Boogaloo: a type of Latin music drenched in classic construction and mixed with R&B.
With all my knowledge about genres, I’d never heard of boogaloo before. Leave it to the 12-piece Spanglish Fly, hailing from New York City, to educate me by way of Ay Que Boogaloo! (Chaco World Music, 2017). This raucous album is ostensibly a party album. The layers of percussion, multiple vocalists (male and female), uptempo grooves, and oftentimes charming, humorous lyrics, is underneath, a message about multicultural love and about music as a panacea in rough times.
This combination is no easy feat, and while Latin, Afro-Caribbean grooves are generally enjoyed, absolute love for them has, I’ve found, been in part about where you’re from and where you live. Yet, AQB is well-versed in pop (as stated in a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good”- Amy, who also mastered soul and pop).
“Bugalu Pa’ Mi Abuela” opens the album and is also a fabulous introduction to both boogaloo and Spanglish Fly. Immediately, the multiple vocals kick in, sharing responsibilities, and the instrumentation, accentuated by both the steamy horn section, hand claps, and cowbell, help tell the story of boogaloo in the modern age (kind of like, “Not your grandmother’s boogaloo!”).
A few other songs exemplify Spanglish Fly’s awesomeness. “New York Rules”, featuring vocals from famed Joe Bataan, slows the tempo. Joe offers, “Everybody’s playing by the New York Rules/ Everybody’s showing their New York values.” Again, like much of the album, these songs are about boogaloo happening in this time in this place, and here the song shouts out to New York’s “rules” as something amorphous: “The strangers on the B Train nod their head,” Joe says later, painting a picture of music in motion.
“Boogaloo Shoes” is probably the most old school songs in composition. “I tell you how we do,” Mariella Gonzalez and Paloma Munoz sing in tandem; “We’re stepping out tonight wearing our boogaloo shoes.” The playful back and forth of keys, horns, and percussion is super fun, and Matt Thomas’ sax solo is tasteful. “Instead of staying at home/ staring at the screen,” the lyrics continue; “grab your boogaloos shoes and hit the boogaloo scene!”
Yet my favorite song is “Coco Helado”, starting with inviting percussion layers before the clav kicks in. The laidback vibe and simple yet poetic lyrics are lovely (and a double entendre?). The song builds by breaking down, and a spoken word verse by Rowan Ricardo Phillips isn’t long enough to get over indulgent.
One lesser track is “How Do You Know/ Como Sabes”, and its failing trait shows up here and there on AQB, in trying to share a message. Lyrics like, “When you’re a child making your way/ learning your world from what your elders say/ you try your best to fight through your fears,” aren’t bad in their intention; the execution is a little cheesy. They haven’t quite figured this out. Of course, I think a lot of this is in the R&B vocal styling, something I admittedly, as a music critic, don’t get and struggle to critique knowledgeably, so I could be missing something.
Part soulful funk, part traditional Cuban and salsa music, part fun, and part social commentary, Ay Que Boogaloo is really a wonderful album. The band is on their A-game.