INTERVIEW: Louie Vega
by Reginald Duvivier
For twenty years music legend Louie Vega has been laying down the blueprint for modern DJ and dance culture. Usually after decades in a successful career most musicians start to slow down but in 2013 Mr. Vega has a schedule that would make most twenty-something DJ’s balk. At Couch Sessions we recently got a chance to sit down with the dance music master to discuss the past and what he’s got cooked up for the rest of the year.
It seems that dance music has these flare-ups where suddenly the mainstream re-discovers it. Right now it’s the biggest it’s ever been, how has that affected your DJing?
It’s amazing. I started as a DJ playing clubs in New York and all of as sudden I am playing stadiums. You never would think a DJ would hit that rock star status.
You can go from playing a room of about 300 in New York City to a stadium of 15,000 in South Africa. Its hit the mainstream and anybody from a little kid to an older person knows what a DJ now when before it was something that wasn’t taken seriously as a real job.
You’ve gotten to the point where your work is being sampled/interpolated/ or redone by newer producers. How does it feel when you recognize your work in what the current generations of producers are doing?
Well you know what. I think it’s very flattering that today’s youth and DJ culture and all the producers are influenced by my work with masters at work, my releases and my alias. It’s nice to see my music can influence people because I remember when I was making my music in the early 90’s I was influenced by a lot of R&B and Soul and disco, and I still am. I think it’s a wonderful compliment that kids nowadays are looking at our sound as a blueprint as a way to make their records. It helps keeps us relevant in the scene.
You’ve got a new album with your Elements of Life project. Could you describe how this project differs from your other work?
Elements o fLife is my live orchestra project. It’s where I take a lot of my music and I bring it to life. When I am with my band I am the conductor and the musical director. So I’m not on stage DJing, I’m actually conducting musicians who are playing the music live.
How did you end up being a conductor?
I ended up by mistake (laughs). Its because when I was rehearsing with the first Elements of Life album and I told them “When you guys get on stage you do this and do that” and they were like “What do you mean, you’re not going to be on stage with us?”.
I said, “No I’m not. What do you mean? What am I going do up there”. One of the guys goes “Lou you’re conducting us. Look at what you’re doing. You’re letting us know the parts, you’re counting us in. You’re counting us out. You’re telling this guy to keep playing, this guy to come out…etc. Ever since then I have been conducting the band.
What’s great about the Elements of Life project is how it encompasses all these different genres; Afro beat, Soul, Latin, Spoken word, but blends them all seamlessly together. How did the sequencing of the album come together because it flows so smooth together it feels like a mix?
Alot of that continuous play comes from DJing. I always want to keep on telling that story and keep you in that journey and I think in my albums I think it happens. When you go from song to song you can just play it and let go and it becomes the atmosphere for a house party, or you’re in your car, or you’re listening to your friends. For me it goes back to New York City and checking out DJ’s like Larry Levan where you know it was all about good music, not just one type of music. It could be something that had a rock flavor, a soul flavor, a disco flavor, it’s the way he put it together. My albums from Nuyorican soul till now have always had that continuous feeling with all these musical landscapes. You’re just like gliding right through it.
After so many years in the game, what keeps you going?
For me, I’m always learning. It never stops for me. And I think that now being signed to Fania records really took us full circle because I am on a label that my uncle was on. My uncle was a very famous salsa singer, Héctor Lavoe, and the Fania All-Stars were one of my favorite groups of all time. They were a group of singers and musicians and they got together and made music that to this day has become the encyclopedia of Latin music for us. What Motown is to RB and soul is what Fania is to Latin music. I feel that being on Fania records is a huge honor. They haven’t signed an artist in fifteen years and we were the first. It’s a really huge accomplishment.
What’s next for Louie Vega in 2013?
On May 18th I’m doing the Dance parade which is in New York City. They chose me to be the grand marshal. We are going head down to the park and we are going to have the band perform and have everyone come sing with the band. For New York City I’m doing a boat ride on June 15th for all my Gemini friends. The band will be on the boat. And also Masters at Work with Kenny Dope we’ve been getting together to play some shows and stuff and now we are getting back together to make some new music the first time in ten years.
You can also see Louie at The Armada Fania Club & Pop Up Store, a festival celebrating the legendary record label taking place from May 22nd to 25th @ 1896, 215 Ingraham St, Brooklyn, NY