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Live: The Boogaloo! Party Keeps It Moving at Nublu

by Carol Cooper

Boogaloo! with Spanglish Fly, DJ Turmix
Friday, July 8

Better than: Paying twice as much to watch the same crowd drink and not dance.

It could have been a disaster -- subway service to Loisaida was screwed up (again), it was raining, one of the club's turntables was on the fritz, the band had had mere hours to warn Facebook fans to feed their own heads since the club would serve no booze due to a sudden (but temporary) problem with their liquor license. Not only did people from different age groups, classes, races, and boroughs come, they cheerfully paid to dance their asses off in a dry bar roughly the size and shape of a large railroad flat.

The second Friday of every month at Nublu is dedicated to resurrecting Latin boogaloo, a teen dance trend from the mid-1960s that helped various forms of Afro-Cuban swing compete against the then-reigning Motown, Stax, and Brit Invasion singles. Latin boogaloo bands were famous for re-arranging hot singles by the Meters or the MGs, and for Latinizing anything useful Motown or the Beatles had to say. It was the sound of young, tri-cultural musicians having fun.

D.J. Turmix, who hosts Boogaloo!, was known in his native Spain as a Latin boogaloo specialist; he ran popular parties dedicated to the defunct sound, and as a vinyl collector and as advisor to others interested in the genre, he would pay up to $300 for classic albums containing seminal tracks, often sourced from Latin America or grey-market bootlegs. Now a consultant for the relaunched Fania label, Turmix has curated a Latin boogaloo compilation for them -- and it replicates the atmosphere he's cultivating at Nublu, where Turmix presides over three hours of the evening's entertainment. The rest of the night is given over to visiting musicians.

"It's hard to find genuine Latin-soul groups for this party," DJ Turmix says. "I'm in touch with lots of salsa bands who have a few Latin boogaloo hits in their repertoire, but very few whose main interest is the Latin boogaloo style or Latin/soul fusion. Spanglish Fly is one of the best I've found so far."

Spanglish Fly is an 11-piece combo founded two years ago by DJ/trumpeter Jonathan Goldman, a/k/a Jonny Semi-Colon. A Latin boogaloo fan and collector, he leads a band that roars through covers, originals, and transformations of previously untouched soul hits. Goldman says he struggled to find the right players, and he lucked out big time in lead vocalist Erica Ramos, who brings Shangri-La attitude and bilingual sass to her silky contralto. The tight horn section is equally blessed by the authoritative swing of Maria Christina Eisen, and Friday there was a third fly female burning up the keyboards.

Their initial set prefaced vintage hits like Joe Cuba's "Bang Bang" with clever originals like "Brooklyn Boogaloo" and fresh new instrumentals like "Martian Boogaloo." They used the Pete Rodriguez classic "Micaela" to get dancers hyped, then offered a Latin arrangement of a James Brown number just to keep the crowd thinking. (If you think you hear a little Memphis soul or Crescent City funk in Spanglish Fly horn charts, you probably do.)

The worst thing you can say to a hardboiled Latin musician is that they are "off clave," meaning that they don't use the proper Latin downbeat. Many vintage Latin boogaloo acts were accused of this, despite the fact that they simply chose to dip in and out of clave as a way to show how they can deploy multiple time signatures within the same song. Spanglish Fly proved they could quote well-known rhythms in addition to famous melodies, zipping from funk to rhumba to mambo tempos at a moment's notice. It was delightful to hear them make such utterly authentic use of Latin boogaloo's trademark inauthenticity!

Ilhan Ersahin, Nublu's idealistic musician/label czar/owner, was happy to offer D.J. Turmix the chance to indulge his atavistic passion. "It's about taste," he sayss. "We never have DJs who just come in to play hits or current silly stuff. It has to be deeper than that. You have to give something new to the world . . . And if the thing sounds good and the artist or events are cool, why not support it? I love to see success coming out and going forward! It's the best thing, to help spread the good word."

Critical bias: I used to watch three live Latin bands and a DJ play per night at El Corso on 86th Street.

Overheard: "Does this band have a new CD? I already have the first record . . . they need to make another one!" -- near the bar, after the band announced it had CDs and vinyl 45s for sale.

Random Notebook Dump: While watching so much dance-floor enthusiasm, I had to struggle to remember why this music ever died out in the first place. Emerging bandleaders like Willie Colón, Johnny Colon, and Ray Barretto were still in their teens when they started mixing English with Spanish lyrics and blending r&b riffs with cha-cha and mambo beats to attract new audiences. Once avid fans were behind them they could convince skeptical club owners to book (and pay) them even if they had no records out. Tito Puente and other established Latin acts were famously rumored to have verbally dismissed these Latin boogaloo pioneers as "kiddie bands." They didn't take Latin boogaloo seriously until the public and radio airplay made the sound so popular that Latin legends from Machito to Puente were forced to record a few boogaloo crossover tunes of their own. Ironically, once traditional Latin labels like Allegre and Fania began signing these "kiddie bands" they soon got them back recording in Spanish and rigid clave rhythms again, (even the conceptual hybrids like "Hommy," Larry Harlow's salsified hat-tip to The Who), effectively turning both artists and fans away from the playful experimentation of Latin boogaloo.

Spanglish Fly's first setlist:
Martian Boogaloo
Mira Ven Aca
Camel Walk
Me Gusta Mi Bicicleta

El Pito
The Po-Po

Brooklyn Boogaloo
Bang Bang

Spanglish Fly (along with a fully operational bar) will return to Nublu for the August 12 installment of Boogaloo! On August 10, DJ Turmix will spin alongside boogaloo vets Johnny Colon and Joe Bataan at Central Park.

Published in: Village Voice, July 11, 2011