Thursday, June 24, 2010

PALENQUE PALENQUE-Champeta Criolla & Afro Roots in Colombia (Soundway 2010)

Since the emergence of neo-cumbia a few years ago, DJ's and producers worldwide have been desperately researching and digging for the roots of this sound. They probably first encountered the corny Argentine or Mexican current commercial cumbia and eventually made their ways towards the original north-Colombian and Panamanian sounds and suddenly realized there was a lot of amazing music with African roots produced in that part of the continent that had never gotten any attention abroad. At least that's how it was for me.
Sadly, when we think of Colombian music the first things that come to mind are salsa and mainstream pop (Shakira, Juanes) because that's what the country's music industry has exported with most success during the past two decades. They never bothered exporting the Afro-sounds of the Caribbean coast, but that's where the real cool shit is.
Soundway Records, the UK based world music label that has re-released a lot of forgotten gems from Panama and Colombia in  the last couple of years just came out with this new indispensable comp with twenty-one dance-floor packing tracks, available in digital but also in vinyl format.  I don't know anything about any of the artists included there and I was only familiar with a couple of them from previous compilations, so I won't even try to pretend that I know what I'm talking about. I only know I listened to it and I loved it and I can't wait to drop some of these at my next party.

Listen to two songs here or buy the digital album at your usual mp3 provider. 

Friday, June 11, 2010

DJ ZEPH-Batidas Latinas (Breakin Bread, 2010)

Now, this one I like so, so much that I feel kinda bad about posting about it because a part of me would like to keep it a secret, so I can be the only one playing this amazing mash-ups and DJ edits at the parties. This is exactly the type of shit I love to spin and the type of shit I know it'll go great with my mixed crowd of gringos and open minded Latinos and I really wish there were more releases like this out there, but I guess, because of copyright issues they're meant to be kept under the radar. In this case this vinyl release by one of Bay Area best hip-hop DJ's is only available in Europe through the London-based label Breakin Bread.
Most of the tracks are mash-ups of rap lyrics by the likes of Lyrics Born, Lauryn Hill, Jay-Z, etc over classic (maybe even common place) Latin tunes. I like the fact that they're very simple, striped-down productions, faithful to the originals, with the addition of some break beats, and cut in constant measures to make DJ mixing easier. They leave a lot of room for live manipulation and creative mixing. You can tell these are edits done by Zeph to be dropped in his own sets.
There's a little bit of everything, from Cuban bolero, to Brazilian samba, to cumbia, rumba, flamenco, mambo and Latin funk.  If you can't get your hands on the vinyl EPs, you can listen to some samples and buy the MP3s here. Or you can go to my next gig where I'm gonna be spinning this for sure.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

SERGIO MENDES-Bom Tempo+Remixes (Concord Records, 2010)

Just the other day I was thinking about how much more I prefer DJing at Brazilian music parties than mainstream Latin parities.
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).