Allow me to open for you a window into the mind of one DuiJi Mshinda, a professional disc jockey and world builder. On Friday, May 27, he’ll join fellow Vinyl Tap 215 member Starfire to host a 35th anniversary presentation of Prince’s “Sign o’ the Times” in West Philly’s Clark Park.
I dial up my gregarious friend on a Monday afternoon for our scheduled interview and he picks up, immediately volunteering that he had to determine which of his Apple products – his iPhone, iPad, or Macbook, all synced together, of course – was the one that needed answering. Probably for no other reason besides my personal aversion to iPhones, I mention that I envisioned him as an Android guy.
His response conveys a lot about him.
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“It just happened that my gap in computer facility was, like, WIDE,” he says. “1984, 1985, I was taking basic computer classes and I had a Commodore 64, which was the leading edge in programming in the 80s but it was many years before I had my own computer again. And I remember – I had a landscaping job – my boss had a laptop. And I was like, ‘Ooh, I want a laptop one day.’ This is 1996. They’re like two stacks [two thousand dollars] for the entry model. So, you know, I had a long and winding road of various levels of self-sufficiency. And when I did have a job, I was supporting a family because I was dating a woman who had a kid. And then the last time – well, not the last time, but one of the last times – my balance got disrupted and my bipolar flared up, I went down to like nothing. So it was 2010, really, before I got my first laptop of my own.”
The answer lasts 10, 15 minutes more, and I’m hanging on every word. He goes on to tell me how it getting into DJing spurred that first purchase and the constant upgrading in the technology of getting-the-party-started-right swayed him over to Appleville and the kingdom of Mac. As casually as he mentions health information many people won’t even share with family, he swerves into the story of his friend selling him a stickered-up Apple computer in college then to the revelation that “the homie” at a nearby Apple retailer is ready with a discount when he’s ready for the next upgrade.
In other words, DuiJi is an open book. Pick a page and you’ll find a story, a lesson learned, a quote originated, a beat remembered, a pain that’s cherished, a joy that hurts. His life, as he sees it, is a series of adventures that will only educate and inspire and uplift if it is shared. So he shares his time, his experiences, his intellect, and himself with everyone he meets. He’s discerning, best believe. He can’t give everybody the “full Duge.” That’s reserved exclusively for the new apples of his eye, wife Kara and daughter Dahra.
But the rest of us get a little something, some more than others. The science is spelled out in his DJ persona, DuiJi 13.
“OK, my name is my name. My real name is DuiJi; like, I’ve shown my ID to so many perfect strangers just to prove my name is my name. It’s a good thing I’ve never been a criminal because everyone would know where to find me,” he explains, laughing.
“It pushes their wig back when I tell them what it really means. Like, duiji was slang for heroin in like the late, late 60s, early 70s, but also, it’s like a from West Africa. My mom told me it means ‘sharp instrument’. And mshinda I can actually find in the Swahili-English dictionary, and it means ‘winner’ or ‘victory.'”
And the number thirteen?
“My birthday is April 9th (4th month, 9th day; 4+9). My shoe size is 13. My last name, the initial M, the 13th letter. Oh, and there are 13 planets,” he adds, wading into astronomical controversy, “including the dwarf planets, in our solar system. My kid taught me that recently.”
It’s easy to see how family, the kind of intimacy and love only possible through sharing the mundane moments of life, not just the excitement of crowded events, is a huge influence on his worldview.
“Also, I make my own luck. Black males in the United States, people are conditioned to be afraid of us. And people are conditioned to be afraid of the number 13. So, it’s a phobia, an irrational fear,” he adds even more contour to the origin of 13. “I confront people’s irrational fear of black men by being completely approachable, by being completely open. You know, come at the world with love, and with no agenda. But, don’t try me.” With that, he laughs, disarming the warning mostly but still retaining its strong advisory.
Coping with the ups and downs, when people do try him brings us to Vinyl Tap 215, DuiJi’s self-described group therapy session cleverly disguised as an indoor DJ jam session and flea market. Rotating monthly between Common Beat Music in West Philly and Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in Kensington, DuiJi gathers his “Just-us” League of Disc Jockeys – vinyl avengers? – for an all-day spin-a-thon of breakbeats, B-side classics, back of the crate slept-on’s, and head rockers. The women and men on the ones and twos support one another in creating and maintaining the vibe and join one another laughing in harmony. The record collectors selling their vinyl time capsules are dungeon masters of funk with so many stories to tell. The artisans – shining with an inviting spirit as they sell their handcrafted wares – are equal parts engaging and entrepreneurial. And the host – Starfire – is a constellation too breathtaking to behold, too exciting to be missed.
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It’s amid this embarrassment of experiential riches that DuiJi Mshinda guides us, part ship’s captain, part executive producer. That this event, starting kind of as a networking session initially, turned into a sea of musical tranquility is testament to the ethos bestowed to him by his mother, Loretta Garcia, who passed in 1997. He references her as a primary influence in his life.
“There’s a [Stephen Grellet] quote that was in our house – ‘I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.’ – so I was taught service and manners. And I didn’t realize, growing up, how special it was because it was just normal in my household. And [childhood friend] Dave, he told me that he learned in my house that,” at this his voice breaks, “love didn’t have a price tag. And my other friend Jere, she learned that you’re worthy just because you were born. And growing up white, middle class, Irish and Italian, those weren’t the life lessons of self-esteem that Jere was receiving at home, know what I mean?”
It brings it home that for all the bluster in history books about inalienable rights this is a lesson most people nonetheless still have to learn.
“There’s something about peer validation of the things that our parents say. It’s important that our kids pick good friends because we want them to be around people that are gonna reinforce what we’re teaching them, but we can’t predict who they decide to play with,” he cautions, “we just gotta hope.”
For his part, DuiJi’s lucked out, picking what he calls good friends.
“I keep picking good friends because my mom taught me how to be one. She would say [stuff] like, ‘In order to have a friend, you must first be one’ [or] ‘The road to a friend’s house is never long.’ I’ve seen my mom show up at somebody’s house to play cards, drink beer, and smoke weed. That’d be her intention for going. She gets there and, the parents aren’t home, she opens up the refrigerator and sees that it’s empty. She takes that same money she was gonna party with and goes to the supermarket, buys some food and cleaning supplies, or whatever. And [then] just go in the kitchen, clean it up, cook. And when the people come home from work, they got a full dinner. I’ve seen her do that shit.”
“I’ve seen her take money that was supposed to go on our electric bill, that was a little behind, and pay somebody else’s rent because her [man] beat her ass because he ain’t have no money for the rent.”
Sure, most people say their mothers were saints. In DuiJi’s mother’s case, it’s probably actually true. Then again, the saintly humility and self-awareness she possessed makes any such characterization too much.
“You know folks have some Buddha or some person in the sky they try to emulate,” he goes further. “My mom, she wasn’t no saint – but she taught me a lot about how to be a friend and how to show up for people.”
Show up for cinéSPEAK Under the Stars at Clark Park: Prince’s SIGN O’ THE TIMES 35th Anniversary hosted by Starfire and DuiJi 13 of Vinyl Tap 215; Friday, May 27, 7:30 p.m. (Doors), 9 p.m. (Screening); The Bowl at Clark Park, 4300 Chester Avenue.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story misspelled several names and mistakenly had the Clark Park event listed as Saturday instead of Friday. PW corrected the story and regrets the error.