The boogaloo was a fascinating musical phenomenon of 1960s Spanish Harlem, an organic result of both the Puerto Rican community’s proximity to the city’s African-American neighborhoods, and the popular, pervasive influence of 1960’s soul music. Joe Cuba (“Bang Bang”), Ray Barretto (“El Watusi”), the TNT Band (“The Meditation”), and Mongo Santamaria (“Watermelon Man”) all had hits by wedding jazzy horn lines, jumbles of English and Spanish lyrics and vamping piano motifs to Afro-Latin styles like montuno, rumba and guajira, fitting, in turn, these elements into an R&B sensibility. It was perfect for the side of a 45 rpm record, it was perfect for radio play.
There’d been similar musical composites before the boogaloo. There was Latin jazz, and more significantly, the mambo and cha-cha-cha, styles which enjoyed massive popular success in this country after World War II. The boogaloo transcended El Barrio and the Five Boroughs in its day and, moreover, was the first to do so with an identity distinct to New York City’s Puerto Rican (i.e., Nuyorican) community and culture.
Despite its appeal amongst and beyond New York’s heterogeneous audiences, the boogaloo was dismissed by the older generations of the city’s Latin musicians. In retrospect, they really didn’t have much to worry about. The boogaloo was a transitory phenomenon. By the late 1960s, a formalized group of Latin styles had coalesced as salsa, replacing everything as the predominant musical voice of Nuyorican identity.
The boogaloo is sometimes referred to as the shingaling, a species distinct from – though sort of spiritually related to – this shingaling.
1. King Nando and His Orchestra, Orchard Beach Shing-a-Ling, pt I (Swinger)
It’s King Nando exhorting us to do the shingaling – and, later, on side two, to join him at the Bronx’s Orchard Beach, where again we do the shingaling. Lyrics were not the point of the boogaloo, they were an afterthought, another means for exciting an audience into motion. Any sort of catchy, shouted interjection might do. In this way the boogaloo was no anomaly in the great arc of American popular dance music:
2. King Nando and His Orchestra, Orchard Beach Shing-a-Ling, pt II (Swinger)
Fernando “King Nando” Rivera was the singer and guitarist responsible for this summertime anthem. As a bandleader King Nando exercised great taste. Nando’s group’s rhythmic and melodic drive was distinguished by his attractive electric guitar parts, parts which replaced what would have normally been a piano’s role. “Orchard Beach Shing-a-Ling” was taken from the first (circa 1965) of King Nando’s three excellent boogaloo albums of the 1960s, all released on the tiny Swinger label.
3. Pepe Fernandez & His Orchestra, Having Fun (20th Century Fox)
It’s a similar atmosphere as “Orchard Beach Shing-a-Ling.” And, again, the lyrics: not so profound. Having fun just about sums it all up.
I can claim no knowledge of Pepe Fernandez’s whereabouts, unfortunately. 20th Century Fox, the brief-lived record division of its better known parent company – 20th Century Fox Film Corporation – was a label with West Coast affiliations. I’m fairly certain, however, that Fernandez hailed from New York City. Producer Jackie Mills was working in New York City in 1967 (when this was recorded), and, moreover, “Having Fun” just has that hard-driving New York City sound.
4. Diane & Carole & The Watchamacallits, The Fuzz (Speed)
Diane and Carole were the rare female lead vocalists in the boogaloo era.
As if the “fuzz” references weren’t wonderful enough, “The Fuzz” gives a cautionary lesson to all would-be delinquent types in the process. This is among a handful of boogaloo records about drugs: the buying of drugs, the doing of drugs, and the lamenting of the buying and the doing of the drugs.
“The Fuzz” was written and arranged by Louie Ramirez, one of the biggest, hippest names on the New York City Latin scene of the ’60s and ’70s. This selection was taken from Diane and Carole and company’s full-length album on Speed records, yet another tiny, short-lived Latin record label from the era.
** Note: Oliver Wang has graciously invited me aboard the mighty Soul Sides steamship for what will hopefully be an ongoing, fortnightly series of guest posts, a series which will focus more on LP’s – and various trippier, funkier, and exotic forms found therein. And, hey, here’s my inaugural post. Which, in classic form, is not an LP, but a 45. Hope you enjoy! -Dan **