No Man Curse: the collective putting Caribbean culture centre stage
The Soho Desert House performers share their group roots before heading to the Coachella Valley
Wednesday 13 April 2022 By Jauretsi Saizarbitoria Photography by Kasia Trojak
‘You know that the diaspora is truly having a moment right now,’ music manager Damon DeGraff says about his Caribbean roots. This evening is a moment of alignment for both his heritage and global culture at large. ‘These are the records that are on the charts now, the ones Justin Bieber is sampling… or he is getting on singles of Afrobeat artists.’ It seems pop culture is moving into space.
Enter No Man Curse, a collective comprised of DeGraff, and his friends Kenny Mac and Jian Allen. All three men are standing in their power tonight at Soho Warehouse, one of the members’ club’s biggest outposts on the West Coast. The double billing includes Sunset Sounds – a rooftop event held at sundown followed by a late-night performance in the Drawing Room until closing. The experience is 100% elevated Caribbean. ‘Let’s call it sexy and aspirational,’ smiles DeGraff.
Performing on stage are acts handpicked by him and his team. They include Jimmy October, whom The Fader have dubbed ‘Trinidad’s newest musical innovator’. There’s also Kalpee, fresh off the heels of SXSW, who is donned ‘dancehall’s next generation’ by Pitchfork, and DJ Makeda, a selector from Rwanda with Jamaican ancestry. ‘It’s all kind of rooted from Africa, right?’ asks DeGraff, who asserts the collective’s deep commitment to exploring Afro-Caribbean culture, listing everywhere from Trinidad and Jamaica to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and South Africa. ‘We play or we live in that space across the board.’ Unlike other parties that claim island themes, yet play Drake instead, DeGraff insists ‘we want to do a party for six hours and only play music that comes from the diaspora’.
The group was founded in New York and is the brainchild of Mac. Raised by a father from Trinidad and a mother from Antigua, he has been throwing parties since he was 16 in Washington D.C. As a child, he hopped around the islands, including St Lucia and Barbados. Eventually, he moved to NYC and landed a gig at Vibe magazine, the epicentre of urban cool, founded by Quincy Jones.
While booking DJs, Mac met Bermuda-born DeGraff who was managing Mark Ronson under the banner Cheeba Sound, carving his own path in the advent of celebrity DJ. ‘The downtown scene had a very kind of unique bond,’ admits DeGraff, who also managed D’Angelo. Mac moved on to work at Rolling Stone, before being yanked by Puff Daddy to be head of marketing. As both men were dominating their American fields, they formed a bond. ‘Our Caribbean connection was part of that reason and we started throwing parties together in in New York,’ says Mac.
Mac was the first to move to LA, having reinvented his career by producing his first film, Antebellum with Janelle Monáe. Fast forward and COVID-19 hits. The story goes like this. DeGraff moved back to Bermuda to recharge, rethink, and plug into family. ‘The one big thing the pandemic did was get you connected with your people again, right?’ admits Mac, while DeGraff replies, ‘That’s what brothers do.’ Normally thinking on the same wavelength, DeGraff shared some merchandise ideas from his band roster. Thinking the graphics were ‘fire’, Mac immediately motivated the music manager. ‘You need to have a brand’, which tipped DeGraff in the direction he was thinking.
Right off the bat, Mac brought the merch to the iconic streetwear shop, Union. These products are an important pillar for No Man Curse, dodging lazy cliches of the Caribbean. ‘It’s not just like, let’s do a T-shirt that’s red, yellow and green and put Bob Marley on the front’, says DeGraff. No Man Curse merch sits beside brands like Fear of God, sold on the coveted shelves of Union, LA’s premiere streetwear spot. Union’s owner, Chris Gibbs, is of Barbadian roots, thereby expanding the tribe of authentic supporters as the vision evolves.
The third member of No Man Curse, Jian Allen, wasn’t born in the Caribbean. He is from Ohio, but bopped his way around top industries in New York, LA, Chicago, and Portland, where he worked for Nike for 20 years. ‘I have an immense amount of love, respect and admiration for the way that Caribbean culture has shaped even my own appreciation for culture, creativity, style, and music,’ he says. Allen’s background is steeped in marketing, working with NBA athletes such as Kobe Bryant, serving as his global brand director. Summarising the group dynamic, DeGraff brings the vision, Mac brings the opportunities, and Allen takes the vision of the opportunity and makes them actionable, thereby making this team unstoppable.
Mac explains the natural way it all came together. ‘The first time I brought Jian and Damon together was here at Soho Warehouse,’ he says. ‘We were always upstairs, just hanging out to have brotherhood on Fridays,’ adds Allen. ‘Then one day, we mutually decided to do a Caribbean pool party on the seventh floor.’ And that’s how their monthly Sound Session DJ night came to be, kicking off the beginning of a great partnership with Soho House. ‘It’s a community that we wanted to tap into and build from,’ he explains. ‘We’ve started the dialogue around taking No Man Curse experiences to other Houses, not just around North America.’
Their first event outside Soho Warehouse takes place this month, as No Man Curse travels to Desert House in the Coachella Valley on a 40-acre oasis, complete with Soho House bars, food stations, and pop-ups. Expect artists such as Jimmy October and Noise Cans (from Steve Aoki’s label) performing in modern Gombey masks, an iconic Bermuda-based symbol of resistance to colonisers. Rising Jamaican artist, Tessellated, joins the bill, too. Their curation represents the new creative wave bursting out of the Caribbean. Think of No Man Curse as your cool curators to deliver not just reggae, dancehall, soca, and afrobeats, but the culture as a whole to the masses.
Between the music, the parties and the merch, the founders tell me they just want you to leave one of their events with the same sense of pride they feel towards their roots. ‘In terms of representing, I’m just in a place within my life to really be able to stand in my truth of who I am as an island man, a confident man,’ says DeGraff. With such a noble mission, the men of No Man Curse are already blessed coming out of the gates.
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