The art of DJing – being able to move a crowd with the right combination of music and energy – was always something I admired and knew that I could do if I had the chance.
When I moved to San Francisco in 2000, I took the savings I had and invested in a mixer and turntables and set out to start building my vinyl collection.
In 2001, I got my first break – Thursday nights at Little Baobab, a Senegalese restaurant/bar/club in the Mission District owned by my friend Marco Senghor. I called my night “Pangaea” – for the original landmass on the Earth that incorporated all the present day continents in one – and for about a year, that was my once-a-week spot to play whatever rhythm-oriented music I felt was worth showcasing – funk, reggae, dancehall, hip hop, house, soukous, samba, salsa – music that I wanted people to hear and feel coming from a good sound system in a public space.
I would get there around 9pm to set up, and since people didn’t really start coming in until after 10pm, I would also bring my conga and do a little jam session with my friend Frederic Tarmis, who was a bartender there. One night, a friend of his stopped in and heard us playing, and when Fredo had to get back behind the bar, the friend asked if he could play a little while I was getting the music started. He ended up playing along with every song that night, no matter what style I threw at him, and everyone loved it. I told him that he was welcome to come in any Thursday night, and he said next time he’d bring his own drum. It was only afterwards that I learned that this amazing conguero was Enrique Padilla, whom everyone else knew as the percussionist for Los Mocosos (a famous Mission District latin funk band) and as “that amazing drummer from Dolores Park”. For the next couple of years, if I was DJing, Enrique was usually there to play too. Our best little vibe was when I would put a song on and get everyone worked up while Enrique accompanied it – then I’d come out in front of the decks and join him on my own conga, and as the record ended, we’d both take off – pushing each other to play harder and faster and whip everyone into a frenzy until they’d go crazy – and then, I’d put another record on and it would start all over again. Eventually I gave up DJing to concentrate on playing live and recording sessions, and Enrique was a fundamental part of that experience too (check out a track from one of our jam sessions on the Zenahora Music Project page here on this site).
I never recorded any of these dj gigs, unfortunately (I’d especially love to have a recording of an infamous Makeout Room gig Enrique and I did in 2003), because there’s nothing like the energy of a good live DJ/percussion set. In a club or bar setting, the energy is spontaneous; I had only a vague idea of what I’d play (which would lead me to bring 2, 3, sometimes 4 crates of back breaking vinyl), and that meant that my choices were either hit or miss. I’m glad to say that most of the time they weren’t misses, and the times when I put the right musical puzzle pieces together and everyone was in sync will forever be highlights of my S.F. daze. Of course I never had an idea what the crowd would be like (and there were plenty of nights when I was ready to pack it up when a mass of ready-to-party people would show up and the whole scene would change) – and any time you add alcohol to a group of people you get the most unexpected results. Sometimes that was amazing (it’s funny how much hot girls love a DJ) and sometimes it was horrendous (it’s not funny how hot girls think they can drop a request on a DJ like dime in a jukebox) – and if I never see a group of drunk white people doing the limbo or conga line again, I won’t be disappointed.
I did, however, make mix tapes – mix cds rather, and now I guess I have to call them mix mp3s. Whatever the name, I loved making them. It was usually the opposite of doing a live set – I would make a list of songs I wanted to share, then start putting them into some kind of order (I usually went for the slower to faster tracking, but got into mixing it up to get a more up and down wave like effect on this listener later on), then I’d do some takes. Sometimes I got it in one try, sometimes it took more, and I can’t hide the fact that sometimes I utilized technology to edit out some rough parts. Then, I’d totally get into the visual aspect, designing the covers, printing them out, getting the most blank cds and cd cases for the cheapest, etc. And then – to give them out was the best! Here you go, this is my new mix, let me know what you think of it…sometimes you never hear another word about it, and sometimes – sometimes you hit gold and people really love what you’ve done, and they appreciate the whole package, the music, the art, the fact that you just gifted them and turned them on to something new. The love that comes back from your hard work is beyond words, whether it’s live in a club or in the middle of the street passing out the next mix and seeing the smile on someone’s face.
Since zenahora.com is now my only website, I’ve decided to upload the mixes here for everyone to access. You can listen to them online, or download them – but just like the hard copy versions of the past, they are here for your pleasure. I’m including the cd covers as jpg files, in case you want to download them and relive the glory days of cds. Feel free to comment on any of them, in any way you choose – I know that some of my mixing wasn’t exactly on point, but hopefully it’s not too distracting from the overall experience. Personally, I still get excited to listen to them, especially the Liberation series, which is where I recommend you begin. Enjoy!
CLICK ON THE LINKS BELOW TO STREAM OR DOWNLOAD: