What is the most annoying thing a Salsa DJ can do?

Discussion Response: Marco Marco – London, UK

I enjoyed Sal Amambo’s article, even though I think his tongue was a little in his cheek when he wrote it. He picked up on the obvious traits that everyone recognizes when they’re out for a night and want to dance but can’t because of the crap being played by the DJ. But I don’t agree with everything he wrote.

I have a love of hip hop and early house music as well as hardcore old school NY Salsa dura and if I had to name one or two DJ’s that have never failed to impress me when I’ve seen them, it would be Kenny Dope Gonzalez and Louie Vega (otherwise known as Masters at Work). They use 4 decks, live keyboards, samplers and effects to put on a wild show when they DJ and it works to amazing effect. From the hip hop world you can’t fail to be impressed when you catch old timers Grandmaster Flash or Jazzy Jeff. Both were ahead of their time and the way they can still to this day dig out obscure mega-funky breaks and chop the beat to create something new and keep the dancers moving has to be seen to be believed.

Salsa of course is a different matter. Most dancers want a break between songs to catch their breath, grab a fresh partner or whatever. The general consensus whenever this kind of question is asked is that both DJ’s and dancers like to let a song end naturally then on with the next tune. One DJ that doesn’t always do this but has always impressed me is Henry Knowles. We don’t get to see him in London that often but when he does reach he’s always done a great night. Not only does he have a heavy bag of old school vinyl but he knows each track inside out and can pick out those hot breaks much the same way as Flash or JJ do. He also likes to plug in his effects machine to add a sample here or some echo there. It doesn’t always work but I admire the way he tries to do something new and different, taking influences from the hip hop and house communities and bringing it over to the land of Salsa. Of course Sal is right to a certain extent. It can be murder when you’re stuck for another 10 minutes with someone you want to get rid of when Henry goes into one of his mega mixes but what can you do? Just slip into an easy groove and enjoy the music!

Track selection is of course the most important thing. Everyone will have their own opinion but for me that means good groove old style Salsa, slow or fast, nice heavy bass, lots of cowbell and timbale clattering away. It can go on like that all night as far as I’m concerned, enough with those annoying breaks for some meringue.

Another point raised by the questioner is whether DJ’s should talk over the music. These days pretty much no DJ talks over the music whether it’s Salsa, hip hop or house. If you go to a Salsa event in London what tends to happen is they stop the music for 10 minutes to allow the promoter to big up his mates and tell us what a great job he just did putting the night together. Man, just get on with the music! The drum and bass and underground garage clubs in London are a different matter. Here they employ an MC to spit lyrics over the music and hype the crowd every now and then (the nearest thing you have to this in the US is the guys who chat over the rap mixtapes, only our MC’s seem to do it better). Some of these MC’s forget that less is more but when it’s done right it has the desired effect. One Salsa DJ, Johnny G, who works in Bar Rumba on a Tuesday night, will do this occasionally and it does seem to get the crowd going.

Something not mentioned by the person posing the questions was how annoying it is when the DJ fails to turn up. The one time I got to DJ at the Scala in London happened as a result of this. A big name US Salsa DJ was booked to play from the start of the evening at 10pm. I was in the DJ booth playing stuff for the dance class (I blagged my way in because I wanted to watch Frankie Martinez and had to make myself useful so the bouncers didn’t throw me out). Come the hour no sign of our DJ and no response on his mobile, so could I get things going? All I had was a couple of Wayne Gorbea and Gran Combo CD’s someone had brought along. But the show must go on. About half an hour later in strolled our DJ looking worse for wear having spent the afternoon and early evening in bed with a couple of London ladies he’d hooked up with. Fair play though, he still put on a top show.

Keep up the great work with La Voz del Mambo
Marco Marcos, London UK

Discussion Response: Rick Greenfield – Atlanta, GA

What is the most annoying thing a Salsa DJ can do?

All of the items on your list are equally annoying. A Salsa DJ should be able to please a crowd of Salseros as easy as an ice cream man can please a crowd of children. The ice cream man is in tune with, and prepared to give the kids what they want, and it’s not about “the man” It’s about the “Ice Cream”. Sounds easy, but unfortunately too many DJ’s don’t know how to, or don’t care to get connected with their audience. With Salsa, it’s all about the music. The music creates the mood, passion, and energy for the Salseros. If the Salsa DJ is truly an artist, like DJ Elvira(NYC-DC), DJ Roberto Montas(NC), and DJ Henry Knowles(NYC), he or she will connect with the dancers and let the music create the magic we all desire.

Discussion Response: Frankie M – Charlotte, NC

Frankie M SalsaWhat is the most annoying thing a DJ can do?
DJ’s that don’t allow the song to completely end and mixing a hip-hop rhyme to a Salsa track.
Disclaimer: I’m a true hip-hop head but the two just don’t mix in a Salsa environment
Do you believe a DJ’s willingness to become a proficient Salsa dancer has an affect on their DJ skills?
Definitely, a DJ needs to be able to relate to the crowd he is catering to. For example, How good can a cook be if he his taste buds don’t work?
Or how effective would a blind seeing dog be? Enough said…

Eric AnthonyDiscussion Response: Eric Anthony – Charlotte, NC

1. Blending the music is a definite no no. Some songs have great endings to them and we as dancers want to hear because we know it so well. No need to rush to another song that fast. I really don’t mind if there is a pause between songs. No big rush here as long as majority Salsa music is being played.

2. I think we all outside of NY want more Salsa to be played. Having said that, in a club environment I understand the need to play other types of music. All I ask is that at least Salsa be played in a decent rotation every 45 minutes. One of the best examples is at Salsa Cabana in Columbia, SC.

3. The Salsa songs should be in a combination of fast, slow and or medium tempo so all can enjoy. No need to play all fast music. It only runs away the beginning student who has trouble keeping up. Also it helps us feel the music and become better dancers. Including advanced dancers. I see many who cannot control their body movement on slow Salsa songs.

4. I have not witness scratched music. That would not be a good thing.

5. Being a dancer/DJ certainly seems to help a DJ’s abilities to play nice dance tunes. Look at Gabe in SC, Henry Knowles, Jimmy Anton. etc.

Discussion Response – Katia from Sydney, Australia

Hello, I think the most annoying thing that a DJ can do is actually to cut the song before the end. No opportunity for a dip!! A complete catastrophe!! This is the best part of my dancing disappeared, not to take into account that I am missing out on a well-deserved back stretch. No joke, I love dips – the lower to the floor the better – and I do get really pissed off when a DJ repeatedly cuts songs before the finale. See ya!
– Katia

Discussion Response: Charlene Lans – Boston, MA

Hi, some of the annoying things I find the DJ’s in “Salsa socials” doing is that they seem to not be aware of the lyrics in songs, they are strictly playing songs that make sense “rhythm” wise one after the other. I think this hinders the DJ’s ability to connect with the crowd sometimes in terms of creating a more well rounded ambiance in the Salsa socials. The DJ’s should not only play music for “dancing sake” but also try to create an ambiance of relaxation, happiness, and nostalgia among other feelings, instead of creating an “aerobic dancing marathon” for the night. As for DJ’s in “clubs” they only play top hits on the charts at the moment with no thought as to whether it’s a danceable song or not. Regarding your question about the DJ’s being dancers? Yes I think this does help somewhat, but more so if, again, they take their time to listen to the lyrics, learn the history of the groups and the singers, but again, to create that well rounded ambiance I was talking about. One more thing I would like the DJ’s to bring back into the socials are playing a Bolero 🙂 for the last song of the night–what ever happened to that??? One last comment/question for all the business people and promoters out there, how come Salsa Competitions have not reached the same level of importance as Ballroom Competions here in the United States Yet? I think it is about time we bring Salsa a step up and have it acknowledged by the media as they do Ballroom.

Thank you.

Sincerely, Charlene Lans and Ricardo Colon, Boston, MA.

Discussion Response: J.D Smith – Boston, MA

I tend to think of myself as an easy going person, but there are definitely a couple of things DJ’s can do to diminish my enjoyment of a dance social.

1.Play for the crowd you’re hired to work for. A DJ should be aware of his audiences’ main preferences. When working a predominantly Salsa crowd, give them what they want, lots of Salsa. Few things make me feel as though I’ve wasted time and money than dj’s who play too many merangues and bachatas when they know it’s primarily a Salsa venue they’re working. My first thought when this happens: “Why does’nt anyone have a gun when you really need one?”

2. Keep the chatter to a minimum(by this I mean almost none) I want to dance.

3. Please do not make a habit of segueing songs. Once in a while, OK, but personally I need the opportunity to take my leave graciously to take a break or choose another dance partner.This becomes a bit awkward when the music has no breaks.

4.Observe the gender ratio. Too many fast songs that are overly long tire out the pool of followers or leaders if there is a gender imbalance.

5. And finally, resist the urge to educate me by playing “experimental songs” with weird breaks and tempo changes. Best way to move me, just groove me.

Joey MelendezJoey Melendez – Norfolk, VA

Saludos a Todos,

I realize that this forum mainly consists of dancers, so I expect that my comments might ruffle some feathers. For that I apologize ahead of time. I apologize, not because I feel bad about my opinion, but only because some people may not be willing to hear things from my perspective. I am both a Salsero and a DJ. I understand the dancer’s side of things, however after seeing the discussion question for December I feel compelled to help everyone try to understand things from the other side of the booth.

I’ve read through some of the other responses to other previous questions, WOW!!! The first thing that I must say is that everyone who’s commented so far is truly passionate about their opinions. It’s what makes this country great!!! The dialogue is refreshing to see because forums like this improve the overall quality of your Salsa experience.

Now with that said, I believe that a DJ controversy shadows the Salsa and Mambo community. Everyone has their opinion of what a Salsa DJ should be. So I offer my opinion as one of many, many Salsa DJs. Please understand that I don’t speak for all of them. I believe that this controversy is based on a misunderstanding. That misunderstanding is that all DJs are the same and have a one dimensional function – to just play recorded music. Truthfully if you just want that, get a jukebox. Being a DJ is a Dynamic Art. It is performance art much like that of musicians and dancers alike. A DJ’s style is usually determined by the venue. A good DJ knows this. A club DJ is not a Radio DJ; is not a Party DJ; is not a Dance competition DJ, etc… At organized Dances, competitions or Festivals, mixing or blending songs is usually not appropriate. As for Clubs, well the hard answer is that it truly depends… Not all clubs are created equal. In many major cities like NY, DC, Miami, & LA there is a demand for genre specific clubs (e.g. Salsa clubs, Merengue Clubs etc…). At those places, unless it ADDS value to a song, mixing or blending songs should be left at a minimum. At other cities, like here in Virginia Beach, the clubs are few and close down early (2AM). Also, the public demand is for a little of everything (Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Reggaeton etc…). So, everyone wants to “dance to or hear their song”. There’s not enough time to let songs play-out, therefore mixing is very appropriate and recommended. BUT, (a BIG BUT here…) DJs have no business mixing songs together in public when they don’t have the skills. “You practice at home, not at the club.”

OK, so I spoke about venue. Now there is another element to expand on. DJs of all types have more than one job to do. They don’t just play the music. Since clubs seem to be a major issue within the Salsa/Mambo community, I’ll expand on what a Club DJ “job” really is.

  • First and foremost… A club DJ is responsible for entertaining the club’s clientele… That’s means ALL the clientele, not just a few standouts. The DJ cannot cater to personal likes, nor should the DJ run around trying to please the 10 people that keep asking for specific song requests. The DJ is responsible for the entire club. Now if it’s a true Salsa club like the Copa in NY, then that means performing in a style that would probably please all you salseros reading this. In a smaller venue, with a mixed crowd, the DJ needs to keep everyone Happy. That includes merengueros, bachateros etc…
  • The dancers and the dance floor are very important to the Club DJ, but remember that the club makes it’s money at the Bar (doesn’t necessarily mean Alcohol). A good club DJ has to find the right balance to keep the Dance floor occupied, while maintaining a good flow of customers back to the Bar. A packed dance floor, with no one drinking does not make for good club business.
  • Latin music, Salsa especially, is one of the rare forms of music where 20 to 50 year old songs are appreciated and danced to as much as the new hits being produced today. That is a lot of music to go through in the limited amount of time you have at a club night. Again, the proficient club DJ will know how to balance this out.
  • The Club DJ’s also have a responsibility to the artists, record labels, and the public to play the new songs. This helps the music to thrive. A good Club DJ will play songs that may or may not be on the radio; that is, if you’re lucky to be in an area in the U.S. that has Latin Radio. Believe it or not, not everyone does. This web site is full of advice for DJs from dancers to play only certain types of Salsa. Yes, even the varied styles within the Salsa genre are criticized. A club DJ can’t afford to be that restrictive, even in the Salsa ranks.

So I’ve written a lot of words, but what’s the point… The point is directed to both the Dancer and DJ.

  • Dancer’s, please give the DJ’s their due respect, for the most part they are artists with a job to do. The job is complicated, so give them a break. Just remember, good DJ’s make it look easy, it’s not. If you’re not happy with the club, by all means make comments and recommendations to management. I’m sure they will give you consideration. If you’re still not happy, then change venues.
  • DJ’s, never under any circumstance play above your skills. That’s what practice is for. How do you know what your skills are? Trust me, the crowd will let you know. If you can’t mix, DON’T!!! Nothing is worse than a DJ who butchers the music. Those DJs in Henry Knowles’ class can do it with style and grace… to a point where it accentuates both song and dancer. Be respectful of the club, dancers, and most importantly the music. Without the music, we have nothing to enjoy or complain about.

As far as my background goes, I’m Puerto Rican from NY. I’ve been a DJ for nearly 20 years. My performances span the different facets of the art, including radio, club & mobile shows. I currently perform at some of the clubs and festivals in Southeast Virginia. Lastly, and most important, I believe that I’m a good DJ because I’m a dancer first – Salsero to be exact. And while I hold my own just fine on the dance floor, I also strive to continually improve. As far as “the mix” is concerned, I do mix Salsa. Many great Dancers from D.C. have made the 3.5 hour trip to hear me spin. I’ve also been complimented by folks visiting from NY, Miami, Chicago, Philly and many other places on my DJ style. My style is somewhat aggressive, but well suited for the mixed crowds we get here in VA Beach. If you want more info about me, you are welcome to hit my web site http://tinpan.fortunecity.com/blur/642/

Thank for your time in reading this essay. Mad love and respect to my DJs, Salseros, Mamberos, and all the folks here La Voz del Mambo.

DJ Joey Joe Meléndez – “El Nene Sexy”
Music and Promotion Director, Disc Jockey, Re-mixer
Latin Five Productions
Norfolk – Virginia Beach, Virginia