Dimelo! Records Exclusive Recording Artist Johnny Polanco y Su Conjunto Amistad: A Ritmo Bello Interview

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

As any salsa dancer will tell you, it’s ten times better dancing to live music as compared to recorded music.  The obvious reason for this is that the salsa dancer can really connect with the energy, enthusiasm, and excitement of the live entertainer as the performance goes on.

Johnny Polanco and his group La Conjunto Amistad are a prime example of how great live salsa music is to the dancer and listener alike.  With years of experience in the salsa music world, Johnny Polanco is a rare gem that plays frequently in the Southern California area.  I had a chance to talk with Johnny Polanco before his upcoming performance at Anthology night club this Saturday October 17 and learned that if something is to be done, you ‘DO IT WITH SALSA!’  I hope you enjoy the interview which follows below.


Ritmo Bello: Johnny, thanks for taking the time to address the Ritmo Bello dance community. Let’s begin.  What would you say is the main focus of your salsa music?

Johnny Polanco: Hi John. The main focus of my music are two reasons.  One is to make everyone dance.  Secondly is to give the listener a great visual through our performances.  Everyone listens to CD’s.  But it’s a lot different when you actually see it “live”.  The listener can actually feel and absorb the music.  It becomes more versatile.  And the most important issue about a “live” performance is that the number can be stretched out a little longer, thus letting the band be more creative.  Especially during the solos.

Tito Puente once told me, “Live tells no lie”.  AND THAT’S SO TRUE.  In this age of recording and digital “Pro Tools” you can do wonders in the recording studio.  But you can “clean it up live”!

Ritmo Bello: What are the origins of your salsa music career?

Johnny Polanco: My career begin in the Bronx, New York City.  I performed with various bands, in the earlier days, but the first known band I played with was with JOHNNY PACHECO and PETE “EL CONDE” RODRIGUEZ.  I was 17 years old.

Ritmo Bello: Why did you choose La Conjunto Amistad for your band name?

Johnny Polanco: I choose Conjunto Amistad because the band was composed of all of my friends.

Ritmo Bello: What types of influences have impacted how you’ve created your salsa music?

Johnny Polanco: The conjunto music of ARSENIO RODRIGUEZ, who is one of the most well known Cuban tres guitar players.  Also the BIG 3 bands of the fifties that consisted of TITO PUENTE, TITO RODRIGUEZ and MACHITO.  The sounds of trio music like LOS PONCHOS and TRIO MATAMOROS also played a role.

And believe it or not,  the music of the big band era featuring FRANK SINATRA, TONY BENNETT, JOE WILLIAMS, SARAH VAUGHN and many others from that era were so musically rich for me to listen.

Ritmo Bello: How and where do you find inspiration for creating new salsa songs?

Johnny Polanco: The inspirations come to me in spurts.  That’s why I always  try to have something to write notes or my cell phone to record the moments.  My song feature all different types of topics.  If you listen to my latest CD, “AMISTAD PARA EL MUNDO ENTERO” you will see the many topics.

Ritmo Bello: What has your experience been like working with Dimelo Records?

Johnny Polanco: My experiences with Dimelo Records has been an enjoyable one and something that I wish I would have done years ago.  Nissim Baly is a great guy and is very  business savvy in the direction that the recording industry has been heading.  He possesses very strong marketing skills and that has contributed immensely in the success of the bands under his label.  Not to mention his assistant Valerie Guzman.  She is definitely on the ball at the office.

Ritmo Bello: Can you tell me a little about your CD’s that you’ve released to date?

Johnny Polanco: Absolutely.  Amistad Para El Mundo Entero is my best production yet.  It has 14 original, never recorded numbers.  It features some of the best  musicians in Salsa music today such as RAY DE LA PAZ,  FRANKIE VASQUEZ,  AZUQUITA, FRANKIE MORALES, JIMMY BOSCH, ARTIE WEBB, NINO JESUS and others.  The production was great.  It took a while but I’m very happy with it.  I also put on it, my version of “Happy Birthday”.  It has been very popular in all the clubs.

Ritmo Bello: Are there current plans for new CD releases coming up soon?

Johnny Polanco: The last CD has only been out for 9 months and DIMELO RECORDS is going to release it on their label soon.  My next CD is going to be recorded live on a venue to be announced later.  I feel that this will really capture the true sound of the band.

Ritmo Bello: I’ve noticed that there are a number of videos on YouTube showcasing your salsa music.  How has YouTube and other types of social media like Facebook and Twitter helped you gain more exposure worldwide?

Johnny Polanco: It truly has.  My music has reached places throughout the world that I haven’t traveled to yet.  We have had the pleasure of working with Albert Torres, who has been my personal manager for 15 years.  And he is helping create and participate at all these Salsa Congresses world wide.  These types of social medias have been a blessing.  Also non commercial radio has played an important part also.  They play everyones music and we are very blessed to have Canto Tropical and Alma Del Barrio here in Los Angeles.

Ritmo Bello: What are some of your best memories from your performances? Are there any in particular that stand out in your mind?

Johnny Polanco: Oh GOD, there are so many because each of those have left me with something unique.  Such as performing for our new L.A. Philharmonic conductor from Venezuela, Gustavo Dumadel a couple of weeks ago at the Hollywood Bowl. He is the first Hispanic to lead this great orchestra.  Working with Prince in Las Vegas was great too.  He is an extraordinary musician.  Doing the 2007 Playboy Jazz Festival., the 50th Anniversary of the Grand Prix in Macau.  Doing our Mayor’s Inaugural Ball.  And the many Salsa Congresses throughout the world such as in Spain,  Toronto,  Japan, New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Vancouver etc.

Ritmo Bello: I’ve seen you perform in San Diego in the past. How often do you make it down to San Diego and when can we expect to see you again in America’s Finest City?

Johnny Polanco: I don’t perform as much as I like but I will be performing Sat Oct 17th at Anthology.  This is the premier venue to perform in San Diego.  It is such a  beautiful supper club with great sound, food and hospitality.  I am so looking forward to it!

Ritmo Bello: What advice can you give to up and coming salsa singers?

Johnny Polanco: The best advice is to listen to the old stuff from the early years. Especially from the 70’s.  All those guys are now salsa legends now.  PERIOD.  I had the pleasure of working with many of them.  Their sonero’s and deliveries are unmatched.  Any vocalist after that era will tell you that they were influenced by them.  If they don’t admit it, they are just plain lying.

Ritmo Bello: Is there anything else you’d like to share that I haven’t covered so far?

Johnny Polanco: You covered many of the issues that are important to me.  But the final thing I would like to say is to please support live entertainment.  It take an enormous commitment for someone to get musicians together and form a band.  And a lot of work to get music and the administrative side of it in getting booked.  It’s not easy.  But we do it to spread the music, make you feel good, help you meet new friends, dance to great songs, see musicians do what we do best and let’s face it guys.  The most beautiful women in the world are dancing to salsa and waiting for you.  So if you guys aren’t Salsa dancing,  you better get some lessons because you are DEFINITELY missing out.  Most clubs offer lessons. So you have no excuse.  Ever wonder where your best friends at?  He is at a salsa club dancing away with the girl of your dreams Ha, Ha.

Ritmo Bello: Do you have contact information in case anyone from the Ritmo Bello audience wants to contact you?

Johnny Polanco: Yes.  My website is www.johnnypolanco.net Also we have a hotline where you can find out where we are at on a weekly basis at 562-220-4929.

Ritmo Bello: Johnny, thank you so much for your time and I hope to attend some of your salsa performances in the near future.

Johnny Polanco: It has been a pleasure and hope to see everyone at Anthology this week.  As I always say, “DO IT WITH SALSA”.  Gracias.

John F. Bello

Meet John ;-)

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