Editor’s note: This article was originally published February 12, 2014
4.26.14: The DAMEs are at Vinyl tonight. And it’s free! More info.
"In some ways it’s hard to fully define what it is because it’s still becoming," Lesli Sparkman says over coffee over coffee at Hot Mamas.
She’s sitting on a red velvet couch wearing a brightly colored shaker sweater laced with silver thread and talking about D.A.M.E.s, a sassy dance party that’s all about women rising while everyone gets down. The fourth installment is scheduled for Friday at the Gyspy Lounge — and it seems highly appropriate that the event is happening on Valentine’s Day as it is clearly a labor of love.
The party was conceived as a collaboration project between Sparkman, who DJs under the name Mahealani and DJ Shani, a Chicago transplant who specializes in deep house. D.A.M.E.s is an acronym. It stands for Down Ass Mamas Elevatin’. For the first three parties the women teamed with emcee Queen Deelah and a few different female photographers. For this week’s party Ghislaine Jean-Mahone who raps as Qi Dada (Formerly Tiger Lily) in Riders Against the Storm will host and Kannou of Blue Inferno Creative will be taking pictures.
"It’s fun to be in a place where women are running things and yet there’s a really great diverse crowd," Sparkman says. "There’s guys there getting down. There’s all different colors. There’s guys with guys and women with women and guys with women and it’s just nice to see that kind of diversity in one place."
Sparkman and Shani take turns on the turntables throughout the night with Sparkman playing "fifth grade dance party r&b that you know" and Shani’s selections tending toward "city slick house stuff." It’s a free form event that’s still finding its footing. Sometimes the emcee does a set of originals, but she also throws in rhymes when she feels the spirit. Occasionally guest artists jump on the set.
For Sparkman the energy of the event is very important. She has an extensive background in social service. She’s worked as a child advocate in women’s shelters both in Austin and in Maui. She believes in the power of music to transform lives, to heal.
"I want women to be able to dance and feel good," she says. "And I really try to put out a kind of protective energy in that way. I think it makes a difference."
Sparkman has been DJing for just over a decade and lately things have been taking off. In addition to D.A.M.E.s she’s spinning records at One Billion Rising an awareness event designed to combat violence against women that takes place at City Hall at 4 p.m. on Friday. She’s also spinning at the Heart of the City SIMS benefit on Saturday.
Regardless, Sparkman is ridiculously down to earth. She takes success in stride, blithely referring to great fame as overrated and instead describing aspirations to be "the neighborhood DJ." She lights up when talking about her thrift store finds, and is motivated by a simple desire to share the music she loves.
"It sounds kind of kooky but I just feel like there’s spirits in grooves that need me to play them and I’m cool with that."
"I’m cool with that."
D.A.M.E.s kicks off at 10 p.m. Friday at the Gypsy Lounge. $4 cover.