Friday, March 13, 2009

The Boogaloo by José María Bustos. (Part 2)


During the early sixties there was any number of influences on the music of the time (no pun intended). But the most significant (or so I believe) was the advancement of Black America and the black power movement. With this evolution of black America came the motto, ‘say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud’. And through out Black Harlem and Spanish Harlem there was this new sense of power which was fueled by white and many black Americans awaking to the great contributions by Black American writers, artists, dancers, scientist and the power they had in numbers.

At this moment in American history the ties between Black Americans and Latino Americans was perhaps one of the strongest ever, as we all had a common enemy which could just simply be summoned up as ‘the man’. Latino American’s with their afro Cuban roots felt compelled by black causes and thus there was a large cultural exchange.

In places like Smalls café in Harlem and well as on campuses of universities such as Penn state and other universities with large black populations pledge groups like ‘The Featherman’ were enjoying unprecedented numbers and part of the pledge groups activities were dance sessions and parties were the ‘call backs’ were created almost like marching chants. It’s in my sneaker! Oh yeah! A bag of reefer! Oh yeah! It’s in my nose! Oh yeah! Some gypsy rose! Oh yeah! Its on the roof, Oh yeah! 100% proof, oh yeah! And on and on……

So, these ‘call back’s found their way into the ‘Smalls’ of Harlem and also into the cellar clubs, which were popular at the time, these were just a cleaned out cellar in an old tenement building with a few colored lights and a bar. Once such notable club was run by a then young and extremely attractive upper class black women from the affluent queens neighborhood known as Saint Albans, her name was Betty White. Her cellar club on the west side on New York City became one of the most popular of the time and all night long the then new dance crazes of the black community were danced in frenzy. Dances such as the ‘Boogaloo’ and its sister dance called the ‘Shing Ga Ling’ while the entire group shouted out the call backs with Betty leading the cheers. Often times these dances were executed in the form of a line dance.

A side note to this is that the incredibly beautiful Betty White soon became Mrs. Miles Davis!

I think its also important to mention that popular black music of the time was being listened to throughout the Eastern Sea Board from a then young, NYC DJ named Frankie Crocker on station WWRL from Harlem NY who coined the term “sock it to me” and used some of these call backs during his sessions on the radio.

To bring it all back to salsa music, many of us who at the time enjoyed the best of both the black community and the Latin community discovered that the “call backs” and line dancing lent themselves strongly to a cha cha beat, so it was only natural that at the regular weekend parties at the Embassy ballroom where Joe Cuba played quite regularly and Basin street East where Richie Ray played regularly the “call backs and the line dancing” worked their way onto the dance floor. Joe Cuba was perhaps the first to pick up on it and begin to incorporate the beat and the calls backs into his music i.e. 'Oh! Yeah!' From the album ‘Bang Bang, Push Push'.

Post Joe Cuba’s boogaloo perhaps the second most successful band at the time to play Boogaloo was Ricardo Ray.

But there was a group of young and upcoming musicians such as Johnny Colón (who was at the time dating my sister) and a young neighborhood rebel who was trying his hand at the salsa thing named Joe Bataan who would soon make their mark on boogaloo forever.

- Copyright©2009 José María Bustos. All rights reserved.

[The ideas and opinions expressed above remain solely those of the author.]

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