Behind the Music w/ Karrilee Fifi of CDM Generation

Behind the Music featuring  Karrilee Fifi

With the evolution of music production and the fusion of classical rhythms with electronic tones, Caribbean music is in the birth of a new age. And as the Radial family stands firm with being unapologetically Caribbean, our goal is to take our culture to the world – in whatever form it may take. You may be familiar with genres like Soca, Chutney, Calypso, Reggae, Dancehall, Zouk, Kompa, Ska, and Parang, but what happens when you cross electronic music with a Caribbean flavor?

“For years, there has been a distinct correlation between electronic dance music and the sweet music of The Caribbean. Countless dance records have already been released featuring Caribbean artists and/or traditionally Caribbean instruments. This growing interest in tropical sounds within the dance music community has sparked the cultivation of a very specific sub-genre, CDM (Caribbean Dance Music). All throughout the Caribbean, producers, DJs, bloggers, and promoters have banded together to form The CDM Generation- a platform for Caribbean dance music to continue to flourish globally.” – CDM Generation.

This is Behind the Music with CDM Generation founder and fellow music lover Karrilee Fifi.

Karrrilee Fifi with DJ/producer group Bad Royale at the 2016 CDM conference in Trinidad.

Radial: Who is Karrilee Fifi? What’s your story and how did you get started?
Karrilee: After finishing my degree in Marketing in Canada, I moved back to Trinidad in 2010 and started working at a distribution company. In 2011, I moved on to an advertising agency where I was part of the events department. By 2012 I started doing freelance work with one of the biggest players in the events game in Trinidad, Johnny Soong. Johnny had been pushing the dance music scene in Trinidad for years and in 2013 we had the opportunity to bring Major Lazer for the inaugural weTT Republic event. It was the first of its kind and the response was overwhelming! The following year we acquired the license for the international franchise, Life in Color, where we featured Cedric Gervais and David Solano. This event was also a huge success.

The second edition of weTT Republic rolled around in September of 2014 and we booked two very popular DJs in the International dance music scene, Chuckie and Nervo. This event gave birth to the launch of CDM Generation, the official platform for Caribbean Dance Music. Local DJ groups were able to play on the same stage as the International DJs. Unfortunately, the local market didn’t respond as favorably to these International DJs as they did to Major Lazer and it was clear that the market preferred a sound that was much more familiar. This solidified the idea behind developing the CDM Generation platform and giving local DJs the opportunity to play on the same stages as the International DJs and more importantly encouraging them to produce original CDM content.

In 2015 & 2016 we retained the license for Life in Color which featured top international DJs such as Steve Aoki, DVBBS, R3hab, Morten and Bad Royale. Next up is the 4th annual Sunset Festival Trinidad which happens every December. Over the years we have featured Major Lazer, Skrillex, Martin Garrix, PartyNextDoor, Tarrus Riley, Machel Montano, Bunji Garlin alongside local electronic DJs.

Radial: Ok this may be a silly question, but what exactly is CDM? Is it like a Soca Techno remix? What about Tropical House? Same thing?

Karrilee: CDM or Caribbean Dance Music is a hybrid of Caribbean Music genres (Soca, Dancehall, Reggae etc) and Dance Music genres (House, Trap, Moombahton etc). Just as Electronic music has sub-genres so does CDM. There’s future dancehall, basshall, traphall to name a few. Future Dancehall has been gaining popularity internationally. Although a lot of Soca in Trinidad is being fused with dance music elements there isn’t a sub-genre being applied. Future Soca has however been used by a few to describe the fusion and could actually help Soca to be pushed internationally.  I always try to reiterate that the fusion of these genres is nothing new and that it’s been happening for years. In the Caribbean scene, in 1995 Machel Montano released a song called “Come Dig It” which was a fusion of Soca and House. In the international scene, in 2001, Denise Belfon released a track called “Work” with Masters at Work. In 2002 the track peaked at number 7 on the US Billboard Dance Club Songs chart. This track has been remixed and sampled countless times by producers and DJs around the world.

Again, in 2007 electronic DJ, Bob Sinclair featured Trinidadian singer Fireball on a track called “What I want” which peaked at number 3 on Billboard 200 chart and spent 7 weeks on the chart. In recent years, of course, Bunji Garlin has been at the forefront with his vocals on a number of electronic tracks.

CDM Generation Founder Karrilee Fifi with DJ/Producer group Ultimate Rejects and Singer, Rosezanna. Photo courtesy GlowTT

Point is, these collaborations and fusions have been happening for years and it’s clear how much the world loves them as I’ve witnessed for myself at music festivals in various countries. However, these same audiences are still not fully aware of where these artists, sounds or music elements are coming from to make up these types of tracks! Tracks like Justin Bieber – “Sorry” and Rihanna & Drake – “Work” were classified as “Tropical House.” We would like to say that most people would know that some of the elements in these songs are from the Caribbean, but even Rolling Stone made the mistake and classified them as Tropical House.

The idea behind trying to establish CDM as a genre is to give the Caribbean another music genre to own. The world needs to know where the elements that make up this hybrid genre (CDM) are coming from. CDM Generation being the official platform for CDM is the avenue I’ve been using on the road to establishing CDM as a genre. Over the years we’ve hosted events featuring local, regional and International DJs that produce/play CDM. We’ve traveled to festivals such as Tomorrowland, EDC, Ultra, Tomorrow World and more with flags and merch to build awareness. Most importantly we’ve hosted an annual Caribbean Dance Music Conference in 2015 & 2016. This year’s conference is scheduled to take place on Saturday 2nd December at Cipriani College of Labor.


Radial: So what do you think is the future of CDM?

Karrilee: Just like every industry experiences trends, Caribbean culture has been trending in the global music industry in recent years. A lot of eyes are on the Caribbean and it’s a great time for Caribbean talent to capitalize. I don’t anticipate electronic music dying anytime soon and the Caribbean will always produce Caribbean music. Once the two genres exist, so will CDM. They will, however, both evolve.

I’ve seen tracks tagged as CDM on social media, CDM events, and a lot of fans of CDM sub-genres, namely future dancehall, in international markets. To be honest, the majority of CDM is produced outside the Caribbean and without a Caribbean person involved. Witnessing the international support is encouraging but there needs to be a movement coming out of the Caribbean to pioneer CDM. And Caribbean music practitioners have the opportunity to coin more sub-genres of CDM!

With respect to Caribbean music talent, CDM provides another avenue to penetrate the global music industry. Soca, Dancehall, Reggae artists can collaborate with electronic DJs which will allow their music to be placed in different markets. I envision CDM having a strong presence in music festivals, having its own charts & award categories and overall providing more opportunities for Caribbean talent in global markets. It’s going to take some time to establish CDM globally but I know it’s possible especially now with the launch of On Lock Records and the partnership with Sony Music and The Orchard.

CDM Generation

Radial: We love the idea of our own charts and categories! Our music is so powerful and our people so talented, it just makes sense! On a separate note, what have you been up to recently? You mentioned On Lock Records, what’s that about? 

Karrilee: Right now I’m in the middle of planning the third annual Caribbean Dance Conference scheduled for Saturday 2nd December at the Cipriani College of Labor. The conference is one of the pillars in establishing CDM as a genre. This one is extra special because myself and Kit Israel (of Advokit Productions and co-founder of Radial) will be launching a record label called On Lock Records; a Caribbean based affiliate label of Sony Music and The Orchard. The conference features local, regional and international music professionals. The seminars and workshops primarily focus on honing the skills of upcoming talent (DJs, Producers, Artists etc), talent/brand development, educating talent on the legal structures of the music industry and fostering the monetization of talent’s musical content. Bunji Garlin, Fay-Ann Lyons, Voice, Bad Royale, Kickraux, Kubiyashi to name a few, are some featured speakers that we’ve hosted. Some keynote speakers from organizations such as Sony Music, Ultra Music and Studio 71 have also weighed in at the conference.

We’re really excited to launch On Lock records and the opportunities it can create for Caribbean talent with respect to our partnership with Sony. On Lock isn’t a CDM specific label, we are open to signing genres across the board that are primarily produced in the Caribbean or includes Caribbean talent/elements in the creation process. We already have some tracks to release for Carnival 2018. One of our first releases is with a new producer/DJ group; Benny Shadow (Joshua Moreno & Kyle Delzin) ft Swappi. Look out for it, it’s a really dope track.

We’ve been meeting and gathering content from a lot of local artists & producers like Mark Hardy, System32, Jimmy October, Tano to name a few. Some international producers have also been sending us beats for our local artists & producers to collaborate on. Collaboration is key!

I also work on two events that happen monthly. Khafra Rudder, North Eleven, Melissa Silva and I produce an event called Bass Yard which features a mix of electronic genres, CDM included. Bass Yard is a very eclectic event and has a strong art element. We feature local artist’s work, provide space for live art and North Eleven enhances the experience with their 3D projections & mapping.

On the groovier side of things, SOTU Nights caters more to the House music lovers at Euphoria lounge. Kyle Delzin aka Kid Kallaloo headlines this series and is also my partner on this event.

Kicking off the party at SOTU Daze with Kid Kallaloo

Radial: Wow. You have been busy! What advice would you give to someone who would like to get involved in the CDM scene?

Karrilee: Anyone that wants to see CDM recognized as a music genre with Caribbean roots reach out to CDM Generation, #CDM on social media, produce more CDM, host CDM events, coin more CDM sub-genres, connect international & Caribbean music professionals, educate those that don’t know about Caribbean music & vice versa about Electronic music. There needs to be a movement. Get involved in whatever capacity you can.

Radial: Thanks Karrilee for taking the time to speak with us and for your work taking our sound to the world! Keep pushing the culture forward.


Make sure to check out the new CDM playlists on Radial available for a limited time and follow CDM Generation on facebook “CDM Generation” and on instagram @cdmgeneration. You can also check out their Youtube page and their website is coming soon. Also, make sure to check out On Lock Records (on Facebook “On Lock Records“, instagram @onlockrecords, and the website is also coming soon).

And if you have not done so already, download the free Radial app for iPhone and iPad to keep up with your Caribbean music and content!


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