Interview by Phyllis Laurie
Special to Okanogan Living
A man of many talents, and one who features and nurtures the talents of others, BlueJay Hankins is a DJ, founder of a music label, event producer, photographer, and world traveler.
As DJ Sticky he has performed in many countries playing both his original and favorite Reggae, DanceHall, and Hip Hop music. With his company Sick Donkey Records he’s been able to work with many emerging and established artists. As creator and producer of Conscious Culture Festival (on the Barter Fair land) for six years he gathered musicians, artists and attendees to create a warm and diverse community. His goal with all his work is to spread a message of peace, love, respect, and understanding.
We asked BlueJay about his life, his work, and his goals.
Were you born in Tonasket?
I was born in a one-room cabin in a small community about 13 miles northeast of Tonasket.
Where did you attend school?
I was homeschooled until high school. We had a cabin on the property that we used as a community school. There would be eight to 11 of us that would meet there two or three days a week and do work at home in between. At the school our parents taught whatever subject they were most proficient at or most passionate about. Some of them went on to be long time teachers at the homeschool outreach program in Tonasket.
Why have you stayed in Tonasket?
I both have and I haven't. I have bounced back and forth between the Tonasket area and the coast (mostly Seattle but also Olympia and Bellingham) and California since age 17. Although I didn't appreciate it here much before I lived in other places, we are in a truly beautiful and amazing place with a great community. That is why I will always call this my home.
What was the first event you produced?
I consider my first event was an annual sledding party that we started at my house when I was 8 years old. I won "Dinner for 4 from Buffalo" (Mazzetti) in a raffle at a concert in the Wauconda Grange. My parents decided to ask Buff if he would teach them how to make homemade pizza for a wintertime kids party instead of just making us dinner. That ended up being the first out of ten years of "BlueJay's Sledding Party".
Who was your first impactful reggae artist?
I would have to say Bob Marley.
The first cassette I claimed as my own (taken from my parents) was a tape that had Marley's "Legend" on one side and Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" on the other. I just loved the sound and message of Bob.
Around the same time I was exposed to bands like Steel Pulse, Burning Spear, Alpha Blondie, Jimmy Cliff and Third World at a very early age. These are still some of my favorites to this day.
Where do you get your inspiration to create, perform, produce?
I guess it's the drive to continually push positive, conscious and uniting energy for the betterment of us all. And my belief in the power of music.
Where do you get the confidence to even try to do the things you do?
Sometimes I wonder. From the support of my family, friends, my community and uncle Ted. From the success of things I have already done.
How has your family influenced you?
My parents have always supported my interest in music and my sometimes wild ideas. They taught me to be a contributing member of my community and to treat people with dignity and respect even if we do not agree on things. They took me to many festivals and gatherings so that certainly influenced me to become an event producer.
My uncle Ted was a huge musical influence and financial supporter of my adventures from helping me go to Evergreen State College to funding the Conscious Culture Festival and a large part of early Sick Donkey Records productions. He always encouraged me to follow my family's long line of musicians including my great grandfather Jim Keller, an old time fiddling champion whose family band played together for over 47 years.
What do you remember most about Burning Man?
My almost nine-hour DJ set on the Acavallo Carousel the night Quill Hyde lost two-thirds of his finger. Also the love, acceptance and support I received there after losing the love of my life Twyla Leffert.
I had a 13 year hiatus since attending my first burn. Twyla passed away from breast cancer on July 31, of 2019. The following week I started having this pulling in my soul that told me I needed to go back to Burning Man(it was a few weeks later).
I joined a 200 person camp made up of half people that lived in Hawaii (including Tonasket raised Leif Hart, the only one I knew prior to getting there) as well as people from Israel, around the U.S. and the globe. I told most everyone I met my current situation. I ended up talking with a large number of my campmates throughout the week about her death and how it was affecting me. I realized I wasn't just there to heal my own grief but also to help others with theirs. I got to speak with many who never really had the chance to talk about their loved ones that had passed away. The support was amazing.
On burn night I was picked up by Okanogan county artist Quill Hyde and the rest of the Acavallo Carousel crew so I could DJ while the man was burning. I ended up playing most of the night on the Carousel. Sometime in the middle of that Quill slipped and tore off most of a finger. I saw him walk in front of me with one hand holding the other but didn't realize what happened until a few hours later when I was told he was flown out in a helicopter. That was the longest set I have ever played.
You’ve performed or produced in what countries?
Jamaica is where a lot of my music and video work has been done. I have been there more than any other country. I played a few shows in Mexico in 2022. Early this year in Costa Rica I played shows on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts as well as on the biggest station in the country: Radio Urbano 106FM.
In late November of 2019, I needed to get away so I left for Thailand. I ended up there for 6 weeks. I landed in Bangkok, bought a new DJ controller, played a few shows there, then went to a little island in the south to get my scuba diving certification. I spent a month on the next island of Koh Phangan where I played a bunch of times. Then I went to India for two months to play Goa Sunsplash, the biggest reggae festival in Asia. I shot a music video in Goa then I went all over the country. I saw the Living Root bridges of Magalia, the Taj Mahal, and the Red Fort. I played shows in Shillong, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune. Got to see a good friend from Tonasket who was working in Hyderabad at the time. From there I went to Egypt to see the Pyramids and things from King Tut's tomb, something I had wanted to do since before I could remember. My plan was to then go to Israel to see some friends that were part of my burning man camp. But they were the first to shut down their border because of covid so I decided to visit Ethiopia for five days to finish off the trip.
What artists would you like to work with?
I have been fortunate enough to have produced for, released on my label or performed with many of the artists I would have answered that question with when I was young and starting out in music. Some of those include Jamaican greats like Anthony B, Turbulence, Mykal Rose, Junior Reid, Mark Wonder, Lutan Fyah and Chezidek as well as one of Europe's top hip hop artists Promoe.
I hope to record something with Kabaka Pyramid who won the Reggae Grammy this year. I was the first one to bring him to Washington state with his band The Bebble Rockers. That was here in Okanogan county for the Conscious Culture Festival 2014. Although I have been to his studio in Kingston and met up multiple other places in both Jamaica and the U.S. we have not recorded anything yet. He has been one of my favorite lyricists since I heard his first EP and I look forward to recording something with him. Also Chali 2na of the group Jurassic 5.
What have been your favorite concerts you’ve attended?
That's hard to say as I've seen so many. I started going to Seattle at 11 years old to work in food booths at huge festivals like Bumbershoot, Folk Life and Hempfest. By the time I went to public school in Tonasket at age 14, I already had 4 summers of concerts under my belt. I continued to work for them every summer until I was 19.
One of the most memorable of those was Michael Franti and his band Spearhead. My boss asked if I had heard of them and at the time I hadn't. He said I had to take the time off to go watch them. Immediately following the show I bought two of their CDs and have been a fan since.
At 14, I went to a world music festival with Santana, The Wailers, Rusted Root and others. The same year I saw Pantera with White Zombie. Those were pretty epic shows at the Gorge Amphitheatre.
In the first week of 2020 I got to play the Goa Sunsplash in India. That's on the top of the list too.
What’s your dream trip?
I kinda already took one. I went on a 4 month trip to Thailand, India, Egypt and Ethiopia in late 2019 into early 2020. It was a hard trip to take while grieving but also the best thing I could have done at the time. I have a huge list of places I would like to visit, shoot videos, record music and play still including all over Europe, Africa and South America.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever experienced?
The ten years of companionship I had with Twyla. Although we were both from Tonasket and had many mutual friends, I didn't meet her here. We actually met at a Reggae show in Seattle.
What are you most proud of accomplishing?
Probably my musical productions in Jamaica. I have had the opportunity to work with and produce some of the greatest musicians and singers that I have looked up to for many years including the legendary drum/bass duo Sly & Robbie. Sly Dunbar is credited as coming up with the drum beat of both Reggae and Dancehall.
Then reuniting Ziggy Marley's Melody Makers band to record in Kingston.
That included Squidy Cole on drums, Earl Chinna Smith on guitar, Bowie on keys and Chris Meredith on bass. Both of these bass players have passed away in the last few years so I feel very blessed to have had these opportunities.
What are your goals for the next couple of years?
I plan to release the over 60 songs I have produced along with a bunch of music videos, to bring more events to the county and state, and travel to more countries.
I want us all to win and rise together.
What do you want us to know about your upcoming Mirage Tattoo & Art Exhibition?
This is the first public event I have curated since the Conscious Culture Festival ended in 2015. It's something Twyla and I dreamed up years ago that I decided to make happen in her honor. The Tonasket Community Center has been struggling a bit like many small businesses these last years. A tattoo and art show is the perfect opportunity to bring people from the greater Okanogan county area, and around the state, together in support of the center, to highlight our local tattoo artists, to create commerce and to bring more unity in our community. There will be an artist meet ‘n greet pre-party on Friday evening, the fifth of May. The main event is Saturday, May 6, where about 15 tattoo artists will be doing tattoos from noon to 8 p.m. with after party to follow. Anyone wanting to get a tattoo that day should pre book with the artists of their choice. There will be various other types of art displayed and for sale. The event will include food, bar, DJs and bands. ♦
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