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Interview mit Susie Hansen

Susie Hansen

Exklusives Interview von Salsa in Berlin mit »Susie Hansen, die 2003 den Riesen Salsa-Hit La Salsa Nunca Se Acaba landete und nun 2010 ihr zweites Salsa Album Representante De La Salsa veröffentlichte. Einige Fragen stellte auch Thomas aka DJ Saltho (http://www.saltho.ch) aus Bern (Schweiz).

Und unter unserer Rubrik CD des Monats findet Ihr eine CD-Besprechung des neuen Albums Representante De La Salsa

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Michael: Susie, I read your bio on your Web-site. You started playing violine at the age of 6 with your father who was violinist at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. You studied violine in Boston but also jazz and bebop. You started your own jazz band after returning to Chicago and you discovered your passion for Latin music while playing violine with the *Mambo Express All-Stars*. Then you decided to go to Los Angeles. Why Los Angeles (... and not New York - the capital of Salsa at this time) ?

You know, Califonia has it's own draw, separate from the music biz. The weather is wonderful, and there's a laid-back attitude here that you don't find in the intensity of New York City. And while NYC is definitely the center of the jazz universe, and maybe Salsa, too, LA is still the center of the recording business, so there are lots of connections to be made here. LA offers a tremendous variety of musical opportunities, and some of the finest musicians on the planet call Southern California home. But also, I have two sisters and a cousin who live here in LA.

Michael: How is the Salsa scene in Los Angeles and how has the scene developed since you moved to this city? (I know there is also Johnny Polanco and his band and some dance instructors ... )

LA has a great Salsa scene, and there are many places to dance Salsa every day of the week. But a fair number of clubs only have a DJ, not a live band. In the economic downturn we are experiencing here in the states, Los Angeles and many other cities have not been immune to club closures, and many clubs have switched from live bands to DJs.

My band does not play in a lot of Salsa clubs, and we really haven't in years. It's difficult to make a living playing jazz and Salsa in the clubs! The pay for clubs is low, and it's hard to get the musicians to commit to doing nightclub dates. A musician might take a nightclub date, but then if some gig comes along that pays him really well, I can't begrudge him the opportunity to make more money elsewhere. The Susie Hansen Latin Band really plays mostly at concerts, festivals and private events, and at just a few clubs.

Besides my band and Johnny Polanco's, there are really plenty of world-class recording Salsa bands in LA, like Tabaco y Ron, Chino Espinoza Y Los Duenos Del Son and Angel LeBron Y Su Sabor Latino. There are some fine Charangas here, such as Charangoa and Charanga Cubana, and some incredible Salsa bands that haven't recorded yet, like Son Mayor, Lucky Seven and Rumbankete. There are a number of good up-and-coming bands, too.

Michael: You studied also Math, Computer sience and Electrical Engineering at the MIT and finished this with 2 degrees. Whow! Do you ever worked in these fields. Was it helpfull to your musical career?

I did indeed study quite a lot of science, math and engineering, but haven't really done it professionally. However, all that engineering makes me pretty comfortable with the sound system at gigs! ;-)

One thing is true, though -- those science and math classes have made me a good critical thinker, and a very organized person, too. And years of practicing 3 hours of violin a day certainly gave me some discipline! All this helps me as I book, manage, music-direct and record my own band.

Michael: The Latin music and Salsa scene is strongly dominated by man. Successful woman (like Celia Cruz) are unfortunatly rare. You are a bandleader and you have always formed your own bands. Was it hard to get the respect of the men's world of Latin music?

We recently played the kickoff concert for "Sizzling Salsa Nights" at the Autry Museum in LA, and when I was interviewed for their magazine, "The Autry", I was asked almost the identical question about being a female bandleader in Salsa. Here is what I replied:

"It's my experience that, most important of all, musicians want to play in a good band with other great musicians, and to have reliable employment. If you can provide a solid gig and high-quality music, I think most men have no issue working for a woman bandleader."

Potentially more difficult than being a female bandleader in Salsa is being a non-Latino bandleader in Salsa. I'm not sure this quite as true in Europe, but the prevailing attitude here seems to be that you "have to be born into the music" to play it. Of course, I don't believe that at all.

When I was first introduced to Latin music, I instantly felt an affinity for it. I instinctively understood the rhythm and the harmonic structures. Perhaps this is due to all the classical music I studied or all the straight-ahead jazz I performed before I started playing Salsa. In fact, I have always been a good jazz improvisor, which is highly regarded in Salsa. I spent some time studing this music, and I really learned it well. Consequently, the musicians respect me, and this makes it possible for me to be an effective bandleader.

Finally, we could get into the difficulty of being a violinist in Salsa -- after all, violin is not a common Salsa instrument! But we'll save that discussion for another time!

Michael: I spoke with many Salsa musicians and many of them have to work in a second job because they do not earn enough money with the music. CD sales are low and it seems that the interest for Salsa live perormances is declining. Could you live from your music? Do you have enough live performances?

My band has played about 150 to 175 gigs each year for many years, but we will not do as well during this economically tough year.

I have supported myself playing music for 32 years, and from playing Salsa and Latin jazz exclusively for the past 22 years. When my parents were alive, they often helped me out with money in the lean years. This year is pretty scary financially. Often individuals don't have money to hire a band for their private event. Promoters, producers and communities have had their concert budgets slashed so that often they can't afford a big band like mine.

However, CD sales and digital downloads really help. Please tell everyone you know to buy our new CD, "Representante de la Salsa" -- we will appreciate it. Our other CDs, too! ;-)

Finally, I want to remind everyone reading this -- please always pay for your music files! Whenever you download a pirated mp3 from a free download site, or when you copy an mp3 from a friend, you are depriving a musician of his rightful compensation.

Michael: You released your third CD Representante De La Salsa ? In my opinion there is more Salsa than Latin Jazz on this album. Could you tell us a little bit about the concept and the Making Of of this album?

I agree, there is more Salsa on this CD. My producer Erich Bulling and I started writing songs for the CD in 2007, and we decided to go for a more danceable Salsa approach. I love dance music, and I prefer to play for dancers instead of just a listening crowd. Whenever we play live concerts, I encourage the promoters and producers of the the event to provide a dance floor.

While I love jazz, and I will always consider myself a jazz artist, I prefer to play dance music. It fills my soul! But I'll always remain true to my jazz roots. Every Salsa song we record or play live has a soloist playing a great jazz solo (usually me!).

Michael: What's your favourite song on the new album (and why)?

I love them all! But my favorite two are "Representante de la Salsa" and "Vehicle".

I love "Representante" because I think it's a good Salsa song! Erich Bulling and I wrote it to encourage people to dance. We want the audience to choose me and my band as their "Representative of Salsa", and I think that's pretty audacious coming from a "gringa" like me!

I also love "Vehicle" -- it's a terrific dance number. It's the best dance number we play at live performances. Thank you, Carlos Oliva!

Michael: How would you describe your style of Salsa and Latin Jazz?

I would like someone to say this about my music: It's hard-driving, danceable Salsa and Latin Jazz, with great vocals and a hot violinist playing the lead instrument!

Now some questions from DJ Thomas from Switzerland who is also a big fan.

Susie: Hi, Thomas!

Thomas: A very important point in a Salsa song is the tempo. How do you manage this?

Tempo is an interesting issue. My band has played together for many years, playing 50 to 175 gigs in any given year, so we're very tight, and we know how to play together to keep a strong swing and a consistent tempo. A good band starts where the bandleader counts the tempo, and then stays there!

Concerning the choice of tempo, most of the time I like a bright Salsa tempo these days. But in my band, we vary the tempo to accomodate the song. "Faster is better" seems to be the opinion of many of today's Salsa dancers, but I think playing all fast tempos all the time can get repetitive and boring.

Thomas: Which is the perfect tempo for a Salsa song and for the dancers in you opinion?

Do I detect a musician asking this question? :-)

For your readers, let me define tempo as the speed of a song, or how fast it is played. Tempo is measured in beats-per-minute (BPM). Salsa generally falls in the range of about 170 BPM to 215 BPM. Cha Cha Cha is considerably slower, usually around 120 BPM (about the same speed as pop music such as Disco and Funk).

On the current CD, our slowest Salsa is "Si Me Vas a Querer", which we recorded at a moderate tempo of 186 BPM. We played "Te Quiero Te Amo" at a faster 196, and we recorded both "Representante de la Salsa" and our popular Charanga, "No Te Metas Conmigo", at 198 BPM. We performed "I Want to Love You" faster still, at 204 BPM. Both "Y Sigue Pensando" and "Vehicle" are recorded at a very bright and almost identical tempo, 209 BPM and 210 BPM, respectively.

I would consider 196 BPM to be a pretty standard Salsa Dura tempo. Anything over 204 BPM is pretty fast. Not all dancers like the fastest tempos, but I think that many of the more experienced dancers enjoy the challenge of 210, 220 and even faster tempos.

Thomas: Are you thinking about the dancers when you compose and arrange a Salsa song?

I think it's very important to write the songs and create the arrangements with the dancers in mind. Songs that start and stop, for example, or that change tempo, can really upset the dancers.

It is our intentions that all the numbers on my new CD should make people want to get up and dance! Even the two instrumental Latin jazz mambos on the CD are quite danceable.

Thomas: Wich 3 points/criterias will make a good Salsa song in your opinion?

Only three? Hmm, let's see, how can I keep my answer to three criteria . . . ?

Let me answer this way. A good Salsa song requires:

1.) most important -- a great rhythm section driving the "swing" of the tune;

2.) a terrific vocalist singing a well composed song; and

3.) a fabulous horn section taking great solos (violin is the lead "horn" in my band) and, with the rest of the band, playing a compelling arrangement.

While that may be six points disquised as three, I think all of this is very important for Salsa.

Thomas: Salsa has always developed in the past ... What Do you think about the future trends of Salsa? Will the Salsa really never end? In which direction will/should the Salsa go?

Salsa will always be with us. I think Salsa is the best music on the planet. Salsa is heart-felt, melodic and rhythmically-compelling music. Sometime take a good look at the dancers, and you'll notice that most of them have great big smiles on their faces. Salsa is joy manifested in the body.

The traditions of Salsa will always remain steady, and this tradition will always influence the new Salsa styles.

Thomas: Will you come to Europe in the next months/years?

We plan to do our first European tour in the summer of 2011. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to ask for your help!

To all of you, please feel free to send us your referrals of any great places to play, of clubs and of festivals that book Salsa and/or Latin jazz. Please also feel free to recommend me and my band to club owners, festival producers, Salsa promoters and the powers-that-be in your area. All recommendations or referrals, large or small, will be greatly appreciated. You can contact me directly at susie@susiehansen.com. Feel free to share my email address and my music with those who book your favorite events.

We would very much appreciate any booking help we can get from ANY OF YOU so we can bring our music to all of Europe. Muchas gracias!

Thomas: At the end a very huge compliment from Switzerland ... the people here enjoy your music really!

Michael: As they do in Germany too ... Thank you very much for the interview! And we wish you a big success with the new album.

Thanks to both of you, and to the intrepid readers who are still reading this very long interview. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your appreciation of our music! Thanks, too, for all your good wishes. I hope to see you both, and all your readers, in Europe in 2011.

See the WEB-site of Susie Hansen: http://www.susiehansen.com/