Boogaloo. So fun to say, so tricky to define.
You've heard it: “Watermelon Man” is probably in your brainpan somewhere, as is “I Like It Like That.” Look for the roots of boogaloo, and you'll wing up in 1960s New York, where Cuban pop, soul, rhythm & blues and AfroLatin mashed together in Harlem clubs to birth the form. NYC was its petri dish, and the same could be said about the boogaloo revival that's brewing.
DJ Turmix is one of the big players in this revival: In case you missed his thousands-strong dance party at Summerstage in August, he offers up a crash course in the form tonight and the second Friday of every month at Nublu's BOOGALOO! Party, a combination of his vinyl sets and live music he curates (last month, it was one of our favorites, Spanglish Fly; tonight, he'll feature the Ex Caminos). Because boogaloo is all kinds of awesome but hard to pin down, we asked for that same crash course in playlist form. Here, Turmix runs down the best tracks from the 1960s boogaloo heyday—and offers a little history behind each track School's in session.
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!" And that, more or less, is how one of the greatest hits of the '60s was created. It continues to captivate, every time I spin it.
Published 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.
By 1962, the mambo had become outdated and Cuban musicians working in the U.S. were suffering. Mongo Santamaria was in New York playing small Latin clubs. One night, his piano player Armando (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.
Boogaloo was the first original musical offering from 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.
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.
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.
This song begins with a slow pace before cranking up the tempo and making you dance to an impressive horn section.
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.
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.
In 1966 Pete Rodriguez, who was born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, was hailed as "El Rey Del Boogaloo," and for good reason. Any of his LPs recorded in the '60s is a masterpiece of Latin boogaloo.
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 Aprocecha el Tiempo (Swing While You Can) (Decca, 1967) is one of the most sought-after by vinyl collectors.
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.