Hamilton's very own percussionist, steelpan specialist, vocalist, songwriter and motivational speaker Dejehan Hamilton recently sat down with PureGrainAudio. Known as "Luckystickz", Hamilton became the first-ever Canadian steelpan graduate from Berklee College in Boston. He has performed in various places around the world such as Cayman Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, United States and Singapore. His new EP, Every Day Battle, is available now! Keep an eye out for this Canadian starlet. He is on the rise and he should be on your radar.
You began playing the drum set at the age of 8. How did you know, this was going to be your passion? Luckystickz: My musical journey began further back than I can personally remember. I was always tapping on my desk at school, taking pencils and banging on objects around the house and singing while making up random songs for fun. There are also old photos of a young 2-year-old Luckystickz trying to pick up a marching band cymbal set that a gentleman at my church used to hit together during the praise and worship segment. I was a focused child; my mom tells me I used to sit quietly in church staring and studying the musicians as they played during the service. Therefore, I would almost say being a musician chose me. At the age of 8, I received my first drum set. Before that time my mom, who was a single parent, couldn’t afford to buy me the drumset that I would’ve wanted. She also didn’t know I could actually play. My mom discovered I could play drums along with everyone else when I performed at my church talent concert one night. It was at that point that we would finally save up to purchase my first drumset and I guess it was at that point that the realization of my passion was finally set in stone after years of forming my passion for music.
At 11 years old you were introduced to the steelpan through the Hamilton Youth Steel Orchestra. How did the orchestra help you thrive in it? Luckystickz: I joined the Hamilton Youth Steel Orchestra (HYSO) as their drummer. Our practices used to be 2 hours with a short break in between. I had been with the group for about 1 year as their drummer and one day on our break I was doodling around on the tenor Steelpan. One of the players and a good friend Kristian Ferreira came over and asked me if I wanted to learn how to play the song they were learning. I accepted the challenge and ended up learning the song over the quick break. Little did I know that would be the start of my Steelpan journey. The two ladies who ran the band Cathy Ferreira and Karen Nelson were impressed at how quickly I was able to pick up the instrument and drafted me from the drums to join the tenor section of the Steelpan orchestra.
At first, I was reluctant to learn a new instrument, because I didn’t want to stop playing drums. However, my mom convinced me it wouldn’t hurt to learn a new instrument. The rest is history as they say. HYSO helped to mould my artistry from a young age through countless of hours of practice, performances and community. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master a craft and I’m pretty sure we accomplished that at HYSO. We performed at festivals, theatres, and venues everywhere from Canada to Trinidad & Tobago. By the time I was 15 I had performed with the group at hundreds of different gigs. We didn’t only play the instrument, we entertained, engaged with the audience and all of those elements are definitely present in a Luckystickz show today.
Where did the name Luckystickz come from? Luckystickz: Luckystickz is derived from two childhood nicknames. "Lucky" was born when I was about 2 years old; I had gotten lost at Canada’s Wonderland because I was trying to follow my mom who didn’t know I was following her because she left me with my sister. My sister thought I would catch up with my mom and went off with her friends to go on some more rides. When they all met up at the end of the day they realized everybody was there except for little ole’ me. They found me at the missing children’s centre in the park; someone had seen me roaming around the park by myself and picked me up and brought me to the centre. My older brother Sean who wasn’t there but heard about the story coined the nickname “Lucky”. That name stuck like glue and I became known as Lucky throughout my adolescence. The other part “stickz” came about because I was a percussionist. There had already been stixx, sticks and every other variation that every other drummer nicknamed themselves because of the same reason. Therefore, one day I decided to put my two names together and add a Z on the end of sticks to make me different. It took a little while for everyone else to catch on, haha, but I stayed true to the name and finally Luckystickz was born.
You attended Berklee College in Boston and became the first Canadian steelpan graduate there on a scholarship. What does that mean to you? Luckystickz: That was a really proud moment for me, I didn’t even know about Berklee until the year before I applied and to think I attended, finished and pioneered this move for Canadian Steelpan players is a great accomplishment. However, I grew up in a low-income neighbourhood and thought to myself that this accomplishment is great, but how can I pay it forward and hopefully inspire some other youths like me to experience the same accomplishments. Therefore, I joined Berklee’s peer advisor team, Ambassador team and Admissions team to help inspire and encourage future Berklee students. I also started a music camp program back in Canada 5 years ago called Musica Palooza Camps to hopefully inspire other youth in my community to aspire to similar goals. 2018 we will be spreading throughout Ontario (Hamilton, Oakville, Ottawa) to impact 150 youth through Musica Palooza Camps. All of these things are the results of my Berklee journey/experience and what it means to me to be a Berklee Alum.
You have travelled to many places around the world to perform, such as Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Singapore (as part of Berklee College) and the United States. You were the first person to bring the steelpan instrument to Singapore. Describe some of the best moments during your travels. Luckystickz: Singapore definitely was a highlight in my travels. I love to travel and that was the first time travelling for 27 hours and going to that part of the world. That trip opened my eyes that there’s soo much beauty in the world to experience. I was the drummer for the band that was put together for this trip and had also brought my Steelpan to play for an acoustic segment of the show. The two artists I was playing for was a Berklee Professor whose name is Larry Watson and an amazing guitar player and funky soul artist name Shun Ng. The hospitality and treatment during the entire trip were just amazing. I remember that was the first experience of arriving at the airport and a guy was holding up a sign with my name on it. There was someone there waiting to carry my luggage and we walked out of the airport to a Mercedes Benz that was waiting to drive me to the hotel. I thought to myself, “Oh yes, I can definitely get used to this. haha!”
You have performed and worked for Harry Belafonte, Brian McKnight and Chili (of TLC). What was that like, and how did it shape you to become the artist that you are now? Luckystickz: Performing for Harry Belafonte at Berklee for his honorary doctorate ceremony is to-date my most memorable performance. Up to that point, I was a percussionist, I wasn’t confident with my voice and definitely had never sung in front of that many people. To top it off Mr. Harry Belafonte himself was sitting there in the audience listening to us perform his music he had performed so many times throughout his career. It was Professor Larry Watson who believed in me and gave me the shot at that opportunity. That experience was transformational for me as a person, musician and artist. It was at that point that the full essence of Luckystickz the percussionist and singer was fully born. I remember being assigned to perform the song “Matilda” and the whole band that was stacked with the most talented instrumentalist and vocalist in the school had nailed the song. We received the first standing ovation for the night after our "Matilda" performance. I thought to myself if other people believed in me and enjoyed my performance then maybe this was something I could really do. So, shout-out to Berklee overall (inspiring peers, professors and experiences) for shaping whom Luckystickz is today.
In 2013 you told the CBC, “What I’m doing is trying to break down barriers that you can only play the instrument a Caribbean setting.” You have played at the Beantown International Jazz Festival in Boston, changing the sound of the steelpan. How did you do it? Luckystickz: Wow, yea great memories! I feel like this has been the mission for many Steelpan players whom many have been successful in a number of different areas and genres today. My personal journey to doing so was by persistently injecting myself in different circles. I was adamant about collaborating with groups and musicians who played Jazz, R&B even Latin music. Many times, I also came into the group as a hand percussionist or drummer and brought my Steelpan as the uninvited guest, haha. However, I was able to get the chance to show people that we could still make it work for some of the songs even if it wasn’t a Caribbean song or rhythm. Now I’m hearing the sounds of Steelpan on the radio in top 40 pop tunes and I’m loving it! That was the same goal for my hit single "Magic: when we were producing and writing it.
Time to watch Luckystickz's hot music video for the "Magic" single.
Do you believe it is revolutionary for the steelpan instrument to be introduced in more genres of music? If so, what genres do you think it would work best in? Luckystickz: I do believe there have been many successful pioneers way before me who have achieved the blend of Steelpan into other genres. However, I am happy to see more genres embracing the instrument. It would be awesome to see the instrument have the same demand as your conventional band instruments such as drums, bass and keys. However, I understand the uniqueness of the instrument that categorizes it as a niche instrument. In terms of genres, I believe you can fit Steelpan into almost any genre and you could make it work somehow.
Your new EP release Every Day Battle, and hit single "Magic", speak about falling in love and social injustices. Can you describe what drove you to create this particular blend of songs? Luckystickz:Every Day Battle was a collection of my personal life experiences over the past 2 years. Life can be a roller coaster of highs and lows over a number of different topics such as relationships, world events and day to day life in general. Every day can seem like a battle to stay motivated and positive to live our best life. Therefore, this project is a reflection of that life truth and the plethora of life experiences that we face throughout our lives.
On top of your career, you are a motivational speaker. You have said, “I like to share with students that they are not a product of their environment... they are a product of a mindset!” Describe how this particular approach works well to influence others. Luckystickz: I believe nothing is more impactful than a personal story. I’m able to influence and encourage others through my story and show others that a large part of our success has to do with our mindsets. Many times, we see the highlights of people’s lives, I get down to the nitty gritty of my life experiences/life lessons and show others that no matter the situation it doesn’t determine our destination. By setting up our mindset correctly each day, it helps us get through the different obstacles that we face in life. I believe life is not happening to us but rather happening for us. Through the feedback that I’ve gotten after my presentations this message has resonated and connected with many people who hear it.
What does being a motivational speaker mean to you, knowing that you are a great influence for others to look up to? Luckystickz: Speaking is definitely a huge responsibility that I don’t take lightly. Therefore, knowing that I influence others I do my best to live my message. In anything that I do or any music content that I put out, it has to align with my morals and message. It also is a very satisfying feeling because I believe we are here to serve one another with our different gifts, talents and abilities. Therefore, if I’m able to inspire you to live your best life then I feel as though I’ve accomplished my purpose here on earth.