Hong Kong gigs

Little Louie Vega has housework in mind for his Hong Kong trip

The seminal music producer and DJ will be promoting his first album under his own name, in a career now into its fourth decade, with a gig at Tazmania Ballroom

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 March, 2016, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 March, 2016, 5:09pm

For someone who’s been producing music for nearly three decades and DJing for nearly four, playing a pivotal role along the way in developing the influential musical genre of house, it’s taken Luis Ferdinand Vega, aka Little Louie Vega, a long time to release his debut solo album.

That might be slightly misleading: soul-drenched house artist Vega has released several albums, as well as numerous singles and remixes, under names including Elements of Life and, with his long-term collaborator Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez, Masters at Work and Nuyorican Soul. But Louie Vega Starring … XXVIII, a 28-song epic of soulful, jazzy, loungey disco-house, is the first album he’s released under his own name. He decided to do so, he says ahead of a visit to Hong Kong, because this album “came from a very personal place. I wanted to do an album that epitomised the styles of music I like.”

Vega has filled such a broad canvas with the aid of 25 collaborators, including Jocelyn Brown, Caron Wheeler, Soul Clap, Monique Bingham, N’Dea Davenport, Vikter Duplaix and Lisa Fischer, with Vega acting as a cross between musical director, producer and ringmaster.

Planet Rock producer Arthur Baker hits the decks in Hong Kong

“It was about tailoring every song to each artist,” he says. “I had to work with every artist separately. Depending on the artist, there was also the opportunity for them to be involved in writing the songs.”

With Vega also busy travelling around the world to DJ, he says it took two solid years to put the album together, winnowing it down from an original selection of about 50 tracks. To mark its completion he’s on the road again, for an album launch party at Tazmania Ballroom in Central on April 13, which features DJ sets by Vega and fellow house legend Timmy Regisford, plus a live performance by soulful house vocalist Monique Bingham.

Vega has played in Hong Kong numerous times before, first in the late 1990s and mostly recently in October 2015, alongside yet more house luminaries in David Morales and Tony Humphries, and says it felt like a natural location for the party.

“It’s such a global city, such a melting pot of people – I see people from everywhere,” he says. “I’ve really got a wonderful group of family and friends there, and I can’t wait to come out and see them all. And I think this time’s going to be something really special.”

Born in the Bronx, of Puerto Rican ancestry, Vega comes from a musical family: his father, also named Luis Vega, played jazz saxophone, while his uncle, salsa singer Héctor Lavoe, was one of Puerto Rico’s most celebrated musicians, and a massive influence on the young Vega.

A pioneer of house music, shaping its sound during the 1990s, the decade when it turned from an underground pursuit to a mainstream concern, Vega was the man who put both Latin music and soul into house, pretty much inventing a couple of major sub-genres in the process. He’s unsurprisingly gratified by the way the ’90s sound has returned over the past few years.

“It’s great now, because our music is back in the forefront,” he says. “Now a lot of youth culture is influenced by our sound – not just playing that old sound, but taking that sound and making new music with it.” He’s also working with the younger generation himself; he recently released a remix of Funkadelic’s Ain’t that Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You that features rapper Kendrick Lamar.

Perhaps his greatest legacy, though, is his production and remix work with Gonzalez as Masters at Work, which for a quarter of a century has been pretty much a guaranteed seal of quality. During the 1990s Masters at Work churned out a preposterous number of songs, productions and remixes – Vega has said they did more than 1,500 tracks in a 10-year period – including remixes for a whole dictionary of musical royalty, such as Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Madonna, Donna Summer, George Benson, The Beatles, Nina Simone and Earth, Wind & Fire.

In the late 1990s the pair, who also co-own label MAW Records, made another splash with their Nuyorican Soul project, a joyous collision of house, soul, jazz and Latin music that reflected their New York Puerto Rican background and, like Vega’s new album, featured a big cast of fellow musicians, including George Benson and Roy Ayers.

Vega says there will be new releases from Masters at Work later this year, after a summer during which the pair will be appearing extensively on the Spanish party island of Ibiza. Then, from October, he will be going back on tour with a full band. “I love the process,” he says of playing with live musicians. “It’s like DJing live, in a way. But you’re leading this band and everyone’s relying on you. It can be a little bit stressful – there’s a lot on you. But it’s wonderful to feel the music come to life.”

Louie Vega, Apr 13, 10pm, Tazmania Ballroom, 1/F LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham St, Central, free. Inquiries: 2801 5009