New York City has led the country in musical diversity. It has been the home for blues, rock, jazz and the birthplace for bebop, punk rock, new wave, disco, freestyle and salsa, which was influenced by New York’s Latino community.
Dance music was being played throughout New York in the early 1980s when house music, a descendant of disco, was forged in the underground clubs of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Detroit. The common element of most house music was the drumbeat and an electronically generated bass line. freestyle or Latin freestyle gained its popularity as a form of electronic dance music, becoming the rage in the 1980s until it began to wane in the early 1990s.
Radio stations such as Hot 97 and WKTU largely made freestyle popular playing the music of artists such as George Lamond, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, Pretty Poison, the Cover Girls, Noel, Company B, Sweet Sensation, Shannon, Nancy Martinez, Sa-Fire, Coro, Judy Torres, Corina, Rockwell, TKA and others.
Although freestyle may have waned, it never disappeared and, in fact, is still supported by heavily populated Latino communities in cities such as Los Angeles, San Jose, Chicago, Dallas, San Diego, Miami and New York. Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx, the birthplace of freestyle, has certainly done its part to “Let the Music Play,” bringing it to their venue for the 10th year in association with Sal Abbatiello of Fever Records as part of “Forever Freestyle 10” Saturday, March 5 at 8 p.m. This year they are featuring 15 groups, including Judy Torres, Cynthia, Betty of Sweet Sensation, Johnny O, Rockell, Joe Zangie, Fascination, Nayobe, C-Bank, Pretty Poison, Trilogy, Tonasia, Laissez Faire, Tania and TKA.
This writer had the opportunity to talk with K7 of TKA, who gave me a glimpse into his career as a freestyle artist and songwriter.
“I grew up in Spanish Harlem along with members of TKA. I was considered a child prodigy. We were teens hanging around and getting into the music scene. We wanted to be rap artists. There were no Spanish rap artists at the time. Latin soul musician Joe Bataan was the closest thing to it. I had written a song entitled ‘Scars of Love,’ so me, Tony Ortiz, Alejandro ‘Aby’ Escoto and later Angel Vasquez got together and formed the group TKA and started singing around the neighborhood.
“Tommy Boy Records was in my neighborhood so once we formed the group, I went up to Tommy Boy, where I met Afrika Bambaataa, known for his hit ‘Planet Rock.’ I invited a fellow who I took for the receptionist, Joey Gardner, at Tommy Boy Records to come hear our group and he actually came. He later became our manager and producer for many years,” recalled K7, who prefers to be called “Kay.”
TKA’s first single was “One Way Love,” which became a major hit in the Latin Clubs. “Come Get My Love” came next, followed by “Tears May Fall,” “X-Ray Vision” and “Don’t Be Afraid.”
“When I write I may write about something that I am focusing on at the time. When I wrote ‘Maria,’ it was after I had seen ‘West Side Story.’ To me, freestyle is actually Harlequin romances done over 120 BPMs, wherein the artist talks about heartbreak while making the audiences want to dance. The music is really about teenage angst, and that was what ‘West Side Story’ is about so I decided to tell a sped up version of it via TKA’s song ‘Maria.’
“I did a similar thing when I was watching Cab Calloway and his version of ‘Minnie the Moocher.’ I liked the call and repeat of his ‘Hi-De-Ho.’ Cab was one of the first Black movie stars in 1920s and 1930s. I heard Cab singing ‘Hi-De-Ho’ and saw him on a ‘Blues Brother’ movie. His energy and the energy of the music reminded me of hanging out with my friends wherein one thought would be echoed by the next person and the next. Thus, that energy dictated what the energy of the night would be,” said the singer, who has appeared in nine “Forever Freestyle” shows. Also, TKA songs appeared in Jim Carrey’s movie “The Mask” and Morgan Freeman’s “Lean On Me.”
An on-air radio personality on Hot 97 for eight years and then for another three years with WKTU-FM, K7 has been involved in charitable endeavors such as the Cure for Cancer Walk under Team Chosen Butterfly. He walks in honor of his friend Vivian Rivera, who died of breast cancer. In the summer, he walked for the Brain Tumor Society, focusing his attention on children with cancer and autism. Fans can find out more about K7 through his Facebook page Kay Seven TKA and through http://theofficialtka.com.
Interested parties and fans of freestyle music can catch TKA and 14 other freestyle performers at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, located at 250 Bedford Park Blvd. West in the Bronx, Saturday, March 5 at 8 p.m. Call the Lehman Center box office at 718-960-8833 718-960-8833 or visit www.lehmancenter.org for tickets. Parking is $5.