"Little" Louie Vega.
Louie Vega is the Miles Davis of dance music. Like the impossible to categorize Davis, Vega is constantly reinventing himself; and revolutionizing the musical landscape in the process. During his nearly two-decade long career, Vega has crafted some of the most ground-breaking singles in dance music history (“The Nervous Track”, “It’s Alright, I Feel It” and “You Can Do It”), kick started genres like soulful house (“Beautiful People,” “I Get Lifted”), and revitalized the careers of legends like Roy Ayers, George Benson and Tito Puente.
Born in the Bronx in 1965, Vega grew up in an environment rich with Latin music. His father, Louie Vega Sr, is an accomplished jazz and Latin saxophonist and his uncle was renowned salsa singer Hector Lavoe (of Fania All Stars fame). Vega’s musical influences didn’t end with Latin music though: in the eighties, he was a regular at legendary nightclubs like The Paradise Garage and attended Afrika Bambaataa’s famous Bronx River Projects block parties.
In the mid-eighties, Vega began to make a name for himself as an up-and-coming DJ, playing at Bronx and Manhattan hotspots like Devil’s Nest, Roseland, Studio 54 and the Palladium. He played with a raw energy and enthusiasm that reflected his passion for the music, and his sets were refreshingly diverse, encompassing everything from Latin-Jazz and hip-hop to British new wave. Towards the end of the decade though, Vega became disenchanted with the club scene’s increasing musical segregation. He felt that “People’s minds were starting to think in terms of categories.”
However, just as clubland’s creative lights appeared to be dimming, Vega’s soon-to-be production partner Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez began throwing wildly eclectic mobile parties in his native Brooklyn, whilst piecing together productions under the “Masters At Work” moniker. By 1987, the Masters At Work name had attracted so much attention that Todd Terry borrowed it for his New York house classic “Alright, Alright.”
Terry, in turn, introduced Gonzalez to Vega and the two found an immediate kinship. Masters At Work productions soon took off, and innovative house remixes for the likes of Tito Puente, Saint Etienne and even Debbie Gibson sent the duo straight to the top of the dance music pile. Meanwhile, Vega’s seminal “Underground Network” party, at New York’s Sound Factory Bar, created the template for many a soulful house party to come, yielding house music anthems like Barbara Tucker’s “Beautiful People” and River Ocean featuring India’s “Love & Happiness”.
With the Masters At Work sound firmly in place, the mid-nineties saw Vega and Gonzalez pursue new musical paths, under a different guise: Nuyorican Soul. They introduced this alter-ego on “The Nervous Track”; a fiercely percussive groove that was not only dance floor-friendly, but musically sophisticated and engaging as well. A subsequent track, the club hit “You Can Do It (Baby)!” featuring George Benson, helped the project gain critical mass with fans, and after being signed by influential music maestro Gilles Peterson, Vega and Gonzalez recorded the Nuyorican Soul album. Released in 1997, the self-titled album brought together an all-star cast of musicians - including Roy Ayers, Jocelyn Brown, Eddie Palmieri, India and DJ Jazzy Jeff – to create an innovative, genre-defying piece of music that has proved to be both timeless and unflinchingly influential on the dance music of today.
Far from resting on his laurels, Vega has continued to push his creative impulses, seeking out an array of fresh and exciting projects to work on. 2002 saw the release of the Masters At Work album “Our Time Is Coming”; a collection of songs co-written, produced, arranged and mixed by Vega and Gonzalez, who recruited a number of friends and influences to add to the sessions. Roy Ayers, Patti Austin, Blaze and James Ingram were among those who featured on the album, which again found MAW at their finest; whether it be on the Latin-Jazz of “Pienso En Ti”, or the inescapable Soca beats of cross-over phenomenon “Work”. “Our Time Is Coming” also gave Vega and Gonzalez the opportunity to collaborate once again with the supreme Latin songstress India. The result was the club mega-hit “Backfired”; a heart-felt, introspective song, penned by Vega and India, and produced by Masters At Work.
Vega recently embarked on his most ambitious musical venture yet; his long awaited solo album “Elements Of Life”. Already available in Japan, with a worldwide release forthcoming, the project takes the themes laid down in the Nuyorican Soul album and develops them further. Vega continues on his mission to break down musical boundaries; exploring, dissecting and fusing genres like Bossanova, Samba, Jazz, Salsa and Afro-groove. Born out of his intense desire to create a culturally unifying album that reflects upon love, family, spiritualism and social awareness, “Elements Of Life” is a unique musical collage. Vega hand-picked a nine-piece band for the project, and songs feature seasoned singer/songwriter/guitarist Raul Midon and rising superstar singer/songwriter Anane; as well as Blaze, Dimitri From Paris, Ursula Rucker and salsa sensation Domingo Quinones. Having already completed a sell-out tour of Japan’s Blue Note venues, and with a headlining performance at New York City’s Summerstage behind them, Vega and the Elements Of Life Band are preparing to take their multi-cultural, multi-layered musical experience to venues throughout the United States and Europe. Vega is famous for the emphasis he places on live performance and musicianship; not only in the world of production, but in the world of deejaying as well, where he is known for bringing musicians to play live over his sets.
In addition to his own album, Vega has found time to produce the latest full-length offering (“Venezuelan Zinga Son”) from the Grammy-nominated Venezuelan dance band Los Amigos Invisibles. After the success of first single “Bruja”, and their much lauded cover of Touchdown’s disco classic “Ease Your Mind”, further collaboration between Vega and Los Amigos, signed to David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, seems almost certain.
Still displaying an insatiable appetite to grow and flourish musically, Vega recently co-wrote and produced “Release”, a cut from the unparalleled spoken-word artist and poet Ursula Rucker’s forthcoming album on Studio K7. He also had the honour of recreating and producing the classic “Libertango”, to be featured on a tribute album for the late Argentinean Tango maestro Astor Piazolla.
Aside from his production work, Vega dedicates two-thirds of every year to a rigorous DJ schedule, which finds him playing to thousands of people around the globe; in clubs from Mykonos to Johannesburg. He still plays with an unrivalled energy and exuberance, and his innate desire to make people dance dominates every one of his sets, inspiring him to thrill and excite every crowd that comes to hear him play. Vega is currently preparing to translate the extraordinary experience of his live sets onto CD, in the form of his latest mix compilation “Soul Heaven”; which follows in the footsteps of his much celebrated “House Nation” and Ministry of Sound CDs.
An ongoing project for Vega is MAW Records, the label that he, along with partner Gonzalez, founded in 1995. Having released countless dance anthems from the likes of Masters At Work, Roy Ayers, Jody Watley and India, the label is progressing from strength to strength; and continues to promote cutting edge music from experienced, accomplished producers and young, fresh talent alike. Read more on Last.fm
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