On DJing In the Live Music Capitol of the World: 2019 Resident Artist DJ Shani
Shani Hebert is a DJ in #BBATX’s 2019 Residency. In this interview, she talks about her journey from Chicago to Austin, the historical roots of house music, and how she supports the creative community as a tax preparer.
This interview has been condensed from a conversation with #BBATX committee member Tess Cagle.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Heavily influenced by the soul, funk & jazz scenes of Chicago’s south side, DJ Shani has always been enveloped by music. Throughout her childhood, her family taught her the roots of her sound (Zydeco, Blues, Jazz, Reggae, Funk, Soul), while the radio (Energy 88.7fm, B96, WGCI) taught her the future of her sound. After a few years in the rave scene, first as a patron then as a promoter, she noticed that the energy was inviting, but it was missing something. While she was a junior at Loyola University - Chicago, she set in motion what would be her biggest contribution to the House music scene to date.
In May of 1998, DJ Shani created & produced a Deep House radio show coined “The Groove Temple®” on WLUW-88.7FM that filled a void for the most prominent, yet canceled house music radio station, WBMX. She has a humble, personal & realistic outlook about the DJ craft.
Cagle: Tell us about your background. When did you become a DJ? How did you get to where you are now?
DJ Shani: I went to my first warehouse party the night of my 17th birthday and I was hooked! I’d never seen so many interesting looking people, grooving to the most interesting music I’d never heard before. I ended up throwing parties with three crews as a senior in high school. I realized something was missing. It was missing soul. When I started college at Loyola University Chicago, I signed up for the college radio station, WLUW 88.7FM. They called me back and I presented a proposal stating that I knew so and so and had been to this club and that club. In reality, I only knew three DJs and one club. I didn’t realize that I was manifesting at the ripe age of 20 and ended up playing at many clubs and knowing professionally and personally every DJ I mentioned. The Groove Temple aired May 14, 1999. I was the executive producer, host, sound engineer, marketing contact; I was everything!
In the fall of 1999, I started working at the world famous, Gramaphone Records in Chicago. In 2004, I moved to Paris to study French and temporarily gave my show to fellow trustworthy DJs. While there, I went to La Sorbonne Paris IV, worked at a bar in Bastille and DJ’d with Les Nubians’ DJ, DJ Wamba. I returned to the States and started producing, hosting, and DJing my show again and even wrote a song with Glenn Underground. I’d come back with so much new and different music and a new outlook on what house music and deep house could be. It was great! I then moved to Southern California for about three years, then moved to Austin.
In my travels I always kept The Groove Temple running, as an executive producer. Now, I’ve returned to my roots of not only being the executive producer, but also the host. The Groove Temple airs on Soundwave Radio 92.3FM (London) Tuesday nights 10p-midnight. Since moving to Austin, I wanted to bring pieces of my musical experiences to my new home. I brought Chicago house legend Ron Trent to Austin for the first time with an amazing crew. I also produce an annual Black History Month event. The fourth was this past February featuring I Wanna Be Her, myself and the headliner, Blue Nefertiti (Les Nubians). I also play every Friday at Halcyon for “Freedom Fridays” which is an exploration in Black Music where I play everything from Reggae, to Soul to Disco and, of course, deep house.
Cagle: Since you're not originally from Texas, what was the transition like from Chicago to Austin? Were there any growing pains or discrepancies between the two music industries?
DJ Shani: It took a few years for me to remember that I wasn’t on vacation after moving here. Austin weather is amazing, even in the winter. In terms of the difference between Austin and Chicago’s music industries, it is still a bit of a shock that Austin isn’t further along than I thought it would have been. The Live Music Capitol of the World, I learned, only spoke to bands. It was disheartening that DJs weren’t even considered musicians partly because we don’t have to lug our drum kits to our shows. But we do have to lug our DJ equipment to our shows sometimes, must know the mechanics of each song, and figure out how to curate a musical experience from the thousands of songs we own.
I noticed that DJs here are sometimes considered human jukeboxes. Of course, it depends on where you play and who you play for, but it’s a bit of a shock to hire someone to want to hear the same music you’ve always heard, can sing along to, etc. Another growing pain is to accept the fact that people don’t know about deep house. Most people that I mention the word to equate it to EDM. EDM is more geared towards a younger crowd; not many vocals, melodies or harmonies. To make it simple, it’s more techno (Detroit) based and not house (Chicago) based. Please understand I’m not snubbing EDM. I used to freak out for Happy Hardcore and Acid House is still one of my all-time favorites.
It’s still amazing to me that people also didn’t know that house music comes from the Black community, more specifically the Black Gay community. Now the younger generation has an idea of where it came from with “Pose” and “Paris is Burning”, but in Austin when I first arrived, house music seemed very whitewashed and uninformed. I’m glad to say that things are changing for the better because people are a lot more openminded in Austin and they are willing to listen to things they haven’t heard of before. Any music industry in any city can be a bit intense, but my experience here has been that people are more open.
Cagle: You are also an accountant. How do your two career trajectories complement one another?
DJ Shani: I’m not an accountant, but a tax preparer. I worked for H&R Block for seven years first as a tax professional, then a bilingual co-instructor, then an instructor, then a manager. I never liked to blend my DJ life with my corporate life, until I realized that my colleagues had no idea what questions to ask the creative clients that came into their offices. Because the self-employed usually don’t have W-2s or ‘normal’ jobs, only some wouldn’t think to question a client’s receipts for four packs of guitar strings because she went on tour. The other offices referred their clients to wherever I was, and I started to have a following. I realized that I had a niche market and wanted to try doing it on my own, so I started Hebert Tax Consulting, LLC.
HTC is a tax preparation firm that specialized in the creative individual, freelancer, LLC & S-Corps. I was trained in doing taxes for people that were employees, sold/bought stock, had rental properties, etc. but my specialty has always been the independent contractor, the self-employed and people that need multiple years done. Taxes are like one humongous Sudoku board to me and I freakin’ love puzzles! I’ve have presented free tax workshops at the Carver, Dub Academy and Brew & Brew. I’ll be having more free tax workshops this summer.
Cagle: What advice would you give to a new DJ wanting to carve out a space for themselves in the local music industry?
DJ Shani: My advice to anyone that wants to be a DJ here in town is to first work on their craft. Whatever you use (turntables, controllers, CDJs), practice at least weekly. Don’t give up! Your favorite DJ sounded terrible at some point in their DJ careers—never forget that. Record your sets and listen to them. With practicing, you’ll be able to understand what your style is. I’ve been doing this for 21 years and just in the last four to six years have I truly felt like I’ve found my sound. After you think you have an idea, do your research on what Austin digs. Go to the places that play what you’d like to perform at the venues that perform it. Key tip—don’t immediately go to the manager and ask for a night. Pull back and observe. You’ll probably see things that you’d do differently or things that you’d never thought of that you want to do. Remember your reputation is key and don’t appear distraught.
Cagle: Do you remember the first piece of music that really affected you?
DJ Shani: The first record that completely touched me is called “I Fight For What I Believe” by Ron Trent featuring Sonti.
Cagle: What's your dream gig? Dream collaborator?
DJ Shani: My dream collaboration is to DJ for the Special/Paralympics. Six years ago, I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. After my diagnosis, I learned that people viewed me and spoke to me as if I was an enigma. At the core, the mobility-impaired are just like abled bodies: We still like to laugh, see a great film, have a delicious meal and make love. I’d like to be the ‘face’ of the disabled (in a media setting) that shows the world that we may not be able to run, but we can definitely make you boogie!
My dream gig is at least one per continent, except Antarctica—I really don’t like cold weather.
Cagle: What one thing you think anyone should know about you to really understand "who you are?"
DJ Shani: There’s always more than meets the eye with me.
Cagle: What are some mini or monumental objects or opportunities that you consider a key part of who you are today — i.e.: what films, books, artists, places, etc., have been most influential in shaping you?
DJ Shani: The 4 Agreements, Varadero, Cuba, and my grandmother’s recipes.
About #bbatx's The Residency: We annually work with 10 to 15, Texas-based women-identifying and nonbinary visual and musical artists to produce site-specific work, commissions and exhibitions throughout our programming and events. Through these residencies, we invite the public to learn more about their process, approach and sustainability of their practice. Click here to meet this year's artists.