Wednesday, July 27, 2011

DJ RAFF-Latino & Proud (Nacional Records, 2011)

If you've been reading The Hard Data for a while you already know very well how much I admire this Chilean musician who goes by the name of DJ Raff. I have mentioned him countless times on this blog (my review of Raffolution was one of the first posts here), I've used his music in pretty much all my mixtapes and I openly begged Nacional Records, more than once, to release his music in the US and bring him here to perform.
Needless to say, I was extremely excited when I found out he was coming out with a brand new album, Collage Binario, with his recent experiments in sonic architecture, a minimalist, abstract opus that tangentially deviates from his scratch DJ origins. Even more excited I became when I heard rumors of Nacional Records finally signing him and releasing this album outside of Chile. And then I saw the title change...
(Here comes the bitching.)
You know it, you had it coming, Nacional. You know I love you guys and I support most of your releases. You guys really know your shit and I'm nobody, my opinion barely counts and my knowledge of music marketing is close to zero. But it really pisses me off when still, in this day and age, we need to pull the "Latino" card out to try to sell music that stands finely by itself and can compete on the same level with the top international artists of its genre without any need of niche induction.
Because that's exactly what's going on here. You have a great album, with some dope ass beats that anybody who follows the avant-guard of post-hip-hop production (Flying Lotus, GonjasufiSa-Ra, for example) will undoubtedly enjoy. The album is almost all instrumental, lyrics and sampled vocals are just merely there to decorate the beat production where the focus is. And those beats have almost no evident references to Latin music. The artist does not identify himself as a Latin music artist, he might as well be French or Japanese. He just happens to be born in Chile, but that's just a side note in his resume. True, he once belonged to a hip-hop crew called La Pozze Latina, but that was in 1994 and since then I haven't seen him use the Latino card to introduce himself or his music ever again.
But you think Collage Binario (Binary Collage) is too sophisticated a title and/or rather pretentious and it will alienate the average US-based Latin consumer and record reviewers of Latin media will not pick it up. And you are right. But... do you need them? I mean, when they release a DJ Krush album in the US, are they aiming at the Japanese community as target market? When they release an Amon Tobin album are they targeting the Brazilian immigrant community? The answer is no. Then why bother trying to capture the attention of the Latino niche with a phony title if they are not gonna get it anyway because they're too behind to appreciate this kind of music?
Just look at the artsy cover, there're no calaveras or Virgen de Guadalupe or palm trees or low-riders or er... wrestling masks or any other Latin bullshit cliché and it perfectly represents the abstract sonic experimentation dominant in this album. You really think the type of Latinos who might be enticed by a title as Latino & Proud will pick up an album with that cover?
Latino & Proud was the title of a track included in DJ Raff's solo debut Raffolution, in 2008, and granted, it's a tight track. I still play it on my mixes and sets a lot, in fact I just played it last week at a gig. But when you take it out of Raffolution to include it in this release, it's more the exception than the rule amongst a collection of songs (some already released in the Traveling Partners series) that doesn't have any other reference to Latin culture, besides some words in Spanish here and there. So the people who'll pick up the album based on the title, because they like Latin stuff, will probably feel disappointed or  even ripped off (or maybe, who knows, they'll end up expanding their music palette and learning about new music, but I doubt it).
Market segmentation in the US drives me nuts. I get really frustrated when I see this type of things happening. Like when fellow Chilean DJ/producer Bitman of the Bitman & Roban duo went solo and changed his name to Latin Bitman (probably also by suggestion of Nacional Records) or when my old  friends Sindicato Argentino del Hip Hop had to resist pressure from Univeral Records trying to get them to change their name to Sindicato Latino del Hip Hop. Ridiculous.
Anyway, the whole labeling yourself as Latino and the minority pride associated with it only makes sense within the United States (where the vocal sample used for "Latino & Proud," the song, originated). Almost nobody in South America (specially not in Chile or Argentina) will go around claiming "I'm Latino" because it's an understatement. The same way you won't find an Italian or Finnish artist claiming "I'm European" while in their homeland. It's simply redundant.
That being said, if you still don't know DJ Raff (and again, if you've been following my blog you definitely know him by now) this is a great chance to catch up with one of the most interesting musicians coming out from the Southern half of this continent. Even though there're some tracks you might already have from previous releases, Latino & Proud has 80% of new never released material and if they ever press it on vinyl I'll make sure to buy not one but two copies of it because I love it. Regardless of the wacky title.

Please, ignore my rant and buy the album at any major digital vendor, including Itunes, Emusic, Amazon, etc. (CD available next month)

Read my interview with DJ Raff for Remezcla here, where I asked him about the album's title selection, among other interesting stuff.

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