It’s a hot summer day in Brooklyn, the type of day you daydream about when you look out your window in early January and feel the cold, dark sky outside. The steps of the Amphitheater in the middle of Herbert Von King Park slowly fill up with an eclectic mix of young and old. Crews of hipsters donning the next cool brands sit next to families with kids that have one eye on the playground nearby.
The crowd continues milling about, the dance floor at the bottom of the stairs is peppered with people vibing to an inclusive amalgamation of disco, soul, hip hop, and Latinx sounds. The unmistakeable lyrics from Roy Davis, Jr.’s “Watch Them Come” begin whispering through the air calling more heads down to the base, “So many sounds, from around the world …”
This is a public service; or rather this is Public Service, a summer park jam put on by DJs Mickey Perez & Toribio. This duo is serving dance music to those in the know in a public setting, and providing a serving of soul-affirming musical restoration to those that may not even know they needed it.
I’m a child of the Loft. It relates to growing up in the church, how you start a service. You have a welcoming — you can’t just go right into it. Then there’s a peak and a landing. The Loft definitely starts with jazz, that’s why I felt at home there.
Cesar Toribio’s rhythmic beginnings were in Tampa, Florida. Toribio’s older sister Sharin would share the latest hip hop tapes with him and his father Cesar, Sr. would blast strictly merengue. His grandfather Danilo Fajardo was a preacher. He noticed the young lad’s ear for music and made him the drummer in his church’s band.
In high school, this self-identified “jazz snob” escaped that dead end by realizing that “where you end up with that is a bunch of stuck up, snotty people playing a lot of notes to nobody. I love music, I don’t just love jazz.”
“The whole purpose of this, for better or worse, me growing up in the church, playing drums in the church and seeing what effect music has on a whole people that can really transcend everybody — this is what it’s about. I got to feel that at a young age.”
Like fellow Dominican musician Juan Luis Guerra, Toribio attended to Boston’s Berklee College of Music. He eventually made his way down to his spiritual home of New York City, finding parallels in his favorite club night and his upbringing. “I’m a child of the Loft. It relates to growing up in the church, how you start a service. You have a welcoming, you can’t just go right into it. Then there’s a peak and a landing. The Loft definitely starts with jazz, that’s why I felt at home there.”
I asked the musician/DJ about the moment that dance music is having, with amapiano now part of pop radio station’s playlists and superstars like Beyoncé and Drake dipping into the genre for their latest releases.
“You can say what you want about them but they are always trying to do different things to expose to their fanbase. Look, everyone knows about amapiano now. People weren’t thinking about South Africa musically before. Beyoncé’s album using house, I think, is good. It’s distilling this thing that we fuck with and is so precious to us to people that would never be exposed to it. I’m really surprised how authentic she kept it.”
“A lot of my homies are like nah. Bro! this isn’t for you. You don’t like Beyoncé anyways. This isn’t for house heads. This is for Beyoncé fans to get into house. If you listen to early hip hop, early house, and early techno, they are playing the same records. They are all playing disco. They are all primos that grew up and became different individuals. But they grew up in the same household.”
Toribio’s latest EP, Tongue in Cheeks, takes the listener on a fun roadtrip through these genres. It even makes a pitstop at New York no wave & post-punk in a way that only a virtuoso like Toribio could. “I love when I get to DJ at certain places where people don’t know me, like the younger generation, they think that going to a club is going to a place, getting drunk, maybe go whoa, you know? I love when I’m playing and I can see them turn, I can see their eyes light up! They are like, ‘Whoa! I didn’t know I could feel something.’ I’m like yeah, this can change your life if you allow it.”
Toribio’s time at church and playfulness with all the genres he grew up with have made his own Bring That Ass nights & sets everywhere from Mexico City to Detroit a bridge between different tribes. Like the crowd at the Park, they are swayed until a certain sound calls them to the dance floor.
Photo by Guario Rodriguez Jr.