The Worldmusic Blog (Seckou Kouyate)

Salsa Britannica (aka the problem with the UK Latin Scene)

Tagged with: Brazilian Cuban General Latin American Reggae Salsa Hombre Elastico

This is an article by DJ El Hombre Elastico
(first appeared on his myspace site:

“One of my abiding gripes is the narrowmindedness of the people promoting/putting on the nights. Sadly, since the later 90s, the ‘latin scene’ in the UK got quickly taken over by ‘dance teachers’ - often people with no knowledge (or love) of the music but with an eye for a chance to make some money.

A night out became nothing more than an extended series of dance classes with people herded together to learn dance moves that they would never actually use on a dance floor, an enforced hierarchy of ‘Beginners’, ‘Improvers’ (yuk!) and the Premier Division (sorry I mean ‘The Advanced’) and an emphasis on ’styling’ and ‘technique’. It’s beginning to parody the film “Strictly Ballroom” - let alone the bit in “Life Of Brian” where he tells his devoted followers not to copy him as they are all individuals. OK, all together now: “Yes, Dance Teacher, We Are All Individuals”.

Let’s face it, the music comes first - it MUST do; otherwise, we might as well dispense with the music and just ‘dance-by-numbers’ - (THINK of the phrase: “1,2,3…pause, 5,6,7″ and say it in your dance teacher’s voice. You see!). Most of these dance teachers can’t even recognise what clave a tune is in. These people have a deep inbuilt fear of new musical trends, as well as a fear of ‘old’ music and anything that does not fit into their boxes of ‘hot-and-spicy-but must-be-classy’ and ‘can-we-make-money-teaching/inventing-dance-moves-to-this?’ In practice this has resulted in the virtual monopoly of salsa music in the clubs (with some merengue) and a nod now and then to bachata and reggaetón.

I’ve been DJing since the late 80s and was, - along with my dear friend and colleague Zuppa Inglese - the first ‘latin music’ DJ in Birmingham (who now remembers the all-nighters at Los Andes restaurant?). This predates the “salsa scene” in Brum (and most of the country outside of London and Manchester).

Back then we would drop crazy big band cumbias, chippy porros, groovy gaita, steamy boogaloos, aching bachatas, rootsy currulao, giddy latin jazz, sonorous rumbas, slow guajiras and son montunos, bouncy bossas, dreamy mpb, manic frevo, as well as bomba, plena, forro, salsa dura, salsa romantica, zouk, kaseko, kompas… in fact anything we could get our hands on and sounded good - and people liked it, even if they didn’t know the “proper” way to dance to it.

Both Zuppa and me still DJ like that to this day. We believe that given a choice most people actually like a variety of tone, pace, dynamics, instrumentation, rhythm, cultural references, etc and there’s no crime in dancing how you want to or even (shock! horror!) actually enjoying the music without dancing to it

(”Quick! Call the Salsa Police! Get this man a 12 week Emergency Dance Course”) KER-CHING!!!

However, in the mid-late 90s it all began to change. I remember dropping some Panamanian ragga and reggae at one Birmingham club, only to have the promoter rush up to me and kill the music (yes, live!) in case I attracted the wrong sort of clientele into his club! Consequently all this has stifled the musical development of the audience and therefore the whole scene.

Guys, it’s no good saying “It’s what the customer wants” - since the vast majority of your ‘pupils’ only hear what YOU play them. Call me old-fashioned, call me arrogant, but I believe there’s a responsibility to inform and even to educate as well (no-one’s saying that it can’t also be a lot of fun).

Latin music is vast and wonderfully diverse - let’s just discover it, share it and revel in it all.