GRUPO ARCANO is one of New York City’s newest and hottest Salsa bands. Drawing much of its influence from Salsa greats, such as El Gran Combo and Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Grupo Arcano has created a unique sound that sets them apart from most other Salsa bands. This is the first part of Grupo Arcano’s founder and director interview. Ladies & Gentlemen, Salseros y Salseras …. Mr. George Velez, Jr.
George Velez and George Velez JR, father and son in the same band!
It must be an amazing experience for you guys, making music together.
It IS the main reason I decided to take on the challenge. There is nothing like accomplishing something like this with your father. And in the process, I was fortunate to gain brothers in Harold, Jacob, Anthony, Larry, Ricardo, Mike, Nadav and Hector Luis. Danny and Juan have been my friends for a long time so, they are already my brothers. Again, it’s a great feeling not only to share the stage with my dad but to also have been able to put music to his lyrics (the father/son combo is responsible for these songs on the album: El Travieso Mayor and La Maya). I also believe it is my dad’s contribution that facilitates being able to capture a true classic salsa feel, it’s the style and sound HE grew up playing and still loves.
But, it also has its moments, too, ha ha ha.
I direct the band. I am, for lack of a better word, the leader. How does a son direct his father when the father knows HE is DAD? Don’t try to think about it. But, he is the core and glue of the band. He makes NO decisions because he likes it that way and he is always joking so it keeps the group at ease. It’s the greatest feeling and I hope one day my son, George, will be able to share the same experience.
What does Salsa Dura mean to you? Why do you love this music?
Believe it or not, I don’t know. I never really think of salsa in these terms, and I prefer not to. Salsa, like many other genres of music, is dance music. So, its rhythms and melodies should evoke the necessary emotions that will move the dancer to express himself/herself during that given song. I love music! Well, let me say it better. I love GOOD music! And salsa has the components (like other genres) to produce GOOD music. What we need now are bands that make GOOD music. I know I didn’t say much but I hope it’s sufficient.
Are we living the revival of Salsa Dura?
In what way do you think Grupo Arcano is contributing to this movement?
I honestly think, from what I gather is meant by Salsa Dura, the answer is yes and no. While this ‘style’ of salsa is not usually what is played on commercial radios, we get the impression that it’s gone. But, in actuality, it IS the style of salsa that’s played by live bands in clubs. You don’t really have salsa bands playing the romantic stuff in clubs. Maybe one or two, but not many. That Salsa Dura is again becoming more public, I really hope so. I hope it makes it to the commercial scene. It’s kind of funny for me to hear, over and over again, the words Grupo Arcano and Salsa Dura in the same sentence when it is implied that Grupo Arcano plays salsa dura. I love it. Especially because when we had our first slightly mixed demo that contained the songs (Lluvia Viene, Preguntale, Esa Mujer and Ary)
I was told many times by NYC promoters that Grupo Arcano was NOT Salsa Dura enough and that the public would not really like us. So, we have had a hard time getting hired. Then, the rest of the world hears THE SAME SONGS and everyone is quick and HONEST to say, ‘THIS IS SALSA DURA!’ or ‘This is what we’ve been waiting for. I know Grupo Arcano can contribute to this movement because we care enough about the music, the process of writing it and we care enough about the dancers.
What’s the response to your music from the Salsa world?
I think it is still too early to say for sure.
I can tell you what the response has been from DJS (both radio DJS and established club/Congress DJS). All across the border, from Canada to South America (Peru, Colombia and Venezuela) to Europe and Africa, and yes, some in the USA, it has been way more than I could have imagined. So much praise for a great set of tracks, from #1 through #8.
A few in Europe have gone on the record as saying that ‘Desde El Otro Lado Del East River’ is definitely the BEST salsa release for 2012.’
A very prominent DJ from Cali, Colombia, has expressed the exact same sentiment and also shared that many others with whom he has shared the music agree that ‘Without a doubt, this is the best release of 2012. Another prominent DJ from here in the US expressed that our debut album ranks in his ‘Top 3 of best albums ever recorded!’ I chose not to mention their names out of modesty, but they are well known throughout the world.
So, in that sense, the response is far more than I expected, and I’m excited that it has been received that way by them. Now is the hard part. Waiting to see how the public responds. I hope it’s the same.
In your opinion, what is the single most difficult challenge salsa musicians face today?
Respect, plain and simple. We work hard at what we do and most times we are treated poorly. Especially when it comes to the issue of money. We don’t ask to be treated as kings, but what we want is fairness.
When I played for a local cover band in 1996, I was in one band that had about 14 members (wow). I was paid about $110-125 per gig. Grupo Arcano, which is 10-12 guys (depending on the event), has been consistently offered between $700-800, of course with some exceptions of $1000 and higher. So, because I respect myself and I respect the work my musicians put in, most times I will not take the offer. I do not feel right offering my musicians $60. They might take it, since there are NO egos in Grupo Arcano, but I know how much work they put in and they deserve more than that.
Also, what tends to happen is that local bands will play for that, or even cheaper, which reinforces the idea that it is acceptable to offer that kind of money. After a while, most bands succumb and perform for $40-$60 a guy or the original band is downsized to compensate for more money per musician. That’s not fair to the band and that’s not fair to the dancers.
Grupo Arcano’s music was written with 12 musicians in mind. To execute the music as you have come to like it, you should expect 12 musicians on stage. No cutting corners. But with what’s being offered many bands record with 12 musicians but only perform live with 7 or 8. Not cool, man. Sure, some arrangements work with 5, 6, 7 or 8 guys. But not all arrangements work.
You want GOOD live music, pay for GOOD live music. If the pay isn’t fair then the quality of the musicians you will begin to get are the ones that don’t mind $40 because all of the other musicians have moved on to another genre where they get a sense of respect. But, that’s just me ranting.
Is there a new project you are working on?
What else can we expect from Grupo Arcano in the future?
Well, we just released this album and while I’d like to say, “I need a break” the truth is that we have already begun the writing process for the next album. And depending on the total response this new album gets, we would love to tour in the USA, Europe, South America, South AFRICA (hint, hint) and elsewhere. I hope that’s in our future. Being able to come out and meet the people who love our music, establishing real relationships and building friendship with all of you would be awesome.
Lastly, what message do you want to pass on to all the people who are reading this interview?
Thank you. I am saying that sincerely. You guys make this happen for all of us.
It is not easy doing what we do. Like every other profession, it entails a lot of sacrifice.
Please remember that. Grupo Arcano does this because we love it and we want you to love it. Go out there and support live music. Go out there and tell the DJS who you want to hear and tell the promoters who you want them to bring. And I invite you to visit our website (www.elgrupoarcano.com) Join our mailing list and leave comments. Add us on Facebook (/grupoarcano), Twitter (@grupoarcano) and reach out to us. I promise to reach out right back to you personally. Go out there and buy the music, don’t pirate the music.
Peace my friends,