For the second installment of our yearlong remix collaboration with Fania, the classic Latin label, we enlisted the awesome London-via-Medellin producer/DJ/vocalist Isa GT, whose unending wellspring of energy is second only to her deftness with a synth rack and a dancefloor, often jolting traditional Colombian and afro-caribbean styles with neon electro zap, a 21st Century party-people take on the populist jams of Latin America. And as a founding member of London's Girlcore Collective, Isa has supported the work of enterprising women, put together notoriously off-the-chain parties and toured the world, with her latest release being the Pa'Kichirri EP on Man Recordings. For this project, Isa remixed Ismael Rivera's black pride anthem "Las Caras Lindas" into a minimal-maximal masterpiece, injecting a tiny but electrified synth melody and club-uniting handclaps under his powerful vocals. Listen to the track and read our interview with Isa after the jump, then head over to Beatport to purchase the MP3. Stay tuned for more awesome remixes from Fania x The FADER!
Stream: Ismael Rivera, "Las Caras Lindas (Isa GT RMX)"
Why specifically did you choose "Las Caras Lindas"?
The lyrics, and because of the way Maelo's voice is so playful on the track.
Okay, I'm cheating. I saw your Facebook and Twitter updates saying you were remixing one of your favorite songs of all time. What's your personal connection to it? Memories?
Haha! My personal connection... well, Medellin is a salsa town. We are lucky to have one of the coolest radio stations called Latina Estereo who plays salsa 24/7. I have two brothers—one was a punk and the other was into salsa, so they influenced me in an equal way. One would be playing from The Clash to Motorhead and my brother Jorge would be playing salsa all the time I'll be listening to all the Fania guys. Fania is big in Medellin, it is a legendary label and we all know and admire their classic singers like Hector Lavoe, Cheo Feliciano and of course Ismael Rivera.
Before I knew I was coming to live in London, I decided I should bring a salsa collection and try to get DJ gigs that way, so I used to go to bulevar Junin where there was a few used vinyl shops and buy some true jewels like Orquesta Dicupe, etc and many more.
What was the process of remixing this track? How did you approach it? Reimagine it?
To be honest it was a bit of a big deal for me and at some point I feel I was freaking out as I felt a lot of responsibility on my shoulders (didn't want to be crucified by salsa purists everywhere for touching Maelo's song). But at some point I just chilled and realized I needed to just concentrate in what a like the most about it (Maelo's voice) and made it the star of the song, then everything fell into place (a very kind of dark and ravey place...) Since that's how it turned out... the remix makes me imagine an Italian or Spanish dude with no top on at a rave at 7AM dancing to this. Jokes!
Where'd you record it? Was anyone around? What was the mood?
I work from home, where I have my set up. The mood was, let's make maelo's voice the main subject of the song and then my techno, rave side took over me. I think it's a minimal remix with a weird structure. I actually don't like people who would only believe in formulas to make dance tracks, I mean they do work but they've been overused to death, so I was like, instead of a climax going up let's have it going down hence that bongo break. Where the song should have been going to a top crazy place, I chilled it down. I guess it's the result of not being an experienced producer things will come out as a result of experimentation.
Just what Rivera is saying is so powerful, so strong in the face of struggle, nothing can get anybody down, but then it went on to be an important song through history. You kind of isolated the lyrics a bit, so that they were more prominent. Were you thinking about that or am I thinking too much?
I am totally thinking about that. I mean, it is a beautiful poem to black race. I am totally moved by the words he uses and those lyrics just confirmed the power that music and songwriting has. If that song can have the same effect that has on me on other people I would like to write stuff like that.
To me, almost recreated the original rhythm with synths, disguised as melody, and like you transposed the brass section to synths. What's your connection, in your mind, between OG salsa and the music you compose? Do you have thoughts on updating or bringing salsa into the future?
One of the advantages of my background is that Colombia and Latin America are incredibly rich in rhythms and music culture, so at any point I can use that into my own work. I've written straight salsa verses before and the way salsa lyrics for example like Willie Colon ones or Ruben Blades sing or talk are pretty much salsa rap. Were song like Decisiones or Tiempo Pa Matar the ones that made me think I could bring a whole story into songwritting. So in the future you will hear songs like Leyenda for example which reflects what I just said. And why not my take on a salsa track?
All in all I hope people like the remix and go and research the amazing Fania catalogue!