About DJ Kayla Kush
WHAT’S UP! I’m DJ Kayla Kush. I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I grew up loving music, theater, and dance. I wanted to get the hell out of my hometown as soon as possible. In 2007, I moved to Santa Cruz, California to attend UCSC for my freshman year of college. While I was there, I began taking a course in radio broadcasting and hosted my first radio show on KZSC Santa Cruz.
There was a lot of reggae around me that year. There was a reggae radio show during the timeslot before mine at the station. One of my roommates and good friends kept a constant spin of Barrington Levy, Eek-a-Mouse, and Slightly Stoopid on blast. In 2007, I attended my first Slightly Stoopid concert at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz and was blown away. It was such a great year.
After freshman year was over, I was heartbroken to find out I could not afford another year of out of state tuition at UCSC. I moved back to Wisconsin and into the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee while planning my next move. My heart longed for Santa Cruz but I wanted to finish my bachelor's degree as soon as possible.
At Santa Cruz, I was studying Creative Writing. But after some epiphanies, I realized I didn't have anything to say. Getting a degree in Creative Writing wouldn’t help me write—having real stories is what I needed. I needed to have experiences that I hadn’t had yet. While applying to UW-Madison, I saw they had a new degree called Life Sciences Communication. It was the perfect fit for me—not the scientist, but someone who understood and appreciated science, and could communicate what it meant to the public. I was accepted into the program and moved to Madison in 2009.
Immediately after coming here, I became a DJ at UW-Madison's radio station, WSUM. I really missed having reggae around me and noticed no one else was hosting a reggae show on my station. I kept thinking I wanted to start a reggae show, but I thought I wasn’t “worthy” of hosting it. I thought I wasn’t qualified to talk about the genre or be a reggae tastemaker in any way. But all I listened to in my dorm room was reggae...
CREATING THE VIBE
What I loved about listening to reggae, while missing Santa Cruz so much, is that you can create the vibe you want wherever you want. I realized I didn’t have to be in Santa Cruz to tap into this new feeling and sense of Self that I found. I brought these reggae vibes with me from Santa Cruz to Madison and I now had them forever. It was a spiritual thing. I realized, no matter where I am, I can build my temple to the divine. Something about the sound of good roots reggae makes me feel like I am home, and I identify with the timeless universal messages it conveys.
One night I was having a dream. Something happened in the dream where the name “U DUB” popped into my head. I woke up and wrote it on a piece of paper so I wouldn’t forget. I knew that would be the name of my reggae radio show. It was the perfect play on words for Dub on the UW station. I had to do it. If not me, then who? U DUB had to happen, and in 2010 I submitted my program proposal to WSUM and began hosting the show.
Things began to pick up on U DUB. I was diving deeper and deeper into the genre, mostly Jamaican roots like The Gladiators, Burning Spear, The Congos, Barrington Levy, and dub masters like King Tubby. I traveled to Jamaica twice and got to experience more about the source of the music. On my show, I started to interview bands and ask them questions about the music they were making. Some of them even performed live in the studio.
In 2013, my life changed dramatically as the result of one of my young friends, a fellow WSUM DJ and co-worker, suddenly and tragically passing away. He was younger than me. He loved music and would ask me to write down reggae recommendations. After he passed I saw something online about Reggae on the Rocks at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. Even though I was a poor college grad, I scrapped all my money together and bought a ticket to the show and a plane ticket to Denver. I thought: if my life could end at any moment, I really wanted to live it. I wanted to go places and see things, especially the music I love the most. In Madison, we don’t get a whole lot of reggae bands that come around, especially living legends. At Red Rocks, with the wind blowing against me, the mountain views all around, and the reggae music vibrating off the rocks, I thought my friend would be so happy that I had made it out there. In fact, I knew he was happy, and it’s those kinds of feelings in us that keep those people alive in a new way.
Then, I was hooked on traveling and following my sound. I knew that I could make these trips work, lil’ ol’ me, I could travel anywhere and do anything I wanted, within reason of course. But my boundaries of what was reasonable had been expanded. Later that year I went to NYC for the first time to witness the legend, Burning Spear, along with some of my new favorites: Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, John Brown’s Body, and Groundation. I started noticing something I named Reggae Fate in my life. It was this incredible, sometimes even “spooky” synchronicity related to everything working out with myself and reggae, a nod from the universe telling me I'm doing exactly the right thing. It was wonderful to realize this and it made me know I was on track.
DJ OF THE YEAR
That same year, in 2013, I was incredibly honored to be voted “DJ of the Year” by my community at the Madison Area Music Awards. I felt so motivated to keep playing this music not just on my radio show, but at gigs around town as well. I bought a pair of used turntables, a mixer, and vinyl records. I wanted to be someone who could preserve roots reggae but also help catapult awesome new reggae bands to my listeners’ ears. I had to keep seeing and hearing more of this music.
In 2014, I saw Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad play with The Expanders in Santa Cruz. I met someone at the show who invited me to attend California Roots Festival a few months later. The lineup contained countless reggae bands who I was dying to see, and California Roots was the place to see them all, Because of this connection, the Cali Roots dream had now become reality for a Midwest girl. I had the time of my life. It was pure bliss. Then I attended the festival again for the next three years.
GROWING INTO THE FUTURE
Over the past few years, I've interviewed reggae greats like Clinton Fearon of The Gladiators, Slightly Stoopid, Ziggy Marley, John Brown's Body, 10 Ft. Ganja Plant, Toots Hibbert, and Rebelution. In addition, some of my favorites including Groundation and Kevin Kinsella performed songs in person on my show. I’ve seen so many of my favorite bands perform around the country now and spent time with them, whether for an interview or just hanging out. Now some of them even listen to U DUB! I am truly living my dream. I was awarded “DJ of the Year” in Madison again in 2015, 2016, and 2017. I also went from managing communications at a startup after college to becoming the Marketing Manager of a global VC that funds Life Sciences and technology startups.
I found that my favorite modern reggae bands were all part of a network called Rootfire.net, an amazing roots music publication and band management group that operates from the heart. I had been building a genuine relationship with them for years by arranging interviews with the bands they manage and sharing my stories with them. In 2017, I got a call from the owner of Rootfire. He asked me to come on board as a contributor. It was a total dream come true, and I actually had been hoping that they would ask me to join them one day. I had now become part of the scene in a deeper way. It reminded me of when I loved theater as a kid. I would go to see plays, but it was hard for me to simply enjoy the performance. I’d think, “I want to DO that. I want to be part of it.” That’s exactly what happened as a kid, and the same thing happened with radio, and then Rootfire.
Before I wrote my first article for Rootfire, they asked for my thoughts on the reggae scene. After telling them, I wanted to know if my answers were right or wrong. But Rootfire told me that there is no way I could be wrong, because I am someone they consider a tastemaker in the national reggae scene.
I read a book that explained how the zen believe there is enough force and willpower in a tiny seed to grow into a huge tree... but there's also a force contained in the future tree itself that is already pulling the tiny seed to grow into a tree. The force from the tree transcends time as we currently understand it. What I realize about Reggae Fate, the bold synchronicities that have happened along the way, those nods from the universe that made me feel like I’m on track—they have really all been my true/future self, DJ Kayla Kush, pulling my younger self along the way to here. My Self, the universe, has been giving me confirmation that I’m going where I’m supposed to go. Thanks for reading my story, and I hope I can spread something good to your heart through the things I have to share.
Love and Light, y'all.
DJ Kayla Kush