JOE BATAAN / “Gypsy Woman”
According to the latest issue (Oct/Nov ’06) of Wax Poetics, most of the big boogaloo hits were original compositions—or at least ‘original’ compositions (see last week’s Classic)—but Joe Bataan’s boogaloo classic “Gypsy Woman” is a remake, sort of. (“Gypsy Woman” is available on a Bataan compilation called Latin Funk Brother.)
The original (available on The Very Best Of The Impressions) is a Curtis Mayfield tune, as performed by Curtis’ vocal group the Impressions. It’s easy to hear why Bataan liked the Mayfield song. In the original there are both percussion cues and a slightly-odd rhythm structure that we might describe as, for lack of a better way to put it, “Latin-esque.” The irony is, Bataan’s “Gypsy Woman” is easily as different from Mayfield’s original as Joe Cuba’s “El Pito” is from the song that inspired it, Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca.” I can’t say I’ve listened to the two versions of “Gypsy Woman” back-to-back, but the only thing the Mayfield song and the Bataan song seem to share is the title and chorus. Joe’s song is louder, wilder and considerably more infectious, both musically and lyrically.
Writers who know a lot more about boogaloo than I do have suggested that the style was created by Puerto Rican musicians attempting to appeal to Black American sensibilities. You can hear it in the grooves: if you listen to a lot of R&B, boogaloo records tend to be both instantly familiar yet simultaneously anachronistic. Sort of like the feeling I had when I ran into an old friend from New Orleans while I happened to be in San Francisco. I recognized his face, but because I was so far from home, it took a minute to put things together. In an online article titled “Boogalu,” the writer describes the disparate influences of boogaloo this way:
Boogalu resonated particularly with African-American audiences. Performers such as Jimmy Sabater and Joe Cuba clearly state that Boogalu was inspired by the interaction between African-American dancers and Latin musicians in New York at nightclubs such as Palm Gardens Ballroom. They recount stories of how the structure and tone of Boogalu songs such as “Bang, Bang” were developed in an effort to appeal to African-American dancers who were not responding to their traditional mambos and cha cha chas. Many of the Boogalu musicians report that they were also deeply influenced by the R+B, jazz and Doo Wop bands of that era. Music historian Juan Flores, in his seminal work on Boogalu entitled “Cha Cha with a Backbeat,” suggests that the song title and refrain “I Like It Like That” may have some roots in a 1961 R+B tune with the same name composed by Chris Kenner, from New Orleans.*
I know the Chris Kenner record (available on The Chris Kenner Collection), having grown up hearing it. Frankly, I hear no connection to boogaloo at all, other than the coincidence of two songs sharing the same title. But if there is one boogaloo tune that non-aficionados of the style might know, it is indeed “I Like It (I Like It Like That).”
Originally recorded in 1967 by Pete Rodríguez featuring lead vocalist Tony Pabón (available on I Like It Like That), it enjoyed a revival in the ‘90s when it was covered as a kind of club/salsa hybrid by Tito Nieves and the Blackout All-Stars (available on a cd single).
Although the Tito Nieves remake was a big hit and was recorded with the participation of some very talented musicians, I find it incredibly dull, especially when compared to the original. I’m also still trying to figure out what audible contribution famed percussionists like Ray Barretto, Shelia E. and Tito Puente (all of whom were supposedly members of the All-Stars) might have made to the recording, given that the groove seems to be all drum machine all the time.
We’ll close with one more boogaloo record, although it’s not a cover. In the Sixties, Johnny Colón was a well known band conductor and multi-instrumentalist. Today, in addition to still performing with his band, he’s the director of the East Harlem Music School which bills itself as the only music school in the world wholly dedicated to teaching salsa. I like Colón’s 1966 hit “Boogaloo Blues” for both the minute-and-a-half-long intro and the half-time groove. In contrast to the almost manic feel of most boogaloo tunes, Colón’s record refuses to get in a hurry about anything…including its own running time. Despite being essentially a groove and a chorus, “Boogaloo Blues” (available on Boogaloo Bluesman) is over seven minutes long. According to Colón’s website, “Boogaloo Blues” has sold some 3,000,000 copies worldwide. That’s impressive, particularly for a record with a potentially controversial hook like “L.S.D. has a hold on me.” (Then again, this was ’66.) Later in the record, after promising a young lady “mink coats,” “diamond rings” and “a penthouse,” Colón’s lead vocalist Tito Ramos says to the girl, “but you have to feel free”…which could mean just about anything. Moments later, Ramos dispenses with the ambiguity, saying exactly what he means: “Don’t be bashful. Take it off, honey. Take it all off.” There follows a quiet interlude, after which Ramos yells, “Yeeeaaah! We’re really having a good time now!” Hmm.
—Mtume ya Salaam
* Full article at http://www.salsacrazy.com/salsaroots/boogalu.htm
I'm feeling it
Ok, Mtume, all this boogaloo and conga drumming is going to make me want to do a week of Latin Jazz, specifically some Chucho Valdes, the giant of Afro-Cuban jazz piano, or some Ruben Blades, or even go further south and get into Venezuelan funk, not to mention Brazil. On the other hand we could go to Haiti and some vodun religious music.
I’m not totally crazy about any of these cuts, but they are triggering all kinds of musical impulses. I can feel it.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
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