For Latin music in New York, the Sixties were years of explosive transition. In tune with the times of strident political protest and cultural affirmation, new rhythms like the pachanga, boogaloo, tipico and salsa signalled significant changes in musical sensibility among a new generation of young Latinos and fans of Latin music. By the early 1960s the heyday of the great mambo era was passing, and by the end of the decade the catch-all phrase ‘salsa’ had been implanted on the rich variety of styles and rhythms that made up the repertoire. In between, throughout the 1960s, a thousand flowers bloomed in the Latin music field, with the bands conversant in the traditional Afro-Cuban styles of son and guaguanco, mambo and cha cha cha, Latin jazz and bolero, while at the same time trying their hand at the range of newly emerging styles, beginning with the pachanga in the opening years and ranging through boogaloo and shingaling, until the turn to the roots sounds of tipico as the decade ended.
This array of styles came together in those heady years: all the tribes convened for a pow wow and smoked the peace pipe. That’s what the present compilation reflects, as encapsulated in the title cut, with Corchado and his band kicking some vibrant, hilarious boogaloo sounds in Spanish and English, with a little bit of everything else mixed in. The eclectic tastes of those dynamic times are all here, from Tanga — the first recorded example of Cubop — and the classic Descarga Cachao (don’t miss his masterful bass-playing), to the jaunting guaguancos of Ray Barretto and Bobby Pauneto.
But while some of the selections represent the preceding musical generation, and others anticipate the unmistakable salsa sound of the key Fania years of the early 1970s, the focus here is on the boogaloo and Latin soul sound that swept the scene for most of the sixties and was the most characteristic sound-track of the period. Listen to the two Willie Rosario cuts, and Cool Jerk, and of course the pieces by Joe Loco and Willie Bobo, and you’ll hear the trademarks of the style: the raucous hand-clapping, the party exhortations, the back-beat drumming, the African American street English — what Willie Bobo and others called “the funk” — and you’ll get the flavour that dominated Latin music in those years, often to the dismay of the more traditional musicians. It was defiant, it was outrageous, in-your-face, and it sold like hot cakes. Boogaloo and the related styles of Latin soul were the first real crossover sounds that broke the language and style barriers, and the first to make it onto the Billboard charts as top sellers nation-wide.
Kicking off the sixties with Ray Barretto’s El Watusi and Mongo Santamaria’s Watermelon Man, this irreverent fusion of Cuban and Puerto Rican rhythms with African American soul and funk captivated the youth of the period, both Latino and non-Latino. By the middle of the decade, the bands of Joe Cuba, Richie Ray, Pete Rodriguez, the LeBron Brothers, Johnny Colon, Joe Bataan and a slew more were scoring unexpected hits, and headlining in the most popular clubs — overnight idols everywhere from New York’s El Barrio to the musical capitals of South America. It was a genre not destined to last long, and was soon eclipsed by the more serious and commercially durable salsa boom of the early 1970s. But notwithstanding the brief life-span of boogaloo, to this day many of its top hits are considered ‘salsa clasica’ and loved by fans and dancers everywhere.
Perhaps the reason for its on-going appeal is that it is not just the music itself but the political and cultural energy of the times that is transmitted through the intervening decades. For in a way that was only hinted at in previous eras, and became less evident during the 1970s, the characteristic boogaloos and shingalings and Latin soul tunes of the 1960s brought Latin sounds in closer harmony than ever before, and perhaps ever since, with African American vernacular music, from rhythm and blues and doo wop, through to the soul and funk of the Drifters, the Orioles, James Brown, Jimmy Castor and Aretha Franklin.
It was, after all, the time of the Civil Rights movement and Black Power: how could these young Nuyoricans, born and bred in the streets of Harlem and the Bronx, not consider that cause, and those sounds, their own? At home, with their parents and relatives, they would mainly hear the boleros and mambos, the decimas and plenas of their cultural heritage, and all of the young players stood in awe of the legendary Machito, and the Titos (Rodriguez and Puente), the Palmieris (Eddie and Charlie), and the other giants of the Palladium years. But in the streets, and among their African American buddies, it was jazz, r and b, doo wop, the thrilling energy of the great shouters and hollerers. All of it, Latin and Black American, was music they loved, and music they wanted to be part of. The result was a crazy, motley style named after the African American dance craze of the moment — the boogaloo. They made boogaloo Latin, and they made Latin music soul. It is this powerful cultural convergence, this pow-wow of the vibrant cultural tribes of the day as they readied for political and cultural warfare, that gives this music of the Latin Sixties a power that transcends its time and speaks to us today, all over the world.
The tracks here are nearly all reissued for the first time, fastidiously remastered. Like Son Cubano, the cover features the photography of Bruce Davidson, from his book East 100th Street. The liner notes are by Juan Flores.