Posted by StreetWise in Magazine Articles
While she may not have been born and raised in Chicago, this city does indeed hold the heart Czarina Mirani, editor of 5 Magazine, Chicago’s premier House music publication. Her mother is Filipino and her father is East Indian, she grew up in the Philippines, but had insatiable dreams of becoming a movie star. Czarina’s raw and real talent – and relentless persistence – led her parents to agree to send her to Northwestern University in Chicago to pursue her dream. She studied theatre and – after graduation- became a professional dancer and actress. This is the story of how this natural-born entertainer managed to make performance, dance and music her career and why the city of Chicago was the exact right place to do it.
How many years were you working in entertainment?
Well, I don’t want to age myself, but it was the ’90s when I graduated college. Then I just did the whole thing. I did the agents, the commercials, the dancing, tons of plays. Basically, this is what happened. Back in the ’90s, I was just getting cast as ‘Maria’ all the time… ‘the brown girl.’ So I just got sick of that. I decided to write my own play. It was like a B-girl version of Cinderella, like a hip-hop version. So I was Cinderella and I had two step sisters and we were a little B-girl crew. And so I choreographed it and produced it and it came to be a big success. We had two big runs. That was kind of like my ‘goodbye’ [to theatre] and then I just went back to dancing with the Joel Hall Dancers.
So how did you transition then into becoming this House Music connoisseur?
When I was going to college, I used to go to this club called Shelter around the Fulton Market area. So that was the big club then and a lot of DJ’s that are big now were DJing then and I used to just go there and take the train from Northwestern in my little shorts and dance. I didn’t know the names of many DJ’s. I just wanted to go there and dance. And then I would take the train back and then go to class. So that was my experience of House in the beginning. And then I started to go to raves and that was also big. There was this thing back then in the raves. There was this herbal product called herbal ecstasy and I used to have a booth at all the raves and I was making tons of money, so then I started going to all the raves for many years and getting my education in House music.
So how did you transition to starting the 5 Magazine?
So how I started this magazine was herbal ecstasy was my business for many years. I was selling herbal cigarettes, I was selling clothes to all these businesses around the country and I was making a lot of money, me and my partner. And then one day, we were just not making money anymore and I was thinking of a new business venture and so my partner, Terry, who also had publications of his own, said hey why don’t we start a magazine about House music since all you do is go out every night. It started in 2005.
Do you remember any of the first House artists that influenced you?
I always loved Frankie Knuckles. They call him the “Godfather of House music.” He was just always my favorite. I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, but in the beginning, I wasn’t one of those that knew the name of every DJ and every producer. I just liked the music and that’s all I care about.
Is there a reason why Frankie Knuckles your favorite?
Well, there are two camps in Chicago House music history. There’s the Ron Hardy camp, who is also one of the most influential people of House music. He has more of an aggressive [style]. And then there is Frankie Knuckles. And Frankie was just a little smoother. It is a different sound. More melodic[and] a little bit more vocal. I never had the opportunity to hear Ron Hardy before he passed.
Why do you feel like Chicago needed a magazine of this type?
Well, I wasn’t even part of the scene in the beginning. I liked [House music], but I didn’t know any of the DJ’s, I didn’t know any of the people that were in the scene. I was a complete outsider. So I kind of came at it from a very naïve point of view. I just knew that I really liked the music and I wanted to write about it. So it’s almost like, well, I’d like to get to know about it, so I’ll see if other people would, too.
How were people’s reactions when you first started?
There were some people that embraced us that said, “Finally!” Because nowadays, House music is really big time, but I’m really about the underground House music that’s not being played at these big festivals and everything. So some people said, “Hey, that’s great that you’re writing about a lot of DJ’s and producers that aren’t being recognized. Then there were also the kind of more elitist people that were like, “Who is this girl from the Philippines, she didn’t grow up here and she has the nerve to write about our kind of music.” So it was kind of both and the good thing is that I didn’t know about any of this when I started. I just kind of did it. And the more I did, the more I started knowing people. So it was really a learning process for me.
How did you come up with the name for 5 Magazine?
You know when you’re thinking about names and all the corny stuff people come up with. Like “Soul” or “Deep.” So 5 is my favorite number and a numerologist told me that that’s a great number for a publication, so we went with it. It doesn’t associate with anything really.
I know you’re a professional DJ yourself. How did you first start?
Once you’re a dancer, it’s a lot easier. [And] I just wanted to learn how it works. I picked up really quick. And I think it’s because [of my dancing], I just know how to count music and I know rhythm. It’s not just about beat matching, so it’s also about knowing that when this part of the song comes in and how to blend them. I’ve been DJing for about two and a half years now.
In your opinion, how has the geography of Chicago influenced the sound of House music?
Some say House comes from New York, some say Chicago. If you go to New York and listen to House, they’re really into the Afro Sound. And the style over there… it’s a more mixed crowd. It’s more… tribal. It’s almost like you’re in a drum circle or [and] it’s very percussive… a lot of stuff from South Africa. Chicago House, which I love, is more aggressive. They call it “jacking.” It’s a style of dance. Chicago is more aggressive and there is more “oomph.” A city like New York is a bit more mellow, more tribal, [and] more Afro.
Is it exciting for you to be working as a DJ in the city where House originated?
It is. I feel so lucky and I absolutely love it. It’s so much fun to be able to get up there and DJ and obviously the first 15 gigs, I was a wreck. I was so nervous. [But] DJing really helped me… as [5 Magazine’s] editor, it’s amazing what you’ll know when you start DJing. Because you have to look for music, you have to find out who the artist is and that’s when you really get your education.
What do you think is in the future for House Music? How do you see it growing from here?
It’s so funny, because I ask that question all the time to DJ’s [that I interview for the magazine]. Some people have theories that everything goes in cycles of 10 to 15 years. The fear with House music is that it’s dying, that the people that were really into it are getting older, they’ve got kids and it’s not going on as much. So I think the fact that certain genres came back into style, like Nu Disco House, that gives me hope that maybe in 5 or 10 years, Soulful House will be back [or] the 90’s House will be back. I think everything will keep regurgitating itself in a different and creative way. But House will always be around.
Pick up a copy of 5 Magazine (it’s free!), most commonly found at Gramaphone Records (2843 N. Clark St.). You can also check it out online at www.5chicago.com and follow Czarina on Twitter: @czboogie
By Brittany Langmeyer