By Cheranka Mendis
Q: You have been DJing since 1998. Tell us how it all began?
A: It all started as usual at universities and parties. I went partying with my friends and I looked at the DJs and said ‘You know what? I think I can do this.’ I started at the time of 12 inch and vinyl and with technology I went into CDs and then after that use all digital media and computers now.
In the future I do not know what else is going to come because back in the day I had to go to record stores and spend an hour or two looking for all music; now with the internet you can purchase music online and it is faster and can be done from the comfort of your own home.
Q: Is Ilmi your birth name or an alias?
A: This is actually my original name. It is an Arabic name, which means knowledge and wisdom. So I bring knowledge and wisdom to the dance floor, if you want to put it that way.
Q: You have an Arabic name and you are from Cuba?
A: My father is Cuban and my mother is British. She went down to Cuba to do her Masters, ended up meeting my father and 20 years later we moved to England.
Q: So have you been travelling a lot?
A: DJing wise, countries that come from the top of my head are Venice, Lisbon, Sharm-El Sheikh, Ibiza and Cyprus to name a few.
Q: Is this your first time in Sri Lanka?
A: Yes it is and that is why I could not pass off the opportunity. I have not been this far East so when I got the call I was more than happy to take it. Because I come from the Caribbean and rum is the national drink there, they decided to bring me over to promote Rum Day.
Q: You have been to several other clubs in Sri Lanka during your visit. Any comments?
A: From the little time I spent here I can say that it is going in the right direction. More clubs have been opening and the music is good. However, more diversity in genres would be better. They are steering themselves down one path and it will be good to see it branch out and play different genres rather than stick to what is commercial.
Q: What else can the local DJs do to improve themselves?
A: All the DJs I have heard in Sri Lanka are good DJs. The main thing a DJ should master is mixing and I have seen it here. What I have heard also is music that is in the charts. I know every song that is played but I want to hear songs that I haven’t heard before. There is Arabic house, oriental house and Latin house. Give me Sri Lankan house music. Sri Lankan music is beautiful, so mix it up, see what you can come up with. That is what is missing here.
Q: Are you a spontaneous mixer or do you mix your songs prior to playing?
A: Former. I am the kind of DJ who tries to read the crowd and I want them to have fun. So I try to play the songs that I know will make them dance. I also try to judge the age group and play accordingly.
All my DJ sets are slightly different. There is so much music out there, or may I say so much good music, and it is sad that people have started getting lost in what is in ‘now’. What I have realised is that people like flashbacks when they are having a good time and therefore when I play RnB I go back to Boyz II Men, Blackstreet, Mark Morisson and all these different artistes who have come and more or less gone.
Q: Of all the tunes you have, which ones ‘never fail’?
A: Now it would be songs like LMFAO – Sexy and I know it and you cannot go wrong with Will.i.am – Black Eyed Peas, David Guetta and of course Avicii – Levels, which has been around for over a year with so many remixes coming out of it. Back in the day a song that never failed was Elvis Crespo’s Suavemente.
Q: What genres do you play?
A: I play different genres from RnB, hip-hop, and all different types of house including Latin house, merengues and so many. I even DJed in Arabic clubs. Back in 2000 there was a club called Paparazzi in London which was heavily influenced by Arabs. That is where I started to play all this music.
Q: Any particular genre you prefer over others?
A: I prefer house. It is more of a happy vibe house that I like where everyone feels uplifted and they just want to throw their hands up in the air, jump around, meet new people and go crazy.
Q: Do you remember the first event you DJed at?
A: It would have been in Cyprus. It was one of those crazy things where I went for a two-week holiday and ended up staying for 11 weeks because they didn’t let me stop playing. That was back in 1998.
Q: What would you say is the best event you’ve been at?
A: Pacha in Sharm-El Sheikh. I have played there a couple of times, the last been in 2010. It is an open air club because it hardly rains and the sound system is great. Pacha being Pacha brings in all the good DJs and everybody goes there for one sole purpose: music. It is brilliant.
Q: What is the biggest audience you have played for?
A: Sharm-El Sheikh, Pacha for 3,000 people. It was quite crazy as there were some 15 people in the DJ booth and it was really hard to DJ with the distraction.
Q: So when all the partying is over, how do you like to relax?
A: By not listening to music on my way home. I like to drive home in silence. When you play so much music, you appreciate silence. If not I would play some chill out house and vibes that just sets you back and say ‘mellow out’.
Q: How big is your vinyl collection?
A: Technology has moved so far that many DJs have stopped buying vinyls because with the new technologies like Serato and Traktor you can DJ through the digital sounds you have. However, I must have enough music in my collection to play for about two months constantly. I have thousands of tracks. My library is huge and I think I might need to get a new laptop soon to provide more memory space.
Q: Who are the DJs you admire?
A: There are a few Latin DJs I admire but these days it is Martin Solveig, Masters At Work and David Guetta, who has come up so fast. There’s also DJ Kiko, DJ Navarro and DJ Kucho.
One of my favourite songs at the moment is from the latter and is a Spanish tune named ‘La tarde se ha puesto triste’. I played this at Kama and people loved it.
Deadmau5 is more towards electro house. It is a different type of genre and even though I do have his songs I try to play more funky tunes whereas Deadmau5 is more electronic.
Q: Outside the music scene what do you do?
A: My main profession is computer animation and motion graphics. A lot of people think I am only a DJ but I work day and night. I do computer animation on a freelance basis which accommodates my night life.
I have a degree on hand-drawn animation and in computer animation. I have done a few advertisements over the years. I did some motion graphics for Sony and Disney recently and have made computer-animated characters for Comet, Animal Planet and National Geographic channels, just to name a few.
Q: Advice to upcoming DJs?
A: As upcoming DJs you will probably have to accommodate to any club that offers you a job but as time goes by, try and find out who you and what you are about. Try and educate people that music is not only what is on MTV or what is on the charts. It is a big world and there is a lot of music out there.
Q: So what are you about?
A: I am someone who tries to bring to the dance floor what I am, which is energetic, fun loving and big in life. You only live once and so enjoy the most of it; that is what I do and that is what my music represents.