Entertainment » Music

Legendary DJ is ready, willing and ABEL

by Scott Kearnan
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jan 24, 2008

Every job comes with perks, but they're rarely the impressive kind.

A coffee mug that says "World's Best Boss?" Yawn.

A tacky gold watch? Snooze-ville and you've probably been toiling in the same cubicle for 10 years to earn it.

But an Atlantis Cruise through the Caribbean? That beats a 401K any day.

"It could be worse," says DJ Abel with a laugh, phoning in from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The Brooklyn-born, Miami-bred DJ is enjoying a week of free food and balmy weather while he spins for a boatload of partygoers.

He's about to release his latest album, "Alegria: Universo," a double-disc soundrack to the eponymous, NYC-based circuit parties (www.alegriaevents.com) that attract thousands of sweaty, writhing bodies every year. And if his experience spinning on the cruise is any indication, "Universo"--which drops nationally on Tuesday, Feb. 5--will be another notch in the DJ-producer's belt.

"Last night was one of those amazing nights," he says. "It was one of those nights where the sun came up and they [the crowd] still didn't want to leave. I had to force them to go to bed."

Sleep won't be an option during the albums' combined set of 25 tracks and 140 minutes of music. These club floor stompers range from grande-dame divas (Ultra Nat? "Give it All You Got" and Tamia "Me") to blissed-out house tracks from Soul Avengerz and Bob Sinclar.

Between his solo DJ gigs and studio work as one half of the Rosabel production team (DJ Ralphi Rosario is his partner in criminally good beats), Abel is used to serving up cuts that encompass the full spectrum of the dance music genre. He established himself in Miami as resident DJ at Paragon, arguably the crown jewel of the '90s circuit scene and later became a Gay Disney mainstay.

"Universo" brings Abel full circle, drawing from his Latin heritage, NYC birthright and worldwide appeal. For a DJ who made a name at Gay Disney, this is the Epcot experience; a tour de force whirlwind of countries and cultures.

Speaking from his island paradise, Abel answers questions for EDGE that give a few more keys to his Magic Kingdom.

Q: You started your DJ career at an early age. How did you realize that this was what you wanted to do?
ABEL: It's a skill and a desire that I was born with. As a kid, we when had parties at our house, I used to take care of the music. My family actually used to brag about it. My father has pictures of me as a kid doing 8-track tapes and records [laughs]. I was always behind the turntables. In New York, I wasn't really old enough to go to the big clubs even though I was feeling this passion for the music. But in Miami, there are a lot of outdoor parties. I would go and see these DJs and say 'wow... I love this!' I started by doing high school Sweet 16s. By 16 I was already working with someone else. And by the age of 18, I was working the nightclubs.

Q: Was there a particular style of dance music that really got you into the scene?
ABEL: I come from the disco days [laughs]. When I was a kid I would watch a lot people in my neighborhood, [especially] gay and lesbian people. I was fascinated by watching them dance to disco. And this wasn't the kind of disco dancing you saw in Saturday Night Fever. What I saw on the street of New York was way more fierce! I also loved salsa dancing. My parents are Cuban, and we used to have a lot of parties with the Puerto Rican and Cuban communities... but it was the disco that really got my attention.

Q: What was your approach to choosing the tracks for Alegria?
ABEL: I wanted to do something that was crossover. Alegria is very mixed. People come from everywhere: Europeans, South Americans, everywhere. Tony Moran [DJ] had done a song about that, "Alegria Universo." I wanted to do a CD about it, something that captured the whole Alegria world. I didn't just want to reflect New York, I wanted to cater to all the countries. There's a European taste, there's a South American taste... there's such a mix.

Q: Any songs on the album that really stick out for you?
ABEL: There are a few. But huge among them is "Besito Pa Ti" by La Lupe [iconic salsa singer]. That is very special to me, because she's such a legendary artist. She killed herself years ago [note: La Lupe's 1992 obituary lists her cause of death as a heart attack, though the specific nature of her death has remained a source of debate]. She had a huge history, especially through the '70s. We had never remixed a track like that, so we decided to remix it a la Alegria. People who love and live Alegria will understand that track and the kind of song that it is.

Q: Aside from the occasional Caribbean cruise, of course... what's the best part of your job?
ABEL: Watching the crowd at work. I love being at a big party after having just finished something in the studio... then letting the crowd hear it for the first time, and watching the reaction. That is the biggest reward... I think it's the biggest high as a producer. As a DJ, it's watching the crowd respond to your performance... and at the end of the night, being able to say "Wow... I worked it!"

DJ Abel's "Alegria: Universo" is slotted for release Tuesday, Feb. 5 on Tommy Boy Records.

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