“It’s not a stereotypical thing. ‘Oh, Latino men. They dance’. We have to dance. It’s a must,” comedian Ivan Aristeguieta explains.
But up until he was 14, things were headed in a very different direction.
Growing up in Venezuela, Ivan was exposed to a broad range of music. His psychiatrist father loved classical music and opera. His mother was the cheeky rock hippy chick who played Joe Cocker, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and The Who.
His older brother vibed on Latin jazz and learned the piano. Their neighbours, Ivan recalls, always had their favourite salsa records cranked to the max, adding their own zest to the musical cocktail that permeated the Aristeguieta household.
It was the ‘90s and Ivan was going through his radical teenager phase. He was learning Guns N’ Roses and Metallica songs on guitar, skateboarding and wearing tough black t-shirts and jackets. Western musical influences dominated, with acts like Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer and Technotronic very firm features in his stereo.
One lazy day after arriving home from school, Ivan’s brother suggested they go to a concert. ‘I’m going to see Eddie Palmieri. He plays Latin jazz, a lot of salsa,’ he explained to his younger sibling.
What Ivan witnessed at his first concert left a lasting imprint.
“It was full on jazz improv over salsa. It was off key, off beat. It makes your face go, like when you’re smelling something bad, but you’re actually grooving. Like, yeah! Yeah!”
I thought I was a bad ass listening to rock, but these are the real bad ass guys!Ivan Aristeguieta — Don't Look Back
The dynamic interplay between the band and the imposing and charismatic band leader Eddie Palmieri led the young Ivan was an awakening of sorts.
“He’s playing the piano. He has a big brass section – two trombones, two trumpets and one sax. He’s standing up playing, just punching the piano with rhythm, and he just points at one of the trumpet [players] and says ‘You!’. Then the trumpet player comes to the front of the stage and gets the mic and makes a huge amazing solo. This is full on. A lot of energy!
“I thought I was a bad ass listening to rock, but these are the real bad ass guys!”
This became further evident, when he heard the lyrics to Eddie Palmieri’s ‘Pa Huele’, part of which translates to ‘Mum’s not here, give me a cone, let’s smoke!’
“This is amazing,” he says he thought at the time. “Why am I looking for a different culture? A different music that I don’t relate to – like Guns N’ Roses and Metallica –when I have these bad asses from my culture, and I actually enjoy the music and the dance?”
From that day forward there were no more black t-shirts and electric guitars for Ivan.
By embracing the music and dance of salsa, he discovered another surprising bonus; he could more easily get the attention of women.
“The rockers never got the chicks, they were just hairy and smelly,” he says. “I embraced the dance of salsa 100 percent just to get the lady. In Venezuela, in Latin America, if you don’t dance, you have little chance.”
Hear more about the song that changed it all for Ivan Aristeguieta on Don't Look Back.