Stop the talking!
People ask questions, and when answered, do not respond. People are asked questions and an answer is not received. Subsequently, a phone call or a face-to-face meeting happens. Something is expressed in an abstract, time-bound utterance. An offer/decision is backhandedly dealt and almost instantly withdrawn (possibly). A conversation/discussion takes place, and simply vanishes into thin air without a trace, without being committed to written record and/or followed through. Almost as if the conversation/discussion didn't take place at all! Thus, one begins to doubt oneself, question one's own sense of reality. Yet when topics are picked up on in writing, people fail to respond. The blank email inbox and innocently empty mailbox conceal a hidden agenda of swords and daggers. They indicate an absence of communication and a lack of accountability. It's this that we challenge at its route source.
Whilst talk is a reasonable form of communication in articulating a "shared vision", this is only a temporary illusion. It's emotionally and spiritually effective, whilst physically and psychologically ineffective. It's an obstacle to accountability in its very nature of being fluid and intangible. In business contexts, talk should be a means to an end, not an end in itself. We're human too. We like to talk and share a good feeling. It's lovely and nice (depending on the context). We like to give ourselves and one another a break once in a while, and there is a time and place for that. However, whilst easier in the short term, talk creates confusion in the long term because it's not committed. Why have a two part thing of talk then having to commit it into writing afterwards when you can simply skip step one and formulate everything straight into writing? Just keep it in the back of your mind that talk, to the same degree as developing relationships, ideas and thought processes, raises the threshold of disappointment. Things can be said and not substantiated. Moments are lost and forgotten. Communications aren't picked up on. People are too "busy"* to follow things through effectively and translate talk into action.
*busy = inability to manage one's own time.
Let's simplify communications. Let's reduce communications to their basic, elementary form and strip out all of the emotional confusion that is the enemy of solid, concrete accountability. Let's communicate information neutrally and transparently. Yes, I repeat: talk is a reasonable form of communication, but in its fluid, transitive, time-bound transmission, lacks accountability and is an inferior, deficient form of communication. Simply because it's impossible to verify/falsify what was discussed/agreed (unless it is committed to a sound recording, which throws up a minefield of technological complexities). On the other hand written communication puts action into account.
Phone lines down
& Latin Bands For Hire
Think Latin American music - Think Salsa? Think further! This article takes us through a beginner's guide to Latin American music. To see our list of Latin & Salsa bands for hire, go here, for a complete booking guide, go here, for ideas and inspiration for your Brazilian Themed Party, go here and should you wish to learn some Salsa dance moves, go here.
Individualism vs. Collectivism
There is no such thing as a true "community". Mutual collaboration in equal parts does not exist and cannot be substantiated via concrete proof - despite how much musicians claim that they're "invested in it for the good of the band". This is an utterance that is only relevant to the contextual time and place, and expressed when it is most convenient to them. Of course, you inevitably become the "bad cop" when the musician ends up being the one to contravene their own standards of accountability, when you're landed with the responsibility of picking them up on it.
The reality is: people are individuals, a liability unto themselves. People are never "invested in it for the good of the band". People are only invested in it for themselves. People might propagate a fabrication that they are "invested in it for the good of the band" in order to facilitate circumstances conspiring in their favour. But they immediately drop these convictions as and when it matters to them.
Omitting vital information for the sake of simplicity.
This is another way in which our 2 primary values of communication and accountability link to one another.
It's a tricky balance.
Read, compare and contrast the following extracts.
Read also: Why are our quotes so complicated?
What is Risk Factor?
A musician asked us why we don't produce music videos. The response was simple: "it's too much of a risk." After qualifying that statement by explaining the various logistical intricacies and recounting the horror stories of recent photo shoots and financial damages, the musician responded:
"But you trust us to turn up to gigs, don't you?"
To which the response was:
"Yes, because it's not my money on the table."
The bride booked a band of musicians to perform at her wedding and as far as she's concerned, she's getting a 6-piece lineup consisting of female lead vocals, male backing vocals doubling saxophone and flute, piano, bass, kit and congas. That's what was stipulated in the contract. That's what we've delivered. The bride doesn't know the musicians personally and she's not concerned about who is in the lineup. So, the "risk factor" decreases. What if it's a question of producing excellent promotional video material for an agent/promoter who wants to see the exact lineup as advertised in the publicity? What if it's a financial investment that's significantly closer to the creative vision of the investor? The "risk factor" increases. It's the dynamic between that closeness, that "trueness to form" aspect, vs. the value of the investment, which determines the "risk factor".
The term "risk factor" essentially equates to the amount of financial risk shouldered by a hirer/engager (whether it be an agent, promoter, manager, label or any other role that involves the hire/engagement of human personnel): in terms of how an arrangement/agreement is challenged by outside circumstances. It's a term we've adopted from promoters who book artists to perform at venues, a term used to gauge and quantify to which the artist makes back the venue hire/HR costs on attendance and ticket sales. In this context, it means musicians and technicians attending an event at an agreed time/place and delivering a service that they agreed to deliver. In this particular case, it means producing high-quality, sustainable promotional video material that justifies the venue hire/HR costs invested by the label.
Empower the individual
What's on your mind?
Facebook asks me “What’s on your mind?” I’m not usually one to answer this question in public for fear of persecution but it all comes down to this widespread notion of “universal truth”, which can manifest itself as a form of assumption, miscommunication and laziness = mother of all disasters. Many individuals have their own moral compass, their own ideas of right and wrong. Accepting it is one thing. Embracing it is another. I can’t justify or assume a "one size fits all" approach without objectifying/qualifying it. How can one “just know” without learning it first? Osmosis? We’re all born different. We’re all conditioned differently. We all think differently. The issue is a lack of understanding and collaboration.
Have you ever let yourself get talked into something? Have you ever let yourself be led astray by false prophets? Have you ever found yourself drawn into a situation, only to realise that the person didn't actually mean what they meant, and that you took things too literally? Did you misinterpret something that they mentioned? Did you misread vital signals in their facial expressions, articulation, tone of voice and/or body language? Don't worry and take heed: you are not the only one!
Event Diary 26/10/2015
From: "Essence Music Agency"
What is the meaning of the term "busy"?
Busy = disorganised, and/or lacking the availability/time/capacity/cost to perform at the required standard. For this reason, we avoid using the word at all costs and/or being drawn into situations where the word might be used. The industry is saturated by disorganised people who use the word 'busy' as a polite way of withdrawing interest, such that the word has become a meaningless excuse for inefficiency. If we are not interested, we will say so, and provide reasons if necessary.
This is a follow-up article to the one from last July, and explores unresolved queries after the booking has happened.
View Part 1: Unresolved Queries #1: Enquiries
Read, compare and contrast the following threads.
At Red & Black Music, we believe in free trade. This means that trade is left to its natural course without tariffs, quotas, or other restrictions.
We have experienced first hand a wide range of professionalism among musicians (documented in this blog). We believe that the rates should be relative to this: i.e., a musician cannot justify charging professional rates if they do not conduct themselves in a professional, accountable and reliable manner. We've seen it many times that musicians are too quick to adopt politically correct standpoints and 'blindly' quote Musicians' Union rates, but never think twice about the implications and repercussions of breaching a contractual agreement, even if it results in financial losses for the label and other musicians. In our opinion, this widens the disparity between available opportunities and musicians who are prepared to be compliant.
Just to clarify: while the Musicians' Union rates are a useful reminder not to undermine our worth, there is a narrow line between knowing what you 'could' be quoting, and what you 'should' be quoting. For example, it's unrealistic to expect musicians to be paid minimum £144 per head for a jazz club gig; the promoter will simply hire another production. In other words, it's both an enforcement and a denial of what actually happens.
What if musicians are hiring a venue and promoting an event themselves? Will the musicians still demand the standard Musicians' Union rate? Who will enforce these sorts of regulations at ground level if it's a less 'formal' arrangement such as a 'group' venture? Who will be liable for picking up the pieces (financial losses) when the lead vocalist cancels, the show has to be pulled as a result and the label/musicians are charged a hefty bill from the venue (staffing and technicians) and marketing overheads?
For the above reasons it's completely unrealistic to expect all promoters to adopt a 'one size fits all' approach: pay the same rates to all musicians regardless of the circumstances. It's a lovely thought, yes, but in practice it's implausible.
By the same token, Red & Black Music was prohibited from disseminating an advertisement for a paid recording position among students at the Royal College of Music. As we all know, many 'bands' expect their musicians to record for free and it's rare that these paid opportunities are put forward to an educational establishment in such a transparent, straightforward way.
Red & Black Music supports free markets, free enterprise, fiscal spending, deregulation, reduced taxes and the ability for the individual to determine the financial aspects of business, unrestricted by the rates and regulations set by the trade unions such as The Musicians' Union and The Incorporated Society of Musicians. Although we fully endorse the support that these groups provide to musicians: we are also hardened realists who believe that free markets and individual responsibility/achievement are the primary factors behind a successful music business. By lowering musicians' fees to a reasonable/moderate level, one reduces the "risk factor" aspects of engaging musicians and thereby securing autonomy and sustainability in what is already a very unstable industry. We champion only the brightest and best musicians, songwriters, producers and engagers who are unwavering and committed to their trade, and who go that extra mile to realise their artistic vision in the face of adversity. We value longevity and endurance. We reward those who are steadfast and loyal. We embrace pragmatism and reject all notions of "collaborative ventures". Music doesn't simply "come together" overnight, by magic, but through the dedication and hard work of the isolated individual.
Most people call everything “Salsa” because that is the only word that they know to describe all Latin music! “Salsa” is actually a concept often used to describe a family of different rhythms. “Salsa” (‘sauce’) was first coined in the 1937 Ignacio Pineiro song ‘Échale Salsita’ where a guy goes out intending to have a good time, and discovers a man selling hotdogs, whom he requests to ‘put a little sauce on it’. “Salsa” music developed in New York during the 1960s. Historical events such as the Cuban revolution and the Puerto Rican famine resulted in the mass migrations of Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and other Latin American (Romance language‑speaking) peoples to Miami and New York. Here, these dispersed minorities reconnected through cultural solidarity. Their music was an amalgamation of rhythms uprooted and reformed in North America. Simultaneously, these musicians started playing with the North American musicians resulting in a hybridisation of jazz instruments and harmonies with Latin American rhythms. So the term “Salsa” is actually describing a mixture of musical styles and the movements that they represent. Generally, it is a hot and spicy musical experience that draws upon or reflects elements of African and Latin American (predominantly Spanish-speaking) culture – regardless of rhythm or style.
Cuban ‘son’ and ‘rumba’, considered to be the roots of “Salsa”, were the secular and sacred dances performed by the African slaves, renewed through members of the Buena Vista Social Club, among others. ‘Son’ is traditionally played on the ‘tres’ (strummed lute/guitar) underpinned by the ‘marímbula’ (bass) and percussion instruments such as claves and maracas. ‘Rumba’, on the other hand, is more percussion oriented, played on cargo boxes, barrel‑shaped drums (conga and bongó) and single‑headed cowbells, originating from Santería, a hybrid religion where African gods and goddesses are worshipped under the guise of Catholic saints. During colonialism, the Spanish authorities would not permit the African slaves to practise their own religion; however, they permitted them to ‘beat the drum’ at certain times. The ‘bembe’ drumming rituals combined African batá drumming (hourglass‑shaped drum), liturgical song, costume and dance into a multidisciplinary conglomeration of music and religion, which beats at the heart of “Salsa”. Hence, music was a communal activity whereby dispersed individuals could not only participate in their own religious practices, but also reconnect with each other. In this way, the music is inseparable from its cultural or religious context, operating either on a recreational level (‘son’) or on a spiritual level (‘rumba’). Thus, while ‘son’ and ‘rumba’ refer more to African rhythms (much like the ‘bomba’ and ‘plena’ in Puerto Rico and the ‘merengue’ and ‘bachata’ in the Dominican Republic), “Salsa” embodies a wider meaning and can be used to describe contemporary bands that play these styles but also more modern offshoots of “Salsa”, such as ‘timba’ and ‘reggaeton’.
Cuban ‘mambo’ and ‘cha‑cha-chá’ developed from the more European styles such as the ‘danzón’ and ‘habañera’ brought to Cuba through the Haitian revolution, which, in turn, originated from the salon music popular in France and Western Europe, bringing instruments such as the piano, piccolo, violin and ‘timbales’ (metal drums). Israel “Cachao” Lopez created the ‘danzón‑habañera’, which later became the ‘mambo’ under Tito Puente, which, in turn, became the ‘cha‑cha‑chá‘ under violinist Enrique Jorrín. These, together with the Cuban ‘son’ and ‘rumba’ and the styles originating from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and other Latin American (predominantly Spanish‑speaking) countries form a family of styles grouped under the umbrella term “Salsa”, which not only denotes the music, but is also synonymous with enjoyment, flavour or ecstasy. Not all exponents of “Salsa” agreed with its attribution to ‘sauce’: Tito Puente was once noted for saying “The only form of salsa I know comes in a bottle… I play Latin music!” However, “Salsa” has come to adopt a wider meaning, but it can also be used to describe the musical style and ethos of a band, and indicate which rhythms they are likely to play.
Musically, a “Salsa” band has a slightly different meaning from a “Latin” band. While a “Salsa” band specialises in the rhythms and dance forms originating in Hispanic communities, developing through the 1960s and 1970s in New York – particularly through Fania Records – and subsequently becoming a global, commercial phenomenon throughout Latin America; a “Latin” band will play “Salsa” but also other styles that might be considered to fall outside of the “Salsa” bracket – such as “Samba”, “Bossa Nova”, “Bolero” and “Tango”.
“Salsa” and “Samba” are often confused, when they are actually two completely different animals! This is perhaps due to the fact that both African‑Spanish and African‑Portuguese musical traditions came through colonialism and the Slave Trade, developed in relatively parallel ways and enjoy equal deployment through jazz icons such as Dizzy Gillespie and Paquito D’Rivera. However, “Samba” comes from a different place altogether. Originating from the ‘choro’ (‘chorinho’ or ‘sobbing’) – African rhythms combined with the classical harmonic structures from Portugal and Western Europe, a kind of instrumental ‘jazz’ music with roots in Salvador, Bahia and Rio De Janeiro, – samba evolved into the vast, organised percussion ‘batucada’ ensembles that play a big part in the traditional carnival processions, anchored in the universal concept of ‘saudade’ – a kind of nostalgia, longing or sorrow – which has a specific meaning to Lusophone (Portuguese‑speaking) peoples. “Samba” is traditionally played on the ‘cavaquinho’ (strummed lute/guitar) accompanied by various voices and percussion instruments such as the ‘tamborim’, ‘surdo’ and ‘agogo’ (double‑headed cowbell). Candomblé – a hybrid, Afro‑Brazilian religion – involves traditional drumming ceremonies where different sizes of ‘atabaque’ (African tuned drums) are played, in a parallel vein to the conga and bongó in Afro‑Cuban religion Santería. Hence, there are several parallels between Cuban and Brazilian styles of music – both in their formative development and their integration within popular music and jazz, – which has often resulted in stereotype and confusion.
“Bossa Nova” (‘New Wave’ or ‘Brazilian Jazz’) is a musical genre originating from Rio de Janeiro during the 1960s. At face value, it is a distillation of Afro‑Brazilian samba rhythms with Euro‑American jazz harmonies, combining softly‑spoken vocals, gentle guitar‑strumming and poetic lyrics, evoking idle sunny afternoons and young love on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro – associated with artists such as Tom Jobim, Vinícius De Moraes and João and Astrud Gilberto. Tunes such as ‘Girl From Ipanema’ attained universal popularity not only through their complex, sophisticated ‘jazzy’ harmonies, their subtle, relaxed ‘balança’ (‘side-to-side’) swing and their endless interpretations by North American jazz artists such as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Much of the “Bossa Nova” sound has also carried forward into electronic, house and club music, bringing its sensitive, introspective vibes to international audiences.
Musical languages such as “Salsa”, “Samba” and “Tango” (another family of styles originating specifically from southern South America) are interchangeable throughout jazz and popular music, which is why they are often confused. The meanings of these terms vary hugely both historically and culturally; for example, “Salsa” can refer specifically to the music originating from the Fania Records era in New York or it can refer to the concept at large. Furthermore, different words can be used to emphasise contrasting functions of a music that is substantially similar. To an outsider, “Latin Jazz” and “Salsa” might sound indistinguishable, but, in terms of their functions, “Latin Jazz” pertains solely to the music whereas “Salsa” pertains to the music and its wider social contexts (e.g., dance). However, these distinctions are purely subjective and defined by their use.
Nevertheless, when choosing your band, it is important to be aware of these labels and distinctions. Generally, “Salsa” bands can be seen to embrace a more specific movement or adopt a more ‘rooted’ sound, whereas “Latin” bands are more generalised – they might play “Salsa” alongside other styles as described above. Then there are bands with more specific tags. Brazilian bands might play “Samba”, and closely follow the music originating in Salvador, Bahia or Rio de Janeiro. Likewise, merengue bands will closely follow the music originating in the Dominican Republic, which became a global phenomenon throughout Latin America during the 1980s.
“Latin Pop” – in the same way as “Latin Jazz” – describes an essence rather than a style; essentially, popular music or jazz with a Latin flavour. These are looser terms, with wider time spans, and can encompass anything from the traditional to the contemporary. “Latin Pop” will feature either music made famous through Hollywood film soundtracks such as ‘Copacabana’, ‘Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights’, ‘Miami Vice’, ‘Saludos Amigos’ and ‘Shall We Dance?’ as well as club anthems and records by ‘mainstream’ commercial recording artists, or generally popular music originating from ‘Latino’ (Romance language) artists in the Americas and Western Europe.
The best advice to anyone booking a band in the Latin/Salsa category is to decide a) what function the music should have, and b) which artists have inspired you to decide on a band within the Latin/Salsa category. Some bands have a more ‘rooted’, traditional sound, their repertoire focused around certain schools/nucleuses of styles, whereas others like to fuse and experiment a bit more. ‘Latin fusions’ can occur either inside or outside the song, and incorporate everything from standard jazz or popular tunes played in a Latin American style (in terms of their rhythmic or structural interpretation), to bands who play a diverse cross‑section of repertoire – everything from “Salsa”, “Samba” and “Tango”.
If you are looking to please a salsa-dancing crowd, obviously, opting for a band that describes itself as “Salsa” is your best bet. Carnivals happen all over Latin America – not just in Brazil – so if you are looking for a festive, ‘carnival’ atmosphere then it is worth bearing in mind that a ‘carnival’ band might cross over genres, especially if you are hosting a Rio-themed party! Icons such as Carmen Miranda (who appeared in pretty much every Latin American city) arguably accelerated these cultural stereotypes and misrepresentations. On the other hand, some events require background music without dancing, in which case, having a small “Bossa Nova” or “Latin Jazz” outfit to serenade your guests will add the magic ingredient to any event – whether Latin American-themed or not.
The breadth and depth of these terms falls well outside the scope of this guide, in which I have attempted to briefly outline some of them – and I would not be surprised if the reader were overwhelmed with all of these new words! With this in mind, I have grouped some of these words to better convey their meaning. These groupings should not be interpreted literally or used as hard‑and‑fast rules. Instead, they are examples of categorisations that you can take or leave, or at least be a starting point for you to develop your own.
Finally, it is also important to realise that many bands offer variations to their standard instrumental combinations and repertoires, and often take requests. So, if you are drawn towards a certain band, but wish to maximise on a certain aspect of what they offer, then it is always worth checking. If in doubt, just ask!
A beginner's guide to Latin American music.
At face value, Latin American styles of music may constitute a combination of African rhythms and European harmony. In reality, these combinations vary hugely from one Latin American culture to the next; depending on myriads of factors - economical, geographical, historical, political, social - the list is endless. For example, in the case of many Brazilian styles of music, there is a third major influence, that of the indigenous Indian cultures in South America. These different styles of music - like any other popular or art music forms - have developed through time, so, with them, you get that temporal, as well as spatial, variation; traditional versus contemporary.
Thus, the timba-reggaeton that is happening in Cuba today is very different from the traditional music that was happening in sixteenth century West Africa, before the advent of colonialism. Latin American styles of music have not only developed through time, but they have developed through place; through upheavals attributed to those factors listed above. You can almost draw a map with lines, dates and progression routes drawn from one place to the next.
Yet this does not mean that there is no interaction between the timba-reggaeton in Cuba and the traditional music in West Africa, as 'opposite ends of the same scale', for they are mutually influential, the one informing the other. Contemporary salsa artists such as Marc Anthony or Paulo FG and Cuban Jazz artists such as Maraca or Klimax still look to the influence of African religious rituals as the foundations of their music. At the same time, artists originating from Africa and working internationally - Angelique Kidjo, Baaba Maal, Papa Wemba, Salif Keita - recognise the Latin influence in music as products of their own music, and cross-appropriate these in many songs.
In this way, Latin American styles of music are characterised by cross-appropriation at all levels - between Africa and the Caribbean, between the Caribbean and North and South America, between North and South America and Africa - and visa versa on all accounts. These appropriations are further facilitated - like any other popular or world music movements - not only through increasing trade and tourism networks, but also through migration, multimedia and the World Wide Web, such that these lines, dates and progression routes become transparent and meaningless.
Hence, our concept of Latin American music is no longer a 'map' of lines, dates and progression routes. You begin to think of it more as a pyramid. One pathway diverges, the original pathway carries on underneath and the offset goes in a completely different direction. This new pathway, in turn, becomes the original pathway for a new diversion. Multiply this pattern a potentially infinite number of times. Then imagine your pyramid as a kind of ontological entity of music genres, united by similar characteristics. When Latin American styles of music are incorporated into jazz, pop, rock and dance music - a process eloquently put by Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton as the 'Spanish Tinge', a practice that is still happening today - the edges of our pyramid becomes blurred, and who can determine its boundaries?
Furthermore, if you step outside the pyramid, you realise that maybe African styles are not necessarily the 'foundations', but are sometimes the 'pinnacle'? Those artists mentioned above who classified in world music libraries as playing 'African' music, are, more often than not, picking up on a story whose threads diverged several decades ago. The pyramid can be turned upside down. In actual fact, whichever angle you are approaching this pyramid of music, becomes your understanding of and contribution to Latin American music. It seems arbitrary to attempt to define an overall 'history' or 'map' of Latin American music as a whole, because, even if you think that you have understood and classified everything, there are constantly new artists blending new instruments, practices and styles that further push the boundaries of your expectations - such as Christina Pluhar and L'Arpeggiata, who, in their 2012 release, 'Los Pájaros Perdidos: The South American Project' explore the extraordinary affinity between modern Latin American popular / folk song and Renaissance / Baroque instruments.
This is why - for any socio-cultural study of Latin American music - it is a far better practice to look at individual historical happenings, see what effect they had on the music and assess the similarities between these stories. For these reasons, it is easier to look at the subjective as opposed to the objective: to get a better understanding of the music through case studies into particular artists and how the above factors, combined with their own personal experiences, have contributed to the constitution of their own music.
Over the next few articles, I will be delving deep into my own journey through Latin American music, selecting stories both from artists I've listened to and transcribed, and artists with whom I've met and worked, and looking at how these experiences through music have contributed to my own understanding of Latin American music, as an artist and interpreter of these styles. Like anyone else, my understanding is only one of millions, and - even like writers such as Rebeca Mauléon-Santana, who has conducted lifelong studies both as a composer, arranger, director and performer as well as a musicologist, writer and educator, and who I perceive to be far more informed than I ever will be - I still believe that, despite having only 'scratched the surface', I still feel that my understanding would be worthwhile as a point of departure for other peoples' journeys. Music is a dialogue, a conversation, after all!
Recently, there has been some confusion regarding pricing and representation.
Read more about the styles of music here:
Before enquiring, please read THIS GUIDE - it really does have all the answers!
Read & Blog
Red & Black Music was set up in 2012 to stop musicians cancelling.
A category naming and shaming unreliable musicians to watch out for.
A category reporting unscrupulous venues and traders.
A category exploring the issues faced working via agents and promoters.
Productions vs. Bands
Unresolved Queries 1
Unresolved Queries 2