Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Salsa Turntable is for “Latinos Only!”

The Late Ibrahim Ferrer, Cuba

During my salsa dancing days, there were more than one occasion where I felt the need to approach a DJ and suggest some tunes that would make people want to jump out of their seats and onto the dance floor. I personally was just not feeling their music. Any experienced Salsero (Salsa dancer) knows that if you can feel the music, it will bring out your best as a dancer, and your dance partner may even want to hug you when the music stops. I know this from personal experience.

I have been listening to salsa music since my teenage years in New York City where Salsa music was born. When I finally got the hang of the dancing routines as an adult, I often thought to myself, that perhaps, I should be a DJ since I know and love the music. I felt that I could really show the people a good time. I had grown discouraged by the choice of music that many DJs here in the Oakland/San Francisco Bay Area choose to play. Some songs are way too fast; great for listening but not for dancing. Still others songs were too long. When I go out dancing, I like to dance with a variety of women and not spend the whole evening dancing with one because the song is so damn long.

La Sonora Carruseles, Colombia

One thing that I notice about many Salsa DJs is that they themselves are not Salsa dancers. I believe that a Salsa music DJ who enjoys dancing can get a better feel for what would motivate a crowd to hit the dance floor. However, another thought popped loud and clear into my head; the Salsa music turntable is for Latinos only! I felt as though I might be invading the territory of a culture that is not my own as a Salsa music DJ. When I shared those thoughts with Marlon, a DJ from Nicaragua, he told me not to trip, it’s is all good! Personally, I thought Marlon was just being patronizing. Sure, I realize that were not for Africans being brought to Latin-America as slaves 100 years before they  were brought to the US that the music we know as Salsa would be a whole different genre of music, most likely with different name attached, and nothing like what the world enjoys today, but II myself am not Latino.

Antonio Cartagena, Perú

I knew two African Americans in the Bay Area who were highly successful as Salsa music DJs. One being Ann, aka Heba who worked at a major nightclub near Oakland, and the other, Larry-Larry, who worked at a dance venue of a resort hotel as well as a popular nightclub near San Francisco. Both Heba and Larry-Larry are also Salsa “dancers,” thus know the right music to play to keep the crowd going. I thoroughly enjoyed Larry-Larry’s music, and simply could not sit down when he was on the turntable. He always attracted a good turnout, and I truly believed that I could be just as good  or maybe better.

What made Larry-Larry’s music (and Heba) so special was that his music had a nice steady tempo where you had time to get all of your fancy moves in on the dance floor without having to rush and wear your dance partner out. I have had women say to me when I would ask them to dance, the next one please; I need to catch my breath! Still, I felt that with Heba and Larry-Larry alone that the Salsa DJ industry was already saturated with non-Latinos, so I backed off not wanting to raise any red flags. Geez! Maybe I was tripping and missed my calling as a DJ with the conviction that the Salsa music turntable is for Latinos only.

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