Louie Vega: SA dance music is setting trends

2012-03-31 19:49

New York-based DJ, producer, songwriter, label owner and band leader Louie Vega (47) has been a global grandmaster of dance music for three decades.

His deep, thumping, soulful beats as one half of Masters At Work (with Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez) perpetually redefine the state of the groove.

He started out on the decks at 13 and rose in the 80s in New York club land. Vega has tapped his Puerto Rican ancestry to bring fresh flavours to established styles – from Latin to salsa, Afro-beat to jazz, hip hop to classics.

As Masters At Work – on projects such as the acclaimed Nuyorican Soul – he has produced and remixed music with and for artists like Jamiroquai, Tito Puente, George Benson, Chaka Khan and Earth, Wind & Fire. He won a Grammy Award in 2006 for his Curtis Mayfield remixes.

Since 1999 Vega has been visiting South Africa and has fallen in love with the people and the sounds. He has forged friendships with key players in the local dance music scene and tirelessly pushes South African sounds.

The man who reinvented soulful jazz and who upended Latino grooves talked to City Press on e-mail this week about the annual Miami Winter Conference (MWC) and the rise of South African producers on the dance floor.

I heard from Oskido that you said DJ Zinhle’s My Name Is was the track of the MWC this year? Why did it take off the way it did? Is it unusual for female DJs to rock this space?

All I can say is that the song is hot! It’s wonderful that it reps the ladies in the scene and it demands female empowerment. My wife Anané heard this song and immediately felt the need to sign it to her label NuLu Records and give it the worldwide exposure it deserves.

 It’s an anthem for everyone. Dancefloor killer! Zinhle was first here in Miami with us two years ago, so she was introduced at WMC at our get-together event and now two years later she has the top song of the conference and the collaboration with Anané makes it complete.

It is a first for a female DJ/artist to rock this space. It’s the first time a song with these elements made it to the top. Big up to Zinhle, Anané, NuLu. There’s more to come. This song will be played all over Europe this summer!

What is it about SA house music that the world loves? Are we setting trends?
What people love about South African music is that it’s rhythmic, has great melodies, lovely voices and super hot tracks! It’s all you need to rock a dance floor.

South African dance music is inspired by deep underground house and even some deep tech feel, and also by some of America’s legendary music makers. But having songs in African languages and the chants give it a twist that is uniquely yours.

We love it, we play it with our hearts and we are one of the biggest supporters of your sound! South African music is fast becoming a trend as in people wanting to make music like the sound of SA. But not a trend that will come and go.

The SA sound has reached the youth culture big time, many are making this kind of music and so I see it evolving and progressing. It’s becoming a full cycle. Anané, myself and the Vega family have been huge supporters of the South African sound since the beginning.

When did you first visit South Africa?
We have a long history with South Africa and are proud to help represent and bring the sound around the world. Since the days of Yfm when I came out there and played for 30 000 people at the birthday bash in 1999 ...

I was touched by the South African people and culture and was always treated like family. I still feel the same way now, we have developed a wonderful relationship.

It was in the late 90s that I signed Mafikizolo’s Loot, Spiyanko with Hugh Masekela and two of Oskido’s albums. Also Vega Records’ signing of Black Coffee’s We Are One and now NuLu signing Zinhle and Black Motion (with whom Anané has been working for months).

Anané has more artists from South Africa, all young producers who are coming out soon.

You were apparently impressed with Paul Mashatile, SA arts and culture minister, being present and supporting DJs?
Paul Mashatile I met at a luncheon organised by my good friend Greg Maloka of Kaya fm. He was very nice to me and excited to come to the event we had in Miami.

It’s a huge step to have him and his staff interested, for them to come all the way to Miami. He came into the DJ booth as we were DJing and it felt really good to have him there experiencing the DJ performances up front and centre. He really supported the event to the fullest.

Thank you Paul Mashatile for the love and support. It meant so much!

What impression did Black Motion – the percussionist/DJ combo from Pretoria – make on you?
Black Motion were amazing! What energy! Anané had told me about them, but I never saw them live until I went to the NuLu party in Miami.

 Their performance blew me away. The NuLu party as a whole was a smash, packed! And, believe it or not, more than 75% of the artists were South Africans or from other African countries – as well as many Africans attending.

South Africa seems to have been well represented this year?
Apart from the NuLu party with Anané: Oskido, Zinhle, Pru, Black Motion, DJeff (Angola), Fresh Nunas (Mozambique), Gardy Giraunt (Haiti).

There was also Vega Records Get Together Welcomes South Africa’s Finest with Louie Vega, Black Coffee, Anané Vega, Oskido, Boddhi Satva, Fresh & Euphonik. There was Black Coffee’s Soulistic event and also Fresh’s South African Invasion and Afrodesiac. The presence of South African music was big at Miami WMC.

Your welcome party had a 50% South African line-up. Why? You’ve been visiting for years, why are you attracted to the sounds and people of SA?
This is the third year we’ve had events at MWC combining the South African artists with our roster.

Even before that, at the famed Masters at Work events in Miami we’ve had Oskido, BOP and others. I also had Vinny da Vinci at MWC last week. And this is NuLu’s second year supporting African artists, which was hailed as the top party with the most amazing energy and performances!

We’ve always had a tight connection with South Africa. With almost two years of Louie Vega’s Dance Ritual on Kaya fm the connection has strengthened even further.

Our music has been on radio in South Africa and received much love from listeners, so why not give back and help introduce South African dance music to the world?

There is so much talent in SA! I’m attracted to the people of South Africa because they are proud people, they’ve shown me lots of love and respect and appreciation of my talent and are true to the heart. Keep up the good work Oskido, Black Coffee, Zinhle, Black Motion, Fresh & Euphonik, Vinny Da Vinci and all the others. This is just the beginning!

Anything you’d like to add?
I’d also like to mention how instrumental our connection with our good friend Oskido is. He’s introduced many artist as well to us and has been a direct link and showed us much love in all aspects of our incredible musical relationship. Brothers for life!

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