all it takes is one person to poison a gig


Anjali and I had a busy day yesterday. We both DJed an early afternoon birthday party, and then in the evening she went off to DJ another birthday party, and I DJed a benefit to build a community radio station in Brazil. I had been spending a lot of time researching and shopping for this gig. Despite all the Brazilian music I have collected over the years, I wasn’t sure that I had what I needed to keep a room full of Brazilophiles dancing for three hours. Brazil has such a massive musical heritage, with such a dizzying variety of eras and styles, that it was quite overwhelming to try to decide what the exact composition of my musical arsenal should be for the evening. To give myself an out, I billed myself as playing “Afro-Caribbean” music as well, so I could branch out into other styles throughout the night. I knew there were going to be at least some people there that were going to want to hear some salsa, for instance. As it was I played a mix of batucada, samba soul, Brazilian hip-hop, salsa, mambo, merengue, reggaeton and Latin hip-hop. I avoided Funk Carioca for fear of offending activists who were fluent in Portuguese. The gig went very well, and I received a lot of appreciation and applause throughout the night, but one unhappy dancer towards the end really soured the whole experience for me.

Towards the tail end of the night I was playing a drum’n’bass remix of Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente,” when an angry young Latina and her partner came up to order me to begin playing the original version of the song. At this point the song had been playing for five minutes or so, and was nearly over. There wasn’t that much time left in the night, and I certainly wasn’t going to spend a third of that time playing another version of the same song. I said something like, “I’m sorry, I’m not even sure if I brought the original.” The woman was angrily insistent, refusing to take no for an answer. I just kept explaining to her that I was unfortunately incapable of fulfilling her request. In response she said, “this is NOTHING” referring to the remix, still adamant that I begin playing the original. At this point I said, “Well, y’know what, I think I like the remix better.” In a demanding, indignant tone she exclaims, “but WE are the DANCERS,” and storms off with her partner. Uggh.

Well, actually the room still had a number of dancers besides these two, who I had kept dancing for three hours at that point. Other than the one woman, no one had come up to me to complain during that time. In fact people would occasionally hoot and holler, and in general, seemed like they were having a great time, applauding when the organizers were kind enough to shout me out. Unfortunately people like the unhappy woman are toxic to my mind state while DJing. Despite her putting me in a foul mood, I was feeling slightly magnanimous after playing a few more songs. Upon discovering that I did indeed bring the original Elvis Crespo CD, I played “Tu Sonrisa,” the other huge hit off the “Suavemente” CD –which dominated Guatemalan discos when I was there in 1999. The ENTIRE room cleared except for the attitudinal woman and her partner. That is why an individual dancer can never trump the DJ. If their credentials for determing the song selection were that they were dancers, and mine that I was the DJ, I’d say I did a better job, since I never cleared the floor in three hours, and they cleared the floor immediately upon getting to hear what they wanted. Yes, true, I only played a very similar song off the same album, and didn’t repeat “Suavemente” in its original form like they wanted. Maybe if I had played two versions of the same song, instead of a VERY similar song with the same sound and tempo, everyone would have stayed and danced, but I doubt it. That woman and her partner were indeed dancers (which put them in control, according to the woman), but only two among many. I am in charge of keeping the majority of the dancers happy most of the time. (No one can keep every dancer happy all the time, because different dancers have conflicting desires, tastes, and interests.) Honestly, there are individual dancers I love to play for, dancers I will cater to no matter how much everyone else in the room dislikes what I am playing for them. The attitude this woman displayed when she talked to me is the exact opposite of how you want to approach a DJ if you ever want to become a dancer that the DJ wants to please.

I am not arguing that a DJ should ignore all requests. Sometimes a person with a request absolutely has their finger on the pulse of the dance floor and it is wise to listen to them, if not play exactly what they want to hear. Sometimes someone is off in their own world, and their idea of what to play would be a horrendous mistake. The DJ’s job is to decide which one of these people any given requester is. Even though I didn’t think this woman was representative of the majority of the room, and her attitude was rotten, I was still feeling magnanimous enough to try to please her. After all, I am sensitive to the fact that I am a gringo playing to a dance floor comprised at least partially of Latinos, and since I can’t even properly dance to salsa and merengue, I am always open to listening to, and learning from, my dancers. What I learned from this one was that the more entitled someone feels, the more they don’t know shit about how to please anyone but themselves.

Thanks to everyone who came out and helped support a good cause.


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