Monday, 8 March 2010
El Gran Buda
I'm not planning to post many of my day-to-day articles for El Heraldo, but I thought I would translate and share this one as it about a DJ, Richard Semmler, who has a hereditary disability that essentially means he has no use of his legs. He plays sets 7 days a week in this Estadero (a bar-cum-off license) populated almost entirely by bored-looking whores. He plays 12 hours a day from 2pm - 2am and 14 hours on the weekends. He gets paid about £6 per shift. It makes a mockery of the European and US DJs who play for a quarter of that time once a week and get paid 20 or 30 times that amount.
The article can be read in Spanish here.
Richard Semmler has been the house DJ at the Gran Buda, an estadero on calle 41 with the carrera de La Paz, for nearly four years now. He plays from Monday to Thursday from 2pm to 2am and until 4 am on the weekends. He earns the bare minimum - about 20,000 Colombian pesos - although he can make up to 25,000 pesos in tips. Until now, there is very little unusual about Semmler's case. What is unusual is that he is severely disabled.
At two years of age, Semmler's lower body began to deteriorate. Doctors told him his condition was hereditary but were never able to establish what exactly he suffered from. "I went to the US, to New York, where I spent a year and a half, during which time I underwent two operations. They managed to make me better, but I needed two more operations, and because of a lack of money, they couldn't finish the job," he says. "But such is life."
Although it is clear the day-to-day of the DJ is difficult, he's not the sort of man who likes to wallow in self-pity. Music offers him an escape from his condition, and as he himself says, "I try to give people love and happiness through my music."
According to his boss, Hernán Plata, the owner of 'El Gran Buda', Semmler is highly successful in his mission of ass shakery. "He has many followers who love him and appreciate him a great deal.. He attracts a big crowd." Are you going to give him a raise, I ask cheekily? Plata looks visibly uncomfortable. "Well, not right now" he stutters. "He's doing well for himself and makes good tips."
Semmler cannot dance because of his condition but the party animals he pulls in certainly can. When he starts playing, the bored looking whores who line the walls buck up, and it seems that Semmler, a self-described "Juniorista to the death", knows his music.
"I've been a DJ since I was eight" he says. "I play everything: vallenato, reggaeton, champeta, oldies, verberena. My tastes are very varied. Personally though, I really like salsa and African music best."
Nonetheless, although he is a collector, Semmler is not stuck in the past. Technological advances have made the basic task of his job easier: playing records. Seated in a high chair, Semmler faces his computer screen, and doesn't move for twelve hours.
"With technology and the computer, it's a lot easier" he says. "I learnt with vinyl, and then CDs. I evolve with the technology"
Ultimately though, according to Semmler, being a DJ is a hobby. "My dream is to join a radio station" he says. "One day I want to be a presenter on the radio as that is what I studied." Until that day comes though, the clients at 'El Gran Buda' will keep dancing, led by this unique Barranquilla personality.