Salsa Tenerife: What were your beginnings as a DJ?
Hugo Leite: Hello SalsaTenerife.com! Thank you so much for the invitation and congratulations for the work you are doing in promoting Latin American music culture. May you continue for many good years.
I started working as a DJ in the late 90’s with electronic music. After 12 years as a swimmer, it was from that moment that I started attending clubs and social nights that I fell in love with deejaying. The passion for music already existed but the desire to manipulate and control the records and the dance floor only came later.
The start of the career was not easy. On the one hand, access to good technical equipment was very limited, which delayed the learning of DJ techniques, and on the other hand, there were almost no job opportunities in venues in my city. It was through parties with friends and social gatherings of the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Coimbra that I had my first experiences. Little by little I have access to some nights in the city’s venues and, since then, I have continued to play music regularly.
Salsa Tenerife: Why did you decide to play Salsa?
Hugo Leite: Latin American music has little expression in Portugal but, even when working with electronic music, I listened to one or another song by the best-known artists. But I only got addicted to Latin rhythms when I accepted the challenge of going to learn to dance.
The healthier nightlife and the desire to apply to Latin music all the technique and work structure used in the electronic music industry led me to make the change in style.
Salsa Tenerife: Do you remember the first Salsa song you heard?
Hugo Leite: No, I can’t! I have some memories of listening to something different on the Portuguese national radio (I believe it was a merengue by Juan Luis Guerra) but I can’t recall the first salsa song. At the time that I began to listen and put music on, the trend was different from the current one. We were listening to the late 90’s salsa style.
Salsa Tenerife: Why do you only play Salsa, Guaguanco, Guaracha, Son Montuno, Chachacha etc … and deny rhythms such as Bachata, Kizomba or Merengue that can encourage initiated dancers?
Hugo Leite: In reality, that only happens at events and / or nights and social parties that allow you to do it. My work in Portugal has a component of dissemination and promotion of Afro-Caribbean rhythms before an audience that has only now begun to mature.
Of course we always have many initiated dancers who need to enjoy in the same way as experienced salseros and we cannot forget that the rooms need to be economically profitable. But it is possible to put on quality music and please the public if everything is done with logical and conscious management.
What was the last song you heard?
Well, yesterday after a night’s work in Porto, I listened the great maestro Israel Cachao during the road trip back home to Aveiro.
Why do you think you have been successful?
I am very demanding with myself. For me, a work session has to be irreprehensible on a technical level. Beyond that, it has to have musical coherence and a strong component of creativity and originality. I like to think like a dancer and know how I would love to have fun on the dance floor. All this always respecting the music, the musicians and the dancers.
I think these are the main factors that allow you to do a good job.
¿Quién o Quiénes son tus grupos o artistas favoritos en la Salsa?
All good music gives me pleasure. It doesn’t matter if it’s made in Puerto Rico, Cuba or Japan and if it’s mambo, guaracha, rock or funk. I listen to a lot … and of many genres.
In addition to being a DJ, I am a professor of Audio Production at a music school in the city where I currently live. The audio production leads me to be in regular contact with the most varied styles of music.
Do you believe in the term Comercial Salsa? Do you think that the “commercial” salsa music is born or is it made (for example, playing to much a song on the radio makes it commercial or does the salsa music that is sold already leave the factory as “commercial”)?
It’s not easy to define what people mean by that expression. I don’t think it’s because of the amount of time on the air that a song becomes commercial. It may happen that that particular song … yes … becomes trendy, but it does not make it commercial.
But there is a whole musical texture that can define music as something easier to listen to and entertain against other more complex and less direct songs to the hearing of the audience.
Do you think that the particular taste (or desire) for the so called “congress salsa” is the result of the evolution of the musical ear?
Yes, there is a clear evolution of the ear but there is also a great contribution for it by the dance. In other words, the development of the dance and the demand of the dancers to interpret songs with soul and flavor has a direct relationship with what is heard on the floor. Music and dance live in symbiosis.
What has been the most complicated choreographic audio production that you have had to do / produce?
There were many that were great challenges, but the most complex, so far, was the production of the one-hour show for the Afrolatin Connection dance company from Porto.
Have you ever been to the Canary Islands? And in Tenerife?
Not yet but I want to know the Latin environment of the archipelago in a next opportunity. There is always a lot of news about concerts and parties and I am sure that in the summer there is a lot of fun.
Do you think that people value the hours that DJs spend studying music at home before going to a room to make them dance?
Our work begins to gain some recognition but it remains very little valued.
I work all week to always have new ideas on dance nights. They are many hours of research and a lot of money invested in buying original music. But, with the continuous growth of the demand for quality made by the dancers, the differences begin to be well defined.
Do you think that a dj should improvise or prepare the sessions beforehand?
There are no identical nights and you don’t know what people you are going to have ahead. What audience, what preferences. I don’t prepare sequences at home because I like to feel the dance floor and manage it based on it.
What do you think has been your best record production?
The Batlei productions company has not launched, so far, any production but it is in our medium-term objectives to do so.
The editing and mastering of the Nex Swing Sextet album is unbeatable, what can you tell us about this work?
It was a work proposal made by those responsible for Salsorro who, in a historic initiative, decided to record for the future the first, and memorable, New Swing Sextet concert in the Iberian Peninsula. The pleasure and pride of participating in this challenge was great.
Have you traveled to many parts of the world as an international dj? Could you tell me a place where you would like to repeat?
People and cultures are different and, like everything else, the energy and response of the dance floor also changes. I am used to working in some of the best festivals made in southern Europe and, personally, they have the flavor and human warmth that gives me the most pleasure. I don’t want to leave my house … which is like saying … Portugal and Spain.
Are you sure you know millions of anecdotes, do you dare with any?
No! Hehe … I’m really bad at that! But surely Enoch Madruga can help you!
Do you think that nightclubs can only live on salseros dancers? Or is it an audience that is not profitable for discos?
So far it is very difficult to survive exclusively from the salsa audience. But all agents in the Latin dance industry (school directors, teachers, musicians, dancers, DJs, and venue owners) must establish business relationships that allow that autonomy.
Will you retire young or do you still have a lot of war to fight?
No, it is a great pleasure that I have … I will fight for this passion until I can.
Do you see any new DJ promise in this world that catches your eye?
There are a lot of new DJs just starting out that give you good pointers for the future. I think it is the result of the reference work of people like Pablo Bat.
What would you say to those who have illusions of being a DJ in these times?
Let them fight for their dreams.
How do you take your absences at home on weekends?
It’s my job, that’s why they take it on more naturally. But this activity changes your family’s social calendar a bit.
What do you currently like about Salsa?
The musical richness and the richness of human relationships. We are all a big family and it is a pleasure to arrive in Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Porto or Santiago de Compostela and have your people to share sensations that only salseros know.
What are the differences between the dance floors of Portugal and Spain?
There are not many differences … with the exception of the change from bachata to kizomba!
Is the style “salsa congress music” popular?
Congresses are special occasions that provide more airtime for musics that usually don’t have that space. Despite the regular nights they always need a little more variety, there is always a lot of taste on the dance floor for more demanding songs.
How would you plan a session for a non-congress audience?
The objective is to make people dance … but, at the same time, pass on a musical message with identity and richness. That is possible if you do an intelligent management of the energy of the floor and take the dancers on your way. Congresses represent 30% of my work and the biggest challenge (where you have to grow and win) is in the local clubs.
Do you think that the dancer enjoys fast songs or slow songs more?
There are times for everything … but the dance floor loves music that has a lot of soul and flavour but that is not very fast.
What do you think is better: mixing the songs or pausing between them?
Both. There are moments when, to maintain the energy of the track, it is important to mix (but always respecting the music and the dancers) and others when it is necessary to make a change in texture.
Thanks Salsa Tenerife for this moment and see you on a dance floor.
Greetings to all SalsaTenerife.com readers.
(Aveiro, November 2010)