ZUMJAY - 21ST Century Deejay - Street Deejay with a difference


Photo By: Carlington Wilmot

Zumjay is a street legend in the ghettos of Jamaica. He has built his name and street rep one stage show at a time to the extent where he is a household name in dancehall circles even though he does not have a string of commercial hits behind his name.

"People need more Zumjay in their lives, slowly but surely, we'll never do it poorly," he promised.

Born Rohan Alphonso Stephens, this Waterhouse-reared deejay attended Kingston College and then Hydel High School where he raised the eyebrows of his fellow students with his offbeat, artfully conceptualized rhymes. One day, a parent, Michael Rutherford, impressed by the young talent's vocal abilities, arranged a studio cameo for him.

"I used to deejay all the time during lunch break, and Rutherford, who was a parent at K.C, heard about me, and invited me to the Dynamic Studio. So I did my first recording in 1994, I remember still having on my uniform and K.C tie. The song was not released but gave me a studio experience," he told YardFlex.com.

It was another 'high school link' that landed him his first job after graduating. Corey Bennett, the son of Hyacinth Bennett, then the principal of Hydel High School, arranged for him to meet Penthouse manager/producer Donovan Germaine. Soon after, Zumjay began to work at Penthouse as an apprentice studio engineer.

"I never wanted to learn a trade, so I asked Germaine if I could learn engineering at the studio," he explained.

He began working at Penthouse at age 14, and four years, later he had become proficient enough at it to work professionally with artistes such as Beres Hammond, Buju Banton, Morgan Heritagh, Beenie Man, and the duo, Tanto Metro and Devonte.

Zumjay was the studio engineer who worked on the Beres Hammond/Buju Banton 'Pull Up the Vibes' remix, as well as the Beenie Man smash hit, 'Crazy Notion', on Flabba Malcolm's label.

Then, in the year 2000, a sudden burst of inspiration would change Zumjay's life forever when he recorded 'Courtney', a tribute to international cricketer Courtney Walsh as he closed in on the individual record for highest wicket-taker in Test history.

"I recorded the song using an engineering trick I learned from Stephen Stanley who would come to Penthouse every Wednesday and Thursday. He taught me the trick and I did the Courtney song after my mom told me that Richie B (a disc jockey) wanted someone to do a song for Courtney. After recording it that night, I carried it to him the next morning," he explained.

The song blew up big time, becoming almost anthemic as national pride spiked following Walsh's remarkable achievement. He performed at the Prime Minister's residence, and later, he performed on national television during the parade held in the cricketer's honour in the streets of the Kingston. The song eventually peaked at #4 on the reggae charts in California, and dominated local charts for several weeks after it was released.

"It did very well for me, especially when mi go Cally, and say who ah the big man inna cricket? The place lift up," he said.

Zumjay seized the opportunity to start his recording career, and eventually left Penthouse to pursue his dreams. He began to land major gigs and performed at the star-studded Sashi show in August 2001. Later that year, he also performed at the annual Sting and Stone Love anniversary shows in December. In February 2002, Zumjay's manager and friend, Stephen 'Lenky' Marsden produced the critically acclaimed Diwali rhythm. Zumjay scored another major hit on the Diwali with the ultra-popular, 'Zumjay News', and later that year, he performed at Sashi, Sting and the Stone Love anniversary shows again. Then, Zumjay dropped 'Shake It' in late 2002, and his career continued to blossom. Zumjay has continued to record, scoring a major video hit with 'Dancing Team' in late 2004.

He has also performed at Reggae Sumfest in August 2003, and at the Summer Sizzle show in the year 2004, and soon after, producer Stephen 'Lenky' Marsden became his manager

"I am a force to be reckoned with in the music industry, and you can look out for me, I am working on hit singles, and then move onto albums in the future," he said. "I am focusing on the dancehall mainly. I am loved in the streets, I can go any garrison and deal wid it. Other artistes get crazy airplay on the radio, but when it comes to the dancehall and the streets, it is a different matter," he said.

Zumjay has also done a European tour for two consecutive years 2004 through to 2005, the second one alongside deejay Alozade that played to packed nightclubs.

"I am just going to continue to work hard, until I get my chance to shine. There is a lot of politics in the music business but I am not a sour loser, can slow me donw, but dem caan stop me, good always reign over evil. Me fairly young, still in my 20s, caan hold me down forever."

Are you surprised you haven't been able to break into the mainstream market with a big hit yet?

"No, I am not really surprised, when is your time is your time, I have got substantial hits, and popular songs in the dancehall arena, but maybe, not consistently enough. Still, I am going to keep on working," he said.

Zumjay's latest songs include 'Bad Man Story' on the Inspector riddim, 'Nah Nyam' featuring dancer Shelly Belly, 'Gone But Not Forgotten' on the 40/40 label, and 'Beauty of Jamaica' on the new Firelinks' riddim, 'Crouch' (inspired by the English footballer Peter Crouch).

"One thing I know for sure, within any ghetto or garrison, I and I respected. I response fi the ghetto yutes. It's all gravy," Zumjay said.