Signed to major record labels in the 70’s, Jorge Spiteri is considered by many to be the pioneer of Latin Music in the UK, his fusions of Latin Music, rock, funk and disco influencing a generation of bands in Great Britain and Latin America. This year the Latin UK Awards honoured the Father of Latin Funk with our fellowship award in the very venue that he broke his sound 35 years ago. What followed was an explosive live set from his Latin funk all stars, united, leading British and Latin musician in a unique musical experience.
Jorge Spiteri was a young, establish musician in his native Venezuela when he arrived in London in 1970. But The Beatles and British pop had taken the world by storm and London was the place to be.
“My brother Charlie had gone on early to paved the way”, explains Spiteri. “We were super excited when we arrived and we played our dues doing odd jobs and playing little bars and pizza places to earned a living”. Anyway, it didn’t take long, however, for the tree brother to make their mark in the London music scene. Through gigging and jamming wherever they could their were soon hanging out with likes of Jimi Hendrix drummer, Mitch Mitchell, Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley on the West London music scene.
Spiteri’s success in the UK was immediate. In 1973 they published their first album, Spiteri, whose artwork was snapped by the official Beatles photographer Dezo Hoffmann. Pitched as Britain’s answer to Carlos Santana, who was already massive in the early 70s, Spiteri travelled around Europe. “I shared the same booking agent as Bob Marley and Tyrone Downie, who was playing keyboards with The Wailers and became a good friend of mine. Bob said that he liked us because we were rock stars who played salsa, and he invited us to rehearse with them many times. He used to call me ‘Spanish boy’.” Spiteri went on to record with Tyrone and also with Chris Wood of Traffic. He described the whole 70s experience in London as ‘unforgettable.’ With so many great musicians in one place, impromptu moments could become intensely creative experiences.
“One night we were playing at The Golden Lion, an old pub from Kensington. In the middle of the show, my brother tells me to pull some guy’s arm and bring him up on stage. I asked him ‘Why? Who is he?’ He was Jimi Hendrix’s drummer. He came on stage with us and played the whole night. He was great”
“On another night, I get a call at like at 1am by Jeff Beck’s pianist asking me if I could lend them my drums because Stevie Wonder wanted to record at Abbey Road Studios. So I went with my drums and hung out listening to him till six in the morning. I was so happy when we came out that I forgot the drums and when I went back to get them later they’d gone. Never saw those drums again…but you know who cares, I got to listen to Stevie Wonder record all night.”
After ten years playing music in London, the Falkland War broke out and Spiteri was dropped by EMI the British label he was next signed to, with any other Latin musicians. It was time to go back to Venezuela. “I started working as a producer and had immediate success producing various artists’ albums,” he said. “Then, I was hired to make the music for RCTV (Venezuela’s main TV station) and, became musical director there. Then I got married to a Venezuelan, so my life quickly became based at home again.”
As his career progressed, Spiteri moved into many areas working as composer, singer, guitarist and producer. “I did many things during my career. But I love to play the piano and sing. Every day I have been able to do that and feel appreciated, I thank God for that.”
Spiteri’s London legacy remains paramount, however. His two UK albums, Spiteri and Amor, are considered seminal works of Latin Disco Funk, which have become hugely influential on a new generation of Latin bands, including Los Amigos Invisibles, one of Latin America’s most globally successful. Los Amigos’ own version of Spiteri’s song Amor made it a hit for a second time in 2000. “That song I wrote with Steve Alpert and we recorded it in John Lennon’s house.” says Spiteri. “People still ask me to play it!”
Is singing what you enjoy the most?
“Singing and composing. I become wild whenever I compose, it’s like going crazy for a while. For every hour of craziness and inspiration I get, say, 10 seconds of worthy music. Then I work on that so it can become a song.”
These moments of craziness, have kept Spiteri ‘alive’ despite not performing as much as he was decades ago. But it is the craving for “that feeling” you get when of jamming with other musicians, Spiteri explains, that is bringing the Venezuelan funkster back to London again after 35 years.
He will record an All Stars album featuring to leading Latin and British musicians – new and old – including Urban Soul Orchestra (Take That) Karl Vanden Boscche (Blur) Tony Remy (Annie Lennox) and Steve Lewinson (Amy Whinehouse).
So a kind of Buena Vista Social Club reunion, Latin Funk version?
“Ha ha, well after some years in Venezuela I realised I wasn’t being myself. I realised I wasn’t doing what I truly love doing. I was born to compose and to sing, so I’m giving up by palace and I’m going back to live in a small studio flat in London to do record and gig,” he says, adding with a laugh: “I hope the studio has a decent toilet at least.”
Would you consider coming back to London for good?
“My plan is to play mostly with people that I played with decades ago. I’m prepared to play as much as I can and pray for good weather. If London had good climate, every citizen of every country would leave their city and move to London!”
By Latino Life magazine