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NAJM Interviews The Village People's Very Own...



NAJM Dance Culture
When I received an email from Felipe last year, I was surprised to hear from a member of the Village People. After doing some quick research, I discovered that Felipe was in fact a member of the 70's disco group The Village People. Never having known the actual names of the group members, I jumped to the assumption that Felipe was a "new Village People" member, not an original...?
  While recently in Miami, I was introduced to Felipe and was immediately drawn to his sincerity and genuine love of dance culture. Both warm and inviting, Felipe agreed to an impromptu interview with NAJM. Still thinking that Felipe was a "new" Village People member, I quickly realized that this young charismatic man sitting in front of me was in fact THE original Indian of THE original Village People (In amazing shape I might add!). The same Village People who gave us some of the best dance records almost three decades ago!  
NAJM:  How did you get involved with the Village People?
Felipe:  25 years coming up. Timing is everything. I was in the right place at the right time. I met a producer from France; I was dancing in my regalia outfit. My father is Indian, third generation and my mother is Puerto Rican. I was in New York in the dance scene. Disco was on the verge of leaving the gay clubs and starting to become mainstream. This gentleman, Jacques Marli who had the best disco club in town was looking for a new idea to start a group. There I was in a club dancing at the height of my youth.
NAJM:  You still look pretty damn young.
Felipe:  Thank You. He said, ďletís do somethingĒ I was only 20 years old and already thought I was famous. How famous are we talking? Jacque said, ďDiana Ross statusĒ.  I was like, ďIím already famous and a fixture in New York CityĒ, of course. I thought, I can work with Diana Ross status and thatís how we started out. We put the group together through auditions. I would say that they sold us out pretty quick commercially speaking. We disbanded in 1985 and then right after re-grouped again in í97 with the original guys. I was very clear about what my focus was going to be. At the time when the group ended, I said that I would never do it again. Since everyone looked like they wanted to do it again, I decided we had to do it again for ourselves. So we set up the Corporation, and took our biggest territory, Australia. Fast forward 14 years, Iím President of the company and co-founder of the group. I started a production company and small imprint label, Tomahawk Records and Frostbite Productions. We have my solo project, 2 CDís that are out with vinyl, and basically the group is putting them out under assumed names.
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Staying True to Dance Music

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NAJM:  Why are you using assumed names?
Felipe: The reason we are going under a different name is that there were so many remixes of ďYMCA, San FranciscoĒ, all the old songs, itís better to do very different and not be pegged like the Village People were with the commercial pop thing. Iíve been very busy working with the group and having fun with that, working a couple of new artists and having fun with it. I donít know what else to say, Iím a little flabbergasted.
dot_clear.gif (43 bytes) NAJM:   How would you describe the Village People then and the Village People now? What kinds of things have remained the same and what kind of things have changed? Because the world has completely changed from back then.
Felipe:  The energy is still there. Last week we were in Phoenix for the Ali fight night, it was a fundraiser for Michael J. Fox. Larry King came over and said hello and gave us his condolences because we lost Glen Hughes last week and we took care of him until the end. We buried him in his uniform and had an amazing funeral. We were there for each other, as business partners, as brothers. I donít think Iíve spent any more time with anyone, but these guys. Larry King said, ďthis group has legendary status and the word that defines this group is, energy and funĒ. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Village People. I was like, Larry King, come on. It got me to wondering, have I really been around that long? Itís what the group still has, weíve maintained that energy we come out and go wild and we still have a tongue in cheek attitude.
NAJM:  Has your audience grown with you?
Felipe: What was considered back then as a homophobic gay group, today is different, couples are married and their mothers love us. Whatís come out of it is sheer respect - itís very interesting.
NAJM:   One of the funny things is that as a kid I grew up listening to your records, I know that sounds bad.
Felipe:  No, not really. You paid my mortgage.
NAJM:   I never picked up on the gay innuendo at that age, and I think most people didnít.
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YMCA Just a Filler Track?

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Felipe:  It was never intended Ė YMCA really was a filler song. Like at a lunch break in the studio and we needed one more song. Jacques walked in and says YMCA! We were like what? He said, ďWhat's YMCAĒ? We laughed and said it stood for Young Menís Cruising Association. When people heard the song, they said it was a hit. The first album pays homage to all the gay locations where gay music was being played Ė where the beat, the life force of the gay community, Fire Island, San Francisco, the Village, Hollywood, Key West. So the first album naturally paid tribute to that. We immediately went commercial with Macho Man, everyone assumed Ė itís like Madonna if thereís a cross involved, there must be religion involved. Itís what we perceive, what we inject into something that we might think is good or bad for us.
NAJM:   You were there for the death of disco.
Felipe:  How do I look?
NAJM:   Fabulous! (Laughs) What was that like to go through that where all of a sudden you just became the biggest taboo on the planet?
Felipe:  It took a nosedive like a jet tumbling toward earth.
NAJM:   But here you are you are still going and you have this wonderful aura about you. Thatís remarkable.
Felipe:  I think that the music really has a lot to do with it Ė it keeps me young and alive. Itís everything that I live for. I know that I am going to die for the music. I want on my epitaph, ďTo be or not to be Ė the question is, is the music still playing?Ē  I canít think of this world without it. I wouldnít want to imagine what the world would be like if it werenít for the artistry and music. The science and arts, together with technology of how far weíve come and where weíre going. Without music, I donít know where we would be. Dance music has more of a larger following and is now mainstream like disco was Ė youíre seeing a lot of major recording artists coming and giving back. I want to earn a living doing music, but the remixers that donít have management, all the young up and coming artists, songwriters. To be here is because of them.

A New Beginning...

  NAJM:   I havenít heard your new stuff Ė tell me a little bit about those projects Ė you also mentioned a solo project as well, what will be the focus of that?  
  Felipe:  Iím going to record a tribal, Latin, soul album that will have a bit of heritage for my mother and father. Tribal music, and American dance music. Itís funny because I am involved with Native American Indian affairs around the country; I raise a lot of money for the cause. I use my position in the industry to raise millions of dollars for AIDS, charity and the second is the American Indian College Fund, so I am involved in the Indian affairs. When Ricky Martin won the Grammy, everyone said, ďoh, Latin is inĒ, wrong, itís on the tail end, because the 21st century, Native American dance is on the upswing, itís being acknowledged this year. My album will reflect both, the Latin on my motherís side and the soul/R Ďn B upbringing that I was raised with in the 70ís.  
  NAJM:   You mentioned a minute ago that you are into what we are Ė the attitude. We try to get a collective group of artists, DJís, etc., that are in it for the music and not for that ego thing, can you address that, youíve seen it all?  
  Felipe:  I think the NAJM site is very informative. For someone like me who is very busy, I canít run out and by everything or be at every club. I can look at your lists and Iíll go and buy at least 2 or 3 things from it and then I know if I want to go in this direction I look at your lists. You give highlights to others in the industry that need that recognition because they canít get it from the mainstream.  
NAJM:   The No Attitude Just Music, acts as a magnet and filter at the same time.
  Felipe:  I think the ego should be left at the door no one needs it. Get down to the brass tacks of the business. Where are we going and what are we doing with the music. Itís the people who are putting it together, itís all the people who live off of it, itís all the people who, if itís done right can live a long life and give something to the next generation. Weíre setting the pace for younger generation. Disco in my day, didnít last but we blew it out and it spun out of control. Today, things are a little different, people are a bit more careful, but dance is very strong and itís very real.  

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