Ernie Becquer sees trouble ahead for salsa music in San Diego.
“It has been brought to my attention that a certain venue (he will not say which) is going to put a six-minute blockade on songs. No band will be allowed to play songs that are longer than six minutes.” Becquer is a conguero, meaning a percussionist whose specialty is in the playing of those big cigar-shaped hand drums called congas. He is co-founder of a local salsa outfit called Orquesta La Cura.
“That bothers me.”
The complaint, he says, actually originated from some of the dancers who follow salsa music. It seems that some of them feel compelled, for whatever reason, to remain on their feet through the longer jams. They get tired, hence the complaint to club owners who fear loss of drink revenue.
One of the clubs took care of business by issuing an edict that would limit the length of salsa songs.
“If you go over the six minute mark, you won’t be hired again,” says Becquer. “We were told that in so many words.” One wonders how, exactly, a club might enforce the new rule. “I don’t want somebody standing by the side of the stage with a stopwatch.”
Will Orquesta La Cura edit their songs?
“I told them I will not compromise. I will not bend or break. There’s no argument.” Salsa is a form that has been passed down through generations of performers and Becquer feels a responsibility to tradition. “We’re not so much in it for the money. We’re in it to keep the heritage alive. Latin salsa is our roots. It’s our music. We don’t even call it salsa. We call it nuestra musica.” Meaning, ‘our music.’
“If we don’t play that venue again, so be it.”
Oddly enough, Becquer claims that the cues to extend a salsa jam come from the dancers themselves. “Our music has a lot of energy, and with our caliber of musicians, you connect with the audience and a whole other thing takes over. Afincando,” he says, which translates to the word ‘tight.’ But the deeper implication is that both band and dancers have locked into a groove.
“Salsa is regimented. It’s going like a machine. It’s intended for people to dance. But if we have to shut down at six minutes, what is the point of hiring a live band?”
Becquer says La Cura is run like a business. “We take a lot of pride in the way we sound.” He says venue managers have that same responsibility. “If you are a bar, and you give power to one promoter, and that promoter has only one vision, then you’re going to get hurt.”
But another more bitter sentiment flavors Becquer’s argument. “Being Latino, there’s always a limitation. There’s always a struggle.”
Instead of music censorship, Becquer wants clubs to bring a more diverse crowd to shows. He says area clubs could learn a lot from salsa promoters like Alex Salvaje and Tommy Rosas, two locals who he says get both sides of the argument. Not everybody dances. Why not appeal to people other than them? But putting all that aside, as an example he points out some clubs where the music comes in never-ending mixes from deejays and nobody’s complaining.
“People,” he says, “you can stop, sit down. Take a break. No one’s gonna beat you up.”