Wednesday, August 17, 2011

BIO RITMO-La Verdad (Electric Cowbell, 2011)

Last year I reviewed a 7'' single by Bio Ritmo and I didn't know it back then, but that tune, "Dina's Mambo" soon became one of my favorite warm-up tracks in permanent rotation in my vinyl DJ sets and still remains in that status today. I don't know exactly what is it about it but I love it.
Bio Ritmo is essentially an alternative salsa band from an odd place, Richmond, Virginia. If you know me or read my blog, you know as a DJ I don't like playing salsa in my sets. Not only because of my aversion toward salsa dancers and their lack of understanding/respect for DJ work, but also because I tend to DJ at mixed crowd events and playing a salsa in your set can be a risky show-stopper. You have the crowd dancing to everything else, you play a salsa (usually because some annoying Venezuelan is busting your balls all night begging you to do so) and all of a sudden the dance-floor gets divided between those few who know how to dance salsa and like to show off their moves, and the rest who are intimidated/alienated into becoming simply observers. Soon after that it's your job as a DJ to try to pick up the party and reunite the crowd with something the majority can relate to.
Now regarding the music itself, I have nothing against it per se. I don't like the modern, cheesy, mainstream pop salsa, of course (my DJ-for-hire contract states that money being provided I'll play anything the customer wants... except Marc Anthony). But I have lots of respect for the old school, from the times when salsa was more street and more afro. I have the feeling that the Bio Ritmo guys share this view with me and that's the sound and aesthetics they're trying to recreate here, but with a modern twist. Breaking with all the clichés of the typical salsa bar band that plays covers of classics and standards simply to make those mentioned annoying fuckers dance, Bio Ritmo does their own thing, in their own style and play good, original music that can be easily appreciated by open-minded people who are not necessarily into salsa at all.
Fuck those salsa orthodox fans anyway. Bio Ritmo plays salsa but leans heavily on the funkier side of it, and has no issues blending in some Brazilian samba or dub, and that's the main reason I love them. Oh and there's another reason: their album is getting pressed on 12'' vinyl (and distributed by Fat Beats). Right, bitches! The only current salsa band in the US releasing vinyl! Learn a lesson or  two from these guys all you clowns out there with the silk shirts and shiny shoes doing your choreographed ballroom dance twists and turns and making DJ lives impossible. Bio Ritmo rocks and it's the only salsa band that gets a free pass here in The Hard Data.


DJ Vino said...

I'm a hard core salsa DJ (DJ Vino from DC) and I have to agree with about everything you said. I love Bio Ritmo and their style, its more of what modern music should be. When salsa gets too far from their roots it becomes too commercialized and lacks the soulful magic that made it great.

As for the dancers and mixed crowd stuff, yes its hard to play salsa in a mixed crowd. And I have to wonder how such a problem could ever be overcome.

Peter said...

Wow! I love Bio Ritmo and I'm a salsa dancer. I never make requests and I only dress up for concerts. I cannot apologize for those salsa dancers that make your life miserable, but I can say there are plenty of sane respectful salsa dancers out there that know that most parties are not about salsa and that's fine. Great review of a great band! Peace! Peter

Jimmy Yoon said...

Hey DJ Juan,

I have to start by saying that your blog has started quite the shit storm! Your blog was shared on a salsa forum catered towards hardcore salsa dancers in the DC Metro Area (that includes DC, parts of Maryland which are south of Baltimore, and Northern Virginia)....I don't know why I was compelled to reply.... I mean it's obvious that you're a non-dancer and you have no idea what our true community is like, I guess I had some free time at work. Here goes:

I enjoyed reading your blog because it gave me perspective on the thoughts of a mixed/latin night DJ that only dabbles in salsa, off-the-clock.

Some background on myself: Regardless of how I view myself, I'm seen as a hardcore salsa dancer in my community. There are two types of people: There are salsa dancers, and then there are people who 'dance salsa.' There is a distinction, and this has to be made clear. There's always much heated debate when folks try to define a 'salsa dancer,' but what you will typically get agreement on is: 1. They've attained a certain level of proficiency in their style. 2. They are recognized/acknowledged by a community of other dancers (good or bad). 3. They will announce themselves as "salsa dancers," NOT "I dance salsa." There are exceptions to these informally agreed truths: Some high level salsa dancers will say that they are dancers that 'prefer' or 'happen to' dance salsa/mambo, or they will respond with something along the lines of 'I dance afro-latin funk...' but these cases are far and few between, and IMO they should just own the title of 'salsa dancer,' but that's another discussion.

Jimmy Yoon said...

What you will typically find is that people who dabble in a little salsa here and there, the weekend enthusiast, the cultural voyeur, hipster, or high ranking practitioner of various house/kitchen styles will introduce themselves as "I dance salsa." Exception: The kitchen style practitioner MIGHT introduce themselves as a salsa dancer, depending on the level of delusion they're in.

NOW that we've gotten that out of the way, here are some truths for you to digest:

A true salsa/mambo dancer:

1. WILL NOT attend a mixed/latin event (your type of events) for the specific focus of dancing.
a. IF one does attend, it's for the purposes of trying to get booty, trying to get their drink on, or to try something different with their non-salsa friends.

2. WILL NOT attend your event over a real salsa event going on that same night. In the Bay, that's almost every night. You got Rocket Room/Cocomo's on Mon, Glas Kat Tues, El Valenciano on Weds, Cocomo/Roccapulco on Thurs, Fri off night, various socials on Sat, and Allegro's/Jellys/various socials on Sun. These are just the SLOT dancer spots that salsa/mambo dancers typically visit. The Cuban scene has a whole 'nother world going on with their own traditional, established spots. I can already tell, true dancers are not hitting your event, and if they ever did, it's prolly an off night and they're with non dancers.

3. WILL NOT request a salsa song from you, because they know better. They are there for the aformentioned reasons, and know already what to expect. If there is to be salsa, it's probably going to be a song at a ridiculous tempo, or some bizzare latin pop fusion track that's disguised in the constructs of salsa.

4. I don't know what flying-crane kitchen style this Venezuelan guy comes from, but I guarentee you, he is not a 'salsa/mambo dancer,' just simply a salsa music enthusiast at best. He should not be confused as a salsa dancer.

5. WILL NOT dance if your floor is sticky with spilled drinks. A dancer will not risk spraining their ankle over the likes of a dance or two at a non-dancer event.

6. IF there is a dancer at a non-dancer event, they happen to be wearing dancable shoes, and the salsa song that happens to play just happens to have swing, then there needs to be another person that speaks the same 'dance language.' He or she will not dance to that 1 song just to get their 'salsa fix.' It's an impossibility. They are not there for that. And they're definitely not going to be made a fool by attempting to dance salsa with a non-dancer.

Jimmy Yoon said...

IF all the planets and moons align, where there's a salsa dance couple who are at your venue, and you play a half-decent salsa song with some swing, the floor is not sticky from drinks and it's half decent (wood, not concrete, no potholes), and they just happen to have shoes on where they can dance in, AND they are compelled to dance for some reason at that moment, then I guarentee you that they will probably dance at their 50% level at most. And I can also guarentee you that that 50% will knock the socks off of your non-dancer crowd. The crowd will most likely give a round of applause at the end of the dance, thinking it was some impromptu demonstration, and will probably crowd the couple, complimenting them and asking for dance info/business cards, etc. A situation like this will only serve to drive business to your event because patrons will leave after witnessing something memorable and inspirational.

IF that were to ever have wouldn't be writing this blog post in this way.

As for the music:
Salsa is such a large umbrella term. What do YOU consider orthodox salsa? Salsa is such a gigantic term, it's now split into three umbrella terms thats generally recognized throughout the world: salsa, mambo/guaguanco, and timba, all being umbrella terms in their own rights. I disagree with your assertion that the 'old school' was the time when salsa was more street and more 'afro.' I'd argue that you can't get more 'earthy,' aggressive, and more 'Afro' than in Timba. And there's good stuff being produced not just in America, but all over the world. Some amazing stuff is being produced by Ritmo Masacote in Boston, Gonzalo Grau in Boston, Chalo y Su Ache in LA, Havana Power in Texas, etc.... and more notably all over Europe like Calle Real in Sweden and Candela Mi Son in France. Not to mention powerhouses like Michael Maza, Tirso Duarte, Elio Reve, Juan Formell, Paulito FG, and the other nuclear bombs coming straight from Havana.

It's clear that your breadth of salsa knowledge is limited. There's whole worlds of unexplored salsa out there....go look for it.

Some folks you might want to talk to in the Bay, in order to expand your salsa knowlege:

Mambo/Salsa DJ's:
DJ Hong
DJ Fab Fred
DJ Chino
DJ El dela Clave

DJ Walt Diggz

And as for those clowns out there w/ silk shirts and shiny you are in the Bay. I've seen a lot of those clowns out there posing as salsa dancers. These folks are definitely masters in Salsa de Mayonessa y Ketchup de (fill in nation)....but they are definitely not real salsa dancers, as defined by most salsa dancers. For the most part, a true salsa dancer can spot another salsa dancer from a mile away, anywhere in the world. We have similar styles in clothes... the little ways we move initially before we start a dance, etc. That's another post. These clowns might be the only exposure you get to real dancers, since you probably don't go to any spots that have any decent dancing. Talk to those names I mentioned above, they will point you in the right direction.

Juan Data said...

Oh Jimmy, wait until they read this other post:

DJ Vino said...

They already read that :)

Juan Data said...

Wow, this is awesome! Which forum is that? How did they found my blog post?
I can't imagine what salsa dancers or "people who dance salsa" would be doing anywhere near my blog.

Juan Data said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DJ Vino said...

I posted it on my facebook page, and and a facebook group called DC Salseros. It was in an effort to show your views to a community thats crazy about salsa. So that other people can learn and understand from a musical perspective, and from a latin club DJ/Owner perspective, since I thought your views might reflect the mind set of anyone thats running a latin club. Besides that I'm friends with Rei the Lead singer of Bio Ritmo, and I love the band, I was happy to see a good review of them. My salsa dancer friends read it and took it to a whole other level.

Juan Data said...

Oh Vino, there's a whole other discussion right there with the club owners/promoters thing you mention. Most of them hate salsa dancers for another reason: they go to the club to dance and they rarely drink, so the club doesn't make money.

Oh, and Jimmy, I don't know what gave you the idea that I was interesting in learning more about salsa and "real" dancers.
In my experience, are those "real" dancers you mention on your post the ones who piss me off the most, the ones who go to show off as if they were giving a show (specially if they pass out business cards right after their performance).
I know a lot of friends from Latin America who grew up dancing salsa as a normal thing, not a ballroom dance that you have to take classes to be able to dance, and they also hate those types because they make salsa seem like a cult type of thing that only the in-crowd can dance and intimidate the rest to approach the genre.
That's one of the main reasons I love playing cumbia in my sets and I don't like playing salsa. Cumbia is much more democratic, anybody can dance to it, everybody feels welcome, no need to take classes and it doesn't alienate nobody (except the salsa dancers who wait on the side of the dancefloor while I play cumbia, hoping that I play a salsa soon).

DJ Vino said...

Yes the whole drink thing is a well known plague in the salsa world, basically on the east coast it comes down to DRINK or the salsa club will no longer be a salsa club. But dancers don't want to drink too much because they still want to be able to dance, and as far as people passing out cards... whoever did it would become the laughing stock of DC, that's just not how business is done here.