Mathew Ramírez, a journalist who debuts as director in We Like It Like That, discovered boogaloo in the same way a number of other amateur DJs and vinyl collectors did: whilst hunting for and gathering samples. In boogaloo, that historical rarity of the mid 60’s sandwiched between the decline of old style mambo and the supremacy of neo-traditionalist salsa, he found a breath of youth and freedom. An irresistible groove that, by slowing down the tempo of the mambo and the guajira that they’d been brought up on, saw Afro-American and Latin kids from East Harlem, South Bronx and part of Brooklyn being brought together to bask in an energetic, contagious and uninhibited music that incorporated r’n’b influences as well as influences from doowoop, jazz and funk. Kids who literally learnt to play on the streets, who sought and found their own mixed identity, a kind of soul music they could genuinely feel was their own; the real soundtrack of “The Barrio” that liberated them from the reigning marginalisation and social exclusion. A boogaloo revolution, that as we will see in several accounts in the documentary, would meet an early demise as it was suffocated by the meddling and interests of the large scale music industry, that saw its perpetrators as being out of hand and almost a social threat.
As he relates in an interview for Afropop his interest soared on carrying out an interview for an article with the legendary Johnny Colón, writer of the generational hymn “Boogaloo Blues”:
“After meeting him, I started reaching out to other people; I thought it was just this really interesting story that hadn’t really been told. Because it’s a very unique period in Latin music history […] and it just screamed New York because it was this weird mash-up of different sounds and different cultures. I like cultural hybridity and that’s what New York is all about.
These guys were not the most trained or schooled musicians and so in that way it reminds me of punk too. They were breaking the mould! They were breaking the rules. They were simplifying the music to its core. There are people, to this day, who don’t really like boogaloo. They’ll say “it’s out of tune; these guys aren’t in clave,” , which is the golden rule of Latin music, a rhythm that all Latin music is supposed to fit into. But these guys didn’t do that, you know? […] The imperfections are what make it so interesting. There’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the music”.
The boogaloo stamp is easily traceable in salsa, as well as the disco music that would abruptly replaced it on the dance floors, and even in the beginnings of early hip hop. But it wasn’t until the 2000’s when a new generation of boogaloo fans and record collectors emerged, that it would come back to life driving legendary musicians such as Joe Bataan to once again embark on world tours. We can see him here showing us what it’s all about in one of the final scenes of We Like It Like That, playing his classic “Gypsy Woman”:
And, if we’re to speak of the architect of the boogaloo revival of the past decade, the documentary couldn’t overlook the tireless work of DJ Turmix, A.K.A. Carlos Vera. Inveterate “boogalophile”, originally from Barcelona, DJ Turmix alongside the label Fania and the band Fulasoheads club Nublu’s monthly boogaloo parties in New York’s East Village. So we’ll leave it in his hands to walk us through a Boogaloo Guide for Beginners via his wise recommendations in Huffington Post and NBC.
JOHNNY COLÓN – Boogaloo Blues
“Boogaloo was the first original musical offering from musicians in the Latin neighborhoods, the majority of them of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent, such as the pianist, trombonist, composer and singer Johnny Colon. Johnny entered the recording scene with Boogaloo Blues, an LP that sold over three million copies worldwide. The song I selected has an amazing intro that starts out with a blues piano rhythm and develops into a guajira rhythm”.
MONGO SANTAMARÍA – Watermelon Man
“By 1962, the mambo had started to become outdated and Cuban musicians working in the U.S. were feeling the change. Mongo Santamaria was in New York playing small Latin clubs. One night, his piano player Armando Corea (later "Chick" Corea) fell ill and was replaced by a young jazz pianist named Herbie Hancock. Hancock mentioned a number he'd just composed, "Watermelon Man," in rehearsal and the band played it that night. Within months, the song (with vocals by a then-unknown Cuban singer, La Lupe) climbed the pop charts. "Watermelon Man" could be considered the first interpretation of Latin boogaloo”.
PETE RODRIGUEZ – I Like It Like That
“In 1966, Bronx-born Puerto Rican Pete Rodriguez was hailed as "El Rey Del Boogaloo," and for good reason. All of his LPs recorded in the '60s are masterpieces of Latin boogaloo”.
JOE CUBA – Bang, Bang
“This song was born in the Palm Gardens Ballroom in midtown Manhattan in 1966. The singer Jimmy Sabater gave the pianist Nick Jiménez a tumbao (a riff) and in an instant the audience was singing, "Beep beep beep beep ... aaaah!". "Bang Bang" sold a million records in 1967 and reached number #63 on the U.S. charts. It is a simple and joyful song composed by Jimmy Sabater and Joe Cuba with a catchy melody that engages anyone in the mood for a party”.
LATIN BLUES BAND & LUIS AVILES – (I'll Be A) Happy Man
“Released on the small label Speed in 1966, this song might sound familiar, as Christina Aguilera used samples of it for her hit "Ain 't No Other Man." The tune features a fantastic horn chart, a funky beat and standout drums thanks to the great work of Bernard Purdie, who worked with Aretha Franklin, James Brown, B.B. King and others”.
RALPH ROBLES – Taking Over
“The trumpeter Ralph Robles and his band find an explosive mixture of guajira, boogaloo, mambo, guaguanco and soul in one song! In my opinion, this is one of the most representative songs of the boogaloo era”.
CLARK TERRY & CHICO O'FARRILL – Spanish Rice
“Boogaloo influenced musicians across genres: Just listen to this 1966 song recorded by jazz trumpeter Clark Terry and Cuban composer/arranger Chico O'Farrill. It includes a conversation in Spanglish where they talk about where to go eat good Spanish rice in NYC”.
LA PLAYA SEXTET – El Chico Boogaloo
“This NYC band started as a sextet in the mid-'50s, grew to a 12-piece and recorded their last LP, Bailando Boogaloo, in 1967. From this marvelous album I have selected "El Chico Boogaloo" which starts with a Smurf-like vocal that invites everyone to boogaloo”.
JOHNNY ZAMOT – You Dig
“This is a bonus track from the album "Tell It Like It Is!" (Decca, 1967), by Puerto Rican NYC-er Johnny Zamot. Sounds pretty undergound, combining English lyrics and Latin rhythms into a blend that wraps you in a psychedelic atmosphere with amazing saxophone melodies”.
MANY CORCHADO – Pow Wow
“Piano, percussion and horns mix with voices and clapping, shifting from a tribal rhythm to a boogaloo that hypnotizes you. This song wasn't a hit in its day, perhaps because its sound was a bit more underground –almost dirty– but today, the album Aprovecha el Tiempo (Swing While You Can) (Decca, 1967) is one of the most sought-after by vinyl collectors”.
LA LUPE – Fever
“Nicknamed the Queen of Latin Soul, La Lupe –whose eccentricities tested the patience of all the great musicians who worked with her, from Mongo Santamaria to Tito Puente to Ray Barretto– famously recorded one of the best versions ever of Little Willie John's classic, "Fever." No Boogaloo party is complete without this track, which makes women shake their hips like only they know how”.