Mauri is, without exaggeration, one of the cornerstones in what is today’s salsa scene. He has been on the decks for 25 years now, playing music at the most famous congresses, parties and salsa venues around the world. He certainly loves Salsa and he has stayed loyal to it for many years, which is exactly the reason why he talks things exactly how they are, no politics, no round corners. This interview shall pump up some discussion!
You started DJing 25 years ago in a small bar in the Netherlands and you haven’t stopped since then. Isn’t it strange that a country like the Netherlands was and still remains active in that scene?
Most of the people at parties back then were Latinos or had travelled to Latin America or Cuba, and they used to come to Salsa parties, bringing their friends along. And since the Netherlands have Curaçao and Surinam as former colonies, it was one of the pioneering Salsa countries in Europe. However, then, a “good party” had like 100 people. At that point, also teaching Salsa was in a really early stage.
It was more about people being culturally interested in Latin America who learned to dance Salsa. And they were primarily interested in music.
What about today? Who joins the Salsa scene?
Now people entering the scene are primarily interested in dancing. And this is completely different. There is no comparison to say what is better than the other, but it is a completely different thing.
Why is it different?
These days, people who start taking dance classes mainly go to a party because they want to practice the combinations they have learned in class. So it’s all about the dancing.
Although dancing is obviously a big part of Salsa, it’s not the only part. Before anything a salsa party is a social event. We, Latinos, go to a bar, drink something, chat with friends, and dance when we hear a good song. After that, we return to our friends, we chat some more and have some more drinks. Now, people who go to a party, go there to dance… They dance for 3 hours and then return home. Often not caring about the music that much.
To me, a big part of the new salsa community has taken the music and the dance but they forgot to take the culture with it.
What is the culture of Salsa in Latin America?
Before anything else, Salsa has to be about having fun. It is so much more than dancing for hours. That’s almost a “sports” approach. But Salsa is so much more than practice, it is about chatting with friends, drinking with them – and it’s the social part of Salsa that makes it different from other music styles.
However, we can undoubtedly say that at the moment we are having a Salsa revival. All around the world, people are dancing Salsa in festivals and parties.
The truth is that new festivals are now being organized around the world and the greatest, like Mamboland, Rovinj, El Sol, etc. are packed or sold out. Salsa will always be here.
How come there is no media presence of Salsa and Latin music?
The tragedy of Salsa is that the best music has already been made. No matter how good the new bands are, they could never be compared to older bands. There are certain exceptions, like Havanna D’Primera who could succeed in any era, but if we are talking about non-Cuban salsa, then, yes, the best music has already been made.
There is a thought that Salsa is declining and Bachata is taking its place. What is your opinion?
The biggest misconception is that Salsa is going down. Bachata now is very popular, but this high level of popularity is a phase. In the 25 years that I have been around, I have seen the Merengue phase, the Reggaeton phase, and now the Bachata phase. Don’t get me wrong, Bachata for sure will be around but the popularity will fade a bit.
Salsa will always have a problem and at the same time a challenge to face. For someone to dance Salsa, there needs to be some rhythmic talent, it’s not that easy to learn. It requires effort. It’s much easier to learn to dance Bachata, so it’s more appealing to a larger crowd. Salsa doesn’t have this, you need to take a lot of classes before you are truly capable of going out on the dance floor.
And we have another thing to keep in mind. A lot of people go to classes looking for a partner. Imagine going to a dance school where you see the third week class of Salsa struggling to walk, whereas in the third week Bachata students have been hugging already [laughs]; what would be your choice? Everyone can dance basic bachata within a few weeks.
I think that a true dancer who wants to be challenged will always choose salsa.
Why is that?
Salsa is something you can study the rest of your life, and always keep learning.
Bachata for sure is fun, but how much can you learn after one or two courses? Sure, you can take workshops at a festival from famous dancers but it has it limits. Bachata is just more appealing for the big market because it’s easier to dance thus more accessible.
Let’s be honest; to dance Bachata you just need less talent, I won’t say none, but I’ll say half of what you need to dance salsa. But in the end, the bachata craze is even good for salsa; after a while students get bored and they either leave the Latin-dance scene or they step into the salsa scene. Because if you go to bachata parties day in day out, you will eventually shoot yourself [laughing].
We can see in festivals and parties that the bachata rooms are full…
There are still good events, the bachata rooms are full in festivals but there are a lot of salsa dancers that want to change for a while or are tired and the go to a Bachata room, to calm down. It’s not purely bachata dancers, except on events that are dedicated to Bachata.
When DJing, do you play bachata?
Let me be very clear; I LOVE bachata. But I don’t play sensual bachata because musically, to me it is horrible. I am a DJ of Afro Latin music, and in that music there is no Afro. That music is completely electronic and misses the essence of Latin music.
The biggest problem for me is that it isn’t bachata. Call it whatever you want, but don’t call it Bachata. It has no bachata structure, no bachata arrangement and it is an insult to so many true musicians to call it bachata. Just have a talk with a musician, a Dominican or any Latino who grew up with Bachata….. Just give it another name and everyone would be cool.
I have the impression that Dominican Bachata is getting more popular lately. What do you think about it?
First of all, there is no Dominican Bachata, it’s just Bachata [laughs]. If you are a Latino and you grew up with that music, that’s Bachata. I also think that’s the reason why most popular sensual bachata DJ’s are non-Latinos. For a non-Latino DJ, it is easier to play this, because there is no connection with that music, no emotional connection with the true product. It’s like asking an Italian chef to make a pasta arrabbiata with chocolate. He will absolutely refuse whereas a foreign chef might give it a try since he didn’t grow up with arrabbiata made by his mother.
Talking about that, can everyone be a DJ, since they have a laptop and a playlist?
I don’t think so; I listen to music every day; I listen to the music other DJs play, I always look for new music. It is not as simple as downloading some music and making a playlist. First of all, I have never made a playlist before going to a party. I never know what the next song will be. When I put a song on, then my brain starts thinking “now what?”
Why is that?
At a salsa party, it is impossible to make a playlist before the party, at least if you consider yourself a good DJ. There are so many variables; how is the dance level, whether they dance Cuban style, whether they dance mambo or on1, if it is a hot night… There are so many things that can influence your set. This is the big difference between salsa and house or hip-hop DJ’s.
What makes someone a good DJ?
As it stands for any job, it takes 10,000 hours of practice for someone to get really good at it. If you want to be a good DJ, you have to first play weekly parties, where people come after work or with a friend out of curiosity. If you make them dance, that is what it takes to learn how to be a good DJ. And study; you need to know all about the different artists, styles and musical influences. Without that knowledge, you won’t understand what you are doing, you’ll play hits, and that is not what being a DJ is supposed to be.
In your opinion, do the festivals pay attention to the DJs’ lineup, as much as they pay attention to the artists’ lineup?
It depends on the festival… In big and successful festivals the organizers do pay attention and they understand the necessity of a good DJ-lineup. And lately they seem to understand the true importance of having good music, and not preferring a DJ who will sell 20 full passes or play without being paid.
They understand that when attendants understand that there is not only putting a playlist together. In the end, return home from a festival, they think how much fun they had at the parties and not only at the workshops and the shows.
Fernando Sosa mentioned that it is important for festivals to pay attention to parties, as people go there to dance. What do you think about that?
Both Fernando and Adolfo (i.e., Indacochea) truly understand the importance of good music. They are perfectionists and this stands also when they organize an event. Adolfo loves mambo, but that doesn’t mean that he wants to listen to mambo all night long. Fernando is very open-minded; he started as a Cuban dancer and at his events like Salseando Beach the DJ can play salsa romantica, timba, mambo and even merengue, as long as the crowd is having fun it’s all good.
So, I meant to say that Fernando and Adolfo are so different but both of them understand that the parties above anything have to be fun. And it is a pity that in many events, especially mambo events, people can be a little snobbish to outsiders. They dress pretty, they all look great and usually are good dancers but they miss the whole party atmosphere, it has become like an in-crowd thing.
I was always wondering about the dance and the dress code…
Yes even that goes back in history. Mambo dancers have always been well-dressed, and that makes sense, but the snobbism doesn’t make any sense. Also the way they dance; you may notice people dancing without looking at each other even once. This is so far away from the roots of where this dance came from. The dance was born from rumba and the way that a man flirts with a woman. Luckily, snobbism is going away and it is not what it was 4 years ago.
Is the European scene setting the rules on Salsa world widely?
Don’t know about setting rules but the truth is that the capital of Salsa dancing is clearly Italy. Basically, the best and the main artists live in Italy, because that’s the biggest market. And, as a consequence, Italian dancers will have the opportunity to study with them. And of course Italy is already home many of the best Cuban masters.
Did you say Cuban masters?
Yes, one of the reasons there is so much young talent in especially the South of Italy is because of the work of great Cuban masters. The truth is that you can become a good dancer without Afro, but to become a great one you will need it. It’s essential to truly understand and feel the movements. Great masters of Cuban style, like Alberto Valdes (he now lives in Cyprus), Maykel Fonts, Pedrito Gonzalez and many others teach in Italy and this gives advantage to Italian dancers.
Another thing that makes Italy stand out is that dancing is a normal part of life. People are used to dancing in venues and grandparents take their grandkids along when they go to dance on a Sunday afternoon. So, generation after generation thinks ofdance as a normal thing to do. The are dance fanatics and committed.
In your opinion, will Italy remain in first place?
For dance, it will be Italy in first place for the next years. When it comes to music, La Maxima 79 is the most popular new band, and they have many of the best festivals. So, there is no question about Italy being a main player in the salsa world.
What about the Asian scene?
It is a big scene but also there the cultural aspect of Salsa is missing. But, on the other hand, it is always so interesting playing Salsa for a large crowd, who sing along even if they don’t understand the lyrics and that is nice. And the people are great and really interested.
What would be an exquisite moment in your life? And what are the things you are really looking forward to?
I think that is El Sol Salsa Festival in Warsaw every year, it is so well-organized and the team is really nice. Of course, I love the idea of Mamboland. Obviously, there is no bachata [laughs]. In Mamboland there is no hiding, no Bachata to fill an empty floor. If you suck there as a Dj, you just suck. And that is a challenge, the Son and Chachacha take the role of Bachata, because there is still a need to cool off the floor. It just takes a bit more knowledge and experience to handle this. The attendees at Mamboland truly know about music, I can feel that I play to an educated crowd. And this is always nice and challenging.
Do you think that there is a need for so many festivals?
Well, this will work itself out. Like in Greece this year… this thing is ridiculous.
And so many parties…
Well, I love living in Greece, but the salsa scene here is so political. I’ll give an example; in Italy, if their school organizes a party the students will go to that party. If their school doesn’t organize a party, the students will find another party to dance. In Greece, the students just won’t go out at all. Even at the best party in Athens, many students don’t go there because their school is not involved.
The true tragedy is that the only decent party is “Felices” at Alsos. The other parties are basically school meetings with the same faces and ALWAYS the same animations! Come on guys, please make some new animations now and then!
Here, some people, just because they had a show they think that they are artists. The should go to Italy and see how the Italians work like dogs, and when they go to a party as guest-artists, they dance with everyone, fat, tall ugly, everyone… In Italy they are more business – minded. They support each other’s parties, everyone makes money out of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Greece, people here are sweet and very helpful, the average Greek is a really friendly person, and there are so many good dancers. The on2 level in Athens is really high, but it is such a shame that when a friend comes to town there is no party to visit. At least now there is Felices party, and the place is not big or anything, don’t get me wrong, but it is Athens; we should have one party with 500 people per week. However, there are 5 million people in Athens but in a much smaller city like Amsterdam the parties are much bigger. The problem is that no one sees the bigger picture. A successful party is good for everyone. Good parties bring people into dance classes. And it’s truly a shame because Athens has such amazing dancers. It’s beyond crazy.
What people should do to upgrade Salsa?
They should support each other, and everyone will make something out of it. If they all support each other they all will have better and more successful parties.
How do you see yourself in 5 years?
I see myself happy. I’ll still be DJing for sure, and I think I am very lucky to do this job. I was born poor and when I was little I thought that only the persons who wear suits can travel with a plane. And now I have travelled all around the world, playing in festivals in India, Canada, China… I really love what I do, so for the next years I see myself living in Athens and Djing in events that I really like.
- Mauri’s family moved from Chile when he was 7 years old and as a child he grew up in the Netherlands.
- He started DJing by chance, when the resident Dj of the bar he was bartending at called sick. He never stopped ever since.
- He has played and still plays music at the biggest festivals, like El Sol, Mamboland, Salseando Beach and so many others.
- If you are visiting Athens, do not miss out on the parties Mauri hosts every Thursday at Palenque club.