Monday, October 10, 2011

Rain gear and geared up for work again and again

Odilia Rivera Santos

My mother who always had a special kind of Caribbean Black stoicism taught me to work through any situation. And although my first impulse was to sit in a coffee shop and stare at a nonexistent moon, I rallied around like a trooper and took the train.
I let it do what it does -- be late, be slow, jostle my body against another's -- while a tourist who did not look urban stared at me. I haven't a clue why my activities and demeanor would be more entertaining than a book. I was typing some poems on my Mac, which has seen better days because it has taken trips to the sidewalk and wood floor of my apartment.

If I were the tourist, I would read a book or magazine and leave the locals alone.
Why read me?
But it is not for me to judge and no harm done. She was a blip on the geologic radar.

Today is a day made for philosophers, poets and wood nymphs. I am here in expectation of wonderful enchantments. I am here across the street from that abandoned structure, which brings Old Havana to mind with its flaked gray paint accentuated by a slip of pink through a window.
I am here trying to make a painting with my eye and words of which I could spare a few.

Today is the kind of day for introspection and wonderment.

Even through my boots, my toes are feeling the cool of the first licks of winter.
Here, on this corner, now inhabited by tourists and bad pastry, I imagine Henry Miller must have strolled hand-in-hand with June and Anais.!/latinaauthor!/urbanbrainiac!/bezotes

Friday, September 30, 2011

PALO! Steve Roitstein and musical hybridizations

Odilia Rivera Santos

Since I decided to interview musicians, they have appeared magically.
One day, whilst perusing my Twitter timeline, I came upon @Gopalo and went to Youtube to check out what this Gopalo was and discovered PALO!, a Cuban music band new to me. I felt like Columbus, discovering an already established entity, so I sent a tweet.

The newly-discovered entity seemed delighted to be asked to be interviewed.
And so began my cyberfriendship with Steve Roitstein -- who was made for social media; he is intelligent, funny, charming and enjoys dealing with humans.

Steve Roitstein has had a varied career that presented him the opportunity to work with musicians he admired and prepared him for a launch into music as an artist.
He is a classically-trained French horn player; he studied at the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy . And Roitstein also received a Masters Degree in Media Writing and Production from the University of Miami. His training is the perfect polygamous marriage of art, commerce and marketing necessary for artists today.

Embracing Cuban culture

At an audition for El Grupo Alma, he says he got‘Cubanized’ and not only devoted his time to delving into Cuban culture and music, but he began dating a Cuban woman. You have to study your craft. He was Willie Chirino’s musical director for seven years and credits him with being a great mentor and his work with Chirino 'the most significant collaboration to date' -- Roitstein was in his mid-20s at the time. And he is very proud of have worked with some of the greatest talents in the genre: Oscar de León, Ricardo Montaner, Celia Cruz

There came a time at which he felt ready to make the transition from producer to artist

After making everyone else’s music a priority, he felt it was time to do his own thing. Roitstein says he knows how to make things sound good, but Palo! is not commercial music and there are no big offers. His evolution from a behind-the-scenes musician and producer to artist had to do more with self-fulfillment and self-actualization than money.
Roitstein totally changed his life to be a full-time artist, giving up a lucrative sideline in multinational advertising; he worked on campaigns for Coca Cola and General Motors.
And to be able to focus on music and reduce the money hustle, which may be a big distraction to an artist, he accepted a full-time teaching position at Miami Dade College. This has allowed for a stable existence in which Roitstein can focus on his two loves: music and teaching.

Would classical music training have prevented James Brown from performing Talking Loud and Not Saying Nothing?

With a flashback of Plácido Domingo singing the blues, I ask if classical training somehow dampens the ability to improvise or incorporate different elements in a particular genre of music; in other words, does classical music training disable the funk part of your brain. Roitstein states his classical training prepared him well for his journey into Cuban music because mastering one’s instrument of choice translates to every genre.
Music in general is emotional in nature and when playing Jazz and Latin music you forget about technique

Roitstein’s exploration of Afrocuban and American funk music led to his forming Gopalo, in 2003, with fellow artists Leslie Cartaya (vocals), Philbert Armenteros (vocals, percussion), Ed Calle (sax) and Raymer Olalde (vocals, percussion).

About the band's name

PALO! has many meanings throughout the Spanish-speaking world. In Puerto Rico, we say "Se dio un palo"(he had an alcoholic beverage) "Le calleron a palo"(they beat the hell out of him) and the others I won't share.
But the name of the band has a much simpler explication, having to do with linguistic limitations and not culture. On the way to a gig, a Cuban man asked
¿Usted toca con el grupo, no? ¿Cómo tú te llamas?
No, Steven.
Sí, Estick.

Palo became Steve Roitstein’s nickname among Cuban musicians and friends.

Will there be a collaboration with his brother David Roitstein?

His brother, the pianist, David Roitstein along with bassist Charlie Haden, created the CalArts Jazz Program and he is Chair of the department. There is the possibility of a collaboration, but not on dueling pianos. When I ask if he and his brother would perform together, Roitstein says he does not consider himself a piano virtuoso and claims he’d be embarrassed to play with his brother.

Are . . . you?

Inevitably, as a good writer and tangential journalist, I must ask the question.
“Are you Latino?”
You can never make assumptions about Latinos because we may be descended from Spanish-speaking countries, but race, religion and cultures are varied.
“No, I’m not Latino. I’m a Jewish non-Latino who fell in love with Cuban music as a child, while watching I Love Lucy.”
He was mesmerized by the band on the show, and his interest was piqued as he made friends with Cuban musicians while attending the University of Miami. There were no barriers to his being accepted by Latinos because Roitstein studied Spanish, knew the music business inside and out and, most of all, he was respectful and appreciative for every opportunity to work with Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians.

An artist must handle his or her business

"Representing yourself at clubs and festivals outside of Miami can be difficult because we're well-established in South Florida, says Roitstein, "but in other cities, people haven't heard of us, so it's a cold call."
Roitstein enjoys social media because he has the opportunity to meet strangers and find out about their interests while promoting his music.

On the Artist side of life

PALO!'s first CD This is Afro-Cuban Funk is available on on ¡Tunes. PALO! began a residency at Hoy Como Ayer , and they have performed at Transit Lounge, Jazid, Carnaval Miami and SOBS, one of my favorite NYC spots.
PALO! continues to expand its audience.
The most satisfying thing about this journey for Roitstein is the communication on the stage. "People really love the music, it makes them move and the audience shares the joy of creating this music with the band. I wanted to combine AfroAmerican funk and Afro-Cuban music, expressing what I love," he says.

And that is what Steve Roitstein does.

¡Go, PALO!

Watch PALO!
Book PALO!
Steve Roitstein
PALO! Miami's Afro-Cuban Funk Band
305-332-1338 (mobile)
steve at
text PALO to 65047 to connect with PALO! via text.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Latinalogue, Puerto Rican Nonfiction Part I

© 2011 Odilia Rivera Santos

After some walks, writing a couple of hundred poems, beginning to submit work to journals and magazines after a five-year hiatus, hours in the sun, communing with nature and nuture in Harlem and in other parts of town, I settle down and read the long instruction manual on how to publish an ebook through Smashwords. Ok, it is only 71 pages, most of which, I was able to delete from my memory files quickly. Reading an instruction manual has always been and maybe always will be the dull part. Anyway, on June 27, 2011, I began my cottage industry of uploading and hawking carefully hand-embroidered napkins and linens - Céline reference.
My slim volume of nonfiction essays is ready for purchase and I look forward to your feedback and darling letters.
Latinalogue, Puerto Rican Nonfiction Part I by Odilia Rivera Santos

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I've got the right to do nothing

©2011 Odilia Rivera Santos

I started this particular blog to slow down my life. At its inception, I was a busy bee, living and working in Harlem. I worked nine to five with adult English as a Second Language students, ran on my lunch break, went to the gym at 6a.m. and then, took on a part-time teaching position at night working with happy immigrants. As you might suspect, my nervous system felt as if someone had put it in a frying pan on full heat to burn to a crisp. A friend of mine told me years ago I needed to let God do some work too. I always believed in a universal spirit energy that binds us all together along with what we deem inanimate objects.
But my friend got me thinking my God might occasionally need a solid form. I wondered how my God should love, look, what kind of accent he/she should have, and I figured gender could be a changeable thing - perhaps, the best approach being to give a gender in accordance with what I viewed as issues handled best by a male or female.
I sometimes dressed God up as Alfie, Michael Caine's verson, and imagined a sermon in a cockney accent, or as Zora Neale Hurston, in her boastful pose from her semi-autobiographical autobiography Dirt Tracks on a Road, and once in a while, I let Miles Davis take the reins but I watched him closely.
It has been said momentum creates momentum and if you want something done, it's best to ask a busy person and all that. But I have a feeling busy-ness implies faithlessness, a belief only I am at work in all of this and not God, in a cool 1960s suit, flowing white robes, Sunday best hat ready for church in 1930s Florida or back to a diaphanous industrial strength thread keeping us secured to one another in times of doubt and in spiritual droughts.

Buy my e-book! Latinalogue, Puerto Rican Nonfiction Part I
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Oh, Facebook take too much time no good (my poor translation from the Cantonese)

Odilia Rivera Santos

March 19, 2011 at 9:08am

Several people have joked about the time I spend on Facebook lately and I guess I felt the need to clarify.
While on fb, I have written over 200 poems, 25 pages of a new novel, fifty or more short essays, a screenplay of which I am especially proud - for a 90 minute film, and about 30 monologues for actresses.
I wrote an 8-page monologue for an actress to read on Sunday in between status updates.
I do not post everything I write on my blogs.
And I have read a lot -- I read all the articles I post to FB in addition to books. In order to be a good writer, you must be a good reader : p
If you want people to see your work, you must use social media.
Why not hire an intern to handle your social media?
I have met a lot of people, who are handling social media for individuals and organizations, who cannot spell or come up with anything interesting to say. I'm sure there are some who do an outstanding job but I haven't met them yet.
I don't believe you can outsource your personality, education and life experience.
Also, a writer's life is solitary; while I go to lots of plays and music performances, I don't go to mingling events too often.
The immediacy with which you can have interaction with those who appreciate or dislike your work is very useful to me as a writer.
I don't need an editor, but it is important to see if people understand what I am saying or if I have written something in such a way that readers are unclear about my ideas.
How do I make time to manage FB, Twitters, and the other 30 sites?
I never watch TV and avoid pointless conversations.
What do I consider a pointless conversation?
Celebrity gossip, unless it is a situation affecting public policy
Other people's sex habits - do it however you like. I don't care
Who a person thinks I look like
Whose religion is better
Beauty tips
Everyday gossip -- blather about someone's love life, baby daddy, etc - this is different from speaking with someone about how to handle a difficult situation or person.

Buy my e-book! Latinalogue, Puerto Rican Nonfiction Part I

Friday, December 31, 2010

Interview with Guy Routté of W.A.R. Media: Building Relationships toward a Music Empire

Odilia Rivera Santos!/bezotes

Guy Routté belongs in the driver’s seat.
He navigates different environments, personalities, trivial and life-changing decisions without forgetting his mission:
to help develop great musical artists. His musical interests are varied; he has managed R& B, Rock, and Hip Hop artists.
At the moment, he is at work in the Hip Hop genre, the most popular art form in the world, dedicating his talents to those in the genre who are thinking artists.
He is an expert in managing relationships and his instincts regarding talent are impressive. As I watch him working with Pharoahe Monch in the recording studio, I see how beautifully myriad threads of his life experience are woven into this important project. Routté and Monch are both perfectionists so the process is not easy. And Monch’s album W.A.R. will be the first project under Routté’s label as a joint venture with Duck Down. He claims to defer to the talent, after many heated discussions, most of the time.
From an early age, Routté was an astute observer, watching his aunt Loretta and the rest of his extended family listen to Al Green, he was impressed with the power of music and how it could elicit different emotional responses and bring people together.
As a kid, he was told he was tone deaf and never studied music formally, yet he has spent the majority of his life as a willing pupil in the music industry. When I express disappointment that someone would discourage his studying music as a child, Routté tells me he will study piano in 2011.
During elementary school, at around the age of twelve, he first heard The Sugar Hill Gang, Force MCs, Grand Master Flash, Treacherous Three, Cosmic Force, The Fly Four, and Dougie Fresh. Routté says this new music really spoke to him and his friends. Force MCs became his mentors, taking him to shows where he began to formulate ideas about where his love of Hip Hop might lead him.
During the summer, he went on tour with Force MCs, whose named had changed to Force MDs, and watched shows in which they opened for New Edition and other high-profile groups of the era.
Listening to Hip Hop, Routté could appreciate the complexity inherent in this improvisational rhythmic art and the acuity of mind needed to engage a demanding audience.
And he was fortunate enough to have gone to Mary Bergtraum High School because Hip Hop was an unofficial part of the curriculum; young teachers encouraged students to incorporate rap in school performances.
He mentions that Run DMC was a great influence because they were the first group to make records and videos without dressing up; they embraced street culture and took it to the masses. During the Reagan era, Black kids were not represented in the media so when Run DMC came along, Routté says that he and his friends felt as if they were looking at themselves on a big screen. The community went from a subculture to a culture.
Routté was always a talented writer; this combined with his experience on tour with The Force MCs motivated him to form a group with his brother Special D, his cousins Lord Shun and Chilly Love, and his long-time friend Jay Bee along with turntablist Mr. 1derful. After several incarnations, the crew became Soul Shocking MCs.
The Soul Shocking MCs performed together for two years; some of its members began breakdancing and formed The Fresh Style Rockers, touring the world.
One of the qualities that has made Routté a great success in getting projects completed and working with incredibly talented artists is his keen eye and ear for talent combined with a willingness to be mentored and mentor others.
He has great respect for talent, and an openness to any change that will improve the quality of his work, which requires a great deal of confidence and humility. As a young kid, he gleaned a lot from his interactions with older males who were already successful performers or determined to pursue a career in Hip Hop and when his family expressed disappointment that he had dropped out of college after two years, he countered the criticism with stories about sitting down to talk with Quincy Jones and other internationally-respected artists and producers.
Routté emphasizes the importance of choosing how one learns best, and for him, the choice was to learn through working in the industry he loved and hoped to improve.
His long involvement with Hip Hop artists, his writing skills and growing confidence made Routté consider aiming for the elusive and much sought-after recording career; Routté and his friend Frost formed a duo called Aftershock. Aftershock was signed by Virgin
But it was not quite the right fit and Routté began questioning his choice of career, thinking he was not as happy as he should be considering he had a recording contract with Virgin, a major hit in the West Coast, and Aftershock had performed at the Cinco de Mayo Festival in front of 500,00 people in Phoenix, Arizona along with Jodeci, Boys to Men and eighteen other acts. He had the respect of his peers and friends but the experience was not fulfilling; he began to reconsider his aspirations and reassess where his true talents might lie.
Routté says that he was not interested in fame or being the focal point and did not consider himself skilled enough as a rapper to be on stage.
It is impressive to hear him speak of reaching for his calling as opposed to working Aftershock as a commodity in the way a typical businessperson would. He turned his back on a sure thing with the accompanying adulation because he had higher aspirations.
Routté was clear that his forte was not rapping or performing, and as a fan of greatness, he vowed to find a place in music in which his greatness would assert itself.
Aftershock was a duo with two people who were not particularly interested in being performers, so after the second album, getting one of their songs in the film Sliver, and playing five dates with Paula Abdul, they disbanded.
When I ask Routté if he ever regrets the decision to leave his performer life behind, he says no without hesitation.
At the age of 23, in the 1990s, his performer career morphed into a management one. After Aftershock was no more, he got his first experience as a business person in the music industry by way of managing Shyheim. After Routté helped Shyheim land a record deal with Virgen, others began asking his opinion about recording. He also managed Goodfellaz, Corey Glover, and The Family Stand. And in the late nineties, Routté managed his old friends Force MDs. In his management career, he met with varying levels of success but most importantly, the relationships remain intact and Routté occasional works and socializes with former clients.
From 2005 to 2007, Routté had a consulting deal with Sony that allowed him the freedom to develop his own business while learning how he did not want to run a business. He was offered a Senior Vice President position at A&R, which he turned down.
Routté and Pharoahe Monch are co-CEOs of W.A.R. Media, which includes a record label under which Pharohe Monch’s next album W.A.R. (We are Renegades) will appear as well as King Reign’s album Nomad. Routté also manages four artists: Pharoahe Monch, Jean Grae, Mela Machinko, and Last American B-Boy. He serves as a consultant for individuals and corporations, coordinating projects from beginning to finish: finding talent, music, DJs, songwriters, videographers.
His favorite part of his work is completing albums because from inception to completion, there are so many pieces of the puzzle that it keeps Routté busy and intellectually-engaged.
He mentions that the music business is changing very rapidly and it is a perfect opportunity for small labels to grow. The brand he is building with W.A.R. is based on seeking greatness, integrity, originality and individualism with real content. Routté states emphatically that his artists are committed and they are writers whose work has real meaning to them and their audience.
Jean Grae represents a great bodacious powerful feminine voice in Hip Hop; he says she is absolutely the most talented person with whom he’s ever worked and someone who needed an advocate in the music industry. Routté is content with taking on the role.
Pharoahe Monch is, according to Routté, the best MC ever and his creative vision is unmatched.
Guy Routté envisions W.A.R. Media as a business geared toward the urban consumer, providing content for television and film, and the plan is to delve into fashion as well. He is a hands-on person who relies on the experiential to guide him through the myriad frustrations of working out deals in, out and around the music business. He is truly a person from whom any neophyte could learn enough to start his or her own record company but he doesn’t have time to spare. His integrity is evidenced by the number of friendships and commitments kept throughout his twenty plus years in the business.
Art business can’t be done in a corporate style and adhering to this idea has made Routté a person with whom everyone works in the hopes of being part of that final product.

For those who have asked about the interviews with Pharoahe Monch and Jean Grae, I was slated to interview both but due to their hectic schedules, this will probably not happen. C'est la vie.

Today is Guy Routté's birthday. Happy birthday, Mr. Routté!!/pharoahemonch!/jeangrae

An interview with Rhonda Denét, a singer who is the real deal

Odilia Rivera Santos!/bezotes

A couple of years ago, I invited everyone I knew to Crudo, a tiny bar in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, to see my friend and secret mentor, Rhonda Denét, sing. Her smooth powerful delicate voice wowed everyone and I felt as proud as if she were my sister -- in a way, she is my sister.
I had joined a singer/songwriter group for support and to overcome my lack of enthusiasm about singing in public, but it was the wrong setting to accomplish these goals. As a whole, the group seemed to be overly competitive and the members acted as if they were auditioning for a coveted role in a musical instead of being people united for the purpose of artistic exchange and encouragement. This negative vibe only made me more uncomfortable about “exposing” myself in public.
However, the spirit of endless optimism that resides in me made me think something good would happen anyways.
I was disengaged and ready to go home, but I sang.
After I sang, the woman to my right said the tone of my voice was beautiful. She seemed comfortable, secure and very relaxed – like one of those people who do less comparing with others and more comparing with their former selves.

This was and is Ms. Denét.

When did you figure out that you wanted to be a singer?
When I was 14.
The idea had been floating around my mind since I found my voice at 9 but it all hit home when I did my first starting role as Evillene in my high school production of "The Wiz".

What kind of work have you done to support yourself while pursuing your singing career?
I have been blessed to support myself by working behind the scenes (on the administrative side) in theater, so I've continued to be surrounded by a creative environment.

How do you feel shifting from your day "work mode" to your singing diva mode?
It used to be a maze run when I worked during the day then have to shift into performance mode, now that I'm a full-time artist and less than part-time administrative employee it's a breeze.

What has been the most exciting thing about performing?
The most exciting thing is that people are inspired by what satisfies my soul and the work I do to keep performing. Fans tell me frequently that they are encouraged to realize their own dreams because I continue to grow in mine and share my story.

What has been the most frustrating thing about performing?
Hmm, I guess the most frustrating thing USED TO BE not having enough resources...time, finances, band members. That has all changed for me that I've met some fabulous musicians that I grow with, and that I have more time to dedicate to my craft, the financial aspect is coming together much better (or I'm finding ways to do things with alternatives to traditional currency, like bartering).

How do you handle self-promotion? Is this difficult for you to do?
I'm learning with each opportunity that comes my way. I used to so dislike the idea of pushing my projects on other people. I've discovered ways to invite people into the experience of my work by sharing "insider" information and that when it's approached that way it feels better. I believe the whole process of self-promotion is tied into my spiritual journey as well and finding a balance with what's real to me.

Do you still work 'regular' jobs or are you singing fulltime?
I converted to full-time singing in May but I still do administrative work part-time. Part of being an artist is realizing and working multiple income there are several simmering and a few boiling right now.

What kind of schedule do you keep to maintain your sanity and productivity as an artist?
Ask me in a few months, after 20 years of the 9-5 world, it's definitely an adjustment to my way of thinking -- I'm finding what works for me.

What did you accomplish recently that made you very excited about your artistic career?
I'm really proud of bringing a weekly residence to life. I was offered an opportunity by a Brooklyn restaurant owner and have since developed a new band project and found a new home for my creative growth. Working with these 4 people has given me the support and confidence to fly higher than ever.

What would you like to convey to your audience when you perform?
It's my wish that my audience be enveloped in bliss when they are at a RD Experience. Be connected with good people, good music, a comfortably inviting environment, and a message of joy through the music. When I perform that's what I like to experience...being in the moment and feeling at the height of my soul's joy -- I'm committed to inviting folks into that to share those feelings with me.

Check out Rhonda’s sites and upcoming events!