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Credit: Guarionex Rodriguez, Jr

Fresh Kicks 207: Toribio

Dominican-American DJ, producer and multi-instrumentalist Toribio records a freewheeling mix of jazzy house, soulful edits and percussive heaters from New York’s Public Records for the Fresh Kicks series, and speaks to Nisa Khan about illuminating Latin music’s legacy, and channelling his church upbringing's communal energy in his sets

Most people who meet Cesar Toribio say he should pursue stand-up comedy. His vivacious personality, cutting delivery and dark humour could undoubtedly pack a room, but it’s his musical chops that, so far, have led to a career on stage. The DJ, producer and multi-instrumentalist is sought-after in his homebase of New York City, where he’s built a reputation as a versatile artist with a scholar’s diligence and Eli Escobar’s range.

As bandleader, vocalist and musician for the Afro-Latin ensemble Conclave, Toribio fuses pan-Latin grooves with jazz and funk, telling the story of diasporic musical traditions in the process. He’s also a beast behind the decks, layering acapellas of ’90s vocal house, Stevie Wonder and Nirvana over electro or salsa across multiple CDJs. His productions, which span honeyed soul and pummelling edits of hip-hop classics like ‘My Neck, My Back’ and ‘I’m Sprung’, are now staple DJ tools. His fans include house music royalty (Joe Claussell and DJ Spinna have remixed him) and luxury fashion — Photay’s remix of a Conclave track was played at a Hermès runway show.

“People like to pigeon artists to genres, but the thing with rhythm is that it’s fluid,” Toribio explains during an interview at his studio. “Just like how food travels and becomes part of different cultures, so do rhythms.” He points to Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Manteca’, which helped integrate Afro-Cuban music into bebop. “I can understand different points of view from genres and synthesise them.”

On his latest EP, ‘Tongue In Cheeks’, he finesses the role of rhythm conductor, showcasing an unapologetically hard, club sound of booty house and acid electro experimentations. A clear standout is ‘No Pare’, an 808-rendition of the ’90s merengue-house sensation ‘El Tiburón’ –— the first time that sample has ever been cleared.

“When I think about Latin club music, it’s all about leaving a legacy,” Toribio describes. “The cultural significance [of that sample] is almost more important to me than making people dance. When people hear this, they’ll connect that piece of Latin history to modern-day electro and Miami bass. I’m making those connections in an accessible way.”

His extensive palette comes from a lifetime spent drumming, his Dominican heritage and a church upbringing. Learning the tambora, congas and timbales before graduating to the drums at a young age, he was head of the drumline in middle school and led gospel bands in his spare time. Later, at Berklee College of Music, he took on spoken word, songwriting and film scoring, eventually picking up the keys, mallets, marimba, piano, some guitar and timpani.

“You know how you never think about your first language? You just speak it from a young age,” he says. “I never thought about music, it was always something I did.” Years of jazz and classical harmony help explain his seamless DJ transitions and polished production. “I spent so many years drumming, practising to a metronome, so knowing when things are speeding up, when things are in key, that helped me out as an artist.”

Regardless of genre or instrument, his goal is to create an experience for people via performance — something he realised as a kid at Pentecostal church in Tampa, Florida. This sect is based on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured onto the congregation, leading to miracles. That’s why at church, “motherfuckers are feeling these miracles, they’re jumping up and down in the aisle, it’s great and crazy,” he describes. “That’s where I learned the feeling of music, the power of everyone being in one space, feeling it communally.”

That same frenzied energy is tangible at his Bring Dat Ass club nights and Public Service park parties. At one gig last summer, a spontaneous performance of the Electric Slide broke out while joyous edits of Brian Power’s ‘Optimistic’ and the Latin classic ‘Pasilda’ blasted out of bright pink speaker stacks. Aunties, uncles, kids and neighbourhood folks synchronised their steps, each one under the spell of euphoric music.

Listen to Toribio's Fresh Kicks mix below. 


Helium Robots ‘Jarza (Theo Parrish Translation 1)’
Bebe Winans ‘Let's Go Champs (Two Soul Fusion Piano Dub)’
Rampa, Sparrow & Barbossa, Keinemusik ‘Champion’
Donaty & Jey One ‘Tuky Tuky’
Christian Prommer's Drum Lesson ‘Jaguar’
Corinne Bailey Rae ‘Just Like A Star’ (Bootleg)
Crackazat ‘Somewhere Else ( HADE 94’ Thumpin’ Rework)’
Crackazat ‘Somewhere Else’
H.C.C.R. ‘Son of Mongo’
Nikki Nair ‘Shufflin'’
Steve Poindexter & Armando ‘911’
Ralphi Rosario & Xavier Gold ‘You Used To Hold Me (Kenny's mix)’
Chimbala, Yaisel LM, PV Aparataje ‘Personaje’
House Gospel Choir feat Morgan ‘Angels (Crackazat Remix)’
3 Amigos ‘Old Testament' w/ Gnarls Barkley ‘Crazy’ acapella on top, papi style
Toribio (Unreleased Jazz misconduct – forthcoming)
Paranoid London & Mutado Pintado ‘Suck A Dick’
White Label bootleg ?
Toribio ‘Anti Narcoleptic’