The King of Latin Soul, Joe Bataan, is in Bogotá as part of Festival Centro. He took some time out to speak to The Bogotá Post
Bogotá’s city centre is awash with music, as a whole variety of musical genres get the chance to shine at Festival Centro. One of the big names in the world of Latin soul, with a musical career spanning over 50 years, the African-American-Filipino Joe Bataan is certainly not one to be missed.
The Bogotá Post: This is not your first visit to Colombia, what have your impressions of the country been?
Joe Bataan: Since my first visit to Barranquilla in 1995 I have seen many changes. The country has made progress in many areas but there is still room to grow. This is true around the world: some nations grow quicker than others. I continue to enjoy the people of Colombia who have held me in their hearts for so many years. My goal is to reach the masses in all areas of Colombia to spread the word. We will never have forgiveness unless we forgive.
TBP: You have a truly unique musical offering – who have been your greatest influences and what led you to mix soul with Latin music?
JB: I have been blessed many times in the last fifty years and music was always my passion. In my life now I find I can use my talents to do positive things for everyone. Latin soul was a perfect way for me to describe my life. Mestizo was connected to me and black RnB music and Latin mambos and cha cha seemed the right combination for me to expose myself to the world. At the time very few artist were doing this type of music. This became a wide open field of dreams for me. TBP: Have you been influenced by any Colombian musicians?
JB: Grupo Niche and Shakira – however there is so much talent throughout the land I am sure I haven’t heard everyone. The greatest group of influence remains the people of Colombia and their passion for music.
TBP: In a career spanning five decades, it might be hard to do, but can you pick out any your favourites songs?
JB: The ‘Riot’, ‘Good Good Feeling’, ‘El Avion’ – this song has been a showstopper throughout my career.
TBP: Which modern artists are you a fan of? Would you say that you are still influenced by other artists at this stage in your career?
JB: Yes, there are too many to mention: Bruno Mars, Grupo Niche, R. Kelly, Tito Nieves, Incognito…
TBP: How is your Spanish? With your upbringing [having grown up in Spanish Harlem] you must have picked up a fair bit, right?
JB: Just Spanglish and street talk!
TBP: Much of your work is influenced by the world around you, politics and social issues. How important is it that music can be used for a greater purpose?
JB: Very important to all concerned. The tongue is very dangerous and we must use music in a positive way. A world without music is a void too vast to comprehend.
TBP: With the unique mix of cultures you experienced growing up, how would you define yourself?
JB: It used to be very important growing up to define yourself in many ways, but it is not the primary idea we should have. Everyone is going to be buried the same way under the ground. Most of our lives we are chasing wind which is so vain. We should be preparing our lives and how we live. In a few words I am just an ordinary guy, soy un muchacho ordinario!
TBP: What is the reason for your musical hiatus between the 1980s and early 2000s?
JB: Domestic problems, lifestyle and disputes with the music industry caused my hiatus from music. I also began working with troubled youths in detention as a counsellor for twenty five years. This life experience helped me to grow in life and continue to further my influence in another area of work. I returned to a place where I was incarcerated, which was probably not a coincidence. I like to believe I gave back knowledge to those that were troubled early on.
TBP: Can you tell us a little bit about Willie Colon from your time at Fania? Any interesting stories you can share?
JB: Remember that most artists of that time were in competition as rivals. This was also true of Bataan and other artists. Everyone was trying to out-do the other in music records and performances. When Willie was 15 years old, Al Santiago from Alegre records used him as a engineer on my first botched recording of ‘Gypsy Woman’. It is funny now but wasn’t funny at the time. They had me do 30 takes on one note.
Back in 1968 we played ‘El avion’ and ‘The riot’ on a boat ride for one straight hour without a break and the fans were going crazy – the boat almost sunk from the conga line!
TBP: What influence did you have on the birth of rap music as a genre?
JB: In 1979 I came across the DJs spinning this new technique and decided it should be on records. No one would listen to me until Sugarhill Gang released their rap song. I followed and we battled all over Europe. My song ‘Rapo Clapo’ remains a fixture to this day around the world. But I was not given any credit until now.
TBP: What is the significance of Festival Centro and why did you want to be part of it?
JB: This is actually my first awareness of this Festival Centro. However it is my pleasure to perform around the world and Bogotá is no exception – this will give me a chance to enhance my fan base in Colombia.
TBP: What effect do you think the festival can have on Bogotá’s centre?
JB: We all pray that positive vibes emerge from this experience.
TBP: In your vast experience, how can music develop the culture of an area and help to revitalise it?
JB: We can only pray and hope the music will bring people together in a positive way and help build for the future together. Music is universal and history shows that it can instil joy, happiness, and a sense of nationalism in a people. We must remember the “Airwaves belong to the people” and it is the duty to serve the community with their requests.