Culture Fusion: Latin Boogaloo

As a teacher, one of my favorite themes to explore with my students when teaching memoir is “we all have a story to tell.” So here is one of mine…

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I went to an all-girls high school and I did my share of mischief, like sneaking out the house with my friend, Evelyn to go to teen night at this club in Queens. Evelyn and I were budding club heads and we were into house music and Latin pop acts like La India, Marc Anthony and TKA.  There we were, two skinny fifteen year-olds losing our minds on the dance floor during the wee hours and thrilled to be getting away with it.  I can remember when the dee-jay would mix in songs like “I Like It Like That” by Pete Rodriguez and my young ears had no clue about the origins of that song or the history behind the musical genre it represented.  Me and my bestie were being exposed to the predecessors of singers like La India and Marc Anthony.  We were gyrating to the rhythmic fusion of African American soul and Latin music better known as Latin boogaloo.

As a native New Yorker, I can tell you that growing up in this great city has always been defined by a cultural mix.  My childhood was a fusion of elements hailing from many parts of the Caribbean, like Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and beyond with places like Ecuador and Peru. So it made sense that house music, rhythm and blues, hip hop and yes, Latin boogaloo were woven together in my experience.

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So the history of Latin boogaloo goes like this…

In the 1960s, many African Americans by way of migration from the South, and Puerto Ricans and Cubans immigrating from the Caribbean, called New York City home in neighborhoods like Harlem and the South Bronx.  It is in these communities where the sounds of soul, jump blues and doo wop began to merge with the Latin sounds of mambo and son montuno. Latin boogaloo bands were often led by young, sometimes even teenaged musicians from New York’s Puerto Rican community. Boogaloo is often referred to as the first true Nuyorican sound, meaning the music represented Puerto Rican diaspora and the cultural expressions of the Nuyorican Movement that were emerging in music, writing, poetry and art at the time. For the rest of the 1960s the boogaloo sound would become popularized throughout the Latin music scene; from Puerto Rico to Peru, Colombia, Panama and elsewhere.

“The Latin boogaloo was popular enough that almost every major and minor Latin dance artist of the time recorded at least a few boogaloos on their albums. That included boogaloos by long-time veteran, mambo-era musicians such as Eddie Palmieri and his Aye Que Rico or Tito Puente‘s Hit the Bongo.

By the 1970s however, the craze was fading and salsa music had taken over. The older musicians like Puente and the Palmieri Brothers were now dominating the salsa music scene. The relevance of Latin boogaloo never went away and as recently as 2016 a documentary was released telling the story of boogaloo called “We Like It Like That”. This musical genre remains popular in places like Cali, Colombia.

The history behind boogaloo is not just about musical fusion but also about the richness of our diasporic cultures and the wonderful blending of this art and expression. As we have explored with you many times here at CREAD,  music is a textbook that helps us understand our lived experiences and the contributions that we ALL have made in this common place called America.  So I urge you to keep discovering and sharing the many stories we have to tell with your students.  

Some possible applications for your classroom:

  • English teachers: explore the Nuyorican literary writers and their works and possible connections to the Young Lords organization and their activism.
  • Music teachers: introduce the genre of Latin boogaloo and have your students look at the geography of music fusions.  What countries and cultures are represented in a given musical genre?
  • History teachers: examine where Latin boogaloo fits in the story of American musical culture or the history and development of urban communities like NYC.
  • Science teachers: draw parallels with musical fusion and scientific examples of fusion such as nuclear energy or chemistry.

Although HHM is ending, we know as educators that we must continue to uncover our own stories and all the many manifestations of our brilliance and contributions to this culture.  We keep CREAD Commandment # 4 and keep remixing the calendar so that our pedagogy truly reflects who we are as a people.

Peace and love good people!
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