Thursday, June 3, 2010
SERGIO MENDES-Bom Tempo+Remixes (Concord Records, 2010)
Why is that? Why is it that I always leave my Brazilian gigs with a feeling of deep satisfaction and my mainstream Latin gigs with utter frustration?
The answer is not to be found in the music, I equally love both, music in Spanish and Portuguese, since I pretty much grew up listening to both indistinctly.
The main difference between these two type of parties is the dancers. Brazilians love to dance (and they are great at it). When you're DJing your main task is to get people to dance and no crowd I've ever DJed for is easier to get on the dance-floor than Brazilians. Spanish-speaking Latinos are way more difficult mainly because of the demographic complexities: when you're playing at a Brazilian music party you are mainly just playing for Brazilian people and gringos who are fans of Brazilian music; when you DJ for Spanish-speaking Latinos you're confronting a very heterogenous crowd of people from different nationalities and very little in common regarding music tastes.
Colombian, Mexican, Cuban and Argentinians in one same room, they all grew up listening to very different music, how do you get them all to dance with each other? The easy answer chosen by most (myself included): play exclusively major hits, just crossover hits from decades ago, songs that anybody can sing along to, always appeal to the lower common denominator. Of course, from a DJ point of view, this is boring as hell, there's no challenge in playing worn-out top-40 crap from the 90's and it makes you feel that you DJing at a fucking wedding.
When I DJ at Brazilian parties I do mix some 80's and 90's trite classics as well, but it always amazes me how people keep on dancing like crazy when I play newly released tracks that they've never heard before. I can go from a Carlinhos Brown remix to German baile-funk producer Daniel Haaksman then to progressive Paulista Curumin and from there to the Paris-based Salomé de Bahía and the dance-floor is always packed, nobody stops dancing and if they approach me to say anything is: "Are you Brazilian? Where do you get this amazing music we never heard of?" They love it.
Having the equivalent of that with a Spanish-speaking crowd would be an utopia. For starters, it's a lot harder to get them on the dance-floor, many of them grew up in the salsa/merengue culture so (unlike Brazilians) won't go out to dance by themselves, the girls wait for boys to ask them out and the boys wait till they're drunk to gather the courage to do so. When you finally got them out dancing, you think your problem is solved, but it's just begun. The moment you play a new tune, something they've never heard before, even if it has the catchiest beat, they stop dancing, give you the evil eye, and eventually come up to you with annoying requests. Since they all come from different cultural backgrounds, their requests are usually very incompatible with one another. In less than five minutes you can get asked to play reggaeton, merengue, bachata, 80's rock and cheesy romantic pop. And the worst part of it is that not only they ask you to do so, they demand it, and they expect you to play the song they want right after whatever you're playing and if you don't, they come back and repeat their request, or send their friend to do so (oldest trick in the book, kids). In other words, they don't have any understanding and/or appreciation of DJ work, they think you're there merely to press play and line up one song after the next, they think it's your duty to comply with their requests, even if they are totally absurd and out of context and they probably even want you to make cheesy announcements on the mic (this is particularly common among Mexicans).
As a result of this, DJing at a mainstream Latin parties ends up being a much more stress-inducing experience. So I'm glad I get paid more than when DJing at Brazilian events. Most Brazilian events I do almost for free, but the crowd is easier and way more open-minded, the music is way better and you're allowed to improvise and experiment a lot more. It's all pleasure. This new album by Sergio Mendes, for example, has plenty of tracks that I could play at a Brazilian party knowing they'll get a great response, even if the album just came out and they're not familiar with it. Granted, there are also some versions of old played-out hits ("Magalenha," again?!) and classics ("Pais Tropical") and collaborations by the two most relevant Brazilian musicians from the last two decades, Seu Jorge and Carlinhos Brown. Unlike the previous two Sergio Mendes albums, this one is fully Will.I.Am-free but still has plenty of English lyrics for the gringo beginners and even a Stevie Wonder cover. But what I'm most interested in is actually the remix version of the same album with all those tracks over house beats. That's the type of shit that I can totally mix in my sets at a Brazilian party, but I'd never be able to get away with at the mainstream Latin parties (with the only exception of "Magalenha," they know that one... it's from 1992).