Many a yaadie will get a misty eyed far off look as they recall their first big 'session.' The story always ends, 'yow did vibe did juss…sigh." The Jamaican party scene is like no other in the world, going all night, sometimes for days. But how is it possible to get thousands of people to party in frenzy for hours at a time?
Enter Kamal Bankay; the vibe maker behind some of Jamaica's most memorable party franchises from A-list to DreamWeekend. Ask anyone who is anyone, Bankay shows up, and somehow magic happens. Empty fields become sheik clubs and idyllic beach sides become wild wonderlands. His face and events are as well known as any celebrity's, but like most promoters he is surrounded by an air of mystery. Iriezine sat down to figure out what makes the 'hype doctor' tick.
With Kamal Bankay, a little Q and A lead to a whole lot of wow.
So what's your background? What did you do before you started doing party promotions?
Bankay: I started creating events and promoting directly after high school, so I actually started promotions and university simultaneously. I studied business management at UWI Mona campus. I started doing promotions that first year and I just never stopped. I am considering doing a masters degree, I have been encouraged to do so by my former lectures and so on; but we will see.
Was there a particular event or situation that set you on this path/how did you end up on this career path?
Bankay: Yes, there is . On New Year's Eve 2000 going into to 2001 a bunch of friends of mine, (we all grew up together), and we decided to have our second annual New Year's party at the ( Carlisle and Kim) Dunkley's house and decided to have a regular ( bring your own) bottle party. We ended up completely shocked by the overwhelming support. What was a regular party turned into hundreds of people showing up. In fact when it was over we still had just cases and cases of liquor! We had so much that we were able to sell it back to the wholesale and make a profit. I kept thinking about this and somewhere in January 2001 I was on a family vacation in St.Mary and I called Nicholas McDavid. I told him that based on that event I had a vision to do the biggest New Year's Eve party in the history of Jamaica. The next year we formalized the event and that event was Mimosa.
The first Mimosa was invitation only at the Mountain Valley Hotel, and it was the largest New Year's Eve party in Kingston up to that date, 2000 people attended. The second Mimosa at Liguanea Club had 5000 guests and then at Villa Ronai we saw about 6000. Before I started, this type of scene was unprecedented for a party, those numbers were for stage shows. So I found my niche with Mimosa, and hit the ball out of the park. I shocked myself, because I was so spot on. Exactly what I had envisioned, happened. Mimosa, that's when I knew that this is what I was meant to do.
What would you say is the most important element in creating the right party vibe? Eg. Music vs. setting vs. food etc.?
Bankay: Well it's the people. The people are really the magic of the party. The people are the vibe. The people bring the energy that the party feeds off of. They bring the vibe in how they move, how they talk, how they dance, that is what makes the party. To create the right vibe you have to look at the kind of crowd you want, and then put in the elements that would entertain that group of people. You could have the most glamorous setting and the best DJ, but if the people are 'deddy deddy,' no matter what you do you would have a horrible event. And then on the other hand sometimes the elements are mediocre but the people bring the vibe over the top! It's all about the people.
How do you keep things fresh from event to event?
Bankay: Changing scenes is key. Refreshing a venue or completely changing a setting builds the intrigue level. You have a list of venues where many franchises keep an event repeatedly, but then it is like going to the same party over and over. When you change the setting the interest level peaks because that is something people have never had before. They don't know exactly what to expect and this keeps them thinking about your event. You also have to create new themes. There are countless themes, some are too out there and some are too common but you have to find something people can relate to, and that you can execute WELL in our market.
What is the stamp of a Kamal Bankay signature event, how do you set yourself apart?
Bankay: I'd have to say my events have the most beautiful and gorgeous people there are! Absolutely gorgeous ladies come to all the events, no matter where it is. My events get socialites, key business people, powerful people. My commodity is people and so for any Kamal Bankay even, my focus is getting the getting the right type of people for that vibe.
What has been your favourite event you were involved with over the years? Is there one that sticks out in your mind as legendary?
Bankay: The event I enjoyed most, which I put on, was Border Clash. It was a 90's party that me and my closest friends put together. It was not done in the typical promoter style; it was literally like an original 90's house party. We got a house and cleared out all the furniture Kid 'n Play style. I actually spun that night, I was the DJ, and it was friends or friends of friends so the people that came really appreciated that style of party from that era. Parties like Yesterdays and Yush have the same type of music we played at Border Clash, but once again the setting is the difference, and so it took you back almost like a time warp.
What is your greatest challenge being a promoter?
Bankay: Staying in touch with your target market is a challenge. You have a choice as a promoter, to either pick an age group and grow with them, or pick an age group and stick to that demographic. If this is your career for life you will stick to one age group, and staying in touch with a different generation is a huge challenge.
Recently you were part of the Dream Team for "Smirnoff Dream Weekend." What was the turnout like this year and how was it different from previous years?
Bankay: This year was the biggest Dream Weekend ever. Thousands of people came out; there were approx 15,000 people in Negril that weekend. Each year we take the patron experience higher and higher and increase the production level for each event. We set our selves apart by giving the same high quality but raising the experience to a new level.
Do you ever worry that you will plateau? That you won't be able to top your last event ?
Bankay: (Laughs) I worry about that all the time, but at the same time it drives me. The idea of topping myself inspires me to keep going. For every event you have to go to a different level and raise the bar, if u don't you will lose your rank as a leading promoter.
Recently international recording artist Ne-Yo kicked off his own party series here in Jamaica. He said he chose Jamaica because we are the world's trendsetters. Clearly the world recognizes the power of event promotion on Jamaica's party scene. Do you feel that event promotion gets enough recognition within the local entertainment sector?
Bankay: Yes it is supported, nowadays. Back in the day stage shows such as Sunsplash, Reggae Sumfest, and Jazzfest have always gotten that kind of recognition and support. Now we have broken the ground to get the same support. We have a high level of sponsorship from the biggest corporations in the nation.
The crowning moment had to be last year, in 2010 when JCDC gave us the stamp as a national festival. So yes the Jamaica Tourist Board recognizes Dream Weekend as a major player for event tourism.
In the last two years everybody has bought in an helped us to grow. Our growth in the international market has hugely increased. So based on 2010's research by the tourist board 30% of Dream Weekend guests are international and this year an estimated 40%.
I believe Jamaica has way more potential for event tourism, and all the people at the helm of our group are well travelled visionaries. We are plugged in to what is happening in the world and we can use the same style of attraction used in overseas markets to entice international guests to come here.
What do you see for your future?
Bankay: Well party wise I have a new event Bleu, on Heroes Weekend October in Montego Bay. It is a weekend party, five parties that weekend, one featuring Kes The Band a lot of local DJs, and DJs from South Florida, and this will be at the Grand Palladium.
As for me; well entertainment is constantly evolving. But I can say I've done what I want to do already, making a mark and building an ultra high end brand. But I think, to be seen as an entertainment pioneer by Jamaican society and any accolades that come with that, when I get that I can sleep at night.