Over the past several years, Latin music has become increasingly popular not only in the United States but also around the world. It is not uncommon to hear Salsa or Merengue in a small café in Italy or France or in an upscale restaurant in Germany or Japan. With the rise of popular artists like Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, and Elvis Crespo, DJs have been getting more requests for Latin music. Thus, it is becoming important for DJs to include Latin music in their arsenal of music.
Recently, we asked DJs who performed regularly for non-Latin parties to ask anyone who made a request for Latin music to actually write down the names of songs, or artists on a request list. We then asked those DJs to write down what they would play if someone in a non-specific way requested “Latin music”. Although the DJs response was widespread and varied, interestingly enough the same responses kept coming up. These included:
Oye Como Va
What was interesting was that not one of the above names were mentioned in the list of Latin music requested by the guests. This discrepancy meant that many DJs are confused about what they think Latin music is.
This lesson will help DJs fill those requests appropriately and avoid making the same mistake the DJs we questioned made. We will review what Latin music is and what it’s not. You’ll be introduced to the subcategories or genre of Latin music and popular artists. Lastly, we’ll give you some hints and tips on how to stay on top of the fast moving Latin music scene.
WHAT LATIN MUSIC IS and IS NOT.
In the above study it is likely that DJs were unable to fill requests due to unfamiliarity with the music, limited library, or both. It also meant that DJs were not asking the guest the right questions.
If someone asks you to play a dance song – what would you do? As a DJ you would probably need some clarification. “What type of music or what artist?”
This same clarification must be made when someone asks you for Latin music. Keep in mind that just because a song is performed by an artist with a Latin background, does not make that song a Latin song or even the performer a Latin Artist. Recently, much press has been given to artists such as Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and others. However, their current music is primarily in English and therefore is not considered Latin dance music at least when a request is made for “Latin music”.
For the most part when someone asks for Latin music they are asking for some type of popular dance music. What they actually mean will depend in part on their nationality or region of the country. Of course the best way to find out is to ask them “What type of music or artist are you interested in?” But there are some basic guidelines you can follow.
Of all the types, “Salsa” is the most widely accepted and most popular worldwide. However, it is also the most difficult to dance to. Thus, people not familiar with dancing salsa may shy away from the dance floor. Merengue is also very popular and is much easier to dance to. Therefore when asked very generally to play “Latin music” the safest bet is to play a Merengue. Usually, more than just those who requested it will likely join in and help keep the dance floor full.
If you want to be able to fulfill some requests, then having a nice mix of Salsa and Merengue is a good place to begin. You can also add some selections from the type of music that may be popular regionally. For example if most of your parties are in the South Western United States, you may be asked to play “Tejano” music. If you live in Florida, “Son cubano” or “Charanga” may be requested.
As you can see, just like American music Latin music has many artists and different categories, genres, and subtypes. Table 1 lists some of the types of Latin music you may encounter.
Plenas / Bomba
It is not necessary for you to be familiar with all these types so don’t get overwhelmed. Keep in mind that music such as cha-cha, mambo, rumba are also good to include in a collection but are more popular for ballroom style dancing.
When a request is made, show the requestor the Latin CDs you have and let them pick. You can usually tell by their reaction if they are happy with their choices. If you get a “is that all you have?” or “this won’t do” reaction then you will need to increase your selection of Laitn music.
BUILDING YOUR MUSIC COLLECTION
In a recent conversation, after telling a fellow DJ my specialty was Latin Music he replied “Wow that’s great, it must be very easy for you!” Why?” I asked him, He stated as a matter of factly , “Well because the music and songs rarely change, I’ve been playing the same two CDs for the last two years!” He could not have been more wrong.
Like American music, Latin music is also constantly changing. It may not be necessary to have the very latest music from all artists, but a good DJ will have at least a few songs that are popular that year
How much music to include in your library will of course depend on how often you get requests for it. Ask your guests to write down their requests and don’t be afraid to ask them “What type of music is it.” Armed with this information you’ll be able to tell which artists and type of music are the most popular in your area and add the frequently requested songs/artists to your collection.
THE BASIC LIBRARY
If you only receive an occasional request for Latin music then you obviously will not need to have a large collection of music. If you simply want to play it safe then you can start with the classics. Like American classics, Latin classics are always welcome. Since they never become obsolete, you don’t have to worry about those who may think the song is “too old”. Classics work well with an older crowd as well as the younger audiences. Because Salsa and Merengue are the most popular types of music, then you can begin with songs and artists from these categories.
Table 2 lists the song title, artist and subtype.
Vivir Lo Nuestro
India & Marc Anthony
La Duena Del Swing
Los Hermanos Rosario
After you have some of the classics, you can build on this by adding compilations. For example the “Best of” each year e.g. “Salsa Explosion 1999”. Be sure to ask someone at the record store (who is familiar with the music) to suggest a good compilation.
Remember that having the “Best of” yearly compilations will keep you minimally current. By the time many of the compilations are released, the songs are outdated by as much as 6-8 months. But these compilations will be extremely helpful if you only rarely get requests.
TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL
If you get requests at least several times a month or more frequently, you will want to go beyond the basic classics and compilations. Having some albums from the popular artists will make a great impression on your guests. Since we are only building a small collection we have listed a mixture of both current popular and those that have stood the test of time. The advantage of purchasing albums from popular artists is that songs in an album, will be promoted over the course of one to two years, thus extending the usefulness of the album. Having 4 or 5 artists from the Salsa and Merengue categories should be enough to get by. Again keeping a record of which artists and songs are most often requested will help you to know which particular artists to add and play. You can’t go wrong even if you purchase one of these artist’s older albums.
Table 4 SALSA Artists. Not in any particular order
El Gran Combo
Table 5 MERENGUE Artists. Not in any particular order
Los Hermanos Rosario
La Banda Loca
La Banda Gorda
Table 6 CUMBIA
Ivan y Su Bam Band
Billos Caracas Boys
Table 7 TEJANO
La Tropa F
Table 8 BOLEROS (Ballads)
Jose Luis Perales
GOING BEYOND THE BASIC COLLECTION
If you want to go beyond the basics and wish to build a large music collection and want to keep current, then you must find resources to help you. A record store specializing in Latin music is of course the best place to go. The sales people hopefully will be very knowledgeable and will direct you towards the most current and recurrent hits. Don’t forget the great classics.
KEEPING YOUR LIBRARY CURRENT
If you want to become familiar with and even add the current music to your collection then music charts are indispensable. Special caution however is needed. Many factors go into preparing music lists, therefore a particular list may not be a direct representation of the songs people will want to dance to. For example, in a magazine such a Billboard, the Latin music chart is compiled based on sales, radio play and a host of other factors. Popularity among dancers is not its only criteria.
The best charts are those created by specialty music magazines. One such magazine is
RADIO Y MUSICA. This is the Latin music industry’s leading charts publication. The online version (www.radidioymusica.com) lists the top ten songs per chart (25-50 songs per chart in the printed version) which for most DJs is more than adequate. The “Panel Tropical” and “Panel Bailable (Danceable)” lists the popular dance music. “Panel Tejano” lists the popular Tejano music as well. Unfortunately, the lists at RADIO y MUSICA do not subdivide the dance music into subcategories such as Salsa and Merengue.
There are also some radio stations that post their lists online. If you have a Latin radio station in your area, a chart of this type can be very valuable, as it will tell you which songs are popular in the areas you service and not just nationally.
Listed below are some URLs . You may find others by doing an internet search for “Latin radio.”
KSOL-FM (www.ksol.com) 98.9/99.1 FM Mexican (San Francisco)
WONQ-AM (www.wonq.com) 1030 Am Salsa/Merengue (Orlando)
WPRD-AM (www.wprd.com) 1440 AM Salsa/Merengue (Orlando)
WRTO-FM (www.wrto.com) 98.3 FM Salsa/Merengue (Miami)
WSKQ-FM (www.lamega.com) 97.9 FM Salsa/Merengue (New York)
WXDJ-FM (www.elzol95.com) 95.7.com Salsa/Merengue (Miami)
WLTN-FM (www.radiolatina.com) 106.9 FM Contemporary/Pop (San Diego)
Many of these radio stations are now offering their programs LIVE over the internet so you can hear what music is popular in a particular city just by listening in.
Another source for Latin music charts and information can be found at
www.lamusica.com. Here they post artist interviews, concerts, charts, and other assorted information that depicts what is happening in the music scene today.
By using the information in charts, helpful personnel at the record stores, and by compiling your own list of music requested by guests, you can build a very good collection of Latin music. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it is not important to keep up with Latin music just because it is not often requested. Being able to show your guests that you are versatile as well as knowledgeable about different types of music will set you apart from the competition. In future articles we’ll discuss how to distinguish between some of the more popular types of Latin music, and will give you some ideas on how to program some great dance sets. In the meanwhile the next time someone asks you “Can you play some Latin music?” you can respond with “Would you like Salsa, Merengue or some other type?” Impress them with your library and they will walk away saying “That is a great DJ!”
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