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Interview: Jareh Meets Joe Bataan

Jareh caught up with Joe Bataan during his quick tour of the UK as past of Red Bull Music academy at East London's Cordy House. He had played a blinding set the night before at Cargo, alongside James Pants & The X Group, as well as guest speaking at Red Bull's Music Academy London session at Cordy House.

Joe Bataan is really great. If you've listened to songs like Gypsy Woman, Rap O Clap, Ordinary Guy et al and any of his other tracks you will instantly be struck by the marriage made in heaven between the unique fusion of Latin Music and Do-Wop which transports you back to his childhood neighborhood of Spanish Harlem as there was a juxtaposition of Latin, Funk and Pop music which were all infiltrated and learned a listening ear to the young Bataan as he was influenced by all these different styles as kid growing up. It's highly popularised that he was involved with the wrong sort and served his time, one has to commend his musical drive though as he's self taught pianist and creator of a whole new musical genre. I seem to have an affinity for meeting musical legends (OK maybe that's a bit far fetched but I've met Afrika Baambataa & Joe Bataan in the space of a few weeks!) and although slightly nervous about this one as I wasn't a Bataan expert and I don't believe in excessive googling prior to an interview (although interestingly his daughter was meant to be an additional the Pussy Cat Dolls but declined, Nice one Asia). Back to my nerves. I arrived for the interview at Cordy House where Red Bull Music Academy had been hosting a workshop with the artist earlier, Joe was still interviewing when I arrived and he seemed to be really enjoying the interview (in my mind I'm like Oh boy! mine is gonna be so rubbish). I wait around in the background and finally I'm up next.

After a lovely introduction to possibly the sweetest looking man alive (I hope my fella looks this good in his sixties), I set up my idictophone and away we go

Jareh Das: (fumbling around with the idictophone making sure it's recording as my friend kept calling)Thanks for taking time out of the Red Bull Music Academy to speak to Run Riot today, Much appreciated, actually it's pretty amazing really. I'm Jareh from Run Riot.
Joe Bataan: My pleasure, lovely to meet... (interruption by one of red bull armed with Dante's Fried Chicken BBQ for Joe)

Jareh Das: OK I'll start again. I was reading up about your legacy and obviously looking at your background, how it all began. I see you had an array of influences from your background (parents being African American/Filipino heritage) as well as growing up in Harlem years ago. In terms of this fusion of Spanish funk & Du Woop how did this all come about?
Joe Bataan: Well you know it's my upbringing. My neighborhood was predominantly Puerto Rican and of course there were blacks in neighborhood but it was predominantly Puerto Rican although they had their token whites that were there also and it was at a period that everybody mixed, especially in New York this melting point and the environment had a way of influencing because out of the jukebox from the neighborhood store you could here the Latin music coming out and at certain times you would here pop music coming out. There was no differentiation in the music, it was just like a natural thing someday you would hear Latin, someday you would here Pop but it all came out into the streets of New York so everybody could hear. Once you put in a nickle you favourite records would play so some people had favourites that were Latin, some had favourites that were Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Patty Page etc. Of course I heard this because I lived across the street on the first floor and i was susceptible to this music everyday that came out everyday that would come out of the jukebox and it would influence me. I would run to the candy store and buy the trade magazines with all the hit parade songs of the week so I would listen to the radio and so I knew all the songs, so before I started I had this (without knowing) knowledge of music of different types of music that would play on the radio happened to influence me, When I grew up and started participating as a singer I would emulate alot of these songs. Then R & B came along which was a back beat that helped develop the Latin soul side of the boogaloo and the rest is history.

Jareh Das: I also noticed you are a self taught pianist, Why the Piano?
Joe Bataan: Well because it was a tool that I could accompany myself to sing and I was able to teach myself, self-taught musician and it was convenient that way and compose songs and sing so I was able to develop the Latin side of the boogaloo and the rest is history.

Jareh Das: You've spoken to me about your influences, and I noticed you turned to music after got in trouble with the law and got sent to prison and I also noticed when you took time off as a performing as an artist a lot of you time was giving back to the community working with ex-offenders. Is this something you still do? Do you still live in New York by the way?
Joe Bataan: Yes I do still live in New York.No it was something I had to do for survival as there was a time when the music wasn't really supporting me and I had to provide for my family so I had to get a job.

Jareh Das: So it was a proper job as opposed to working for charity?
Joe Bataan: Yes and it just happened that way and because it was a place where I was incarcerated at and I was able to give back I'd like to think that me being a counsellor helped a lot of kids turn their lives around and that's were that particular piece comes in.

Jareh Das: Did any of that experience influence the type of music you create today or did you draw any references from this experience or not really?
Joe Bataan: Well not directly, not really I've sang about everyday life, I mean if you've heard my songs there's a whole range of things in there. I've sang about freedom, prayers to the lord, riots, I mean you name it. Ordinary guys, Subway Joe, It's a broad span of things that I've been involved with in my life.

Jareh Das: Your're currently collaborating with James Pants and X Group, is that the next move collaborations as opposed to a more solo Joe Bataan stuff?
Joe Bataan: Well not really it just happened that Red Bull approached me to do this and asked me if I'd be interested in doing this and I said yes of course it's a fine opportunity for me. It's a sort coming together of the young and the old and he (James Pants) has a fresh approach to the music and I have an approach that has lasted over forty years so this melting together gives a directive flow for the future and draws in new audiences.

Jareh Das: Do you have solo tour plans or festivals?

Joe Bataan: Well yeah I think there was someone here from Amsterdam at the concert last night who want me to play with them. Germany just called and they want to do a Youth promotional thing there in October so we're looking into that. I also frequent Spain where I've recorded that album with The Filanos and there's also some interest from Sardinia, Italy. I'll also be back in New York in October to do Hispanic month I'll be performing at Lehman College doing the Joe Bataan story. We're also gonna be working with the BBC on a production for Spanish Story for Hispanic month and I also have a new album in the can, my own production so yeah there's a lot to look forward to.

Jareh Das: You've been going for a while, what's your secret to longevity in this career?
Joe Bataan: It's like I said at the conference up there, you've have to pursue it and have to love it! I suggest that anyone trying to pursue a career as I did should get a education first, have a back up in case this doesn't materialise and go get it as it's in you grasp. It's like I said up there if you are a songwriter and you think you have something good try it out it for your girlfriend and if she likes it and takes you home to meet her mother it's a winner (he's laughing after this statement).

Jareh Das: Thanks so much for meeting me and I really wish I'd made the concert last night but next time
Joe Bataan: Thank you and yeah next time you have my card as well so email me the article as well.

Amidst the ringing phones (my friend kept calling forcing me to start and stop the interview...yes that wasn't cool friend!!), PR from red bull interrupting with food, Joe was an extremely distinguished gentleman and is clearly passionate about what he does. His responses weren't pretentious and he turned out to be very honest (Que above when I ask him about his 20 year hiatus from music). He's clearly brave enough to fuse the old and new with current James Pants collaboration clearly inviting a younger audience. OK that's it I'm hitting Amazon for a back order catalogue order of Bataan's albums. Do the same people

For Further information about Red Bull Music Academey visit ... and you can listen again to all Red Bull Music events and artists at ...


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