Joel Masacote Posts

UNPLUG – The Root Issue Within the Salsa Industry

A pervasive sense of fear is among us. It morphs into different shapes and forms. It disguises itself within all of us, and we sometimes go to war because of it. Because of the discomfort it places on us, with the insecurities that are driven by it, we indirectly and directly rub people’s sore spots without awareness about how it makes them feel. We are blinded by its presence. It’s hard not to react or be vengeful at times because of our lack of understanding.  Even when we become conscious of this phenomenon, it tests us to see how much we understand ourselves.  When we begin to understand the source, we begin to realize that the people affected by it are searching for their true identities. We accept the reactions from fear as a form of strength, a defense mechanism of some sort. It removes us from our center and our core, blocking every rational judgment we have. It produces doubt, anxiety, stress and insecurities.

Joel Masacote

Joel Masacote

The mother of all fears is the fear of not knowing.  Knowledge is power, but the lack of knowledge provides a sense of weakness and vulnerability. So to make ourselves feel strong, we push our knowledge forward, sometimes projecting our insecurities and fear onto others. The fear of not knowing blinds us and our own knowledge becomes a force field, blocking any new information in.

This fear develops as one gets older. Sometimes returning to a place of youth can remind us of what fearlessness feels like. The main question is: at which point in our youth did fear start to seep in? I engaged this question through a focus on my artistry, since that has been the most central part of my life. It has helped me think about the concepts of fear and anxiety and it has raised questions on the possibilities of transporting oneself to a place of fearlessness, a place of no worries.

Music has always been a huge part of my life, and I’ve searched for every avenue possible to experience it. I grew up playing a number of instruments, and each one provided a different feeling, creating an experience so profound that nothing else mattered. This experience is a place that produces enormous positive feelings. I call this place the Vortex. The vortex is a place of solitude, a place of no worries, only life.

I was born in the Virgin Islands on the island of St. Croix. Growing up, I witnessed a lot of people leaving the island to the mainland, usually only returning to visit.  It is always seen that opportunities in life are greater on the mainland.  If someone were looking to better himself/herself on the island , he/she would still have to travel abroad for training in his/her desired field. Right out of high school I joined the Army band for four years and then transferred to the Marine Corps for another four years, during which time I rarely traveled back home to my island. Throughout my childhood and my years in the military, the vortex was always the place I wanted to be, but I realized that it was not always present while I was in the military. The journey out of the islands and into active duty gradually disconnected me from myself until recently. I don’t regret any of this. I had to go through these experiences to understand the nature of what happens, and to gain wisdom.

I was introduced to a book called Black Skin, White Mask by Frantz Fanon in my 20th century post-colonial literature class. The book pulled me in, but yet pushed me away in the sense that everything Fanon spoke about hit extremely close to home. Fanon was a Martinique-born French-Algerian psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary and writer whose work is influential in the fields of post-colonial studies, critical theory and Marxism.

“Fanon’s approach in Black Skin, White Masks focuses on the problems of identity created for the colonial subject by colonial racism; and on the consequent need to escape from these neuroses, which colonialism had produced.”[1]

My relatives on my father’s side are from Guadeloupe and Dominica, so the French connection in the book inspired a resurgence of my childhood memories.  The revelation of the psychological process that occurs when a native islander leaves to the mainland was something that I was unconscious of until this time.  Technically, I was somewhat still unconscious of it until reading this book.  It provided insights and validations to my experiences since I’ve become conscious of my disconnection to myself. My childhood was driven by ambition. It took me through a number of challenges to overcome doubt. I saw myself through my ambition and the main thing it did was gave me strength to believe. I’ve accomplished a lot, but in all that I’ve accomplished, I didn’t realize I was losing an important part of myself in the process.

“The more the black Antillean assimilates the French language, the whiter he gets-i.e., the closer he comes to becoming a true human being. We are fully aware that this is one of man’s attitudes faced with Being. A man who possesses a language possesses as an indirect consequence the world expressed and implied by this language.” [2]

They are three main languages spoken in St. Croix: English, Spanish and French. Within these languages they are many dialects/slang that intertwine with each other. Coming to the mainland, I’ve noticed that if you don’t speak English or don’t speak it well, you are looked down upon as unintelligent. The image Fanon presents of the Antillean changing his persona when he leaves his island to the mainland is the same across the board for any island descendant. Once we arrive on the mainland, in the pursuit for evolution or the ideology of what society views as success, we indirectly change the way we speak to fit in a world that scrutinizes us because of our language. This allows insecurities to settle in and we push more to fix our language to the convention and forget our own culture’s dialect. This was the first time reading a book that indirectly depicted the chronological experiences of my life. What I realized was that in the entire process when a native islander decides he or she wants to leave the island, it’s only in the attempt to evolve. There is a cap on how much a person can evolve on the island and in order to better oneself, whether they’re staying on the island or not, one would still would have to travel to the mainland.  This is where the identity change initiates.

It is very complex, because this search for evolution is almost as if the pursuit blinds us from the identity shift. We strive for success, so desperately following an ideology that we lose sight of the values, morals and ethics that have been taught to us. Because of what is seen to be the language of choice that defines whether a person is intellectual or not, a person is often distanced from his or her own culture.  The frightening part of it all is that we are usually not conscious of the distancing until it’s too late or something snapps us back to reality.  The difficult part is becoming conscious of the fact that we’re usually unaware of the psychological process in this chase for a better life.  The line between conscious and unconscious feels so thin that a person has to stay in constant reflection to keep his or her intentions in line with his or her identity. Our intentions are an important factor in reconnecting back to our identity. The intentions initiate a path, and sometimes that path is not inline with our identity. If our intentions are to have dialogue, share, welcome, love, and maintain balance, we are then in harmony with each other. If it is to prove a point to show how much knowledge we have, it is often driven by insecurities projected forward because we don’t want to be seen as inferior. We try to discredit the other person in all attempts to be right, to be seen as superior. I found that maintaining a positive state of mind thru compassion helps eliminate these doubts and insecurities, which feed on our will power.

I am the CEO/Co-Director of Masacote Entertainment, a Salsa Music and Dance Entertainment company based in Boston, MA. In 2011, I became perturbed by the lack of connection artists have with themselves in our industry.  Artists worry more about how quickly they can get to the top, how much money they’re making and how famous they can become than staying connected to their artistic passion. The industry has shifted more to teaching moves and patterns as opposed to really focusing on artistry and what it means to be an artist. The energy has been cold for a while in certain places because of the lack of connection artists have with themselves. When I came to this realization, I began a journey to help make positive changes. I wanted to go back to the beginning to see how it was then and to figure out where it changed, which led me to Cuba.

From the moment I landed on the island of Cuba, I felt as if I was back home in St. Croix. I cleared customs, and as I walked out of the airport, the amount of people that were waiting outside for family members, friends and loved ones, took me back to a vivid memory of a time on my island when airport security was more relaxed than what it is today. People used to come out in the masses to see their loved ones off. Cuba took me through a lot of these journeys back in time. It allowed me to relive some of my fondest experiences and emotions as a child.

In Understanding Human Nature, Alfred Alder writes:

When we demonstrate cases… it is frequently convenient to show relationships between the childhood impressions and the actual complaint… This is best done by a graph… We will succeed in many cases in being able to plot this graph of life, the spiritual curve along which the entire movement of an individual has taken place. The equation of the curve is the behavior pattern, which this individual has followed since earliest childhood… Actually we see this behavior pattern, whose final configuration is subject to some changes, but whose essential content, whose energy and meaning remain unchanged from earliest childhood, as the determining factor, even though the relations to the adult environment… may tend to modify it in some instances.[3]

Nostalgia was my tour guide that accompanied the rock and roll era as the cars passed me by. The wealth of the island was so profound. It was one of the richest I’ve seen in my life. Love of culture, arts and humanity were ingrained like a ménage à trois. Music and Dance were the Yin and Yang embedded in the core. I was being tossed around like a rag doll by euphoria. She held on so ferociously, my cheeks were to my ears the entire time. She massaged my body, hands and feet everyday because of soreness from beating at cow skin and tremendous feet fluttering on concrete floor. It dawned on me…these feelings aren’t new. These are feelings I knew very well as a child. I then asked myself, “Where have they been for so long?”

After returning from Cuba, I embarked on study abroad in Spain and began to study the culture of Flamenco. I realized then that there is a strong connection between the passion that the people in Spain and Cuba have with their artistry and how far back it is rooted in their culture. Being in Havana, Cuba for two weeks and Valencia, Spain for five months immediately after allowed me to really dig in to understand myself. I was being re-introduced to my soul. It was refreshing, but yet still nerve-wracking. This side of me was suppressed for so long. Because I was still searching for answers, I came across a lot of documentaries and different articles that started to answer some of the questions. One that opened the door to a river flow of answers was an anime video done by RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts) featuring Sir Ken Robinson, PhD, an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation. Sir Robinson gave a lecture in an anime format on “Changing education paradigms” that talked about “the arts being victim of standardized testing, an educational model that is based on the interest of industrialization and the image of it”[4].  One of his main points was that children in our modern time period are in the most intensely stimulated period in the history of the earth and that they are being penalized for not paying attention in a world that is full of technological devices.

“The psychoanalysts say that there is nothing more traumatizing for a young child than contact with the rational. I personally would say that for a man armed solely with reason, there is nothing more neurotic than contact with the irrational.”[7]

This struck a nerve. I was happy and sad at the same time, happy that I grew up on an island full with nature, intuition and creativity. It was sad because I began to realize how many people are affected by this mindset and don’t have a clue that it is going on.

Some artists have not had the opportunity to truly embrace what artistry has to offer because they are still connected to the program of the system and how it says we should exist in the world. Their understanding of artistry has become skewed.

Art is the end result of expression. An artist is a person who embodies everything that IS expression, and Artistry… Artistry is EVERYTHING. Artistry is emotions, experiences, interactions, frustration, passion and most of all, Life.  Everything that life experiences provide for us is what fuels our artistry to create. The problem is that many artists don’t understand themselves to really embody their art and are not spending enough time with their craft to be enlightened. Promoters are more interested in the business aspect of entertainment and rarely understand the full nature of artistry. DJ’s are caught up on classics. Classics are good, but the time when DJ’s were anxious to release the new song on the block is gone (but coming back).

This sets precedence with the dancers and it locks them in one particular style or genre. More dancers worry about what style they dance rather than the art of dance. Because of their lack of connection with themselves, their partners, the music, they worry more about how many moves they can get out on the dance floor, who’s watching and complain about the bands playing a lengthy song. leading promoters to focus on hiring DJs. Meanwhile, DJs are often stuck in the past, playing classics, looking for the oldest, most unheard of track, and new music takes the back seat without being exposed to the industry. This becomes all what dancers know and would rather hear, only because it is in their faces. They rarely connect with the bands because they are so unaware of what is happening, so the promoters/organizers lack interest in hiring bands. It then leads back to the DJ’s. It is like a track on loop. It goes full circle. Evolution is at a stand still with no forward momentum.

Because of this lack of connection, our first reaction is to critique music, dance, art. There is a place for critique, but it is not at the beginning. We are not allowing ourselves to truly experience the feelings that are being produced because of our knowledge of the subject. We scrutinize any new information, which give us a superior/inferior complex where we project these insecurities forward based on the past knowledge we have attained. The idea of superiority and inferiority is in the mind, and thus, we have the ability to control it. If we can let go of this superior/inferior complex, we’ll be a step closer to a better world, but based on the structure we have in place, this becomes a challenge. We often see this complex as a way of life, but rarely do we actually live.

The view of mankind from the beginning has always been defined as a superior/inferior relationship.  A man is always viewed as head of the household, but in modern day society that idea is always put to the test based on the roles a man and a woman play.  This indirectly sets a superior/inferior complex that questions the nature of manhood.  The thought of being inferior as a human puts an insecurity so deep in our state of being that it’s usually the driving force in our decision-making. In the need to break free from this inferior complex, a man projects this insecurity forward by testing to see who is more masculine.  This is the driving force and root of all wars and oppression of women.

The need for control to feel superior tends to give a man a sense of power, but the irony of the matter is that this trait shows the nakedness of a man’s weakness.  Throughout history it has been shown to be an extremely hard thing to break free from.  The more this insecurity reveals itself; it is projected forward in the attempt to break free from it.  This has led to a number of profound historical moments: Colonization, Imperialism, Slavery and a number of wars that followed. The superior/inferior complex comes into play with different countries as well. I feel that the entire world was built on the notion of sexuality, the need to appeal to the opposite sex.  It is a really complex situation because a woman enters into the world with this inferior complex already in place.  Some are okay with it and some aren’t, but it’s something that affects every women or everyone for that matter. A woman’s attempt to break free might be identical to how a man tries to break free, but the extent on how far she’ll go is different from a man.

In the end the question is what defines a man being a man and a woman being a woman?

“The neurotic structure of an individual is precisely the elaboration, the formation, and the birth of conflicting knots in the ego, stemming on the one hand from the environment and on the other from the entirely personal way this individual reacts to these influences.”[6]

We need to set up an environment that promotes respect, mutuality, compassion, companionship, peace, love and life…the core values. These are the things that will allow us to tap deep into our creative mind. Too long the stronghold of the system has restricted us. Intuition is our best friend; we need to trust in it more and believe in it! We need to have a belief so strong that the toughest of kryptonite won’t stand a chance. This all ties in with Faith, but with the immediate connection, people associate faith with religion; they forget that the most important part about faith is believing in oneself. When we lack faith, there would always be a side of us that will question ourselves, which goes back into doubts, insecurities, …Fear. We have a stronger chance of maintaining freedom by building a community with the attempt to eliminate fear and promote the core values.

Fanon’s last words were:

“The density of History determines none of my acts. I am my own foundation. And it is by going beyond the historical and instrumental given that I initiate my cycle of freedom”[7]

He then went on to say:

“I, a man of color, want but one thing;

May man never be instrumentalized. May the subjugation of man by man—that is to say, of me by another—cease. May I be allowed to discover and desire man wherever he may be.

The black man is not. No more than the white man. Both have to move away from the inhuman voices of their respective ancestors so that a genuine communication can be born. Before embarking on a positive voice, freedom needs to make an effort at disalienation. At the start of his life, a man is always congested, drowned in contingency. The misfortune of man is that he was once a child.

It is through self-consciousness and renunciation through a permanent tension of his freedom, that man can create the ideal conditions of existence for a human world.

Superiority? Inferiority?

Why not simply try to touch the other, feel the other discover each other?

Was my freedom not given me to build the world of you, man?

At the end of this book we would like the reader to feel with us the open dimension of every consciousness.

My final prayer:

O my body, always make me a man who questions!”[8]

It is time to create. Time to share all of what I’ve been working on. Time to release my childhood energy. As a community and a society, let us all eliminate fear by applying compassion to every aspect of our lives. Let us all try to forget what we don’t know. It’s ok! Instead let us glorify the process of enlightenment.  Live. Experience. Reflect. BE.

“I finally made up my mind to shout my blackness. Gradually, putting out pseudopodia in all directions, I secreted a race. And this race staggered under the weight of one basic element. Rhythm!”[9]

The primitive feature of rhythm is time. After my experiences in Spain, I journeyed into the art of meditation. My meditative practice has placed me at a point where I can literally feel the value of time as it pulsates through my body. It’s like a pendulum. I am the body. Suspended by balance, alignment. The vibration that is triggered from pulse… our heartbeat, gives the acquired momentum for the body to sway to and fro by the action of gravity. Time is in everything. It is Life.

It is defined as the system of those sequential relations that any event has to any other, as past, present, or future; indefinite and continuous duration regarded as that in which events succeed one another.”[10]

When I clap my hands, snap my fingers or strike a beat, this initiates time, the event. At the moment of impact it is present, as we move thru duration, it becomes past until another event occurs. When this new event occurs, we now have a full value of the duration. Once we repeat the duration by creating more events, we then have a glimpse of the future.  Each event triggers vibration. This is how our body responds to sound accordingly and the continued vibration of events creates energy. When we subdivide time or cut the duration of the event in half, this energy is intensified. So, depending on how in tune we are with time, we can harness enormous amounts of energy in our body. Time is like a porthole that connects us to the true source of happiness and love. It goes across the board with everything that is creative… Music, Dance, Martial Arts, etc…

“The human energy field both permeates the entire body and radiates to the outside, inches to feet beyond the body’s surface.  This field has been validated in scientific laboratories as light emissions using photometers and color filters, as Dr. Valerie Hunt describes in her book Infinite Mind. During a research that harnessed the complex wave forms and resonance that connect us to our source, Dr. Valerie Hunt found that the human energy field vibrations were as much as 1000 times higher frequency than the electrical signals of nerve and muscle, with continuous, dynamic modulation, unlike the pulsating signals of the nervous system.”[11]

I enhanced my perspective of time in order to have a profound perception of it and the place where you start to feel time is surreal. When it is completely aligned it takes over. Once in control, your thoughts are departed and you go into full expression mood, free expression. This is the vortex. Once in the vortex, there is nothing but positive feelings. It provides a state of euphoria that takes over everything. Fear triggers insecurities that trigger scattered impulses internally. These impulses are vibrations that are created by pulse, frequency, and time. The more we stay at this scattered impulse state; our body adjusts to that tempo.  Through meditative practice, yoga, Tai chi or anything that keeps the mind calm, we’re able to slow down our tempo in the search for inner peace. The more peaceful we become internally, our body re-adjusts to our natural state. As an analogy, I compare it to our body being at 120 beats per min in scattered impulses and 60-100 beats per min in our natural state. How you feel internally is what affects the external being.

Chapter 4 of the book “Essential Music Intelligence” is the best tool in reaching a state of internal peace. Witnessing. The witness stance is the most important stance in maintaining this state of mind. It puts you in complete observation mode. The feeling is like being in a movie where you’re the main character, but not really taking part in it. You then start to realize different aspects about time, feeling as if you have more. It feels like everything is flying past you, but you are in slow motion observing. I realized that this witness stance was opened in my childhood. Walking home late nights in the dark pulled me into this state. I used to pay attention to the feeling, sound and vibration that were traveling up my body from observing the impact of my feet to the ground. It became rhythmic. My creative expression went into frenzy. I heard songs, tones and possibilities. It seemed infinite.

By recognizing this state of being, remembering what it felt like to be completely in the moment, I’ve healed my entire body with this practice. Witnessing keeps you from comparison and judgment. It puts you completely in the center, with a bird’s eye view of your world. The more you witness it; it always comes back down to time and the possibilities of perception around it. Stay in the present and you’ll witness everything you ever dreamed of. You start to recognize the biggest illusion of them all. The past and the future are concepts. They do not exist.

One, Joel Masacote

Work Cited

Appiah, Kwame Anthony “Black Skin, White Masks” Foreword / ix

Fanon, Frantz p.2

Adler, Alfred Understanding Human Nature, Greenberg, New York, 1927, p.80

Fanon, Frantz Black Skin, White Masks p.102

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/time?s=t

Hunt, Dr. Valerie V. “The lost chords found” Wellness Goodshttp://www.wellnessgoods.com/lostchordsfound.asp

Robinson, Sir Ken. “Changing Education Paradigms” Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

Fanon, Frantz Black Skin, White Masks p.3

Fanon, Frantz p.62

Fanon, Frantz p.205

Fanon, Frantz p.206

Essential Music Intelligence, by Louise Montello

[1] Appiah, Kwame Anthony “Black Skin, White Masks” Foreword / ix

[2] Fanon, Frantz p.2

[3] Adler, Alfred Understanding Human Nature, Greenberg, New York, 1927, p.80

[4] Robinson, Sir Ken. “Changing Education Paradigms” Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

[5] Fanon, Frantz Black Skin, White Masks p.3

[6] Fanon, Frantz p.62

[7] Fanon, Frantz p.205

[8] Fanon, Frantz p.206

[9] Fanon, Frantz Black Skin, White Masks p.102

[10] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/time?s=t

[11] Hunt, Dr. Valerie V. “The lost chords found” Wellness Goodshttp://www.wellnessgoods.com/lostchordsfound.asp

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