“I like to describe our music as walking into a Whole Foods, heading to the international food section, and grabbing a little bit of everything,” says New York based DJ, Geko Jones, of the duo Que Bajo!? Along with cohort Uproot Andy, Geko describes their musical odyssey. “It comes from Africa, the Caribbean, and South America and includes some European influences that aren’t so tropical, but more clubby. It’s all those things in one. It’s really hard to pin it down to a specific phrase. That’s why we’ve been using tropical bass,” says the 31-year-old musician.
Tropical bass consists of folkloric sounds from originally African and Native American communities mixed with cosmopolitan sounds of major cities from around the world. Listeners may be able to recognize influences of Baltimore club and Miami bass: rhythmic patterns that create the foundation of many of today’s popular hip-hop and R&B artists.
Jones, a “Puerto-lombian” who grew up in Miami and later moved to New York became bored with what was happening in the Latin American music scene. Andy was immersed in his native Toronto’s immigrant influenced music scene and would later study Music Theory and Composition at New York University. They met discussing cumbia, after a night when Jones finished DJing with the group Dutty Artz Crew.
The party known as New York Tropical influenced the alternative Latin music scene in New York. Later these two DJs would create “Que Bajo!?” whose marketing image of a rooster has been internationally recognized as the preeminent tropical bass dance party. “There are so many diverse cultural influences coming across everyone’s lives now,” says Andy of his noticeably diverse partygoers. “I think everyone’s a lot more open to different things.”
As globalization merges languages, customs and sounds as well as people, music carries with it certain proclivities of identity. Different tastes in music bring together groups of individuals that share similar cultural and intellectual ideas; as well as, idealizations about who they are, what they represent down to what they look like. In the “audio-emocracy” that Que Bajo!? specialize in, the voices of minorities become a heard majority.
A recent tour through Colombia brought the DJs to Barranquilla where they performed with stars Bomba Estero. In Bogotá, Cali and Medellín, Geko and Andy brought youth together from a variety of backgrounds in trendy clubs and bars. “These shows were a common ground for people to meet in the middle,” says Geko of the experience. “Right now, I’m still seeing a lot more hip-hop in Colombia than what I play, but obviously the same could be said about the States. I think one could definetly draw parallels between the two cultures. I don’t think that people realize how much harder it is to be a minority in other parts of the world.”
During his first trip to Colombia, Geko was hosted by the Afro-Colombian community organization La Familia Ayara and artists Profetas, ChocQuibTown and Midras Queen offered him a unique perspective on issues concerning race and relations in Colombia.
“The statistical information concerning Afro-Colombian communities on a broad variety of issues from health and mortality to education and basic human needs, in some of the provinces, is alarming and it’s something I always keep in mind when I DJ. Music is the exception to all the rules,” he continues. “All too often people of color are unable to continue their education for socio-economic reasons.”
“I’ve spent the better part of the last two decades learning by osmosis, if not by assimilation, about Caribbean music and culture by making friends from people from places like Belize and Guyana and which both boast West Indian and Mestizo roots and a love of tropical sounds,” Geko comments.
The skill of a DJ is the ability to transition through different types of musical genres and rhythms. Mixtapes, free downloadable MP3s that bloggers and party promoters make readily available is an essential tool of the trade and markets what partygoers will be expecting. An example of their tropical bass-ing is Uproot Andy’s mixtape, Gucharaca Migration, which combines remixed works ranging from Atlanta-based Crime Mob’s “Knuck if You Buck!” to “La Camisola,” performed by the Gaiteros de San Jacínto.
What may be perhaps more interesting than the hip-shaking, booty-bumping, jump-jumping, stankey-leg gyrating bass or the proliferation of minority voices at the end of the revelry, is the fact that DJs such as Andy and Geko give us a deeper understanding of music culture that should not be lost to translation.
For more information: www.quebajo.com