SummerStage Preview: Interview with DJs Bobbito Garcia, Laylo, and SAKE-1
This Sunday in Central Park, SummerStage presents a tribute to Latin American music and Fania Records with Pupy y los que Son Son, Jose Conde and the Nu Latin Groove Band, and DJs Bobbito Garcia, Laylo, and SAKE-1.
Founded in 1964 by Jerry Masucci and Johnny Pacheco, Fania became the premiere label for salsa music and the sound of New York. The label hosted some of the most prominent names in Latin music, like Celia Cruz, Ray Barretto, and Héctor Lavoe, and toured the world as the Fania All-Stars.
In addition to releasing remastered works on CD and MP3, Fania today expands its offerings by letting DJs and producers revisit its catalog and sculpt sets based around more contemporary formats informed by hip-hop and electronic music.
One DJ to have his hand at the Fania Live series is San Francisco’s SAKE-1, who put out the third installment with his From the Fresh Coast mix. Since then he’s collaborated with New York City DJs Laylo and Bobbito Garcia to create an annual celebration of Fania’s music, featuring Fania classics and remixes along with relevant rare grooves.
DJ Laylo is a filmmaker, activist, and half of the hip-hop duo Eli Efi and DJ Laylo. As a DJ she’ll play “anything that moves [her] from the African Diaspora music continuum.”
Bobbito Garcia is a DJ, writer, sneaker guru, and celebrated hip-hop icon with a broad musical focus.
I spoke with the three DJs about their relationship with the music and how they came together to share their love of Fania.
Bijan: How did the idea for the three of you getting together and paying tribute to Fania come about?
SAKE-1: When Fania was purchased by Miami-based Latin music distribution company Emusica earlier this decade they initiated a promotional partnership with NYC-based music periodical Wax Poetics. I had wanted to do a Fania tribute party for a few years and contacted Wax Poetics magazine, since I didn’t have a direct contact with Fania or Emusica. They wound up recommending me as an artist for their “Fania Live” DJ album series, in which a few DJs were picked to interpret/mix/remix/curate the Fania sound and back catalog for the electronic music generation.
I still wanted to do a proper tribute to Fania as a club night however, so when the CD was released in 2008 I did it in SF, and of course there was only one DJ in the world that would make it legit, Bobbito. So I asked him to come spin, and it was a great night. We did another night in LA, then collaborated with Laylo to do the NYC event a few weeks later… Once Laylo got involved, it took the event to a new level and i think we felt that we had the right folks to make it an annual event, and in NYC which is synonymous with Fania.
B: As DJs with strong ties to hop-hop, what do you think are the intersections of hip-hop and salsa/boogaloo/other Fania genres? How might these connections come out in your set?
Bobbito: The intersections one might find between Fania and Hip-Hop would be that both found a home in New York during the ’70s, and were shaped idealogically by the economic and social conditions of the times. A great film that explores this is Henry Chalfant’s documentary From Mambo to Hip Hop. He pays it a lot better justice than what I could explain in this interview. The connection that comes out in our sets is easier to explain. Hip Hop taught us to not accept what was played on the radio, but to dig deeper into our souls and decide for ourselves what beautiful music should be shared amongst us. So during our party, yes, you’ll hear some of the Fania classics, but you’ll also be exposed to rare and unknown album cuts from their catalog, modern-day remixes with hip hop and dance beats, and some live-recorded performances from that era. And since we have many hip-hop heads who follow us individually, some of whom don’t listen to much outside of rap or it’s sampled derivatives, we are helping shine a light on them of an entire Latin movement that was powerful and deserves to be preserved. . . thus the name of the party SIEMPRE: A DJ TRIBUTE TO FANIA RECORDS.
B: Technical curiosity – are you playing vinyl, CD, serato/traktor, or what?
Bobbito: I’m still strictly vinyl in my DJ sets. I prefer the superiority and warmth of analog sound. I also love, in particular, the Latin music’s rich history in artwork (which has been the subject of books like Cocinando and others).
Laylo: Sake and myself rock both vinyl and Serato. I love vinyl but also like that Serato allows one to play music/edits/remixes that you can’t find or have never been released on wax.
B: What role did this music have in your lives growing up? Why do you think the “Fania” name carries such a strong, inspiring legacy?
Bobbito: My father was a Latin Jazz musician and we grew up with an actual set of Tito Puente’s vibes, a gift directly from him, in our living room. My mother was Fania All-Star singer Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez’ personal hairdresser. Honestly, though, I didn’t tune into Fania until my adulthood. As a child, I looked at Latin music as what my parents listened to, and I tried to find my own rhythm. The Fania legacy was, and still is, so ridiculously powerful, how could I, a Boricua music lover, not eventually discover it?! I love all music with soul, and the fact that so much heart was poured into the making of Barretto, Colon, Cruz, Rivera, etc. records, plus they happen to be my own peoples . . . it’s a wonderful passion that drives me to hear, play, dance, smile, all that.
Laylo: All of my best childhood memories have Fania as a soundtrack. My mother moved from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico in the early ’70s as a young adult…and my moms was a crazy salsa dancer. She has tons of stories of seeing Fania legends live and dancing the night away. Fania was a huge part of her life and she made it a part of ours. Whether it was a birthday party or cleaning the house on a Saturday afternoon, there was always some Ismael Miranda, Willie Colon, or some other Fania great blasting in our home. At family gatherings, we used to do dance-offs between all the kids. I could go on and on, but I won’t. I loved the music as a little girl, and the more I dig as an adult the more I love this era of Salsa.
B: Can you tell us a little bit about Jose Conde and Pupy Pedroso w/Los Que Son Son?
Laylo: There’s always controversy about who started what with Salsa so I’m excited that this show is bringing together older Cuban musicians, younger Latin fusion artists, and the pan-Caribbean flavor of New York City…all paying homage to the power of Latin music.
B: What are you working on at the moment?
Bobbito: I have a residency at Camaradas en El Barrio, NYC, the first Monday of every month. I also started up a new label called Alala Records, releasing 7″ vinyl only. I’m up to a ton of other things, best for people to peep where I’m at on my Facebook page.
Laylo: In true NYC form, I’m working on a bunch of things at the same time. I work as Development Director at Firelight Media, a Harlem-based film production company. My film Estilo Hip Hop premiered on PBS last year and we’re getting ready to release our DVD on June 22nd in partnership with Indiepix Films. I’m also working on an album with my partner, Eli Efi, who is a pioneering hip hop artist from Sao Paulo, Brasil. And of course, I’m always spinning music I love around NYC and other cities.
B: Could you share a couple of your favorite Fania records, or a couple that you’re into at the moment?
Bobbito: Impossible to list favorites cuz there are so many, but two that have been stuck in my head recently are Ismael Rivera “Caras Lindas” and Bobby Valentin “Nací Moreno.” I love when any genre–driven by people of color–dives into social issues, expressions of self-love, upliftment . . . topics that challenge people to think and at the same time move their feet.
Laylo: I agree, choosing a favorite is impossible, but two songs I’m currently loving are “Apaga La Luz” by Celia Cruz and Willie Colon and “El Hijo de Obatala” by the incredible Ray Barretto. I love these tracks cause they literally force you to dance but also because the lyrics bridge spirituality, social justice, and cultural pride.
Bobbito, SAKE, and Laylo celebrate Latin music with Pupy Pedroso, Jose Conde, and their bands this Sunday at 3PM.
They’ll be performing the full SIEMPRE! DJ tribute at Le Poisson Rouge on July 11 with live violin and congas.
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Although Jorge Santana gives this one some California/rock flavor, here’s a piece of Fania All-Star goodness: