At three months old Rajesh “DJ Raj” Mohammed needed to be placed in an incubator for observation. The oxygen levels in the incubator were turned up too high, severely damaging his retina. This carelessness and negligence of the hospital staff resulted in Mohammed permanently losing his eyesight as a baby.
Born in Tobago, Mohammed’s family moved to Trinidad in 1993 when he was five years old so he could attend the School for the Blind as there was no such facility on the Sister Isle.
Mohammed had never been treated as disabled at home, which allowed him to develop certain skills quickly and in a short time he was integrated into Santa Cruz RC then went on to what is now called San Juan North Secondary School.
“My parents never made me feel left out. I never felt blind and I did almost everything any boy would do, including getting up to mischief and getting licks. I was always a part of everything. In primary and secondary school, I was around sighted children who in time didn’t treat me any differently, so I further developed in an all-round manner,” Mohammed said.
Mohammed began to develop an interest in music from an early age. As a youth he was into mainly dancehall music. He had not yet embarked upon his journey as a musician, but the seeds of creativity and Christianity were subconsciously being planted during his youth.
“I always had a liking for music. I especially liked dancehall music. My era was the 1990s, so I was into Beenie Man, Super Cat and the other artists from that era. All this time I was going to church and stuff, but it was just a routine for me. My parents made me go. Yuh know how it is? They said you have to go to church and learn the scriptures or else is licks.
“Anyway, I was always interested in music and I had an uncle in Tobago, Uncle Juice, who used to take my finger and press it on the keyboard saying, ‘one day you will learn to play this’. At the Blind School I was learning to play the recorder and one day I said, yuh know, what if I took the notes from the recorder and tried to play it on the piano. Then ah started to play the piano with one finger, then ah started to hear more things so ah started to play with two fingers.
“Jumping forward to maybe 2008, through a friend I met Raf Robertson and Frankie Macintosh in birdsong and my music went to a different level. In school I would hear a random note somewhere and play it on the piano one day and the next day or days later go back and play the exact note. Frankie was amazed with this and would play five, six, seven notes and I would easily play them back for him. I didn’t know until he told me that I had the ability of perfect pitch. I didn’t know such a thing even existed until Frankie told me what it was,” Mohammed said.
Mohammed says his uncle remains one of his mentors as it was he who instilled in him the discipline to listen to a song and work at it until he could get the music as close to the original as possible. Robertson and Macintosh had great influence on his development as well. They helped him to expand his vocabulary in music, as well as how he played and how he could add more style and dynamics.
As a music producer, Mohammed credits Clint De Coteau who he met while working at the studio in the National Library, Port of Spain, as the person that taught him about critical listening and analytical listening, which has helped Mohammed to pay closer attention to even the most minute elements of his musical productions. Another major influence was fellow music producer, Jason Dasent who introduced Mohammed to the technology of music production and the tools and tricks a blind person can employ when creating music.
“I used to record using those Yamaha keyboards that had the floppy diskette. I used to try to make tracks on those keyboards because I didn’t know that there was actually software that was accessible to me that I could use as a visually impaired person. Jason was the one who exposed me to that. In fact, the very first production class I ever took was with Jason.
“The funny thing is Jason and I met because I wanted to record a song that I had written. I had a band playing the song and wanted to do a live recording. Jason told me that would cost a lot of money and he could do it for me for less and it would sound like a live band. When I went to his studio and I realised what he was doing by himself, I started to become more interested in production. From young I liked to record things and play it back. Things like people sleeping and ting,” Mohammed said.
A Seventh Day Adventist, Mohammed grew up attending church, but was not serious about his faith and the things of God. On his 18th birthday he asked God to give him his sight back. That did not happen, but he had a dream in which he was told that he had a purpose, which was to serve as an inspiration to people. He also dreamt he had gone to heaven and was sitting on the grass.
“Yeah boy. Ah was sitting on the lawn in heaven. I decided that I didn’t want to get leave out. Ah couldn’t miss de train nah! I knew this was real, so I got baptised. And I’ve still been able to do what I love, playing and creating music, but as a Christian for the Lord,” Mohammed said.
Mohammed owns the VIMS Productions Studio and recently created the released the “Christmas Tropics Riddim” featuring several gospel artistes. He had not intended to produce any music for the Christmas season, but gospel radio broadcaster, DJ Mickey (Mickey Mohammed) reached out to him and encouraged him to do something to help promote the studio.
“He asked me, ‘why yuh doh select some famous Christmas carols everybody know and do a medley, but in a soca parang style with a Leston Paul sort of feel nah boy? Think about it nah?’ I decided to take up the offer and try something. When ah started to put down the introduction, a progression came to meh mind and ah decided to put it down because once things come to meh mind, ah does put it down one time, so ah eh go forget it.
“When ah listen to it, ah say, wait nah, but this could be a riddim. I sent it to Mickey and he said, ‘well finish it and leh we make it a riddim. So dah’s how the riddim itself came about. The name, well, ah had a few names. First it was going to be ‘No Name Riddim’ and hear why. All the names I thought of before were not clicking and I just keep resorting to this unnamed riddim, then while looking for something as the artwork for the riddim, ah bounce up with this image with a coconut tree with lights and a lil sunset behind it, a lil island vibes nah. That’s how the name, ‘Christmas Tropics Riddim’ came about.’
The artistes featured on the riddim include Michelle Sylvester, DJ Paul, Nikeisha St Claire and Mr Fearless. Performing percussion was KMJ Productions, while mixing and mastering were done by Blue Fox. Both of these are headed by visually impaired persons.
“Moving forward, I just want to be an encouragement to people and to help others. I want to host some workshops along the way and to just keep creating music. And I just want to continue to honour God and fulfill my purpose here on Earth,” Mohammed concluded.