About the Episode
Podcast: Get Cultured, hosted by Noelle Black
Episode 4: Damani Gardner talks Friday Night Cru, ‘Fear’ of Fame & Love/Hate Relationship with Music
Why this Episode
I chose Noelle’s fourth episode of Get Cultured Jamaica to be my first review because I’ve known of the Rap/R&B duo, Friday Night Cru during my last years of high school in Jamaica.
Damani Gardner the guest of the week and Djavan Warner, the personal connection, have come a long way since those early years. In many ways the unprecedented development of their style, determination, and production quality has surmounted everyone’s expectations. Unfortunately, overcoming expectations back home with respect to the Jamaican community, is not really a feat worth celebrating. In the streets of Kingston, there seem to be only two levels of recognition when it comes to creative endeavors: overwhelming cynicism or flat apathy. This fatal flaw in our ability to recognize talent, rooted in our self-deprecating culture is a fact that Damani seems to be painfully aware of. To make it as a young artist in somewhere like The United States is stressful enough. But to actually make music and earn money doing that in a place like Kingston requires a new level of grit.
The guarded atmosphere of the University of the West Indies, where Noelle and Damani met during their first year, is evident from the very beginning of the interview. Noelle starts the conversation by admitting to Damani that when she was first introduced to him as a musician from Wolmer’s High, she immediately rolled her eyes. At the time, there were a lot of guys also from Wolmer’s making music. Eventually, Noelle recognized that Damani was more determined than most people and came to appreciate his sound. For anyone unfamiliar with the context of UWI, despite being the best college in the country, the campus is filled with doubt, especially towards creative types. Noelle comments that this often leads to ‘troll comments’ such as peers asking ‘why you nuh buss yet’ when someone is just starting out.
Love-Hate Relationship with Music
Noelle really does a good job here of opening up her exploration into Damani’s creative journey by first complimenting his voice, a compliment that he has a hard time receiving, one of his worse traits. Damani started making music with his best friend Djavan in December 2009 as a hobby in their bedroom, demonstrating their passion from youth. Up until that summer, Damani had favored rock music and artists like Coldplay when Djavan introduced him to hip-hop; around the time of Best I Ever Had by Drake. From that point on artists like Runkus, DJ/Kindah, J. Cole, and Fabulous had a positive influence on Damani early on in his career.
Around the seven-minute mark, Damani reflects on the music-making process, in terms of studying other artists and then finding creative ways to incorporate his sound. When Noelle asks Damani if he writes his own lyrics, he is proud to share that all of his content is original. He attributes his cadence – the modulation of the voice (and a word I just learned of myself) – to his early years of writing poetry. Learning the complexities of music production and the technicalities was the hard part, and what Damani feels scares most amateurs off, because of the years of time and money needed.
If you listen to a Friday Night Cru song before the podcast episode, Fever, in particular, you will come to appreciate Damani’s distaste for the constant judgment that happens when someone achieves local notoriety. Maybe it’s for this reason that he thinks he would be more comfortable wearing a mask when performing. When someone makes the decision to live in the creative space as a profession, we should honor their commitment by not expecting the same level of short term success that comes from pursuing money as the end all and be all. We should be eager to support new artists and put overplayed tunes like ‘It Wasn’t Me!’ out of their misery.
Noelle asks how they made the transition from Twisted Mindz the hobby, to Friday Night Cru the brand. Damani says that the duo really started calling themselves professional musicians during his second year of university, after seeing the reactions of supportive fans. The origin of their name, Damani admits, was stolen from his siblings, who had a friend group that would hang out on Friday nights of the same name.
About halfway into the podcast, Noelle asks Damani if he ever gets demotivated while making music. He responds that the unique style and out of the box sound of Friday Night Cru positions their group to continue attracting influential listeners. When asked about finding their space in the local scene, Damani responds that while there are gigs, the duo is more focused on building a steady audience overseas, with ambitions of moving to Los Angeles and launching the next stage of their career. A quick search of Tessellated, a 21-year old producer in the same creative space, and his recent success with I Learned Some Jazz Today, recently featured on an Apple Airpods commercial, showcases the monumental achievement possible for those willing to take risks.
Working with friends & fear of fame
When asked what it’s like to work with his best friend, Damani admits that they really haven’t had many trying times as of yet. At most, they had to stop working on a song, with most of the conflict being about creative license. I was sort of hoping that Noelle would have pushed him to further explore this area of contention. Not saying I wanted him to spill the beans, but rather to hear more about what it’s like co-owning an original product and its final version. In terms of the rest of the team, Adam Armond is the manager and video editor, while Anna Peralto, who lives in CA, oversees artistic direction.
Towards the end, host Noelle segways into her personal fear of fame. She talks about having specific goals in mind that require a certain level of exposure, although she doesn’t aspire to be as famous as a musician. She reflects that building a following takes years of time and effort, along with a strong stomach for criticism, and recognizes the need to center herself in her perspective. She compares fame to a double-edged sword, where recognition has its perks, but the loss of personal space can be challenging to come to terms with. I liked hearing from Noelle and felt it was a shame she saved so much of her personal opinion until the very end. In his own pursuit of fame, Damani wishes that he could achieve the same level of success as J. Cole in 2014 when he won the best album of the year but was still able to maintain a reasonable level of personal space. Coincidentally, 2014 was also the same year that Carry on Friends covered the fear of success.
Pro Tip: If you have not yet listened to this episode of Get Cultured and you have a choice of platform, watch the Youtube version. I felt the sound quality improved and that I could more easily read the chemistry between the two, especially when Noelle managed to make eye contact.