There are those rare talents who truly walk a humble path, elevating and paying homage to the music and the pioneers who came before them. Stan Zeff is one such artist. His love, respect and reverence for the deep, eclectic house scene are palpable, even as he himself has been instrumental in shaping the trajectory of Afro house on both sides of the Atlantic. As the trailblazing visionary behind the Shock Sound System at London’s iconic Notting Hill carnival, founder of the highly respected Tambor Party and globally sought-after DJ/producer, Stan is a deep house renaissance man. His DJ/producer credentials are truly impressive; however, he has also established himself as a curator and tastemaker with a keen instinct for bringing together creative kindred spirits.
Very few DJs can retain the authenticity of the underground as they showcase their sound to the mainstream without some level of compromise. Stan stands firmly in that rarefied space. Whether he’s rocking massive throngs of dancers at Burning Man or in more intimate settings at some of the world’s top venues, including New York’s Cielo, the Copacabana and Domaine Atlanta, Stan brings his unadulterated music to the house aficionados. His dedication has earned him the utmost respect from his fellow DJs and the growing number of dance music devotees fortunate enough to hear him.
As the resident DJ at the long-running Tambor Party, the annual Tambor Cruise and as head honcho at the Tambor Music imprint, Stan has been responsible for shining spotlights on many underground performers, such as Afro Warriors and Brendon Praise, successfully introducing them to a larger US audience. It’s no surprise that Tambor has attracted an ever-growing base of the deep house elite and revelers alike, in turn making Stan a high-respected arbiter of the best of the Afro-influenced house scene.
Born in London, to West Indian immigrants, Stan’s formative years were immersed in an array of music spanning the Caribbean and Africa. He was exposed to the music played at ‘70s house parties that were frequented by his parents’ generation. The events were the precursor to the clubs that would eventually proliferate the UK scene. These parties were a safe space where the older folks could revel in peace with like-minded party people. “That was their club.” He recalls. “There were no clubs for my parents’ generation to go to, so they used to create their own musical atmospheres in their front rooms.”
Given his early experiences, it was inevitable that music would be his chosen path and, at aged 14, Stan started on his musical journey.
Though Stan was very much about the music, he attended Willesden Technical College, where he studied electronics, with aspirations for a career in Information Technology. The course piqued his interest in audio engineering, which would soon lead Stan into a world of the sound system. With a crew of fellow DJs and MCs, Stan founded the Shock Sound System in 1986, earning a fierce and loyal following with his mix of Chicago and New York House music. Shock quickly became a ubiquitous fixture on the burgeoning London underground club scene, eventually securing a coveted recurring spot at the Notting Hill Carnival, which establishing Shock as one of the long-running festival’s highlights.
In 1988, the dawning of the second summer of love, as dance music took hold of the UK’s youth, Stan’s musical trajectory would change when he joined forces with Paul RIP, who helmed the legendary Clink Street party in London City. The underground spot was known for its eclectic house music repertoire, which encompassed acid, Chicago and New York styles. It was here that Stan eagerly delved deep into the latter two genres. The party would go on to achieve legendary status, attracting an array of clubbers, from diverse backgrounds and social tiers. Using his influential platform at the Notting Hill carnival, Stan was the first DJ to bring Chicago and New York house to the festivities, highlighting the innovative sounds of Black electronic music to an unsuspecting, but, ultimately, enthusiastic crowd. Shock would soon attract a huge gaggle of revelers each year, upwards of 3,500, and pave the way for future DJs to push the envelope musically.
After relocating to Atlanta, Georgia in 2000 to continue his IT career, Stan also juggled growing demand for his DJ talents internationally. Around 2005, Stan began to seriously pursue music production and his first production coincided with the emergence of the Afro house movement. With his inaugural remix of Funk Daddy’s tune Set Me Free, dubbed The Chant Mix, out of the gate, Stan planted himself firmly in the highest echelon of the scene. The lauded rework was followed, in quick succession, by a slew of remixes and original productions, where Stan brought all of his musical influences to the fore: African beats, Chicago house-style keyboard licks, and the rugged and low-slung grooves of London. Each release further cemented the British-born DJ/producer as one of the scene’s leading talents as he consistently garnered top-selling releases. Notable remixes include Ananda Project’s Bahia (Stan Zeff Remix),) Osunlade’s Villa-Royale (Stan Zeff Remix) for the production project Po-lar-i-ty and his first big remix for Roland Clarke, titled All About That Love, a bumping, peak-hour anthem.
Over his storied career, Stan has worked with some of the some of the most influential names in deep house, including Terry Hunter, Mike Dunn and South Africa’s Toshi, with an impressive catalogue of music spanning seminal record labels such as King Street, Nervous and Yoruba Records, as well as Stan’s own label, Tambor Music. Stan’s top-selling productions are regularly featured in Traxsource’s Essential Afro House Charts and he has drawn numerous accolades from his peers and club heads alike.
With demand as a DJ growing, in 2009, Stan founded Tambor Party, the Atlanta-based soiree, which means drum ceremony in Afro-Cuban. The continuously running monthly has served as a testament to Stan’s unconditional love for the music and the spirituality that surrounds it. He has taken the highly successful party on the road to NYC, LA, Miami, Boston, Montreal and Toronto. The stellar reputation of Tambor Party was cemented at the annual Winter Music Conference at Ocean’s 10, where for six years from 2010 to 2016 it was largest Afro-house feature, consistently attraction an audience of 3,000 party people.
Such is Stan’s devotion to Tambor Party that no matter where his hectic schedule takes him internationally, he always presides over the faithful, sharing his blend of Afrocentric, polyrhythmic grooves and silky melodies each month. Devotees of the shindig liken it to a spiritual, life-affirming experience, where they reconnect with themselves and commune with each other on a deeply profound level. For the devotees, Tambor Party is transformative. Tambor is a haven for self-expression and celebration, much like the 70s parties of his parents attended. It serves as a safe, spiritual space for dancers to feel tethered to something profound, meaningful and healing. For the Atlanta-based, Afro house maven – a priest in IFA, a Yoruba-based religion – this is by design. “After getting established in Atlanta, I wanted to start something that was reflective of me,” Stan explains. “Musically, spiritually…just an [energetically] free place… for people to really just let loose and have a place of healing through music. Leave your troubles at the door. Just come in, dance and be free.”
Tambor Party hasn’t only served as a residency for London-born DJ and producer, Stan is also a curator of underground talent. Black Coffee was relatively unknown stateside when Stan invited the South African artist to play his first ever gig in the States and the rest is dance music history. In a poetic, full circle moment, in October 2022, Stan shared the stage as an artist with Black Coffee at Atlanta’s Domaine Club.
Other artists making their US debuts via Tambor include Manoo, Brenden Praise of Black Motion and Djeff Afrozilla, with Stan serving as an avid supporter for their exceptional talents and a bridge to more global audiences. Stan has created seismic shifts, keeping the African-influenced genres of dance, fresh, spiritually-provoking, and, above all, fun.
In addition to giving new artists more visibility and accompanying recognition, Stan’s long-running party has a garnered a stellar reputation for quality house and, as a result, has attracted many world-class house DJs, including Timmy Regisford, David Morales and Joe Claussell, all of whom have been guests at Tambor.
As a DJ and producer with a keen ear for underground innovators, it was inevitable that Stan would eventually form his own label. In 2012, he founded Tambor Music, which quickly established itself as a prominent imprint on the deep scene, with releases from homegrown US talent, African artists, and Stan himself, whose eponymous releases transformed him into a consistently top-selling producer.
Tambor Music has become an essential label for the very best in Afrocentric dance music. From the label’s outset, rather than jump on trends, Stan chose to forge new ground and showcase unknown artists he believed in, and that sentiment continues to the present. While Black artists are marginalized within the genre of their creation, Stan has stood up as a champion for the cause, introducing a slew of talent to the dance music scene – artists who would go on to have huge careers.
Throughout his stellar career, Stan has dedicated himself to spreading the Afro house philosophy, whether through Tambor Music and Tambor Party. In his quest to share his love of the deep, Stan started the Tambor Cruise, an extension of his long-running residency, on Royal Caribbean Cruises. The party at sea quickly exploded in popularity and was the impetus for other DJs and promoters to put on similar events. The Tambor Cruise has featured DJs and performers, such as Shimza, Djeff Afrozilla and Zepherin Saint.
As a standalone artist, Stan himself has been a worthy ambassador for the deep and soulful sounds of Africa, having played numerous venues, such as Revival Toronto, Smart Bar Chicago and Wildpitch Atlanta. Stan has also been a fixture at festivals around the globe. The many guest spots on his roster include the Afro Soul Festival in Costa Rica, Moving Deep in Amsterdam and Chosen Few in Chicago, where he has played to crowds exceeding 40,000. Other events have included a collaboration with the Brooklyn-founded collective Daybreaker, which was part of Oprah’s nine-city 2020 Vision Tour. Additionally, Stan was the prominently featured DJ at the Nature and Culture Tours at the Illuminarium in Atlanta July and Nov 2022.
Since 2017, having quit his IT career, Tambor and its branches have been Stan’s full-time focus. He has been able to dedicate time to curating musical journeys that run the gamut from Sacred Sons men’s spiritual retreats to yoga-inspired sessions and wellness events, including plant medicine ceremonies. Stan continues to curate events and foster creative collaborations with fellow artists.
While the 2020 COVID pandemic sidelined the global club scene, Tambor switched to an online model to soothe the souls of the lockdown-weary masses. With pandemic restrictions lifted, Stan came roaring back with the first, in-person Tambor Party in October 2021 at the historical Underground Atlanta. The party’s return was followed by a series of dance experiences in Georgia’s capital city and the inaugural launch of the Tambor NYC Circle Line boat ride in July 2022 on the Hudson River.
Demand for his DJ sets quickly ramped up with highlights that included playing to an audience of 78,000 as part of the Daybreaker collective for the first-ever performance at The Man installation at Burning Man in the Nevada desert. Not only did Stan bring authentically deep, soulful, African-infused house to a mass audience, as a Black DJ, he also served as one of the influential representatives of a genre often overlooked in dance music’s mainstream. Burning Man stands as a career high in Stan’s already impressive career and an introduction to his many talents for an even wider audience.
As demand increases exponentially for his ethereal, soulful aesthetic, one of the most dedicated artists on the dance scene, Stan is making up for the time lost during two years of lockdown. Those plans include the return of the annual Tambor Cruise for 2023. With numerous projects in the works, both in the studio and on the decks, Stan continues his mission to spread the soulful, Afro-drenched house philosophy. Stan isn’t just about the pursuit of the dance, he stands at the intersection of African-influenced music, that incorporates spirituality and movement as a healing ritual, creating a safe space for self-expression and introspection.
For the illustrious Mr. Zeff, it’s all about the music. Always was. Always will be.