by Julian Nebreda
"Barrioteca" is how Que Bajo?!, a record label which throws monthly parties in New York City, describes the kind of music they want to represent. The label's name comes from a Dominican expression of elation or excitement, used when a great song comes on or the dance floor is on fire. The question mark lends another reading. Geko Jones, one of the main forces behind Que Bajo!?, told me recently over the phone: “It comes from an expression you'd expect from an abuelito, going around asking 'Que Bajo?' [what's going on?]. These are the sort of characters and mood that we want to evoke.” The unity between the dance floor and the abuelo, cutting edge club music and the traditional Latino beats is central to the Que Bajo!? project as a whole.
"Our original intention was to play music from the Global South,” Jones told me "With the party coming up next Saturday and our new EP, we're transitioning to ‘barrioteca’ sound. We're combining Latin influences like cumbia, as well as jungle and NY house." The crossroads of international club music with Latino routes seems the perfect fit for a city whose club culture has always been defined by its Hispanic community. "Jazz, salsa, cumbia, reggaeton. Latinos have been at every New York movement," Jones explained. "No matter when, we've always had the happiest club music you can find in the city, period." From this background, Jones and fellow collaborator Uproot Andy are pushing Que Bajo?! to reinstate the Latino Legacy in the club scene of New York City. As the only showcase of Latino music in the Red Bull Music Festival, their show on Saturday at Verboten will see them picking up that mantle.
Growing up in a Puerto Rican family in the Bronx, Jones didn’t encounter Latin music in the way might expect. “You know, I grew up in a house where my mom was listening to guys like Jose Jose, Paul Anka. I had to go around to get to the sound I’m in right now.” From the smooth sounds of Jose Jose, Jones gravitated towards the natural next step: “I started out in death metal, though I left that and moved to jungle, then found reggae, raggamuffin and through that eventually got to chutney dance hall, cumbiaton and more global music.” The musical history is evident in Geko Jone’s own mix’s, which focus on Latino experience but have liquid movement between genres, Jones has clear influences and awareness of the different styles he grew up around.
However, Que Bajo!? is far from an individual project. From the outset, the label has sought to represent a broad range of artists representing diverse cultures, genders, and identities. The show on Saturday represents that range. As Jones tells me over the phone, "The lineup coming up on Saturday represents so many layers. We have DJ Playero who's Puerto Riqueño, DJ Laz who’s Cubano, Pablito Mix who's Mexicano, queer artists, female punk artists, and more. We wanted to have as many flags and music styles as possible on there. There's Latin base, punk cumbia, cumbiaton, and a few surprises." For Jones, Saturday is the beginning of the new phase of Que Bajo!? as a proponent of “barrioteca” and Latin club music in New York. Accompanying it is the release of a new EP with tracks by a number of different artists who take on that theme.
Que Bajo!? is also about creating a cultural space. Jones wants to show ways for third and fourth generation kids in the city to connect with their roots musically: “Exploration and orgullo [pride] is the space we want to make.” With rising rents pushing Hispanic communities and parties farther to the fringe, the importance of a centralized, young Hispanic dance music scene is extremely timely.
Moving forward. Que Bajo!? has plans to expand beyond its local borders. “I’d like to make a connection between here and Puerto Rico. It’s been a while since the New York Latino scene had that connection. You’d have to go back to salsa in the 80’s to find anything like that, and we’re trying to bring it back with a new sound.” The excitement was clear in his voice. To play a part in the paramount history of Latin music in New York through a new, inclusive and globalized format is an ambitious goal, but Jones and his team of artists seem ready and eager to take up the mantle. All that’s left for the crowd is to show up and dance.
Que Bajo!? will be presenting a showcase of different artists at Verboten in Brooklyn this Saturday.