There is so much great music out there and over the years djing in New York City we’ve built up an excellent, top notch collection of latin music ranging from classics to more modern hits. Here’s a salsa playlist and a samba playlist from a couple years ago
“Tengo La Voz” (in English, “I have the voice”) is a spicy, swingin' instrumental that takes a traditional-sounding brassy, upbeat Mexican melody and, with a touch of thick beats, a few samples and other subtle electronic flourishes, gives it a kick in the pants to make everything more fun and festive for all kinds of ears.
Nortec Collective is a four-member band that's part of a small but critically-acclaimed scene of young Mexican groups (two others worth checking out are Mexican Institute of Sound and Kinky) that combine traditional Mexican music and rhythms with modern electronic sounds. These sounds can range from something as thorough as throwing bigger beats under traditional instruments to give an entire song more punch, to more whimsical touches, like adding in sampled vocal riffs from old Mexican radio shows from more than a half-century ago. Generally, the aesthetic of these groups somewhat mirrors that of American indie pop, as the programming and production is often used not to make a sound that is over-polished and sleek, but instead to bring a sense of quirkiness and playful surprise to freshen up familiar genres. The name Nortec Collective comes from a combination of “Norteno” (a traditional, often rural form of Mexican music using 12-string guitars and accordions) and “techno.”
“Tengo La Voz,” from Nortec Collective’s album Tijuana Sessions Vol. 3 (pictured), is not an outright dance song, yet because its fun mood is sure to move some hips, it's perfect for “teasing” a Latin vibe you might have coming up at your event, like if you’re playing some Merengue, Salsa, Latin pop or Reggaeton and you want to put it in your guests’ heads and feet that they’ll be dancing to flavors like this later.
More generally, though, the song is great for any moment in your event where you plan to have people mingling, such as a cocktail hour at a wedding, or an interlude at a fashion show or art opening, or at any kind of meet-and-greet event, as the song’s uptempo, catchy horn riffs, steady beat, and its sturdy vibe of sunniness make it perfect background for sipping a drink and chatting it up. Plus, the song never gets too brassy that it becomes shrill, or too experimental that it becomes intrusive, or too "Latin" that it becomes intimidating or exclusionary for those whose tastes might be a bit more conservative. "Tengo La Voz" has a rare balance of just enough brass, quirkiness, and traditional Mexican festiveness, but not too much of either – and as a result it's especially accessible. But at the same time, while it remains in the background it also adds a burst of spice to the atmosphere of the event – so much so that, at only three-and a-half-minutes, you might want to play it twice in a row.
When we meet to talk with clients about music for their event, often the first thing we notice is that they've already dejectedly decided the music they really like and want to hear won't be able to be played at their event.
It may be a designer in a fashion show thinking that the music she wants to use for her fashion line will be too ethereal a sound to keep the audience interested. Or a couple who loves moody acoustic indie pop but thinks it would be too much of a downer to play a little at their wedding Or an organizer of a corporate party who worries that the employees won’t dance because they tend to like raw Southern hip-hop and their bosses wouldn’t. Whatever the case, whatever the event, it seems this kind of unfortunate premature musical censorship is everywhere.
It often comes from a good place of common sense or consideration, like an organizer at a art opening knowing that prospective buyers might not want to hear his beloved deep cuts of ‘70s classic rock all night long. But some of our clients’ decisions that their favorite songs or genres won’t work comes not from a good place at all, but instead from having met with conventional, unimaginative DJs that tend to work for bigger, more cookie-cutter DJ companies. We’ve heard from these clients that some of these DJs have told them straight up that the only way to get a party movin’ is to play disco all night.
Whatever the reason for clients' doubts in the music they love, one of the first things we tell them – no matter what their event –is to open up their mind, revisit their CD collection or iPod, and make their “dream list” of songs they want to hear, with no censoring allowed. Put anything in you would love to hear. Not only does it make the process of selecting music easier, but also more fun. It will get you excited about the possibilities of hearing this music, as opposed to nixing songs right away and feeling frustrated that the soundtrack to the event is already not what you would like.
Now, will all these "dream songs" end up making the cut when the event arrives? Sometimes many of them do, sometimes they don't. But what always happens is that when we see these “dream lists” and talk a bit with the client to see what music is most important to them, we can then use our experience in knowing what of these songs will work given the mood that is wanted at the event, as well as what kind of guests will be there, and what kind of structure the event will have. Then we can suggest which songs to keep, which to think about not using. For example, a pair of melancholy indie songs at the more sedate moments in a wedding can feel absolutely right and even moving. So can a set of obscure hardcore punk during the more boisterous moments of a corporate party. And even a little experimental progressive rock can enhance the feeling of an art opening, if played at the right time.
By far, many more of the songs you really want at your event then you ever think you can play are actually able to be fit in, but not only that, they can be made to add to the atmosphere of the event. But to do it, you have to begin by letting the DJ know what you really want to hear. And if that DJ looks at your list, smirks, and says something about how you can't have a party without having "the Y" on your list, well, you know the time has come to find a different DJ.
Often, we’ve seen that clients looking to hire a DJ for an event that includes some sort of dinner portion will be quick to insist on one thing: Though they don’t want music played at dinner that encourages people to dance, they definitely want songs that still feel vibrant, exciting and add something to the atmosphere of the meal.
This is one more of the fears people have regarding the mobile DJ. They fear that dinner music means the DJ will roll out way too much of what many think is some of the most boring or cheesy sentimental music around, like cool jazz saxophone instrumentals that make you feel like you’re on hold, or Mantovani-style orchestra music complete with sleepy walls of violins, or big romantic modern pop polished to a soulless sheen, as “best” done by singers like Celine Dion or Amy Grant. It’s a shame that generations of unadventurous mobile DJs across the country have made this cliché fear often a reality. While sometimes these DJs are simply playing to a crowd or dutifully doling out bad requests, often times these songs are unleashed on unfortunate ears simply because the DJ thinks the songs are actually good, or – because these tunes tend to be slo – the DJ thinks they’re only kinds of music appropriate for dinner.
The great thing about being a DJ in New York City is that most crowds we play for are either a bit familiar with many kinds of music from around the world, or they at least are often more open to hearing more kinds of music, as they’ve heard bits of other culture’s songs and musical styles before, either in their neighborhoods or when out in the city. Here and in the surrounding metropolitan area, it’s hard to be completely sheltered musically.
One of the best examples of a genre of dinner music that we love to spin – and we’ve found that crowd love to hear – is mid-century style jazz samba and bossa nova. As DJs in the heart of New York City, we know Latin music well and often are asked to play different types of it at events. Samba and bossa nova are some of the best genres of Latin music, or any kind of music, to break out at dinner. These two genres have a spare, mellow, tropical sound that often feature mid-tempo acoustic guitars, horns and saxophones, as well as gentle, romantic vocals. This gives many of its songs a dreamy, sultry quality – but yet they rarely veer into too much melodrama or raw sexiness to distract from an elegant dinner. The result is that when we play samba or bossa nova or its recent descendants in modern lounge music and Brazilian pop (which sometimes add subtle touches of electronics to the core mellow mood), we often see guests doin’ a little movin’ around in their chairs. For dinner, activity like this is quite lively – and a sure sign people are enjoying themselves and that the music is adding to their experience.
The most popular bossa nova song to many ears is “The Girl From Ipanema,” famously performed by Stan Getz, Joao Gilberto and Astrud Gilberto in the mid-1960s. For those seeking something less familiar but with this same kind of sound and pretty melody, a great choice is an instrumental on one of Getz’s other collaborations from the ’60s, this time with legendary Brazilian guitarist Luiz Bonfa, called “Sambalero.” (Getz, Bonfa and vocalist Maria Toldeo are pictured above during a session for the album Jazz Samba Encore!, from which “Sambalero” is taken.) A short, dreamy track with a uplifting sax and guitar melody and a dash of ethereal vocals courtesy of Toledo, it mixes elegance and sultriness perfectly and never wears out its welcome.
An outstanding Brazilian tune that creates a similar mood to “Sambalero” but comes from 2006 – almost a half-century later – is “Aquela” by Brazilian pop singer Marisa Monte (pictured). This tune, from her album Infinito Particular, is actually an example of Brazilian pop music, but its sound is heavily influenced by samba and bossa nova. “Aquela,” meaning “that one” in Portuguese, is another tight, dreamy tune that has a bit more of a romantic feel than “Sambalero,” and is also more cinematic and sweeping. But its wide, sentimental mood is not created by any sort of lush instrumentation or studio polish, but almost exclusively by the beautifully soaring vocals of Monte. “Aquela” is one of those rare songs whose spare but lovely melody will likely stay in your head the first time you hear it, and might even make you get up from your seat and go over to the DJ booth to ask who sings it.