Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with George Velez Jr. of GRUPO ARCANO – part.2

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-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.

George Velez

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.

Arcano

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,
George, Jr.


 “Desde El Otro Lado Del East River” avaliable on  cdbaby  iTunes  Amazon


Interview with George Velez Jr. of GRUPO ARCANO – part.1

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-Jr.

Tell as a few words about the band, how did it all began?
Well Nikos, this is a fairly non-conventional story (I think). Back in the summer of 2006, my father and I were playing with a plena band, my dad on trombone and me on sax. We had a gig in Central Park for a Puerto Rican Folkloric Festival. That day, after we dressed up at my dad’s house, both my mother and my wife expressed that we should put a band together. My dad has played trombone for over 40 years with local salsa bands and I had played on and off again since 1995. We both had our fair share of dislikes with similar behaviours in the salsa scene and our wives thought that if we had our own band, we could do things differently.

Since I have 5 kids, the idea was not the best in my mind because of the amount of time away from home that might be required, but I did like the idea of playing in a band with Dad. So, I decided to give it a try and began looking for music to transcribe. The band was originally ONLY supposed to play cover songs and perform at birthday parties, sweet sixteens and weddings, nothing more.

When it came time to choose songs, I figured that I wanted to do tunes that were hardly played by the other 500 bands in NYC. Almost all of them playing the same popular songs and thus making every band basically the same. So, I opted for difficult tunes that displayed the caliber of musicianship I had wanted to have.
I started with some Spanish Harlem Orchestra tunes, ha ha ha.

What wound up happening because of this was my father deciding not to play trombone and just sing chorus and play guiro or maracas.
Anyways, we had our first rehearsal in May of 2007. After two rehearsal, and a few musicians NOT showing up, namely the bass player, I decided that I did not want to deal with all of that kind of stress and choose NOT to rehearse that band anymore.

The idea of a band had become dead, until February of 2008. At that time my closest friend, Danny, gave me a call. Now Danny and I had a Heavy Metal band when we were younger. I was on the drums and he would play guitar and/or bass. So, he calls me and asks if I still had thoughts of continuing the salsa band. After many years of not liking salsa he finally caught a liking to Hector Lavoe and many others and he was interested in giving it a try. I also received a phone call from Ray Torres, another long time friend who I had asked to sing for my band the year before. He also wanted to help this band move, so, I asked both of them to help me out and in doing so, I made them ‘co-founders’ of the band. We began rehearsing again in April of 2008.

Grupo Arcano

Why did you choose to be called Grupo Arcano (mystery group)?
Ha ha ha, this is one for the books. Not a lot of thought went into this one.
When I finally decided to start a band, I began to consider different names, but the one thing I refused to have were names like these, “George Velez y Su Orquesta” or “Los Velez”. Any name that would set myself, or my father, apart from the rest of the band I did NOT like. So, I decided finally that I will go visit my father and the moment I see him I will say to him, “Dad.  Give me a name for our band,” and whatever came out of his mouth as a response THAT will be the name of the band.

I get to my Dad’s house that day and I walk over to him while he happened to be reading through a Spanish Dictionary and I asked him. He responded, “Arcano!” “What’s Arcano?” I say. He replied, “That’s the word I just finished reading.” And so, ARCANO it was.
But I didn’t like the name La Orquesta Arcano or El Conjunto Arcano, so I ended up with Grupo Arcano.

What’s the idea behind the group, what do you hope to accomplish with your music?
Well the initial idea I think I expressed earlier. It was just to play a few gigs here and there. Right now, the idea is to really try to bring something fresh to salsa music. Not really ‘invent’ something new, but just to make what we have and love sound refreshing. Something vivacious. Something simple, yet at the same time a little complex. I want dancers to dance & musicians to really love what they were playing. I hope Grupo Arcano can make the change from the local scene to a bigger scene. I hope we can reach as many listeners and dancers as possible. I hope we can be invited to perform for them, wherever they are, all the while gaining respect and giving respect to everyone we deal with.

“Desde El Otro Lado Del East River” was released earlier this month. How would you describe the album?
How would I describe the album? Wow.  I LOVE IT! The album is a hit from track 1 straight through track 8. I know I have a bias to MY music, but I can be objective, too.

Desde-El-Otro-Lado-Del-East-River


 “Desde El Otro Lado Del East River” avaliable on  cdbaby– iTunes

Desde El Otro Lado Del East River is exactly what I hoped it would be, an album where the music did not have a kind of ‘generic’ quality that I feel, sadly, many productions over the last decade or so seem to have. I am not criticizing those albums, so please do not misunderstand me. But, what I wanted is what I think we were able to deliver here, music that is evidently classic in its sound and at the same time, NOT trying to recreate that classic sound but giving it new life. It was one of the hardest things for me to finish, too. We started recording on April 3, 2010 and finished recording in April 2012 with the mastering of the album finished on June 28, 2012. And that was only for 8 songs!

I really believe we have a good production here.  All of the songs are full of life.  None sound too similar to each other.  Great arrangements by Harold Gutierrez and I’ve been told that my arrangements are good, too.

Could you tell us a little bit about the song writing and the recording process?
That’s another loaded question, but I like that.
When we decided to start giving the whole original music a try, which was in the Fall of 2009, I pulled out an old arrangement that I had written in 1997 for Ray Torres (who was Arcano’s singer in 2009). The song was ESA MUJER. Ray had also given me lyrics back then that I didn’t finish makin the arrangement to, PREGUNTALE. That was our starting point. I ended up asking Harold (Arcano’s pianist) to arrange that song. And he did a phenomenal job. I remember hearing the midi playback, which he sent to me around midnight on Thanksgiving (of 2009). I couldn’t sleep. I woke up Danny and passed on the music to him. We were really excited. I had never heard an arrangement like that. He captured something in that tune that, to me, became the goal for all future arrangements we would work on.

Shortly after, Harold recommended a few tunes he had written in Colombia years ago and from that group of tunes we chose ARY.  My dad had written many lyrics when he was younger (before I was born) and of those LLUVIA VIENE and LA MAYA were chosen, with Harold tackling Lluvia Viene and me giving my first try to a Son Montuno in La Maya.
The ideas behind RUMBA EN MI BARRIO and UN TIPO SALA’O were suggestions given to me by my wife, Amarilys, and I passed on the idea of Rumba to Ray and Sala’o to my dad.  And I think they did great jobs, with my father writing a lyrical masterpiece in Sala’o. Later, dad would suggest lyrics he wrote in honor of a long time friend, Andy Colon, named EL TRAVIESO MAYOR.

NOW, the recording process was LONG. Recording an album is expensive. Recording a GREAT album is even more expensive. I was adamant about NOT trying to use the musicians that you find on almost all of the modern recordings and I really wanted to use the actual band members (which lead to some changing of staff, sadly). But, recording was fun. We tried to keep as many of the pairs together. What I mean is that we did not record one instrument at a time. Grupo Arcano is a big band using 6 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones and 2 saxophones. So, the trombones recorded together at the same time in the same room. So did the saxophones, trumpets, percussions, etc.
We also wanted to leave a few human ‘errors’ that you might find or hear at live performances, though we didn’t make many, ha ha ha.  We also used a real piano as opposed to a keyboard. During the piano solo of LA MAYA, you can hear Harold stomping on the piano pedals if you listen closely, that was awesome. We just wanted to have fun, still being serious and playing as professional as we could possibly play.

Which is your personal favorite song of the album and why?
It’s hard to pick a favorite since I really do love them all.
I think all the arrangements are fun to dance to, fun to listen and fun to perform, each one has its own distinct flavor yet somehow they each capture something similar, and that’s particular to Grupo Arcano. It’s our sound, our style. Sorry. Ha ha ha

Although I very much like all the tracks from your album, “La Maya” is the one tune I can’t stop listen to, will you like to share with us the story behind this song?
My dad would definitely give you the better story behind it, since he ties the story into an incident he remembers of his older brother, Pedro (r.i.p.), but I’ll share what I can. The first thing I will say is that the lyrics were not meant to be a pun, or to have a double meaning. In the lyrics we hear the singer describing a plant. And that’s exactly what the song is referring to. La maya (properly spelled, malla, but I like the ‘y’) IS a spiny, prickly plant that grows in most of the Caribbean Islands (Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, etc). It’s very similar to a savila plant (google it), but it also tends to grow like a net or vine low to the floor.

So, the song begins with the singer mentioning how in his town (barrio) he’s considered a tough guy and everyone is scared of him and when people see him, they runaway. But then he expresses that everyone is also aware that HE also has a fear. While everyone is scared of him, he is scared of a plant, la maya. The rest of the song continues with the singer expressing his fear of this plant and eventually gaining the courage to overcome his fear by destroying the plant. he last ‘soneos’ expressing fear but the desire to overcome them is sung right before Anthony takes his congas solo, and this is what my father sings (translated of course):

“Listen to me, I’m scared of it (la maya).”
“Because of the maya, I can’t even walk into my house”
“That maya plant, Im gonna cut it down, I’m gonna roll it and I’m gonna smoke it!”

This arrangement was fun to write and what I did in the music was try to convey a few things to compliment the lyrics. I wanted to convey a sense of walking down the road (in the intro and elsewhere). I wanted to convey a sense of “oh no!” and fear, which you can hear in the horn harmonies. I wanted to mix both of those emotions in the mambo right after the piano solo. And a sense of relief from the congas solo to the end of the song with a small hint that maybe the fear isn’t completely over which we hear in the very last horn section to end the song. I hope I conveyed that, whether or not you know what the song is about lyrically.

…TO BE CONTINUED!


Grupo Arcano is…
George Vélez, Sr.-Vocals , Anthony Almonte-Vocals/Congas , Harold Gutiérrez-Piano/Coro , Daniel Diaz-Bass, George Vélez, Jr.-Alto Sax/Coro/Director , Jacob Teichroew-Tenor Sax , Ricardo Cox , Jr.-Trumpet/Coro, Larry Nissman-Trumpet , Michael Engstrom-Trombone , Nadav Nirenberg-Trombone, Juan Gerena-Timbales and Frank Almonte, Jr.- Bongo


visit the website  www.elgrupoarcano.com  become a fan … fb  Grupo-Arcano