THE AGENDR

Meet the ones with an AGENDR! 

These are persons who are movers and shakers in the industry, changing the face of sound….
and ROCKING IT!

Every month we feature someone new who is doing their part to educate, empower and create awareness of women, girls, non binary, trans and gender non conforming persons in the audio and AV industry in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean region.

 

TANDRA "IYTES" JHAGROO

TJ
Tandra Jhagroo
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10 QUESTIONS WITH TANDRA "IYTES" JHAGROO

1. Can you give us a glimpse into the early life of Tandra? -some formative moments in your life, how did you get your start in music and what drew you to it?...Also, tell us about where the name “Lytes” came from.


The set up definitely comes from this unique situation i experienced from a young age - travelling between Canada and Jamaica.  It started because  I think my parents weren’t properly established and maybe a little stressed, so I was sent to Jamaica for a couple of years until they could stabilise.  I think it was my Dad that landed a union position in Northern Alberta.  So the trek was, from Fort McMurray to Mandeville once or twice a year.    I can recall old jamaica as much as new Jamaica, because I’ve lived in both. 


As for music, that’s my parents.  I say they used to express themselves (especially during an arguement) thru their record collection.  I knew my Dad’s selections as much as my moms.  My Dad would hit up some motown songs and my Mom would respond with Millie Jackson.  And I knew what it meant when Teddy Pendergrass was playing… okuuurr


I had a lot of alone time and used to pretend I was Sheila E in Prince’s band! I remember reading credits to the first Prince album I bought and seeing this name “Susan Rodgers” everywhere.  Prince would sometimes work under pseudonyms, until it started to click that maybe she was a whole person.  I don’t know why I took note of these women working around Prince, but I did. 


Fast forward to university, my roommates actually got me into making them old-school mixtapes - and they were garbage, worst mixes ever, but I hooked up the system to a separate tape recorder unit and worked it out on this really dodgy and old Radio Shack mixer with a crossfader - the type with a backlit VU meter… the soft glow of the orange light was everything!   I was doing ‘music’ when that light came on.    I would come home for vacation and park my bed by the records and turntables in the basement and be happy until it was time to go back to school.  


Somehow I turned into an official DJ when a cousin parked a pair of Techniques in our basement.  DJ Blackcat gave me my first real break in Toronto -I had half a crate of records that I acquire from Detroit while attending U of Windsor, but it was enough for an hour set! 


Engineering came after University when I had this B. Sc. in Physics and no clue what to do with it… I started to panic cuz I knew desk jobs weren’t for me and at the time, there was no “creative industry”… I took some time to myself and one day “speakers” popped into my head.  That I can build and design speakers.  Closest thing I could find was an audio engineer program at Trebas and the rest is HERstory. 


2. I know you take influence from a wide range of music from Michael Jackson, Metallica to Teddy Pendergrass, Sly & Robbie and Robert Livingstone. How and why, maybe other than having Jamaican heritage, did you decide to focus on music of Jamaica? 


I wasn’t focusing on the music of Jamaica.  I was following work and an opportunity came up.  This is the thing.  One of my instructors owned the busiest reggae studio in toronto, Slamm - Sam Weller, brought me on as staff after graduation.  He went on to head another program at Toronto Film School.  In order for me to qualify to teach, I had to work for a year and half.  So Sam was like, “it’s good money”…  At the time, I just needed everything to be flexible.   Needed flexible hours at work and studio because I had club residency to attend to on the weekend because I just wanted money to live, pay student loans and buy gear.   It was a basic survival lan I bought into…lolol .. nothing fancy.  What had happened was… A client had this son, a freaking prodigy (grew up to be a massive producer!!) and Universal Canada had him in Jamaica working on album.  The father bought my plane ticket separately and asked if I had a place to stay in Jamaica - which by then, my grandparents relocated to Kingston, so YEH!  


This is precisely the point where I was met with equal resistance and acceptance.  On the one hand, family is thinking i’m nuts and hanging out with buuguu-yaagaa people listening to bop-bop music… while on the other,  I was meeting prominent Jamaica producers, studio owners and artists and meeting them with well honed-skills, something they’ve rarely if ever seen from a woman.   



3. How would you describe your sound as a mixing engineer and what or who inspires you in the studio?


Well, that’s the thing. Because of teaching, I didn’t develop a sound at first, I mastered technique because I had to teach them to everyone.  I understood from early out to look at the businesses created around music and how to make money.   Also I have as much film experience as music.  Film requires 6 different types of audio, not just music.  My skills are not limited to just music. 


I believe I completed a film mix before an actual music mix.  I was more the type to edit or record the session and leave it for a mix engineer or producer to go mix.   I can’t say appreciated the sound of mixing in Canada  - this was pre-drake and weeknd era, so things were a bit weird in Toronto for  a while in the music scene.  There were no hit makers and I had grown tired of these wanna-be’s coming to studio with all this hype and no music behind it.   I had been teaching for 3 years and started to see students going on to active lives, but i wasn’t. 


It was this trip to Jamaica that had me sitting behind Bulby York - he’s a phenom, started mixing hits while he was a teen.  At the time I had no idea he was half of Fat Eyes, but I know a room that is getting mixed when I hear one. And when I heard him… I was hooked.  The next morning I was asking him if there was  a way I could work in jamaica.  


I spent about a year and a half just listening to good mixing.  It’s never about watching a person, it’s about listening, especially in those first 20-30 min.  That’s where most of the mix is set.  


I guess I was developing my technique and that the sound came later.   I knew I had something competitive when my mixes worked on songs that people loved to hear.  




4. What were some of the hardships or barriers you’ve faced as a Caribbean woman out in the world pursuing a full-time career in music, and how were you able to overcome these? 


I must say, this is where Jamaica worked against me.  The minute you say to the world, “i mix dancehall and reggae”, is like they don’t take you seriously.  I had to learn what that was all about - it wasn’t personal, it was being associated with  a local industry that is inconsistent and, in the earlier days, rapidly converging towards a digital era relatively later than everyone else. 


I saw individuals that owned companies go thru resistance. I took their resistance as a sign that I should lean into something, not hide from it.  In short, I took an internship at local digital aggregator before it was a thing.  I wanted to know about this new way of doing business, and the owner was cool about me being an engineer.    Working for Red Bull and the many spin-off projects stirred a lot of opportunity my way.  


At this point I would say I had gathered experience, but wasn’t connecting the dots, wasn’t thinking about ownership, wasn’t thinking about developing a catalogue, nor any of the creative projects I have now.    Once I started to put projects centralised around my interests and skill sets, then the puzzle began to come together.  Also I’m blessed with a circle that talks in solutions and “next moves”.




5. Now tell us something good! What are your top 3 most outstanding career moments thus far?


Working for Red Bull - this was a failure actually as the studio was never built, but what an awesome company and legacy in music they’ve created and am glad to have interacted with them. 


Coming to Jamaica to learn to mix - i came at a time where this is an art form that’s disappearing. 


I don’t know what day it was, but I knew the minute I realised that I could mix music anywhere on the planet, was a great moment for me!




6. Do you have any advice for other females in the audio and AV industry? Maybe on how to build relationships and maintain engagement with their following? How to gain and maintain respect from their male coworkers? How to stay creative and motivated in quarantine or generally when the hardships of the industry bring you down?


Lolol. .. i probably have really bad advice and it’s not because I consumed a lot of weed during COVID.  Quite the opposite.  Spend time with yourself.  Centre yourself and govern your thoughts.  Find your voice and speak truthfully with kindness, not from a place of contempt or jealousy.  Respect your position in the room as well as others and that we are all called into the room for a job.  


I want to say that  it’s not always personal, but that sometimes it is and it’s really unfair at times.  I want to say this is the shit we signed up for, but that it doesn’t have to be.   I’m reluctant to say much because Im speaking from a place of experience  that you can’t get until you get it and that part feels unfair. 


COVID has been this big space of in-between at times, other times, I’m super busy.  I was this way before COVID though.  Was already engaged with my circle plotting our next set of moves.  It didn’t feel like a massive shift in my life, if anything, the days get compressed because of shortened hours.  Ultimately, this became the thing for me… can I stay focused and not lapse into my comfort zone.  What things could I push thru during these times.  



7. You have worked with some noteworthy names like Drake, Popcaan, Shaggy, Sly & Robbie, Sizzla. Wow! Tell us about those experiences! 


So lets break this down into Foreigners and Locals.  Local super stars are all pretty much down to earth, super smart and intuitive.  


Now the elders, you better not be there for your pretty looks, you better can work.  Once your work is good, then they simply expect you to maintain that level and keep going as you will be called on.   We see each other  at work .. that’s the vibe, nothing but mutual respect.


The foreign artists now, that’s a little trickier.  I engineer sessions at Geejam  and it’s one of those things I used to take personal, now I don’t.   I’ve since learned to let the island do it’s thing for the artist.  Usually their team members are more relaxed, however, the artists are there to work!!  


  

8. We salute you for your vast experience and progress from engineer, to producer to Project Leader and A&R for a compilation album featuring Jamaican and Canadian talent. Tell us about how that transition was for you and tell us about “Big Woman Tingz”


Thank you! Currently, this is what I’m most proud of, that and owning my studio.  I’m still working out the paperwork and such, but it’s mine!   Doing all these things make sense, but now makes more sense.  It simply means, come check me  if it’s music you’re doing.  


It’s the same attitude I brought to the Big Woman Tingz project.  “Music yuh seh yuh doin, so lets do an album”… that’s it.   That’s how this began.   As this newly formed club, we needed to galvanise, so why not.  Then I was told to draft the proposal.  I must say, this is when it got serious, cuz it was just talk. I wasn’t expecting to handle that part, but didn’t mean that I couldn’t. 

I like to keep track of any situation in the most simplest of ways and taking in issues from 10 different artists with 10 different issues would have been over the top, so i quickly narrowed focus to just the goal, which was to get an album released in 2018 via the internet.  Still had various issue, but the goal never shifted.  


The project definitely required connecting of dots and I want to do 10 of these compilations so I have many more dots to connect, but i can fill the journey with more programs and support for the GURLES organisation. 



9. What’s a day in the life of Tandra? (you can tell us about your pre-pandemic life and what has changed this year).


I’m a morning person, up before the sun type of morning person.  Exercise or mediation for sure.  I’m teaching a set of women how to engineer - it’s experimental, we have a WhatsApp group, I’m trying to fill it with stuff I think they should know, but sometimes I wonder if I’m just flooding the room with too much…. Anyhow, I’m cherry picking tutorials for them before we meet up.


If I fell asleep during a mix, then it’s back at it first thing in the morning. Check in with studio and my business partners, then roll out my day.  Either I have sessions or I’m mixing.  Evenings usually downtime, but I just bought SB3 Pioneer mixer and restocking my DJ playlists, so who knows - I’m doing couple late night DJ sets on IG just for shits and giggles.  


I probably didn’t start the year with a healthy mindset, but I’m ending the year on a high note and great mental flexibility. I really can’t complain. It’s blessed. 



10. Finish the sentence, “ I am…”?


I am about to start my day :)

it’s 5:46am and I need to arrange a photo shoot for myself sometime this week. 


Kidding, I’m blazing a trail that I often never look back at.  It’s not hard to share the knowledge I’ve acquired, but I find it better to stay in doing-mode.  Doing an EP, working on the backend, educating them today so they can think for themselves tomorrow.  Staying consist for my own needs so I have accumulated worth.  I’m thinking about Legacy these days and what this looks like when I finally take a second to look back.