For the last 18 years DJ Danger has hosted a tremendously popular Sunday night reggae party at the Casba in Broad Ripple. That comes to an end soon: Danger (legal: Charles Byfield) announced last month he was planning a move to Virginia.
Danger's weekly event has played a crucial role in establishing a presence for international music within the Indianapolis nightlife scene, as well as providing a sense of place and a source of communion for hundreds of Caribbean and African immigrants residing in Indy.
I recently sat down with Danger to discuss his time in Indianapolis and his thoughts on leaving. We were joined by Danger's close friend and business partner DJ Indiana Jones (Ron Miner) who founded the Sunday night Casba reggae party in 1997.
Danger estimates that he's been involved with reggae music for 43 years. "I was grown up in the ghetto part of Jamaica, what them call Kingston,” he told me. “From there I was a little toddler and I moved to Patrick City where my grandmother buy a house. I started playing records when I was 10 years old. We had a sound system there called Jah Love Muzik: the sound that make you feel your heart shiver." Danger arrived in Indianapolis during the mid-'90s, after a stint in New York. The hot summer weather and laid-back Hoosier atmosphere reminded him of his Jamaican home, and he had a sense his music might take root here.
In a poetic stroke of timing, Danger's entry into the Indianapolis DJ scene coincided with the return of Indiana Jones, who'd spent a portion of the mid-'90s living in NYC. During his time in New York Jones became actively involved in the city's robust reggae DJ culture, and he was eager to bring the Caribbean sound back to his hometown. It wasn't long before the two reggae DJs would meet in Indy.
"I was at the Casba spinning some proper music,” says Indiana Jones, of the first time they met. “I had the Selassie flag behind me. Danger comes down the stairs and over to my table and he says, 'You offend me.' I took that as a compliment. I said, 'If that offended you, listen to this.' And I put on another 45. We went back and forth like that until he finally he said, 'You need to come check me.' “ Jones agreed to meet with Danger.
"I went over to his house and I'll never forget this, it was filled with records," Jones says. "It was an amazing collection of every record you could ever want. I was like, 'All right you can start coming to the Casba.' And he would start showing up and give me a little thing here and there. Finally I was like, 'You just need to come in and do your thing.' " What could've turned into a rivalry between Jones and Danger became a friendship instead. Jones' decision to add Danger to the Sunday night Casba roster was exactly what the party needed; Danger's skill behind the decks and knowledge of Jamaican music helped to build the party into an Indianapolis nightlife institution.
"When I started the night I thought it might last a month," Jones said. "When Danger got involved and I saw that this guy was really who he said he was, then I knew we would have a long-lasting legacy. But I didn't think it would be 18 years. Now I don't ever see it stopping unless they sell the place. It's packed down there every Sunday night. Even during a snowstorm, it's packed.” How do they keep the vibe fresh after almost 20 years?
"I don't premeditate,” Danger said. “When I go to Casba, I don't select music before and say, 'This is what I'm going to play tonight.' I just go and whatever vibes come, they come." Jones jumped in: "He's being real humble. You're looking at a man who has been DJing since the 1970s. He's not only been able to implement all the roots sounds of reggae, but also keep up with all the current trends whether it's Alkaline or Mavado or Gully Bop or Vybz Kartel or whatever new artist.
Danger is a one stop shop for all things Jamaican. Even though he's lived in Indianapolis for over 20 years, he has still maintained his Jamaican connection.” “I look forward to it every Sunday. I call it church,” Danger said. “That is my church on a Sunday evening. I make my friends and foes come together to enjoy themselves." In an industry where most DJ nights are lucky to last 18 weeks, Danger's 18-year run at the Casba could be compared to Cal Ripken, Jr.'s record setting 2,632 consecutive game streak in baseball. I asked Danger how many nights he'd missed during his tenure at the Casba, he just grinned a humble smile and let out a slow laugh.
But Jones jumped in to answer for him: "Three weeks when he broke his ribs! He took a vacation once and the only other time he missed was when he broke his ribs. We said, 'Take six weeks off, and we'll pay you.' But three weeks, later he was back in there. It's such a beautiful thing.” But that beautiful thing is coming to an end. Danger's last night at the Casba is Sunday, May 17.
I asked Danger if it hurt to leave his friends and the scene he helped to build. "Obviously it does," he said. "But it's like when you're on a bike and the bike drop you. You're bruk up, but you get up, wash yourself off and take a treatment. I got hurt, but my intention is to get back together and do more work." And Jones? “I'm a little choked up," Jones answered after a long, silent pause. "I'm very sad. I'm as sad as I can get for a man leaving my life. But I'm also excited for him. There might be a bigger market for him there on the beach in Virginia. Danger brought an authenticity and a reggae knowledge that's unparalleled in Indianapolis. The bottom line is wherever he goes it's going to be good for reggae." But he also promises to keep the party going.
"Danger's legacy is big and we're going to preserve that legacy,” Jones says. “There's going to be no drop-off at the dance on Sunday night. I don't want want him to come back and it's whack.” As the interview came to an end, I asked Danger if he had any final thoughts for Indianapolis. He shot back some Rastafarian wisdom.
"Be yourself and do the good you can to all the people you can. Never think you're better than nobody, because no one is better than no one. We're all the same and everything is love." After I turned off my recorder, Jones told me he refuses to say goodbye to Danger. Instead he'll say "likkle more,” a phrase in Jamaican patois which roughly translates to "see you later." Jones promises he'll be bringing Danger back to spin in Indy as often as possible. Indy can join Jones in saying "likkle more" at Danger's send-off party this Sunday at the Casba.