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Why Tropicalia's Jim Thomson Stays Open-Minded About Booking

Q & A with Jim Thomson, booker for Tropicalia, a "global dancehall" and Washington D.C.'s coolest music venue.


Photo Credit: Darrow Montgomery, Washington City Paper


1. What is the first thing you like to tell people who haven’t been to your space when they ask what it’s like? 

 It's a global dancehall located at the historical cultural crossroads of 14th and U St. in Washington, D.C. Basement club with amazing sound system and dance floor. It's a place for global sounds from Europe, South America and Africa - Brazilian electro, baile funk, afrobeat, afrohouse, Balkan beats, dancehall, Italian disco, new Latin, SubTropical, Digital Cumbia, Turkish psych, funk and everything else that doesn't have a "home base" in DC right now.

2. How does your venue and programming differ from other similar ones? 

 Other venues and performance spaces in DC that do similar programming are generally subsidized and have an element of non-profit funding. We like to remain open-minded about booking. Some of the world artists we present normally play in spaces that are more institutional cultural centers and people may feel inhibited to dance and get loose. You can definitely get down at Tropicalia. The DJ's that spin are also globally-minded-that is if the DJ's are spinning house or techno you'll hear some roots influences in the music.

3. What are one or two (world music) artists you had in the past couple of years whose live stage performance blew you away? 

Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang & Garifuna Collective.

4. If you think of yourself as a curator, how would you describe your personal curatorial vision for the artists that play at your venue? Are there certain things that every artist has to have? Are the certain things that at least one artist every month or two at your venue has to have? 

My personal tastes like some sort of "edge" to be in the mix. Most artists from non-Western parts of the globe are "edgy" by default of the incredible journey they took to get to our stage but someone like Janka Nabay is also appealing because he's elevated a folk form of music- "Bubu" from his native country of Sierra Leone and taught it to younger Western musicians and something new is created. So I appreciate this type of innovation. I guess I like to be able to experience the roots culture behind a lot of the music we program-- bringing something ancient or a tradition-- to the present moment. 

5. What is one thing you wish an artist or booking agent would say to you? 

"Let's party!"

6. What is one of the most underrated (world music) recent albums you have heard?

  Bassekou Kouyate, "Jama Ko"

7. How has your venue adapted to new technologies in recent years? 

 We've only been around a little over a year. We're not riding to work on hovercrafts yet, but we use Hootsuite and Soundcloud and social media a whole lot to help promote.

8. What is one of the most touching things that has happened at your venue recently? 

The Festival in the Desert - Caravan For Peace performance. 

9. What one or two other presenters in our field do you keep an eye on? Why them? 

Bill Bragin at Lincoln Center because he's totally active and immersed in all of his curating. Also, Miriam Leah Brenner of Kōkako Music, because she leans towards the fresh new sounds, especially roots-electronic elements.

10. What is one thing you have never done at your venue, but hope you can one day? 

A mini subterranean Sunsplash Festival!



Learn more about Tropicalia, and check them out on Facebook and Twitter.


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