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DJ Lubi Interview: Why the UK Salsa Scene is in decline

There is a man who knows a whole lot more about the UK Salsa scene than we do. He’s been a part of it for over 30 years, seen its ups and downs, its fashions and its fads and has lived to tell the tale. (See the article DJ Lubi: Personal Reflections on the UK Salsa Scene for more of the history of UK salsa). He’s part of the thriving new(ish) Cuban night in Manchester, an immensely popular night in Leeds as well as bringing live Salsa bands to the North and being a full-time professional DJ, CD compiler, music promoter and club promoter. Blimey- does this man never sleep?

Today he is going to shed light on his experience of DJing in the UK, why he thinks the Salsa scene is in decline and why he’s nowhere near being a salsa snob.

What makes you unique as a DJ?

I don’t know if I’m unique as a salsa DJ. I play good tunes in a certain order which will make me different from the next DJ, even if we play similar styles of music and similar tracks. I think my 30+ years experience means I can adapt to each gig or crowd well and my DJ skills have been honed over a lot of gigs, probably thousands. I’m still at the top of my game 30 years on so I must be doing something right because people keep booking me and paying me (I never play for free because I value what I do too much).

So you get quality and consistency from a DJ Lubi set. I try take dancers on a journey throughout the night. I start mid-tempo and ease them into my set. I don’t jump about from superfast track to super slow. There is a gradual tempo rise to reach that stonking belter. I never attempt to show off to anyone and I’m not a DJ snob. My attitude is to entertain and educate the crowd, not preach to them. To take them from a well known tune or artist into new territory but not to lose them in a “this is so rare only I own it and thus it’s good” righteous DJ snob moment! I have no time for preaching and I do have time to tell folks what the music is if they ask.

Too many “salsa DJs” today think you buy a laptop, get Virtual DJ, amass 20,000 tunes on iTunes and then start playing out. I hear some awful basic DJ errors around the clubs and congresses. Gaps between tunes. Bad sound because DJs have no idea how to use the graphic equalisers between songs. DJs fading songs in and out even when they have a huge intro or big ending. And the worst crime : pitching up or slowing down tracks, sometimes +5 or -5. Just play a faster or slower track Mr/Mrs DJ!

However, I’ve found over the years to just concentrate on what I do and let others do things whichever way they please. So I leave people alone, even when I hear the most terrible DJ errors or musical selections known to humankind. I just make a mental note in my head to NOT book them for my nights.

What is the hardest thing about DJing for Salsa dancers? And what is the best thing?

The answer is nothing is particularly different DJing to salsa dancers than it is DJing for other dancers. Like I said before, I DJ for break dancers, Brazilian dancers, soul and funk dancers, jazz dancers. The aim is to make people dance, whatever style of music or dance it is. Same problems for everything. Reading the mood of the crowd, getting them back on the floor if you throw a wrong track in, knowing when to turn the heat up on the floor with a musical banger and when to cool it down, knowing when the crowd is maybe getting board of one style and the need to change. The same principles apply to whichever dance crowd you play to.

The easiest thing about salsa DJing is there is no need to mix music or even try blend it. Dancers prefer to hear a track start and then finish. So put the track on and press play. Nice and easy. Gigs where you need to mix all night are harder.

What has been your best DJ moment so far?

Since I have a 34 year DJ career and my memory isn’t as good as it was, I’m not sure which is my best DJ moment…Playing the Los Angeles Salsa Congress in 2006 was pretty heavy duty with 3000-4000 amazing dancers in the house and especially getting the International DJ award from Albert Torres. Doing the big DJ warm-up gigs for salsa superstars is always a buzz, like playing at Oscar D’Leon’s last 2 London shows at the sold-out Roundhouse and warming up for Victor Manuelle at the 2012 Zurich Salsa Congress. Those nights are a real buzz but sometimes, I equally love playing to 150 people at a small bar and dropping my old salsa and mambo vinyls. I just love music and my job as a DJ is such a blessing. A few wobbly times and gigs but on the whole I get paid by people to play the music I love. That is such a great job and long may it continue!

You’ve worked with so many Salsa groups and artists, which has been your favourite and why?

This is so simple to answer. Eddie Palmieri. Without a doubt, he is my favourite salsa/Latin music artist of all time and also the one who I am proudest to have worked with. He was one of the first salsa artists I saw live (North Sea Jazz Festival 1984 in Holland where my jaw dropped when they played “Azucar” for 12 minutes!) and whose music I bought right at the start (“Palo Pa’Rumba” 1984). Once I learned about his story and collected nearly all of his LPs from La Perfecta onwards, he became my favourite musician. He changed the face of Latin music several times in his career and he ALWAYS went his own way and never sold out. I love him! In 1999, as part of the Latin Promoters Network, I had the privelige to co-organise Eddie’s only UK tour where we gave him 10 gigs in 12 days, including Glastonbury Festival’s Jazz Stage. I got to hang out with him and listen to him talk about La Perfecta, his big brother Charlie Palmieri (r.i.p.), The Palladium in New York, working with Tito Rodriguez, working with Cal Tjader…so many amazing stories. I wish someone would write a book on him NOW before it’s too late. He truly is “The Sun Of Latin Music”…everything else orbits around him.

Can you dance Salsa? If not, why? And do you want to?

No I can’t dance salsa. Why I can’t is a big and long story which I don’t want to even start discussing here. It never hindered me in my salsa career. My clubs have always been full. I’ve DJ’d across the world at festivals and congresses from L.A. to Turkey, Gran Canaria to Singapore and all over mainland Europe and never had any complaints. I’ve done 40+ compilations of music for half a dozen labels and Fania Records never asked me if I could dance salsa before commisioning me to do some for them. Do I want to dance salsa one day? Yes, when I get time to do it and to do it to the best level I can. Right now, as a professional DJ/CD compiler/music promoter/club promoter, I don’t know where I could squeeze in the time in my 50-60 hour long working weeks to do classes and practice.

What is your own personal taste in music/Salsa music?

I love everything about salsa and almost every genre and sub-genre of it. My favourite salsa is Puerto Rican salsa past and present and from the island and New York too. Be it salsa dura or salsa clasica or salsa romantica, It’s all great.

However, I also have a longstanding love for Cuban music. Son, songo, rumba, Cuban jazz, Cuban salsa. I like some timba but not the really heavy stuff that only Cubans and Cuban salsa dancers can handle. I have a great and longstanding passion for Latin jazz and mambo going right back to my beginnings as a salsa/Latin music DJ in 1982. I like some merengue, bachata, Cubaton, salsaton and reggaeton.

I’m not a salsa snob. Good music is good music and being a professional DJ, I find you have to be open minded and familiar with all Latin genres or you just end up down a dead end and not much work. One trick ponies have short term careers. I can play a hardcore mambo set at a salsa congress, warm up for a Cuban salsa band, play Latin hiphop/electronica for a Havana Cultura/Havana Club event, play a night of Colombian salsa at a Colombian party or drop Latin funk for break dancers at bboy jams. It’s all good to me and it’s all paid work and means I don’t have to do the 9-5 job to subsidise DJing as a hobby.

Regarding other non-salsa music, I am also a longtime jazz/soul/funk/world music DJ and club/concert promoter. So I love jazz, soul, funk, afrobeat, Brazilian music, hiphop, reggae, deep house, drum & bass. I am doing 10 World Cup Brasil 2014 gigs playing just Brazilian music in June/July, either for Brasil match screenings or for pre-England match screenings. That’s all extra work to my usual salsa gigs and soul/funk/jazz gigs.

How can we improve the UK Salsa scene?

The UK salsa scene is definitely in decline. We as a salsa community need to accept this and try and analyse why this is happening, what’s causing it and how we can address the problem and try and reverse it. We definitely need to bring a lot more new and younger people into the scene as our demographic is now approaching the same one as Saga Holidays! What are we offering to people new in salsa today when there is so much else going on? Can we make salsa cool again and drop the cheesy element which I know puts a lot of younger people off? Can we become more professional in our business? Salsa still seems amateurish in comparison to other music and dance genres. Just look at the recent spate of cancelled congresses, weekenders and concerts in salsa or ones that took place but artists didn’t get paid. Can we give people value for money? Some salsa events are pure rip-off when you analyse what you get for what you pay out. Shit venues, crap music, ropey dance shows, rubbish sound, average dance teachers and you just charged people £25 or more. Say what?

Those are some of the problems I see and I try to address all of them at my club nights, concerts and festivals. At DJ Lubi events, you get quality in all departments all the time – sound systems, music policy, venues, DJs, dance teachers, bands – and you don’t get rip-off prices but value for money. That’s the way I do it. Everything at every level has to be as good as it can be. People must realise this and like it because my clubs and events are as busy today as 10 or even 20 years ago. The day my quality control slips is the day I stop doing it. Right now, that’s not on the agenda so “que viva la salsa”

Thanks DJ Lubi for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions.

If you’d like to contact DJ Lubi, you can find him on www.djlubi.com, follow him on Twitter @djlubi or find him on Facebook www.facebook.com/lubij and www.facebook.com/lubijovanovicII
Current Regular Events :

  • Weekly salsa residency every Wednesday night:

Salsa Social @ Revolucion De Cuba, Peter St, Manchester M2 5QR
The busiest weekly Salsa party in the North with 200-250 people attending weekly…on a Wednesday night too! 6.30pm-9pm Salsa classes (with charge), 9pm-2am Club Night/Social (free). Resident DJ Lubi & guest DJs playing Salsa all styles, son, mambo, cha cha cha, salsaton, merengue, bachata. Amazing venue decorated in 1950s Havana nightclub decor, good sound system, decent wooden floor. Nice mix of salseros, Latinos and non-dancers.

  • Monthly live salsa sessions every last Saturday from September 2014 :

Viva La Musica @ Belgrave Music Hall, Cross Belgrave St, Leeds LS2 8JP
Monthly LIVE salsa, Cuban, Latin and Brazilian music gigs at Leeds’ coolest live music venue promoted by DJ Lubi & Fabio Bahia. Already in 2014, Viva La Musica has had sold out gigs from Son Yambu, Grupo So Kem Eh (samba) and Salsa Celtica. From September, Viva La Musica goes monthly. Here’s the program :
Sat 27th September : Jesus Cutino & Son De Cuba (London)
Fri 10th October : Tromboranga Orquesta (Barcelona) – extra VLM gig
Sat 25th October : Brazilian samba band tbc
Sat 29th November : Son Yambu (London)
Sat 27th December : Mambo Con Rumba (Yorkshire)
Sat 31st January 2015 : Son Con Swing (London)
Doors 9pm. Salsa DJs Lubi and Fabio Bahia before and after bands. Curfew 3am. Advan ce tickets onsale now from www.jumborecords.co.uk for Jesus Cutino & Son De Cuba (£10 adv early bird) and Tromboranga (£16 adv). For remaining concerts, ticket information posted on www.djlubi.com


DJ Lubi
20th June 2014

3 Comments on DJ Lubi Interview: Why the UK Salsa Scene is in decline

  1. Well Lubi may be being a bit too grumpy here – I’d dispute that the scene’s in decline, and by saying so I’d argue that he’s talking it down. Don’t want to diss him in the least though, because he’s one of the biggest ever contributors to the UK salsa scene.

    But look at it: there are more weekenders and events than ever, the reason for the cancellations and/or lack of payment is that there are just so many of them – 10 years ago there was just Pontins and the UK Salsa Congress.

    I’d agree that the _average_ demographic has been getting older, but every event I go to there are quite a few younger people too – perhaps it’s just that years ago it didn’t appeal to older people at all. So the young dancers of yesteryear have stuck with it as they’ve got older, and now it’s one of the few activities that appeals to a whole range of ages.

    All the same, no reason for complacency, the scene has to keep reaching out to, and be open to young people to join it, and this means being flexible, and not getting too set in its ways.

  2. I would disagree here with the idea that the UK Salsa scene is in decline. I think that the scene is most definitely in decline for some promoters and old school teachers but population wise the scene is larger than ever before. From all my conversations with promoters around the country and teachers it looks like there are more teachers in each city and also more students in classes. I think the problem is that the big guns in Salsa no longer exist or find it hard to put on the same big events as they did before as they don’t have a monopoly anymore. But the scene is definitely growing.

  3. Is the Salsa scene in decline? Yes and No. Nothing is completely black or white.

    There are more and more people dancing, learning and teaching salsa than ever before. Salsa is spreading more and more each day (which is a good thing) and I see that there are more and more live salsa concerts.

    Still, because of the influx of new teachers who haven’t learned their trade properly, because of the emergence of dances that people find cooler to dance than salsa, because of the decline of level in the country as everything has become a bit more dissolved, salsa is not living its best days at the moment.

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