Musica Viva: DJing is a second language for Kiko De Gallo

Download: “Disco Boy (remix by Kiko De Gallo)” by Shantel MP3

Download: “P Funk (remix by Kiko De Gallo)” by Jam Akerson MP3

I never thought my quest for new music would take me to a sushi bar. But it’s Valentine’s Day, and that’s where I am, best gal by my side, drinking a vodka tonic with two hunks of fresh lime to enliven my scurvy-dulled winter senses.

Downtown’s Nara, with its sconces and booths and darkness and pulse and fancy sink in the bathroom that connects the men’s side with the women’s side, could be written off as one of many cosmo urban bars where this town’s youngish people go to eat hors d’oeuvres off a naked model and feel like their parents are not moldering on a couch 15 minutes away.

Well, if you can put up with the retro furnishings and the baby-men in suitlike costumes, Nara is a pretty good place to catch a beat most nights of the week. The owner, Casey Adams, was a DJ himself once. On Thursdays, he gives over the night to a guy who calls himself Kiko De Gallo — the tomato I’ve come to see.

“A lot of DJs are good. Kiko plays stuff that’s really unique. Like that ‘Mariposa’ song — I never would’ve found that if it weren’t for him,” Adams says.

The song, recorded by the New York City duo Nickodemus & Osiris, features a languid female vocalist singing in Spanish over a slow, slinky hip-hop beat and a cocktail-tippling piano sample.

It’s a good intro to a DJ who has traveled all over to get his sound.

By day, Francisco Asis Morillo Otero teaches high school math and college ESL classes. By night, the full-blooded Spaniard dons his condiment-referencing alias and holds down two DJ residencies.

On Thursdays at Nara, where there’s nowhere to dance, Kiko mostly spins the eclectic, jazzy, midtempo, international-flavored mix that he likes to call world funk, “Mariposa” included.

Fridays at One80, he gets butts moving to electro-rock: a catchall that blends disco, indie rock and ’80s hits, powered by hammering Baltimore club beats and peppered with distorted synthesizers. In this genre, Kiko has kindred spirits in DJs such as the local duo Tactic and Washington, D.C., spinner Tittsworth. They’re party starters who bring laptops with the turntables and are savvy enough to come up with remixes on their own.

Originally from the Flamenco-music capital of Cadiz, Spain, Kiko studied graduate social economics in Bordeaux, France, and English in New York City. If there’s a common thread in the 33-year-old’s life, it’s playing records.

“When I was in high school, I was already spinning for clubs I wasn’t allowed to get into,” he says in a thick Mediterranean accent. “The night in Spain is crazy. The clubs used to be open till, like, 10 a.m.”

The Midwest is a lot less crazy, as Kiko quickly discovered upon arriving in 2005 as part of a foreign-exchange program for teachers. Though he’s now married to a local woman, at the time, he knew nobody.

Kiko found a dance scene saturated with the house and techno music of the post-rave scene and the commercial hip-hop of the big clubs.

“It’s not a multicultural city,” he says. “I think that people here have a lot of prejudice toward DJs — they think DJs are just techno music.”

But soon after arriving, Kiko discovered Oz McGuire, who, under the name Señor Ozgood (often with partner Fat Sal), had built a local following by spinning exotic beats — Latin, Afrobeat, reggaeton — alongside hip-hop and old-school funk and soul. Oz provided Kiko with an introduction to a pocket of locals who don’t listen to the radio or incorporate glowsticks into a night of dancing.

He continued making his way into the scene, partnering for a while with Phoenix transplant Ian Frost and even spinning alongside live-instrument jazz experimenters Organic Proof.

Now, Kiko has risen to a spot where he can help newcomer DJs.

A young Hispanic man walks in through Nara’s drafty door. Ivan Diaz DeLeon goes by the name DJ Ivy. Originally from Dallas, Deleon has lived in Miami and commuted to a residency in Detroit. His style is more electronic than Kiko’s — “house, breaks, trance, Latin,” he says — but the two have already collaborated on a mix CD called Robot Noise.

“Kansas City has a bigger dance scene than Dallas,” DeLeon says.

Over on the decks, Kiko plays “Mariposa.”

“That’s it — that’s the song!” Adams shouts from across the bar.

Categories: Music