The thud of the rhythmic Latin beat echoed out of Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery and traveled nearly up to Richland Avenue Bridge (at least a block away) last Friday night, on November 20. The commotion’s source? Athens’ Fiesta Latina. The event draws crowds so large that there is barely elbow room inside Jackie O’s (big side) pretty much every time it’s hosted.
“People see me sometimes and say, ‘hey Rico, you’re the fiesta Latina DJ,’” said Alex (DJ Rico) Smith, who organizes dance night with the help of Khader Alshaar (DJ Julio).
The event was originally intended for the Latin Association at Ohio University (OU), when it started more than three years ago. But, Fiesta Latina quickly gained a diverse following (most of the attendees last night were not Latin).
(See the Fiesta Latina crowd. View from the stage.)
Fiesta Latina’s founding father was named “Juan Pablo,” Smith explained. When Pablo had to leave Athens to return to Ecuador, Smith stepped in. He’s been hosting the event for three years with Alshaar.
“I took it over from Juan because I think it’s a really interesting thing around here. There’s not much music diversity or Latin DJs,” Smith said.
Smith explained that his mother is from Puerto Rico, so he’s grown up having a Latin influence and listening to Latin music.
The motivation to keep Fiesta Latina alive after Pablo left was there, but Smith didn’t initially have any experience as a DJ. With the help of DJ Julio, Smith has been able to pick up some mixing skills.
(Smith while DJing.)
Khader was also friends with Pablo and had experience working as a DJ. But, Khader isn’t Latin, he’s Syrian. He said he doesn’t have the “Latin ear.” He stepped in to help Smith run Fiesta Latina by showing him some techniques at DJing that he’s picked up over the years.
Khader started working as a DJ as a hobby years ago, but soon the hobby manifested into passion. He said that he couldn’t stop spending money buying the equipment, which didn’t make his then girlfriend very happy, but he loved DJing.
“I want to keep doing it. Having a 40 hour a week job is not going to stop me from doing an event after 5,” he said.
Khader said that he hopes to run his own studio someday, so he can produce his own music.
(See Khader showing off his DJ skills.)
(Fiesta Latina gets people moving.)
When Khader was asked why he wanted to help keep Fiesta Latina going, he said it was because the night provides a different sort of atmosphere.
“It’s a different environment; it’s not something you would see every single night in any bar in Athens. It’s a completely different scene. It’s become a social event,” Khader said.
(See this couple show of their Latin moves at Fiesta Latina.)
Part of the $2 cover charge goes to Jackie O’s and the DJs. Smith said that he uses the money to help pay for school expenses. Smith is a nursing student at OU and Khader studies information and telecommunication systems.
Smith said that he would continue hosting Latin dance night while he continues his studies at OU, for another three years. After that, he plans on finding a successor to keep the Latin music scene alive in Athens.
“It’s an event for everybody. If you just want to have a good time and listen to Latin music with an open mind and get a new perspective on music I think you should try it,” Smith said. Fiesta Latina is typically hosted every other month.