Hey DJ! Friday Q&A: Beto

Categories: Q&A
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DJ Beto is the perfect subject for a DJ Q&A. He's a Latin Musicologist who digs through bug-filled crates in Central and South America in order to find the choice cuts from Costa Rica, Columbia, Cuba, and beyond. When Beto gets retro, he's feeling mambo jazz and classic salsa, and he's busy on a book about Latin jazz and dance music spanning a period in history long before he was born.

This DJ doubles as a writer, a compiler (he's released a couple excellent comps for the Soundway label), and a man about town who can give you tips on great Latin acts in the Bay Area (see below; he's DJing for one this Saturday ). He's giving us A's to our Q's today, though, first and foremost because he gets the dancefloors going at places like Elbo Room, Slim's, and Skylark.

Name: Beto (Roberto Ernesto Gyemant)

Club night(s): Colombia! Classic Cumbia - Salsa Descarga - Funk Tropical - Latin Boogaloo (@ Elbo Room, various venues around the city) with Vinnie Esparza (Groove Merchant/Dis-Joint) and Guillermo (The Better Half); Slim's; Guest spots at Hella Tight (Amnesia) and Free Funk Friday (Elbo Room).

Style(s) of music you spin: Latin dance music from the 1940s to '70s: Mambo Jazz and Classic Salsa from NYC, from Cuba, Puerto Rico and DR; Hard '60s Salsa from Peru, Colombia, Venezuela and Panama; Classic Colombian Cumbias, Gaitas and Porros. Panamanian música típica, Afro-Colombian Funk & Musica del Lítoral Pacifico Colombiano. Some Panamanian dancehall, Colombian hip hop, Regueton.

So what's your story, in 100 words or less?
I was born and raised in S.F., took my chips and left to live and write in Costa Rica in 2002 where my father's family lives. I traveled a lot in Central America and lucked upon a radio station with a bodega full of records in Panama. I started to research, doing interviews and meeting musicians and rumberos from the '40s thru '60s in Panama and Colombia, and asking lots of questions. That led to a series of compilations (Panama!, Colombia! and Panama! 2) on Miles Cleret's Soundway Records (UK) label, and articles on the history of Panamanian and Colombian dance music in Wax Poetics. Through Miles I met a brilliant musician and producer named Will Holland (Quantic) and we've been traveling around a bit in Latin America learning about and documenting the music that we love.

Name of a track you can't get out of your head: "Decidete Mi Amor" by Papi Brandao y sus Ejecutivos. It's musica típica, but it's more like a guaracha with a weird, slinky pace and the words are really passionate. Also "Fire Down Below" by Lord Panama, big band Panamanian Calypso from the '60s, super funky. It's going on Panama! 3.

Name of an artist you're currently championing in your DJ sets: Son Palenque. Palenque is the biggest and best known of a number of Maroon towns on the Atlantic Coast of Colombia, where they still speak Palenquero, a Neo-African/Spanish mix. Son Palenque recorded in the early '80s, real earthy Afro-Latin American funk. It sounds amazing on a good, loud system. People stop, listen, then start to move. They are still playing, I saw them in a tiny club in Cartagena last November, it was amazing!


What's been your best crate digging experience in another country (if you've had a good one)?
They're all good ones. Just being in another country looking for this magic pressed on vinyl is a great experience no matter what you find. We pulled some pretty incredible 45s out of a nasty, bug-filled, crumbling storage room in Ibagué, Colombia a few years ago. I don't know if I'll ever see some of the labels we found again. I also found a Lito Barrientos record in there I had been wanting forever, with the song "Negrita, Tu Amor Me Esta Matando". I was so happy. Then I found an even cleaner copy at Groove Merchant on Haight! Crazy. I was in Costa Rica last month and found a couple of heavy records from Suriname and Haiti, I've been listening to them a lot.

Best club experience in another country (again, if you've had a good one)? Any night at Tintindeo in Cali (Colombia). I really love this Viejoteca in Cali called Septimo Cielo (Seventh Heaven), they only play classic Latin music from the '40s, '50s and '60s. There are older men and women in there in their 60s who absolutely kill it when they play pachangas.  You would think looking at them that they need you to help them up the stairs, then the music starts - and pachangas are fast - and pow! they start 'sacando brillo al piso' (making the floor shiny).

Musical mantra: I don't know, but I love to make people dance, and I prefer to do it with vinyl.

Favorite DJ experience: Playing on the Mission Credit Union float in last year's Carnaval. It was sunny, 24th street was packed, Mission was packed. When we turned the corner on 24th and Mission I was playing "Mi Morena" by La Sonora Cordobesa, a classic sinister, bouncy Cumbia. It's one of my favorites, I was bouncing up and down to the song and I looked out and so was everyone on the sidewalks, old people, little kids and everyone in between. I'll never forget it.

Worst request: You know, I didn't believe it when Vinnie and Jacob told me people will come up in the middle of a heavy Latin set and ask for crazy things. But they do! They ask for Madonna, Britney Spears, I couldn't believe it. I just say sorry, I don't have that. Usually they ask right when you have to mix in the next song.

Worst club faux pas you've committed: Well I'm not an old pro like some of these guys, I've only been doing this for a couple years now. I have dropped in a record a couple of times without having moved the fader over. Silence. Oh Sh*t! Then throw it into the song that's playing. The dancers might not notice much, but I feel embarrassed. The again I have seen some crazy things from people at the club, like kicking out the sound system plug (bad), stumbling or passing out on the stage (really bad).

Most treasured vinyl score: There are a lot, but I'll say "Ricardo Ray - A Goza en 3 Dimensions" on Fonseca. I got a clean cover and thrashed record in Cali, then like a year later found a clean record, black label, without the sleeve, I don't remember where. It's one of the greatest Latin jazz/dance records of all time. Incredibly, someone just rereleased it on vinyl.

What other music-related projects are you currently working on? Panama! 2 (CD/2xLP) was just released this week, we'll have a record release party at the Elbo Room on July 3rd. Panama! 3 and Colombia! 2 and 3 on Soundway are all in the pipeline. I am working on a non-fiction history of Latin Jazz and Dance Music 1930-75, it's going well.

What's something happening in the local music scene that should be getting more attention? People don't realize what a world-class Latin scene there is in SF. You can dance Salsa every night of the week.

There are hot local bands. Louie Romero's Mazacote is a personal favorite, I will watch them anywhere. You don't even have to dance, just go see Classic Afro-Cuban music played the way its supposed to be played. Personally I can't sit still and they always wear me and whoever I am dancing with out. There are a lot of hot younger groups, I love this group La Colectiva and their song "La Pasionaria", they play Cumbia and Salsa with great energy. I had a lot of fun dancing to this group Pellejo Seco, which has a Cuban Tres guitar. Fuga  is supposed to be amazing, also Cumbia and Salsa. Everyone I know is talking about them, I will see them live for the first time this Saturday at Slim's. Orquesta La Moderna Tradicion plays charanga, dance music with violins, so swinging.

And that's just the very tip of the iceberg, there's tons of other groups fusing Latin and Reggae, Brazilian music... and then the DJs, Roger Mas at El Superritmo plays classic cumbia, I have heard great things about the Tormenta Tropical parties... I am surprised at how little ink the scene gets.

What elements would your fantasy club night entail? The most bittersweet thing about DJing is playing music I want to be dancing to, that I dance to at home but am afraid to jump the needle if I am playing it at a club. So I think I would have Miles and Will DJ and just let me dance the whole time. They played at the first Panama! release party at APT in NY and I did that, danced the whole night. It was great.

Question we didn't ask you but you often ask yourself: ¿Quien Sera La Que Me Quiere a Mi, Quien Sera, Quien Sera?

Next time we can see you spin: Saturday, June 13 at Slim's with Fuga, La Colectiva and Brwn Bflo; Thursday June 18 with Roger Mas at Oyelo! Thursdays @ Skylark; Friday July 3 - Panama!2 record release party with Vinnie Esparza (Groove Merchant/Dis-Joint) and Guillermo (The Better Half); Thursday, July 23 at Amoeba Records 7pm.


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