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Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Boogaloo

Chris May By

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Subtitled "Latin dance with New York attitude," this wonderful, wonderful album presents eighteen choice cuts from the boogaloo craze which ruled New York's barrios in the late '60s. They will make you feel good, feel strong, make your whole body want to dance and give you heart for tomorrow, just like they did for the kids on the West Side all those years ago.

The first truly Nu Yorican sound—a melange of soul, rock and mambo, usually (and crucially) sung in English—boogaloo took over from mambo and cha cha chá in a few short months during the summer of '66. Established bandleaders like Tito Puente and Pete Rodriguez initially rubbished the new sound, dismissive of its simplified rhythms and near-punk aesthetic, but boogaloo was unstoppable—you either jumped aboard or were swept aside.

The birth of boogaloo was brought about by a confluence of musical and extramusical factors which together shifted the powerbase of Latin music in New York away from the establishment and towards a new generation: the closure of the pivotal Palladium Ballroom in early '66 following the withdrawal of its liquor licence, which meant the classic mambo big bands lost their major stage in the city; the severance of diplomatic ties with Cuba, which stopped the northbound flow of new musicians, new sounds and even new sheet music, giving young American Latinos more space to create and get noticed; and the revolution in teen and twenty-something listening brought about by Motown, the Beatles, and the West Coast rock groups, which impacted throughout American youth regardless of ethnic origin.

But perhaps most important of all, boogaloo was made possible by the coming of age of a generation of bilingual Cuban and Puerto Rican youth who related to the US more strongly than they did to the islands their parents came from, thought mambo and cha cha chá were uncool, hungered for American-made sharkskin suits and beaver fur hats, and wanted to hear English, or at least Spanglish, lyrics.

While it's true that some boogaloo was deeply adolescent and simplistic—check Bobby Valentin's luridly trashy "Batman's Boogaloo"—there are giant nuggets of pure genius here: the insane entrance of the tenor saxophone on the Fania All Stars' "Viva Tirado;" the extended timbales solo on the same band's long jam "Son Cuero Y Boogaloo;" the loony toon vibraphone on the Gilberto Sextet's "Good Lovin';" the metronomical piano solo on Pete Rodriguez Y Su Conjunto's "Do The Boogaloo" (did you know a metronome could rock?); the gutbucket, tailgating trombone solos on Charlie Palmieri's "Boogaloo Mania" and Willie Colon's "Willie Whopper" (the latter featuring an organ sound straight out of Sunset Strip and the Doors); the riotous party mood on Joe Cuba's "Oh Yeah;" the "Knock On Wood" horn lift on Ray Barretto's "A Deeper Shade Of Soul;" the spookily prescient roots reggae feel to the vocal line of Ralph Robles' "Getting Happy."

On and on the magic goes, for just over an hour. An inspired trawl through the vaults.


Track Listing: Do The Boogaloo; Fat Mama; Boogaloo Mania; Soul Nitty Gritty; Boogaloo Lebron; Batman's Boogaloo; Timbalito; Son Cuero Y Boogaloo; Ismael Y Monchito; Oh Yeah; Getting Happy; Viva Tirado; Tumbaloflesicodelicomicoso; Maggo's Boogaloo; Willie Whopper; A Deeper Shade Of Soul; Use It Before You Lose It; Good Lovin'.

Personnel: Pete Rodriguez Y Su Conjunto; Tito Puente Y Su Orchestra; Charlie Palmieri; Ralph Robles; The Lebron Brothers Orchestra; Bobby Valentin; Fania All Stars; Ismael Rivera Y Sus Cachimbos; The Joe Cuba Sextet; Celia Cruz; Willie Colon; Ray Barretto; The Gilberto Sextet.

Title: The Rough Guide to Boogaloo | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: World Music Network


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