or play instruments. That’s part of why I took it up, I felt I needed to involve myself however I could at that moment. I can hardly remember what it was like to start, I had no fear in beginning to learn. What can get scary is beginning to play in front of others. People can be really judgemental, especially other DJ’s. Your choice of song is really important, some can argue more than your actual skill. That was what I was on for a long time. Your technical skill is still very important though, a bad mix is an eyesore, but for your ears. I think that a good place to start is researching music, whatever it is that you love, it’s important to have an extensive playlist of that genre. It’s also very important to be well rounded. Never be too hard on yourself. Everything comes with time, and everyone’s clock is different.”

What’re some of your favourite gear to mix and listen to music on?

“My favourite mixer for laptop use is the DJMS9. For USB which I’ve been using exclusively for the last year, I’ve enjoyed the newer models of CDJ’S like the CDJ-2000NXS2, they’re easier to use. It can be fun to work with older models and smaller screens because you really need to focus. I don’t know why I like the pain of using a USB, but when you complete a good mix job it’s pretty fulfilling. I appreciate the challenge. For personal listening, I’ve actually just been playing music off of Spotify on my TV. It’s a newer TV so the speakers aren’t too bad. I like being able to see the album artwork and just the general light that it emits, it creates a balanced vibe in my room.”

Tell us about the playlist you’ve curated exclusively for S/.

“My quarantine has been full of ups and downs. Black Coffee by Sarah Vaughan sounds so lovely, but it also gives us the sound of hopelessness. Feeling Good by Nina Simone is refreshing and empowering.  All songs are by black artists, and none were released after 2000. I think everything has a warm feel. These are songs I enjoy singing in solitude later in the night or just as I start my day. Almost every song is about love. Love in music is beautiful, a good love song just makes you feel good and warm. Even if that love isn’t present for you, the artist makes you feel it is.”

Dive into Gonnie’s exclusive playlist below.

Photography by Norman Wong.