2017 NY Salsa Congress

Quick updates on the state of play here so far:

1. ORGANIZATION: Continuing from last year's success, the organizers seemed to have figured out the logistics, generally speaking. Kudos on that - I know it's not easy, and they've been smart on building partnerships, marketing, etc. They also (miraculously) manage to get the performances over with on time. This is particularly important since the event shuts down at 3 am each night, which is disappointing, but it is what it is. There is no time to be wasted. That said - last night (Friday) the main room opened 30 minutes late because the band went late on their sound check. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but since the window for social dancing in the big room is so limited (only from 11 pm to 3 am) after 30 minutes of waiting for the door to open, the crowd was getting restless. There is a smaller room for social dancing open earlier, but it was intolerably hot and packed.

3. QUALITY OF MUSIC: Friday night was just plain TERRIBLE. The only bright spot musically was the DJ from the aforementioned smaller salsa social room, whose name I didn't catch. It's too bad there was literally no space in which to dance there. In the big room Frankie Martinez was DJ both before and after the band. His inclusion in the lineup was baffling to begin with - you never hear people here discussing him as a DJ, much less one who is going to get the party going. The MC even threw a bit of shade his way mentioning that he'll be playing 'a bunch of stuff that you probably never heard'. Sometimes there's a reason why no one ever hears it, and from the selection he played last night, it's applicable in this case. If he's not playing a cha cha or boogaloo, then he's playing a shine fest. My personal motto for salsa is: let's get things swinging. Unfortunately, there was no swing to be had. Not one drop. Really, not a single song he played at any point through the night. Weird structure/breaks, or boring, repetitive descargas with like, a pianist and maracas and no singing, no bass. Well, he did play one Aguinaldo-inspired song, lol. So Christmas in September it was. For the love of God, would it kill him to play a Willie Rosario song? Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez? Lebron Brothers? GIMME SOMETHING TO WORK WITH HERE, DUDE. Of the few NYC people who were there last night out on the dance floor, there was no shortage of quizzical faces and eye rolling. There's a reason we don't go to Abakua socials.

There was also a live band from NYC who played from midnight to 2 am called Avenida B. I appreciate what they're trying to do, I really do. They want to play danceable songs that aren't too fast or long, and I'm 100% down for that. But....they are boring as can be. Part of it is, in fact that all their songs are mid-tempo, but that's not where the issues end. Their updated arrangement of "Lluvia con nieve" adds nothing to the older version with its grit and soul. It'd be like having Taylor Swift remake a Chaka Khan song and it leads to the same conclusion: "Why?" Same for "Cañonazo". Their original compositions are not interesting either, either harmonically, structurally, or topically. Well, they do have that song "Ten Cuidao", which for a one-off single is fun to throw in the mix, but that's it :( Their lead singer is no Cano Estremera, no Oscar D'Leon. He sticks to the script, and nothing particularly stands out about his singing. Neither the bass nor keyboard player were inclined to add any flavor to their patterns either. It felt like having a wedding cover band play what should be the most iconic salsa event of the year in NYC. Sonically, they lean towards that kind of "perfect" production, bass-heavy South American sound, which...fine, but an entire night of that and it's tiring on the ears. Also, this isn't South America. This is New York. Where's our sound?

Tonight, I'm not expecting much better - the live band is Johnny Ray and Salsa con Clase. I'll leave this here without comment:

The Gonzalez brothers will be DJing tonight, so that will be an improvement over Frankie Martinez, but...it's not like I can't dance to Alex's music weekly for less money. Still, I'll try to make as much fun of it as I can tonight. At least we'll have Bobby Valentin tomorrow.

In summary, to the organizers:


Part of the attraction of coming to NYC for a salsa congress is two-fold:

1. This should be a hot spot for great music, but you've lost credibility this year. Sorry, Frankie Martinez was a terrible choice musically, Jimmy Anton only marginally better. Avenida B another poor choice for an event of this scale. If you want to showcase local talent, how about the DJ from the Deportivo, who New Yorkers agree plays the best music in town? I could name a few more DJs who could come turn the party out. If costs are a concern (which I assume they are!) instead of three live bands, how about two, with amazing DJs?

2. This is a chance for people traveling from all over to dance with locals. What is the impetus for locals to come, if you're showcasing the DJs from all the socials we spend so much time avoiding? Have you been to Jimmy Anton's lately? When was the last time you saw a bunch of NY's A-list dancers there? Same for any of the socials here, really. They're sick of the same playlists every week. Only so many times you can dance to "La palomilla" lol.
Saturday Night Recap:

Much, much better than Friday night, and this was the consensus among everyone I'd spoken to. Starting with Johnny Ray. Lots of romantica in his discography, of course, and while I don't have an issue with the genre, what recordings I'd heard of his left me cold - it was like romantica to the extreme, but with no funk or spark. In live performance, it comes off way better, especially when the songs reach their second half, and the band can add more sabor, drive, and change up the harmonic progressions to add interest, which they did.

The DJs also much better, as I knew would be the case. No surprises there.

More dancers, as you'd expect for a Saturday night, and fortunately more locals. That said, there were NYers who went Friday who've decided to skip the rest of the weekend based on what they saw that night. I tried to talk a few into coming to see Bobby Valentin.

I danced right up until close last night. I have no doubt Bobby Valentin will be good tonight, and fingers crossed the DJs will be good too.
I'm sorry to hear Avenida B didn't shine. Perhaps it was an off-night, or perhaps they "tried too hard" and ended up altering their usually-great style. I've gone to many of their events over the past few years--since they started actually--and they are well-loved in NYC, their music usually gets everyone up and dancing happily.
Good to hear that it has improved. I'm heading back this month and taking my school next year.

1. As a former NYer I have to disagree. People travel to NY to get the NY experience and Frankie is part of that experience. Yes, his entire social is hit or miss for people but there is a sect, practically a religious group of dancers that are in absolute love with what he plays. It's a unique perspective on music and one that's healthy and I can only hope that you open your horizons to what he's bringing. It might not be your style but at least try to be more inclusive of something that's different rather than push it away because it doesn't fit what you expect of a congress. There is a logical reasoning for it existing.

A perfect example is the LVG event that for years happened the week before. The music is unique and the experience is undoubtedly part of the fabric of the NY salsa scene. Rejecting it only makes it bland. That said I think his brand of DJing fits a dark sexy room than a big open venue. The music speaks to you differently.

2. As for Avenida B, I respect those guys, I buy their album (twice the same album at this point) and I talk to Dave Frankel from time to time. They are a great band, they aren't El Gran Combo but they have always been fun to dance to. They absolutely should be part of the event and NYers have been harping on the organizers for years to add them in. Literally for like 6 years now. They've earned their dues to be there. Great guys that not only play, but they'll talk to you before and after their shows and interact with the community.

You can have the same criticism for Grupo Latin Vibe and yet they deserve their place also. Bands complain about not getting enough support. Dancers complain about not having enough live bands in NY. Guess what...you want these bands to stay alive then you need to give them some oxygen.

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