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On Their Debut Album, Stretch And Bobbito Are Taking 'No Requests'

Jan 20, 2020
Originally published on January 17, 2020 6:17 pm

Adrian Bartos and Bobbito Garcia are a world-famous radio and club DJ duo. They hosted a podcast from NPR called What's Good with Stretch and Bobbito. Today, their debut album, No Requests, is out — and there's something undeniably cheeky about that title if you're a couple of DJs.

No Requests is full of songs from their past made new. Bartos and Garcia formed their own band of world-class musicians — dubbed the M19s — and together, redesigned every track. The result is a collection of songs that are fresh, but still familiar — maybe infused with different rhythms, but that largely keep the lyrics and the spirit of the originals intact.

"I'm really aware of the fact that covering the songs that we covered takes a lot of gall," Bartos says. "One could argue that none of these songs needs to be touched because they're almost perfect to begin with."

NPR's Audie Cornish spoke with Adrian Bartos and Bobbito Garcia about why they chose some of the songs on the album, the process of transforming them into something original and what it felt like to hear their songs on the radio for the first time. Listen to their conversation in the player above and read on for highlights from the interview.


Interview Highlights

On reimagining The Maytals' "Festival Song (Bam Bam)," one of the most sampled reggae songs of all time

ADRIAN "STRETCH" BARTOS: That's a song that has a really strong DNA, going back to the '60s, and reinterpreted, sampled, covered, countless times. I chose that record, and in our version, we take it back to one of the earlier Maytals recordings where it has sort of a mento, pre-rock steady feel to it. But then the record goes left, severely, and gets on the airplane and flies to another island.

BOBBITO GARCIA: The name of the band is the M19s, which was a crosstown bus in Manhattan that connected the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side. Stretch grew up on 96th Street; I grew up on 97th Street. And so in this time of borders, we wanted to build bridges so that Afro Cuban and Afro Boricua aficionados and dancers could enjoy a Jamaican record in the same way that they might enjoy one of their [own].

YouTube

On selecting the British band Babe Ruth's 1973 single, "The Mexican"

Garcia: In 1973, my sister was into early disco when it was still very jazzy and soulful, before it got cheesy and electronic. She shared ["The Mexican"] with me and, you know, I'm 7-years-old and I was struck by it sonically at such a tender age when I really didn't understand anything.

Bartos: I would venture to say that anyone that was into DJ culture in the '70s, they knew "The Mexican." They might not know it was by Babe Ruth; this was a record that was championed by guys like [DJ Kool] Herc and [Grandmaster] Flash and [Grand Wizard] Theodore —

Garcia: — the pillar DJs of the burgeoning movement of hip-hop in the '70s --

Bartos: — that record has been sampled countless times by hip-hop producers and it just resonates. It's a beautiful record.

YouTube

On rewriting the lyrics to "The Mexican" for today

Garcia: In researching the original Babe Ruth, I discovered that the lyrics were written in protest of the John Wayne film's depiction of the Alamo in the Mexican-American War. I'd heard that, I DJed, I've danced to that record how many times and had no clue that there was this statement being made? In lieu of what's going on in the last few years with the impression that's been made by our government towards border patrol and the wall — I just felt that we could rewrite the lyrics somewhat so that they echoed current events. So I changed one of the lyrics to "Wall so high from the outside / Makes it hard to dream." And then having Mireya Ramos, who's a Latin Grammy-winning singer, with the all-woman mariachi band Flor de Toloache — you know, these are subtle ways to bridge it to the present.

NPR's Kat Lonsdorf and Sarah Handel produced and edited the audio of this interview. Web editor Cyrena Touros and web intern Jon Lewis contributed to this story.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Adrian Bartos and Bobbito Garcia are the world-famous radio and club DJ duo known as Stretch...

ADRIAN BARTOS, BYLINE: One, two, three and the place to be.

CORNISH: ...And Bobbito.

BOBBITO GARCIA, BYLINE: One, two, one, two.

CORNISH: They have produced their debut album, out today, called "No Requests."

I think there's something cheeky in some DJs doing in a debut album, of all things, called "No Requests." Who do you think you are, Mr. DJ?

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA: Subliminal messages to our dance floor.

CORNISH: "No Requests" is full of songs from their past made new.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF YOU REALLY LOVE ME")

MAIMOUNA YOUSSEF: (Singing) If you really love me, won't you tell me? If you really love me, won't you tell me?

CORNISH: Stretch and Bobbito formed their own band of world-class musicians, dub them The M19s and, together, redesigned every track.

GARCIA: As producers, we gave them the green light to improv or, you know, to share their ideas. Or we gave them direction like, hey; OK, let's infuse this record with a different rhythm or - all these little sort of nuances that just allow the listener to enjoy the music because it's familiar in terms of the lyrics or the composition. But really, I feel like each song is like a new song.

CORNISH: Well, I want to play an original and your version of it that gives people a sense of what you're talking about. And because I am Jamerican (ph), we're going to start with this song by the Maytals, "Festival."

GARCIA: Oh.

CORNISH: Right? "Bam Bam" - made famous, of course, by Sister Nancy...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAM BAM")

SISTER NANCY: (Singing in Jamaican Patois).

CORNISH: ...One of the most sampled reggae songs probably of all time, which is why I want to play it - right? - because, like, I think as DJs, you, at some point...

GARCIA: Bam bam dilla...

CORNISH: ...Played this, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAM BAM")

SISTER NANCY: (Singing in Jamaican Patois).

CORNISH: This is also going to give us some summertime vibes in the winter.

BARTOS: That's a song that has a really strong DNA going back to the '60s and reinterpreted, sampled, covered countless times.

CORNISH: Right - still used today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAM BAM")

SISTER NANCY: (Singing in Jamaican Patois).

CORNISH: Now I want to talk about your version.

GARCIA: I'm in a good mood right now.

CORNISH: I know, right? I know. So here we go.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FESTIVAL SONG (BAM BAM)")

STRETCH AND BOBBITO AND THE M19S BAND: (Singing) Bam bam, what a bam bam. Bam bam, what a bam bam.

CORNISH: One of the things I noticed is that we're still in the islands, but maybe a different island.

(LAUGHTER)

BARTOS: We maybe island-hopped instead of...

CORNISH: We maybe island-hopped a bit.

BARTOS: So I chose that record. And in our version, we take it back to, I think, one of the earlier Maytals recordings, where the record goes left severely and gets on the airplane and flies to another island.

GARCIA: (Laughter) Well, I mean, you know, the name of the band is The M19s, which was a cross-town bus in Manhattan that connected the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side. Stretch grew up on 96th Street. I grew up on 97th Street. And so, I mean, in this time of borders and - we want to, like, build bridges - you know? - so that Afro-Cuban and Afro-Boricua aficionados and dancers could enjoy a Jamaican record in the same way that they might enjoy one of their owns (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF STRETCH AND BOBBITO AND THE M19S BAND SONG, "FESTIVAL SONG (BAM BAM)")

CORNISH: All right. I want to talk about another song, then, because in this one, you actually rewrite some of the lyrics a little bit, which is another approach. The song is called "The Mexican." It was released in 1972 by the British band Babe Ruth.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MEXICAN")

BABE RUTH: (Singing) Chico Fernandez...

CORNISH: First, tell me who first heard this song. Who was the person who was like, we need this?

GARCIA: Well, I'll take that because in 1973, my sister was into early disco, and she brought home an album called "Babe Ruth" and a song, "The Mexican." She shared it with me. And, you know, I'm 7 years old, and I was struck by it sonically at such a tender age when I really didn't understand anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MEXICAN")

BABE RUTH: (Singing) Sad morning said he must be there.

BARTOS: This was - it's a record that was championed by...

GARCIA: The pillar DJs, the burgeoning movement of hip-hop in the '70s.

BARTOS: I mean, that record has been sampled countless times by hip-hop producers, and it just resonates. It's a beautiful record.

CORNISH: I want to play a little bit of your version.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MEXICAN")

MIREYA RAMOS: (Singing) Chico Fernandez, sleeping on his gun, dreams of Santa Ana, fighting in the sun...

CORNISH: Well, first of all, the audacity of the two of you.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Tell me about the lyrics you changed and why.

GARCIA: Well, in researching the original Babe Ruth, I discovered that the lyrics were written in protest of the John Wayne film's...

BARTOS: "The Alamo."

GARCIA: ...Depiction of the Alamo in the Mexican-American War. I - you know, I danced to that record how many times and had no clue that there was this statement being made. And I just felt that we could rewrite the lyrics somewhat so that they echoed current events. So I changed one of the lyrics to wall so high from the outside, makes it hard to dream.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MEXICAN")

RAMOS: (Singing) The rain is falling on his face, makes it all seem real.

GARCIA: And then having Mireya Ramos, who's a Latin Grammy award-winning singer with the all-woman mariachi band Flor de Toloache - you know, these are just, like, subtle ways to bridge it to the present.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MEXICAN")

RAMOS: (Singing) Morning, sad morning, said he must be there.

CORNISH: In what ways was this flexing a new set of muscles as producers and creators?

BARTOS: Well, I'm really aware of the fact that covering the songs we covered takes a lot of gall. One could argue that none of these songs needs to be touched because they're almost perfect to begin with.

CORNISH: Right.

BARTOS: So with that in mind, knowing that we could potentially be putting a target on our backs by touching these holy grail records, we really wanted to approach them from a place of respect and try to turn them into something that was really ours.

GARCIA: I mean, our friends who DJ, they're posting videos of the dance floors, and people are going nuts. And it's crazy to us. You know, that's what we've done for artists for last 30 years, and now we're the artists.

CORNISH: Oh.

GARCIA: Yeah, it's...

CORNISH: That's so sweet.

BARTOS: Yeah (laughter).

GARCIA: Yeah, I was giddy. Anthony Valadez on KCRW in LA was the first to play it on the radio. And in each case, I was literally like, I couldn't believe that. Like, somebody played our record. Yeah. I mean, of course, you know...

CORNISH: You're on the other end now.

GARCIA: Yeah.

CORNISH: You're on the radio.

BARTOS: It's a trip. It's a trip. It really is.

CORNISH: Well, listen. For the final flex, we are going to play "Que Se Sepa." And I know you don't like to hear your music like this, Bobbito, but I hear you are singing background vocals.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: So yeah, we're going to do this. Final flex - we're going out on this song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUE SE SEPA")

STRETCH AND BOBBITO AND THE M19S BAND: (Singing in Spanish).

BARTOS: You know, he did that on one of the days when I wasn't in the studio.

(SOUNDBITE OF STRETCH AND BOBBITO AND THE M19S BAND SONG, "QUE SE SEPA")

CORNISH: Bobbito Garcia and Adrian Bartos, aka DJ Stretch Armstrong - their debut album is called "No Requests."

Thank you both.

BARTOS: Thank you.

GARCIA: I am - this is, like - talking to you about our album is similar to, like, Anthony Valadez playing it on KCRW. I cannot believe that we're talking to you...

CORNISH: I think...

GARCIA: ...About our debut.

CORNISH: ...You crazy kids have a shot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUE SE SEPA")

RAMOS: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.