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Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire 07-31-1999 V.2 ; N.2 p. 22.

"Cha Cha with A Backbeat" : Songs and Stories of Latin Boogaloo

Première publication 31 juillet 1999, Publié le 23 septembre 2002, par : Juan Flores

"BANG BANG".

"Let’s just try it out, Sonny. If it doesn’t work, I’ll buy you a double.".

Jimmy Sabater remembers the night he kept coaxing his bandleader Joe Cuba to play a new number he had in mind. It was 1966 at the Palm Gardens Ballroom in midtown Manhattan, and the house was packed. "It was a black dance," Jimmy recalls, "de morenos, morenos americanos de Harlem and stuff, you know, they had black dances one night a week there and at some of the other spots. So that night we were playing selections from our new album, We Must Be Doing Something Right, that had just come out, the one with `El Pito’ on it, you know, `I’ll never go back to Georgia, never go back...’ The place was packed, but when we were playing all those mambos and cha chas, nobody was dancing.

So at the end of the first set, I went over to Joe Cuba and said, look, Sonny (that’s his nickname), I have an idea for a tune that I think might get them up. And Joe says, no, no, no, we got to keep on playing the charts from the new album. Then toward the end of the second set, I went on begging him, and said, look, if I’m wrong, we’ll stop and I’ll buy you a double. So finally he said o.k., and I went over to the piano and told Nick Jimenez, play this...Before I even got back to the timbal, the people were out on the floor, going `bi-bi, hah ! bi-bi, hah !’ I mean mobbed !" As Joe Cuba himself recalls, "suddenly the audience began to dance side-to-side like a wave-type dance, and began to chant `she-free, she-free,’ sort of like an African tribal chant and dance."(1) The new tune by the Joe Cuba Sextet was "Bang Bang." Within weeks, it was recorded and released as a single which soon hit the national Billboard charts and stayed there for ten weeks, one of the few Latin recordings ever to reach that level of commercial success. It even outdid "El Pito," which the year before had also made the charts, and the album on which "Bang Bang" appeared, Wanted : Dead or Alive, was a huge hit as well. It was the heyday of Latin boogaloo, and Joe Cuba’s band was at the height of its popularity. 1966 was also the year that saw the closing of the legendary Palladium Ballroom, an event marking the definitive end of the great mambo era in Latin music which had already been waning since the beginning of the decade. And, looking ahead to developments to come, it was some six years later at that very same Palm Gardens venue, by then called the Cheetah Club, that the Fania All-Stars were filmed in performance in the making of the movie Nuestra Cosa (Our Latin Thing), which is sometimes regarded as the inauguration of "salsa." Between the mambo and salsa, in the brief period spanning the years 1966-1968, the boogaloo was all the rage in the New York Latin community and beyond. It was both a bridge and a break, for with all the continuities and influences in terms of musical style, the boogaloo diverged from the prevailing models of Latin music in significant ways.

Jimmy Sabater’s story about the making of "Bang Bang" helps explain the social function of boogaloo, while the song itself is characteristic of its style and musical qualities. As neighbors and co-workers, African Americans and Puerto Ricans in New York had been partying together for many years. For decades they had been frequenting the same clubs, with Black and Latin bands often sharing the billing. Since the musical revolution of the late 1940s, when giants like Mario Bauzá, Machito, and Dizzy Gillespie joined forces in the creation of Cubop or Latin jazz, the two traditions had come into closer contact than ever, with the strains of Afro-Cuban guaguancó, son, and guaracha interlacing and energizing the complex harmonic figures of big-band and bebop experimentations. For African Americans, that same mid-century mambo and Cubop period corresponded to the years of rhythm-and-blues, from the jump blues of Louis Jordan to the shouters and hollerers and street corner doo-woppers of the 1950s. Scores of American popular tunes of those years bore titles, lyrics, or musical gimmicks suggestive of the mambo or cha cha, while many young Puerto Ricans joined their African American and Italian partners in harmonizing the echochamber strains of doo-wop love songs and novelty numbers.(2) With all the close sharing of musical space and tastes, however, there were differences and distances. African-American audiences generally appreciated and enjoyed Latin musical styles, yet those who fully understood the intricacies of Afro-Cuban rhythms and came to master the challenging dance movements remained the exception rather than the rule. Most Black Americans, after listening admiringly to a set of mambos and boleros, will long for their familiar blues and r&b sounds, and by the mid-1960s, soul music of course was the rage. Popular Latin bands thus found themselves creating a musical common ground by introducing the trappings of Black American culture into their performances and thus getting the Black audiences involved and onto the dance floor. "Bang Bang" by the Joe Cuba Sextet, and Latin boogaloo music in general, was intended to constitute this meeting place between Puerto Ricans and Blacks, and by extension, between Latin music and the musical culture of the United States.

"Bang Bang" begins with a short piano vamp, which is then immediately joined by loud group handclapping and a few voices shouting excitedly but unintelligibly, and then by a large crowd chanting in unison, "bi-bi, hah ! bi-bi, hah !" The chant is repeated four times, increasing each time in intensity and accompanied throughout by the repeated piano lick and the handclapping and shouting, which are then supplemented by Jimmy Sabater on timbales, all the while building up to the resounding chorus "bang bang !" This refrain phrase is introduced by the solo vocal and then repeated over and over by the group chorus, while the soloist, none other than the legendary Cheo Feliciano, goes off into a kind of scat soneo or ad lib, blurting out random phrases mostly in Spanish, very much in the improvisational style of the son montuno. Feliciano’s lead vocal interacts with the choral "bang bang" and with the bongo bells (played, it turns out, by Manny Oquendo), and throughout the song resounds in indirect and playful dialogue with another solo voice line, in English, carried by Willie Torres, mostly exhorting the crowd and the band with slang phrases like "come git it," "sock it to me," "hanky panky," and the like. Somewhere in the middle of the four-minute recording is the line, "Cornbread, hog maw, and chitlins," repeated several times and then teased out with Spanish comments like "comiendo cuchifrito" and "lechón, lechón !" The last half of the song involves three or four false endings, as over and over the irresistible rowdy clamor is rekindled by the same piano vamp, with the solo vocal exchanges taking on a more and more gossipy and jocular tone.
Though some changes were obviously required for the studio recording of the tune, "Bang Bang" remains very much a party. Like the other popular songs of boogaloo, such as Hector Rivera’s "At the Party," Pete Rodríguez’s "I Like It Like That," and Johnny Colón’s "Boogaloo Blues," it reenacts a bawdy happening at the peak of its emotional and sexual energy, with instrumentals and vocals playing in full, wild association with the crowd. Joe Cuba recalls, thinking mainly of "Bang Bang," that "when I recorded in those days I always left a big boom mike overhanging above all the musicians to put in a little live effect." The musical texture of the song is a patchwork of noises, emotive outbursts, cries of glee, short musical phrases, and the recurring, abiding counterpoint of the crowd chorus and the leitmotiv piano lick. The lyrics, though of no consistent narrative or dramatic significance, nevertheless do have a meaning, which is the interplay of Black and Latin festivity and culture, the playful mingling of African-American phrases and cultural symbols with those from Puerto Rican daily life. Musically, this same message is carried across with the collage-like mixing of familiar trappings from mambo and r&b styles. The perspective is clearly that of the Latino, and Latin music is the main defining sound of the piece ; but the traditional features and structuring principles of the Afro-Cuban model are consistently overridden by their conjoining with qualities from the r&b and soul traditions. The overall effect of the recording is one of collective celebration, gleeful partying where boundaries are set not so much by national and ethnic affiliation, or even language or formalized dance movements, but by participation in that special moment of inclusive ceremony.
As "Bang Bang" illustrates, the defining theme and musical feature of boogaloo is precisely this intercultural togetherness, the solidarity engendered by living and loving in unison beyond obvious differences. Its emergence coincided with the historical moment of the Civil Rights movement and the coming-of-age of the first generation of Puerto Rican youth born and raised in New York City. Latin music expert and producer René López calls boogaloo "the first Nuyorican music," and a consensus has gathered in concurrence with that description. It is the sound that accompanied the teenage years of the Young Lords and of the Nuyorican poets in the later 1960s ; Piri Thomas’s groundbreaking memoir Down These Mean Streets was published in 1967. Like those experiences, it attests to the guiding, exemplary role of African-American culture and politics for that generation of Puerto Ricans growing up in New York. "Bang Bang" is an explosion of excitement arising from that cultural conjunction, the linking of Puerto Rican backgrounds with the African American influences so prevalent in all aspects of social life, including of course their music and dance.

PRELUDES IN BOOGALOO

Latin boogaloo burst onto the scene in 1966, the year that saw the recording not only of "Bang Bang" but of the other best-known boogaloo tunes as well. Johnny Colón’s "Boogaloo Blues," Pete Rodríguez’s "I Like It Like That," and Hector Rivera’s "At the Party" all hit the record stores in 1966-67, and made overnight stars of many of the young musicians in El Barrio and in the clubs throughout the New York area. Much to the concern, and even hardship, of the established bandleaders from the 1950’s and early 1960’s, it was the young boogaloo musicians who seemed to come out of nowhere and were suddenly getting top billings, selling the most records, and getting the hottest requests for airplay. The standbys, on the other hand, notably Tito Puente and Charlie Palmieri, suddenly found themselves in dire straits. As Joe Cuba recalls, with boogaloo the career of his band, which had been around for over ten years by then, was catapulted into the national and international spotlight ; now they were sharing shows and touring with big-time performers like the Supremes, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, and the Drifters, and traveling widely. They had a long and successful run at the Flamboyán Hotel in Puerto Rico, where boogaloo also caught on like wildfire.

The most popular band in Puerto Rico in those years, El Gran Combo, brought out an album with six of the twelve cuts listed as boogaloos, and included the immensely popular "Gran Combo’s Boogaloo." The fever then held on for another year or two, longer than most of the dance crazes of those years, and even the disdainful holdouts among the more sophisticated musicians, like Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente, came around to recording their own boogaloos. It was a time when, as many of the musicians attest, you could not not play boogaloo and expect to draw crowds and get recording contracts.

Jimmy Sabater got the piano lick which served as the fuse for "Bang Bang" from a tune by Richie Ray. "Bang Bang," for all its symbolic interest in responding directly to African American tastes and for all its commercial success, was not the first boogaloo tune, nor did it even mention the word in its lyrics. Who was the first to use the term, or to start making Latin music explicitly called boogaloo ? Several musicians involved at the time point in the direction of Ricardo Ray, whose two albums Se Soltó (On the Loose) and Jala Jala y Boogaloo drew immediate attention when they came out on Alegre in 1966 and 1967. Evidently, when Pete Rodríguez, Johnny Colón, and other boogaloo bands were introducing their new sides under that designation, Richie Ray had already made the term and associated musical styles familiar to dance and listening audiences. Discussions of origins always stir up debate and dissension, but if Richie Ray wasn’t in fact the first, he is certainly responsible for giving the music called boogaloo a certain standard of fascination and quality, which little of what followed was able to live up to.

But the roots of boogaloo run deeper than its presumed founding act, even if it is of the accomplishment shown by Richie Ray and his group, with its creative mingling of jazz and rock flavors into a range of traditional Cuban styles, all in the name of boogaloo. Indeed, without using the word, "Bang Bang" and "El Pito" are closer to the core of what boogaloo is about, musically and socially, than anything in the Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz repertoire of those years. The bawdiness, the strong presence of funk and soul music, the abrupt break with certain tradition-bound conventions of Latin style, all figure centrally in most boogaloo, and point more clearly to the musical influences that set the stage for that brief yet dramatic transition in Latin music of the mid-1960s period. After all, Jimmy Sabater got the inspiration for "El Pito," which in 1965 might well have preceded the songs on Richie Ray’s Se Soltó album, not from Ray’s piano but from basic motives of "Manteca." Jimmy was thinking of Machito and Dizzy Gillespie and their historic recording of the tune that became the cornerstone of Latin and jazz fusion. Even the words of "El Pito," "I’ll never go back to Georgia," were spoken by Dizzy at the beginning of the "Manteca" recording, and comprise a phrase that Jimmy associates more than any other with African-American experience and expression. What appealed to him most for the purposes of "El Pito" was the perfect fit between the rhythm of that spoken phrase and the cadence of Latin musical phrasing : "Never go back to Georgia, never go back." It was all this, Jimmy comments, "and none of us had ever been to Georgia." Puerto Rican musicians during the boogaloo era, whether newcomers or those with years of experience, were all formed during the illustrious mambo period of the 1950’s. All of them, even those who venture furthest into non-Latin musical fields, acknowledge their indebtedness to the "Big Three," and speak with awe and unqualified gratitude of the crowning achievements of the Machito, Tito Rodríguez, and Tito Puente orchestras, especially in their unforgettable home at the Palladium. Mambo, guaguancó, son guajira, cha cha chá, guaracha, bolero, all performed at the peak of their potential, formed the music that nourished and inspired Latin musicians during the 1950s and throughout the 1960s and beyond. Both major crazes of that decade — the charangapachanga fever of the first half and the boogaloo of the second — arose and faded in the afterglow of the Palladium years.

But the new generation of Latinos emerging in the 1960s, including the musicians then in their teens and twenties, was reared on another musical culture as well.

While surrounded by a full range of Latin styles at home, on the radio, and in family and neighborhood occasions, many young Puerto Ricans in the 1950s and early 1960s were listening to and singing doo-wop and other rhythm-and-blues and rock-and-roll sounds. While the "older" musicians associated with boogaloo — those then in their thirties — had earlier performed with or in association with the bands of the mambo era, the younger ones typically recall that their favorite music when growing up, "our music," had been r&b and other forms of African-American popular song, especially doo-wop. Influential boogaloo composers and performers like Tony Pabón of the Pete Rodríguez band, Johnny Colón and his vocalists Tito Ramos and Tony Rojas, Bobby Marín, King Nando, and countless others were members or sometimes founders of doo-wop groups even before they connected, or reconnected, with Latin music. Bobby Marín for one speaks authoritatively of the Puerto Ricans involved in some of the major doo-wop acts, beginning with the three who formed the Teenagers with Frankie Lymon, and who evidently composed some of his biggest hits. For King Nando, the Drifters were his favorite group after he arrived from Puerto Rico in the 1950s, and for Jimmy Sabater it was the Harptones, though his all-time "king," of course, was Nat King Cole.

Two musical languages thus coexisted in the world of the boogaloo musician, that of the cultural and family heritage and that of life among peers in the streets and at school. The challenge was : how to bring these two worlds together and create a new language of their own ? King Nando tells how, as a teenager raised on doo-wop and early rock-and-roll, he once went to the Palladium and heard Tito Rodríguez play "Mama Güela." "From then on," he recalls of this moment in 1961, "I Latinized all my r&b arrangements."(3) The musical career of Johnny Colón, whose band gained fame with its 1967 recording of "Boogaloo Blues," began when he formed and sang with the East Harlem doo-wop group The Sunsets. For Colón, boogaloo was above all "a kind of bridge, a way for the young, r&b-reared Latino musicians and fans to link back with their musical heritage." This musical linkage took many forms, and only some of it was called boogaloo ; the boogaloo repertoire actually ranges along a continuum from, on one end, basically Latin sounds and rhythms with traces of African-American styles, to what are r&b, funk and soul songs with some Latin percussion, instrumentals, and Spanish-language lyrics or inflections. The only proviso for it to be part of the world of boogaloo is that both musical idioms be present, and that both the Latino and the African-American publics find in it something of their own to relate to.

Though foreshadowed by it, the cross-cultural fusions characteristic of the boogaloo period differed in significant ways from that of the Cubop and Latin jazz of the previous generation. For one thing, the Latin musicians of the boogaloo period had both traditions, the Latin and the African-American, active in their experience from the beginning of their musical efforts, while with few exceptions there was in the 1940s and 1950s still a divide between Latin and African American musicians in terms of background familiarity. Furthermore, boogaloo involved the mixing of Afro-Cuban style with the vernacular, blues, and gospel-based currents of African-American music, the r&b and soul sounds that saturated the airwaves and broadly popular settings of the 1960s period, and sold to broad markets not even approximated by any jazz offerings. It was the dance and party music of the wide American and international public that the boogaloo fusion took as the most direct partner of the popular Latin sounds, such that aside from the most immediate connection to African-American styles, boogaloo involved the engagement of Latin Caribbean music with the pop music market to a degree unprecedented in previous periods. Salsa personality Izzy Sanabria considers Latin boogaloo "the greatest potential that we had to really cross over in terms of music."(4) While mambo and doo-wop thus form the dual heritage from the 1950s that went into the making of boogaloo, there are more immediate precursors from the early 1960s that anticipate many of the features of Latin boogaloo and help to understand in a broader context the fad which was to hold sway in the Latin music field later in the decade. That wider context may be thought of as New York Latin music of the 1960s, the period prior to the advent of "salsa" in chronological terms, or in musical terms as "Latin soul," the whole range of Latin-African American fusions of which boogaloo is a part.

Before boogaloo hit the scene, for example, there was Latin music in English, connecting to soul and funk rhythms and sounds (as well as jazz), based on improvised conversation or party noise, and with sales capable of cracking the national charts. In songs like Willie Torres’s "To Be With You," Ray Barretto’s "El Watusi," Mongo Santamaría’s "Watermelon Man," and Eddie Palmieri’s "Azúcar," all recorded in the early 1960s, many of the identifying ingredients of Latin boogaloo are already present, and at a level of musical achievement seldom surpassed during the boogaloo years. They were, along with Tito Puente’s "Oye Como Va," the most popular Latin recordings of those years, and all involved an inflection of Latin traditions in the direction of African American r&b and soul sounds. They are among the "classics" of Latin soul (excepting perhaps Puente’s, where the association is based more on Santana’s Latin-rock cover version of 1969), and thus prefigure in varied ways the whole gesture of boogaloo.

"To Be With You" has been called the "all-time classic Latin Soul ballad," and there are few New York Latinos around in the early 1960s who would dispute that judgment.(5) What may appear surprising is that such a stature is accorded a song entirely in English and evidencing far more "soul" than "Latin." It was written in the early 1950s by Willie Torres and Nick Jiménez, a team responsible for composing some of the first pieces of Latin dance music in English, starting with a version of "I’ve Got You Under My Skin" in cha cha tempo, and the very popular "Mambo of the Times."(6) Torres, reflecting on those early crossovers, feels there was a need for English lyrics not only in order to reach non-Latino audiences, but among the New York Latinos of the day as well. "You have to remember," says Torres, whose musical career extends back to the early 1940s, "that most of us were Nuyoricans, born here, bred here. Machito and them, they were like the , but as it kept going, most of the kids, their Spanish was limited, like mine. I spoke Spanish at home because I had no choice. But as far as having a great knowledge of it, I didn’t. So I got with Joe," he continues, referring to bandleader Joe Cuba, and he then might have added Nick Jiménez, Jimmy Sabater, Cheo Feliciano, and the others. "He was of my era, too. So we said, let’s do this in English, and it worked out." It is thus clear that long before the boogaloo era, as exemplified by the early years of the Joe Cuba Sextet, there was already a major bilingual and English-dominant Latin music community in New York.

Torres never got to record "To Be With You" with the Joe Cuba band, though he sang it before countless hotel and club audiences through the 1950s, beginning with a memorable debut at the Stardust Ballroom in 1953. Torres even recorded the tune on the Manisero album of the Alegre All-Stars, where producer Al Santiago labeled it a "bolero gas." But Torres had left the Joe Cuba group in 1956, and so it was Jimmy Sabater, the lead English vocalist of the band at the time, who came to immortalize the song in the 1962 single recording. Its inclusion on the 1967 Steppin’ Out album draws the song into association with boogaloo, with which it has mainly its penchant for English lyrics in common. But it is, no doubt, Latin soul, of the Nat-King-Cole-with-a-slight-Spanish-accent variety. The "Latin" musical accents of this r&b love ballad are also muted, with bolero tempo and bongo slaps playing off against the vocal harmonies and crescendos which carry the romantic feeling of the song. As tailored as the sound is to an American ballroom setting, Torres is quick to recall that "To Be With You" is actually an interpretation of an old bolero, "Nunca (No Te Engañé)," and that he himself often sang it in Spanish, as "Estar Contigo." Willie Torres did get to be "El Watusi," though. "You remember that song `El Watusi’," he says, "well, you’re looking at him. For real, I’m the other voice. Not the deep one that does most of the talking, but the other one, el watusi himself, the one he’s talking about, and to. Ray Barretto, who did the tune, got me to be the other voice, to just grunt a few words in response to the deep one, the one who’s talking about el watusi as the biggest and baddest in all of Havana : `Caballero, allí acaba de entrar el watusi. Ese mulato que mide siete pies y pesa 169 libras...El hombre más guapo de La Habana.’ That was Güito Cortwright, the Puerto Rican who used to be second voice and güiro player in Arsenio Rodríguez’s band. We were the voices. And so I am el watusi." Few beyond Willie Torres’ own circle would know that he was the voice of the fearsome neighborhood tough guy, but Ray Barretto’s 1962 recording went on to hit the Top 20 on the U.S. pop charts in 1963, peaking at Number 3 in May of that year. It thus became the first recording by a Latin band to reach that milestone, and stands to this day as the greatest commercial success, still unsurpassed, in Barretto’s long and varied career. "El Watusi" was originally the B-side novelty number intended to accompany the more accomplished "Charanga Moderna" as part of the raging charanga-pachanga craze in New York Latin music. But it was "El Watusi," that odd, charanga-flavored sample of braggadocio in tough-talking Cuban street Spanish that caught on and set the stage for the boogaloo phenomenon in other ways. What is crucial here are obviously not the bilingual or English lyrics, nor the admixture of r&b sounds, though there can be no doubt that there were many African Americans among its fans. In this case, it is the spontaneous, conversational nature of the voices and the general rowdy crowd atmosphere that anticipates songs like "El Pito," "Bang Bang," "At the Party," and others in the boogaloo mode. The handclapping which accompanies the unchanging bass beat throughout the tune becomes an earmark of Latin boogaloo, as does in many cases the free and open song structure. "Lyrics ?" Willie Torres recalls, laughing. "We made it all up as we went along." But the fluke hit "El Watusi" prefigured the boogaloo craze in other ways as well, an association furthered by the popular 1968 recording by Willie Rosario, "Watusi Boogaloo." Its very commercial success, a tune by a Latin band hitting the charts, was proof that it was possible to play around with Latin sounds and have a hit.

But beyond its musical novelty, there were other reasons for the appeal of this zany Spanish rap with the charanga-style flute which point to a commonality with boogaloo. For the Watusi was also one of the most popular dances in the same year as the release of Barretto’s recording, especially after the success of the smash hit "Wah Watusi" by the Orlons, which had been high on the charts for 13 weeks, peaking at Number 5, in the previous year. The dance craze itself was introduced by The Vibrations with their 1961 hit "The Watusi," which in turn is based on the similar tune "Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go," by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters — the group, incidentally, which sang the original version of "The Twist" in 1959, a year before Chubby Checker’s historic cover version. The word "watusi," then, along with its sundry undefined connotations and connection to a well-known dance move, was in the air when "El Watusi" came out, such that Barretto’s recording, in a musical language totally unrelated to the American Watusi, rode the wave of that catchy familiarity of the moment.
Clearly, Latin boogaloo was similarly implicated in the prevailing dance crazes and pop categories in its time a few years later. Though there is no certainty as to its place of origin — Chicago and New York being the main contenders — it is established that the boogaloo was "the most successful new dance of 1965-66," the very years of the emergence of Latin boogaloo, quickly overshadowing the Jerk, the Twine, and the Monkey of the previous season.(7) The first of the many boogaloo records, according to this version, was "Boo-Ga-Loo" by the Chicago dance/comedy/singing duo Tom and Jerrio, who got the idea from seeing the dance done at a record hop. "The record, released on ABC, was a huge, million-selling hit for the pair in April 1965." There followed a slew of boogaloo recordings, including the Flamingos’ "Boogaloo Party," many of which became moderate hits on the soul and funk markets. Another account of black boogaloo, less oriented toward city of origin and pop charts and more toward musical force, identifies the quintessential sound as that of classic soul tunes like "Mustang Sally" and "In the Midnight Hour," both of which were made popular by Wilson Pickett. It was Pickett, too, who recorded the huge 1967 hit "Funky Broadway." Whether boogaloo is defined by these recordings, some more memorable than others, or the peculiar dance move, which "had a totally new look compared to previous dances, and its popularity crossed over to whites,"(8) it is clear that boogaloo was the foremost name for funky soul music at that moment in its history, and that Latin boogaloo took its name and direct crossover impulse from that immediate source. Though closer musically to its African-American namesake than was "El Watusi," the same process of mass popularity through association occurs, on a far more influential scale, with Latin boogaloo.
But neither "To Be With You" nor "El Watusi" exemplified or foreshadowed the main musical quality of Latin boogaloo, which is the fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythms with those of funk. That accomplishment is most directly attributable to Mongo Santamaría and Willie Bobo, and most familiar to general audiences in another chart-setting hit of the times, Mongo’s "Watermelon Man," listed nationally in August 1963. Some would even consider "Watermelon Man," written by Herbie Hancock, to be "the original boogaloo," but here the reference is specifically musical. For beyond the ad-libbed, conversational atmosphere in the vocals, a few grunts, animal sounds, and exhortations, Mongo’s tune has the sound, the rhythmic feel of the Latin-funk fusion, most notably in the percussive backbeat on the timbales and other mostly Afro-Cuban elements of the rhythm section. While the moaning brass sound is more in the Latin jazz idiom for which Mongo is famous, the rhythmic texture of the piece is closer to that of r&b, and the pronounced backbeat anticipates the signature effect of Latin Boogaloo.
Though it was Mongo’s recording of "Watermelon Man" that drew broad attention to this musical possibility, there were other musicians who shared this early Latin-funk field with him and who personified more directly the Puerto Rican-Black American rhythmic fusion. One was obviously Willie Bobo, the Black Puerto Rican born William Correa in Spanish Harlem who was Mongo’s proregé since the late 1940s. "I was his interpreter," he said of his relation to the great Cuban drummer, and "in return he showed me the different shades of sounds the drum is capable of producing."(9) In tunes like the significantly titled "Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries," Bobo stands squarely at the crossroads of Afro-Cuban and African-American cultures, with a particularly sharp nose for funk. At the other side of the Latin-black divide is Pucho, the African American Henry Lee Brown from Harlem who formed the Latin Soul Brothers, famous among other things for their 1967 recording "Boogaloo on Broadway." It is Pucho, in fact, who remembers Willie Bobo circulating among the musicians smelling for funk.
Pucho recalls that his band was, along with Mongo’s and Willi e Bobo’s, one of the top three Latin-funk acts in the years before boogaloo, and his own group served as the training-ground for the other two, which surpassed his in prominence. He played timbales, one of various African Americans from Harlem who mastered the instrument according to the recollection of Benny Bonilla, the timbalero for the Pete Rodríguez band. During the mid-1960s, Pucho would typically make Latin boogaloos by taking known soul hits of the time (he mentions "Mustang Sally" and "In the Midnight Hour," among others) and "put Latin rhythms to them." And it was Pucho, the deft timbalero for the all-Black American Latin Soul Brothers, who coined his own catchphrase for the music of Latin boogaloo — "cha cha with a backbeat." Ironically, the Latin musician who stood most prominently at the threshold of boogaloo was the one who held it in the most utter disdain. For it was Eddie Palmieri, who to this day regards boogaloo as the most tragic retrogression in New York Latin music, whose bold creativity brought Latin music into the 1960s and opened the eyes and ears of the musicians of the boogaloo era to what Latin music could be like for their own generation. The admiration for him among musicians associated with Latin boogaloo is unanimous. Palmieri’s La Perfecta, with five excellent albums since 1963, was the hottest Latin band around by the mid-1960s when boogaloo hit the scene. He had top billings everywhere, and with Manny Oquendo on timbales, Barry Rogers and José Rodríguez on the trademark trombones, and his own ingenious arrangements, set the standard for sheer musicianship and audience appeal among Latins and audiences of many other nationalities. In fact, in another foreshadowing of boogaloo’s social appeal, Palmieri had a huge, enthusiastic following among African Americans.
The origin of one of Palmieri’s biggest hits of those salad days, "Azúcar," directly prefigures the making of vintage boogaloo songs like "Bang Bang" and "I Like It Like That." "`Eddie, play some sugar for us,’ Blacks would yell at him time and again. `Sugar’ was the word they invoked whenever they wanted a fiery up-tempo Palmieri tune. Palmieri wrote `Azúcar’ (Sugar For You) and it attracted an even larger number of Blacks to his dances."(10) This is but one example of Palmieri fashioning the qualities of Latin music in response to an African-American dance public, just as Joe Cuba’s, Richie Ray’s, Pete Rodríguez’s, and other groups were to do in the subsequent boogaloo phase.
Though a pro-to-boogaloo model in this sense, however, and preceding them in popularity by only a few years, Palmieri has never had a kind word for anything related to boogaloo. He scorned the amateurishness, the banality, and especially the retreat from serious and creative adaptations of Afro-Cuban models being developed in those years after the blockade of Cuban music following the 1959 revolution. "It was like Latin bubblegum," Palmieri recalls. "`Bang Bang,’ what’s that ? It’s like something you find in a Frosted Flakes box. And half the musicians didn’t even know what side of the instruments to play out of." Aside from his musical judgment, which was shared by many, including many of those associated with boogaloo, Palmieri was of course thinking of the disastrous impact the boogaloo craze had on the established musicians, such as his brother Charlie and, of course, Tito Puente, Machito, and even Tito Rodríguez. The top billings and frequent bookings they had grown accustomed to were suddenly in jeopardy, and their recordings were vastly outsold ; ominous changes were afoot in the Latin recording and broadcast fields. Though he accepts the recognition, Palmieri considers himself among the victims of boogaloo rather than a benefactor, and of course would resist being considered the model of any kind for what was for him the boogaloo "epidemic." "¿Qué qué, Eddie Palmieri, boogaloo ?" Such is the first line of "¡Ay Qué Rico !," a boogaloo by Eddie Palmieri. The voice is Cheo Feliciano, and on bass is the legendary "Cachao" López doing a shing-a-ling, on a recording from 1968, when the boogaloo fever was already beginning to subside. The final irony of the Eddie Palmieri-boogaloo story is that it was Palmieri, the staunchest antagonist of everything boogaloo, who composed and led what is arguably the best boogaloo recording of them all.
"¡Ay Qué Rico !" is bawdy, festive, conversational, and has all the earmarks of the Latin boogaloo sound. Its special attraction in the boogaloo repertoire is that its playful irony seems to be directed at itself — as if it is saying, "you want boogaloo, here’s boogaloo !" — and of course its consistent musical excellence. That and another number on Palmieri’s important Champagne album of 1968, "The African Twist," show Palmieri fully in the spirit of Latin funk. Another play with pop styles, "The African Twist" was written and sung by an African-American woman, Cynthia Ellis, in a Motown-reminiscent style. In these tunes it is clear that Palmieri was not spending his time berating boogaloo, but taking it to another level.

HARD CORE BOOGALOO : "I LIKE IT LIKE THAT" AND "BOOGALOO BLUES"

"Eddie Palmieri was the headliner," recalls Benny Bonilla, the timbalero for Pete Rodríguez y Su Conjunto. "They needed a cheap band to open up for him, so they heard about us. So the booking agents, I remember it was two West Indian guys, came to hear us at one of our gigs, and they liked us. So they asked us for a short recording to help promote the dance on the radio. We looked at each other and said, `Recording ? We ain’t got no recording.’ And they said, no problem, we’ll book a studio, just do a short spot, one minute, and we’ll use that." Pete Rodríguez and his bandmembers started groping around for something to play, and couldn’t come up with anything. Then Benny Bonilla remembers Tony Pabón, the group’s trumpeter, vocalist and composer, saying "Let’s try this." He taught Pete how to do that piano vamp, and started ad-libbing : "Uh, ah, I like it like that." The spot was played on the radio and, according to Benny, "the phone at the station started ringing off the hook." "I Like It Like That" was recorded in 1966, in a full studio session for Alegre, and the Pete Rodríguez orchestra became an overnight sensation in El Barrio and around the city. The group had been around a while, since the end of the 1950s, but mostly as openers, a backup band with low billings beneath all the major attractions : Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez, El Gran Combo, Johnny Pacheco, Orquesta Broadway. They even played on the closing nights of the Palladium, all of which featured the likes of Eddie Palmieri, Vicentico Valdéz, and Orquesta Broadway. "We didn’t have the best band," Benny Bonilla admits. "We had no training or anything. We were out there to have fun." Unlike the Joe Cuba Sextet or even Richie Ray, the other possible initiators of Latin boogaloo, the Pete Rodríguez band had not established themselves before the advent of boogaloo. Their recognition began and ended with the boogaloo craze, making them, of all the major groups, the boogaloo band par excellence.(11) And "I Like It Like That," by far their greatest hit and known to the world through cover versions, movie soundtracks and Burger King commercials, might well be considered the quintessential song of Latin boogaloo.
Sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. Latin Boogaloo thrived during the years of the 1960s counterculture, the heyday of flower power, hippies, psychedelic drugs, and sexual liberation. Young people were listening to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix as they milled around in their publicized "be-ins." "Boogaloo Blues," the only one of the major hits of Latin boogaloo to use the word boogaloo in its title, touched many of these chords of appeal to the youth culture of the times and its market. The song is an acid trip, an orgasm, a loud party, a brooding reverie, a taunt and seduction, all to a fusion of bluesy jazz piano, r&b vocalizing, and outbursts of montunos and Latin rhythms. Like most other boogaloo tunes, it is a seemingly disheveled patchwork of musical modes and tempos, the only structuring principle being the repeated movement from slow handclapping and bass beginnings to a build-up and climax of energy, and then a re-start and new buildup. Yet, as representative as it is taken to be of Latin boogaloo as a phenomenon, "Boogaloo Blues" is in some ways idiosyncratic among the best-known recordings of the genre, in part because here the lyrics tell a story.
Tito Puente said the song sounded like a Coca-Cola commercial. The judgment of "El Maestro" may be harsh, and must have been discouraging to Johnny Colón and his youthful bandmembers. But there can be no doubt that the song is to a significant degree a fabrication of the recording industry. Despite the creativity and sincerity of the musicians, who did want to put out a new kind of sound in tune with their times, the intervention of experienced record producers and radio disk jockeys proved decisive in the construction of the song, and in its immediate popularity.

"GYPSY WOMAN" : THE SINGULAR JOE BATAAN

The boogaloo fever and marketing potential, while bringing important and timely innovations to the Latin music of the day, spawned a whole crop of new musicians and groups, all responding to the opportunity to combine their two musical heritages, Latin and African-American. Some were adept and experienced musicians and composers who managed to record sizeable hits, like Héctor Rivera with his "At the Party." Rivera provided a range of bands, including Joe Cuba’s and Eddie Palmieri’s, with many of their compositions and arrangements, and "At the Party" was on the Billboard charts for eight weeks in 1966-67, peaking at Number 26. Though Rivera brought in seasoned musicians for the recording, notably Cachao on bass and Jimmy Sabater on timbales, and though he boasts of using an African American singer, Ray Pollard, for the r&b vocals, "At the Party" has a derivative effect when heard today, not quite matching the freshness and playfulness of "Bang Bang," resonating too closely with Sabater’s other big seller "Yeah Yeah," and lacking the infectious hook-line refrain and shifting tempos of "I Like It Like That." Rivera himself never liked or used the term boogaloo, and he is surely right in claiming far more interests and accomplishments than are implied in it. But given the influence of commercially motivated tastemakers in labeling performers and their acts, he is known to posterity primarily by that one tune and by his association with the boogaloo period.
But the rash of Latin boogaloo bands was comprised mostly of newcomers, young singers and novice instrumentalists who jumped on the bandwagon and, for better or worse, made their musical start and left their mark. Singers [1] like Joey Pastrana and Ralfie Pagán, for example, enjoyed immense popularity in El Barrio at the time, and are remembered fondly for their soulful ballads infused with Latin rhythms and typically trailing off into or interspersed with Spanish lyrics. King Nando (Fernando Rivera), the guitarist and singer from El Barrio famous for his shing-a-lings, captivated audiences in the summer of 1967 with his composition "Fortuna," a slow, grinding number inspired by memories of his native Puerto Rico. The Lebrón Brothers, a family-based group from Brooklyn, were another creation of George Goldner’s boogaloo hit-making machine, though before being named (by Goldner) they had minor hits on their own with tunes like "Tall Tales" and "Funky Blues." Yet they were also casualties of the same process, and like so many of the other youthful acts of the time, they remember the experience with a note of bitterness. Speaking of Goldner and their best-known album, the group’s spokesman Angel Lebrón comments that "when we recorded Psychedelic Goes Latin..., we didn’t get paid for it. Despite the propaganda that was printed then, the boogaloo bandleaders were the hottest bands at the time. The boogaloo era came to an end when we threatened to rebel against the package deals."(12) Beyond these examples of young musicians with evident potential and genuine popularity, there were other groups who appear to have been made for the occasion, bearing bubblegum-sounding names like the Latin-aires and even the La-Teens. But this gimmicky nomenclature can be deceiving, as a forgotten group like the Latin Souls produced some impressive a capella songs, and there is no telling how many of the selections of the Hi Latin Boogaloos, organized by Gil Suárez, might have survived oblivion were it not for the vagaries and interested selectiveness of the commercial gatekeepers. The Coquets, a pair of African-American woman singers who did backup for Joey Pastrana, might also have made a contribution to the repertoire of Latin soul vocalizing.
But of all of these upstarts from the boogaloo era, the one who stands apart and who has enjoyed a long though difficult career since is surely Joe Bataan. His first recording, "Gypsy Woman," was an immediate and lasting hit among Black and Puerto Rican audiences when it was released in 1967, in the midst of the Latin boogaloo era. Yet neither that song, a Latin-ized cover of Curtis Mayfield’s 1961 hit with the Impressions, nor any of his many other compositions, are considered boogaloo, nor has he ever wanted them to be. "I don’t like the word, never did," Bataan comments, "in fact I hate it. I consider it insulting and always have. My own music, and most of what’s called boogaloo, is for me Latin soul." He sometimes refers to it as "La-So" for short, and after salsa set in, he takes credit for coining the term "salsoul," which was then popularized as the name of a briefly successful record label.
Though raised in El Barrio and a well-known figure in the street gangs there during the late 1950s and early 60s, Bataan was not of Puerto Rican ethnic parentage.
"My father was Filipino and my mother was African American, and my culture is Puerto Rican," as he explains it. His childhood associates were as much African American as Puerto Rican, and his music, which he undertook after spending years in prison, has tended to have greater appeal among Blacks and whites than among strictly Latino audiences. If the music of the Latin boogaloo period made up a continuum from Latin to r&b, Bataan’s is clearly on the Black side of the spectrum. But he has always been an extremely eclectic composer and performer, drawing ideas and experiments from a wide range of sources. And far more explicitly than any of the young barrio musicians of the time, he was inspired in his creations by his own experience and from life in the streets.
Even a reluctant admirer like bassist Andy González, who had little regard for the music itself, had to admit that "if you want to know what was going on in the streets, listen to the songs of Joe Bataan."(13) Bataan’s life in music is a story of survival and determination, and provides further insight into the machinations of the industry. "Music was my salvation," he says. "At 15 I began a five-year sentence at Coxsackie. One day after a guard’s lecture shook me up I decided I was going to learn a skill and stay out of prison.... Through trial and error I learned to play the piano. I imitated Eddie Palmieri’s style, he was my man...In 1965 I organized a band and promoter Federico Pagani got us steady gigs."(14) The band consisted of very young kids from the neighborhood with little or no musical experience. When his singing of "Gypsy Woman" caused an enthusiastic response from the audience, he continues, "Pagani referred me to Goldner. After I sang `Gypsy Woman’ for him, he told me in a polite way, `It’s great, but let someone else sing it. You do not have a masculine voice.’" Bataan was furious, offended perhaps more in his masculinity than his musicianship, and was determined to get even. "I signed a contract with famed dj Dick `Ricardo’ Sugar, who in turn introduced me to Jerry Masucci of Fania after he heard me sing at the Boricua Theater. I signed with Fania and recorded `Gypsy Woman’ in 1967."(15) Bataan explains the popularity of his music, created as it was with so little professional training or support, in terms of the public’s identification with his realistic themes taken from everyday life in society, and not just the parties and good times.
Well-known early tunes like "What Good Is a Castle," "Poor Boy," and "Ordinary Guy," he says, "were bestsellers because I was singing about me, my life, my experiences.... Mr.Goldner once told me that my songs were sad. Suddenly I realized it was true. There never was much happiness in my life. I rarely used the word `love.’ Many people identified with my songs because they also experienced the same pain, day after day."(16) Even his first hit "Gypsy Woman," an upbeat dance tune overtly about admiring love for an exoticized woman, is also tinged with sadness, partly due to Bataan’s own unpretentious "ordinary guy" voice with its characteristic flattening at the end of each line.
Without being gloomy or morose, his songs do not typically revel in the kind of ecstasy and enthusiasm notable in most songs identified with Latin boogaloo. They seem like the sounds left after the party is over, or coming from outside the party looking in. Their effect is not to dampen the festive atmosphere — thousands of young people have partied to his music over the years — but they tend to remind the revelers of the hard, cold world around them in everyday life. Their musical simplicity and apparent lack of sophistication are thus deceptive, and in no way negate the emotional depth and homespun creativity of his fusions of Black and Latin cultural idioms, aloe Bataan stands as both the social conscience and, with his contributions to the formation of later styles like disco and rap, the continuation of Latin boo-galoo as a cultural impulse of the 1960s.

BYE-BYE BOOGALOO

"The Boogaloo didn’t die out. It was killed off by envious old bandleaders, a few dance promoters, and a popular Latin disc jockey." By 1969, just three years after its explosive entry onto the New York music scene, Latin boogaloo was gone, and most musicians involved, young and older, agree with King Nando’s explanation of its rapid demise. "We were the hottest bands and we drew the crowds. But we were never given top billing or top dollar. The Boogaloo bandleaders were forced to accept `package deals’ which had us hopping all over town...one hour here, one hour there...for small change. When word got out we were going to unite and no longer accept the package deals, our records were no longer played over the radio. The Boogaloo era was over and so were the careers of most of the Boogaloo bandleaders."(17) Not everyone bemoaned its passing in equal measure, of course, or viewed it in such conspiratorial terms. The boogaloo was after all just another dance fad on the American pop scene, and thus destined to a fleeting life-span and instant oblivion.
Latin boogaloo was more than that, as it marked an important intervention in the history of Latin music as well, and served as an expression of Puerto Rican and African American cultures in those pivotal years of their experience in New York. But in the name of boogaloo, rather than the broader Latin soul concept, the style was doomed to fade, as a new generation of young Latinos come to seek out something that they too could call their own.
The "next big thing" for Latin music in New York went by the name of "salsa." "Boogaloo was eclipsed ? Yeah, I guess so. And you know, thank God, in a way." Willie Torres, the veteran vocalist and composer in whose career boogaloo was just a phase, was relieved when the fever subsided, though he qualifies his judgment when he recalls the sheer fun they had playing music in those years. "Un vacilón," he says, "it was a goof." He himself didn’t go on past boogaloo, leaving the music business in 1970 to take a job driving a bus with the MTA. But he is comforted to think that the proven musicians, abruptly sidelined by the boogaloo craze, did have a chance to come back and prove their longevity. "Sure, a lot of promising young talent got blocked, but look at Cheo Feliciano, Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Larry Harlow...They and a lot of other greats survived the craze and went on to greater heights than ever." For Willie Torres, the main responsibility for the eclipse of boogaloo in the name of salsa, aside from the musicians themselves, was Fania Records. Though the category "salsa" did not come into currency until 1972, it was Fania that shook New York Latin music loose of the boogaloo and went on to define the sound of the 1970s to world audiences.
Boogaloo, shing-a-ling, jala jala — none of that was part of the package, nor was the fusion with r&b or the street origins of the music. The boogaloo musicians were not named to the Fania All-Stars, and none of them was present on that historic night at the Cheetah when Our Latin Thing was filmed. Not that Fania has been consistent in excising these sounds, having been the first to record Joe Bataan, Willie Colón, and other initiates. Their invaluable 1983 anthology 60’s Gold, which includes many of the boogaloo classics, is evidence that they were anything but conspiratorial in their marketing strategy. But Izzy Sanabria, sometimes called "Mr. Salsa" for his role as master of ceremonies and publisher of Latin New York magazine, points to Fania in drawing the relationship between musical tastes and potential economic gain : "...what destroyed it," he says, speaking of Latin boogaloo, "was a movement by Fania."
And what happened was, Puente and the others, who were not with Fania at the time, put down the Latin Boogaloo because the kids were off clave. I mean eventually Puente recorded the Boogaloo. But you see, they were not on clave. They were not perfectly syncopated. But they were singing English lyrics. And this music became extremely popular....
So this was eventually eased out, in order to return to the more typical, correctly played music, supposedly. They were critical of all these kids. I mean Tito Puente used to describe Willie Colón as a kiddie band. Which it was."(18) Because of the broad visibility achieved by salsa in the intervening years, the musician most widely (though mistakenly) associated with the inner-city, streetwise spirit of boogaloo is surely Willie Colón. Born in 1950, Colón was perhaps too young in the boogaloo days to participate, and never recorded any boogaloos, either in name or in musical style. But his first album, El Malo, came out in 1967 during the height of boogaloo and achieved greatsuccess. Though the musicianship of the "kiddie band" was widely scorned by knowing musicians, that and subsequentreleases featured album covers establishing his identity as a "bad" street tough. Of course, Ray Barretto’s 1967 album Acid was also a major hit of that year, which alongwith his all-time 1961 hit "El Watusi" makes him another Fania stalwart bearing a continuity with the boogaloo era, as is Larry Harlow, along with Johnny Pacheco perhaps the musical mastermind behind Fania, who dabbled — unsuccessfully — in boogaloo during those years. But justifiably or not, Willie Colón and his vocalist Héctor Lavoe, whom many of the boogaloo musicians remember from the streets, represent the bridge between the boogaloo era and the advent of salsa. As part of the Fania stable, Colón then went on to become "more and more of a force in this business," as Sanabria concludes, much to the "amazement" of Tito Puente.
But the "movement by Fania," its effort to establish a certain range of identifiable stylistic possibilities for its "salsa" concept, was more intent on change than continuity, at least with the immediate past. The emphasis would be on "roots," continued recovery and reworking of Afro-Cuban traditions in their varied combinations with jazz. English lyrics were out, as was any strong trace of r&b or funk. The rich legacies of Arsenio Rodríguez, Orquesta Aragón, Machito, Arcaño, and the whole guaguancó-son-mambo tradition took precedence over any experimentation with American pop styles.
Even traditional Puerto Rican music, though always secondary to the Cuban, served as sources, as in the danzas, aguinaldos, seises, and plenas in a few of the landmark albums by Eddie Palmieri and Willie Colón from the "salsa" period. Explicit musical references to the African roots of the music were typically via Cuba and the Caribbean, even in stereotypical terms, as in one of Colón’s biggest hits, "Che Che Colé"(19) The African-American connection with the New York Latino community receded in prominence, at least in terms of vernacular musical styles. Willie Colón even raises the all-Spanish lyrics to a matter of principle, saying that "the language was all we have left. Why should we give in on that one ?"(20) — a point that is perhaps easier to insist on when you can count on the likes of a Tite Curet Alonso, the prolific Puerto Rican songwriter who composed many of Colón’s most memorable lyrics.
"The Boogaloo might have been killed off," notes Latin music historian Max Salazar, "but Latin Soul lived on."(21) With a broader understanding of the musical and social experience called boogaloo, or salsa for that matter, and disengaging it from those commercially-created categories, it becomes possible to see the continuity and coherence of the Latin-African American musical fusion in clearer historical perspective. Many of the musicians themselves preferred the idea of "Latin soul" all along, even during the peak of boogaloo’s popularity, and the term may be seen to embrace musical styles both prior and subsequent to the rise and fall of boogaloo, perhaps even including much of what has been called salsa. With the help of his guiding concept of "Afro-American Latinized rhythms," Salazar is able to identify an entire lineage of musical follow-through on the impulse of boogaloo, an inventory which includes not only direct holdovers from the era like Louie Ramírez, Bobby Marín and his Latin Chords, and Chico Mendoza, but unexpected standbys like Johnny Pacheco, Mongo Santamaría, and the Fania All-Stars, along with non-Caribbean Latinos like Santana and Jorge Dalto.
Dislodged from the power of Fania’s formative influence, the term "salsa" itself can be thought of in more expansive and inclusive terms, and, as is necessary a full 25 years after its "founding," can also be conceived in its various stages and tendencies. Maybe, as Tito Ramos suggests, boogaloo should be considered part of what he calls "salsa clásica" (as against the "salsa monga," "lame salsa," of more recent years) and its repertoire a significant inclusion among the "oldies" of the genre. Certainly the music radio programming in Puerto Rico and other parts of Latin America present it in that way, as do some of the recent anthologies of Latin music from the 1960s and 70s. The sounds of Pete Rodríguez, Joe Cuba, and Richie Ray are still adored in countries like Colombia and Venezuela, where no sharp distinction is made between those old favorites and what is called salsa.
In retrospect, perhaps it is true, as claimed by some commentators, that the most important influence of Latin boogaloo was not even in the Latin music field but on Black American music, it having been "one of the single most important factors in moving black rhythm sections from a basic four-to-the-bar concept to tumbao-like bass and increasingly Latin percussive patterns."(22) That may be the case, but of course that impact started well before boogaloo, and it should be no reason for understating the change which that eclipsed era brought to Latin music, even if mainly by negative example. Growing out of a time of "strong Puerto Rican identification with Black politics and culture," as cultural critic George Lipsitz puts it, Latin boogaloo "led organically to a reconsideration of `Cuban’ musical styles...as, in fact, Afro-Cuban and...a general reawakening of the African elements within Puerto Rican culture. Condemned by traditionalists as a betrayal of the community, Latin Bugalu instead showed that the community’s identity had always been formed in relation to that of other groups in the U.S.A."(23) Whatever musical elements of boogaloo might have been left behind, the social context of which it was an expression, the historical raison d’être of Latin soul, has only deepened through the years.
A Latin Boogaloo revival ? Many of the musicians speak of a rekindled interest on the part of the present generation, and the huge success of Tito Nieves’s 1998 I Like It Like That album, which also contains still another cover of "Bang Bang," is an obvious indication. They also point to the enthusiasm of fans in Puerto Rico, Latin America, Western Europe, and Japan. In England it is now classified, along with kindred styles, as "Latin Acid" or "Acid Jazz," and much is included under that umbrella, from re-releases of Héctor Rivera and Mongo Santamaría’s old material to the work of Pucho and other African American musicians in the Latin groove. The Latin Vogue, Nu Yorica : Culture Clash in New York City, and ¡Sabroso ! The Afro-Latin Groove are some of the compilations of recent years, and all of them include Latin.


Author : Flores, Juan
Article Title : "Cha Cha with A Backbeat" : Songs and Stories of Latin Boogaloo
Publication Name : Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire
Volume Number : V.2 ; N.2
Publication Date : 07-31-1999
Page : p. 22

Copyright (c) SoftLine Information, Inc. 1998


[1] Joey Pastrana is a timbalero not a singer !