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So what’s with this mambo craze, and the belittling of salsa?


I’ve seen several put downs of salsa, the word salsa itself and all that it entails. Well, enough of this BS (badmouthing salsa.)

  Let’s set the record straight, first, the Cuban Revolution of 1959 basically closed the door to the exporting of Cuban music to the US, thus cutting off cold turkey-ly the craving for that mambo thing. Since anything associated with Cuba after 1959 was considered to be of a communistic nature and that meant it was a no-no to have anything to do with that which was “Cuban labeled.”  Latin music was in limbo from 1959 till around 1974,after which  the coined word “salsa” became’ the adopted term to describe Latin dance music from New York City and the island of Puerto Rico during this period. Salsa was used to also describe a dance step which normally we would call “guanguanco” or “guaracha.”  Salsa covered a dance step as well as a label for this home grown sound from NYC and Puerto Rico. Fania Records and many others help Salsa reached new heights. Salsa is music that was born from “el barrio” and today is being shared with rest of the world. 

 Now, what does this have to do with the theme question of this topic? Well, after all, the term “salsa” has done to save Latin dance music, after the closing of Cuba’s doors, the embargo against Cuba and the lost confused era between 1959 and 1974 (you know, Latin Soul, Latin Boogaloo and the Latin Hustle “thingy”). The term salsa saved and resurrected Latin music out of El Barrio and across the globe. This is something “mambo” never did. So then why all this bad mouthing or belittling of the word “salsa?”  SalsaOn2 / Mambofateegz, “ La Salsa Se Come, El Mambo Se Baila,”  MamboOn2 and etc etc.

 Enough is enough, Mambo to this: “La Salsa Es un Ritmo Africano, Que Lo Baila Todo El Mundo, Hasta El Gringo Mete Mano!”  – Orquesta Sociedad 76 - 1978. I along with many, many other hardcore salseros are outraged by these put downs of salsa!

And then Mambo to these facts:  In Puerto Rico, there is “El Dia Nacional De La Salsa,” Hmmm, where is there a national mambo day, errr, nowhere!    There are Salsa Congresses all over the globe. Have you been to a mambo congress lately? Neither have I, because there aren’t any. Salsa is the term to describe our rhythmic dance music of Caribbean Latino heritage. Come on, let’s all say this together, “Do musicians who play this music, wonder if they are playing on1 or on2?” Nope, only Latin jazz and salsa exist in their minds, although a mambo section is both part of a salsa and a Latin jazz song.    

So come on grown-ups and not so grown up folks, let’s get with the program and let’s stop this belittling of the word salsa. The word “SALSA” put Latin dance music on the global map where no other musical term ever did.


Mambo, no thanks….

   And for that matter, let’s understanding something as well, Philly is not a mambo town, Philly is not divided (unlike Washington DC) between mambo and salsa dancers, there are no salsa-mambo wars here. Philly may never become mambo---fyed like NYC. Philly is a town of second and third generation born here Latinos, whose parents and or grandparents came straight from Puerto Rico. Those earlier generations grew up during the fall of mambo and the rise and dominance of salsa.

 They grew up listening to and feeding on salsa, not mambo. Past from generation to generation, salsa grew thick in our blood until it gushed from our pores all over the place.


Well, as one might have gathered, in this new century, salsa is still dominant, and mambo is like the trickle of a water drop in our area. People still want to dance salsa, major Latin dance instructors teach salsa, though several have tried to have a mambo class, with very little interest or support from students.

  Bottom line is, the Philly area is “salsa saturated.”  95% of the DJs play salsa over mambo, (by choice, and not for a lack of knowledge of the music). There are salsa bands, salsa clubs and salsa nights. The only On2 that dominates around here is standing On2 feet, when not sitting (ha-ha). Philly is like Los Angeles and Puerto Rico, where salsa will always be the flavor of the week! Sorry mambo, On2 this thought, it may be decades if not never, that Philly will slow down and take that “on 2” break and let you dominate. Salsa (On1-for you dancers) para siempe! (salsa for ever!)     





Boogalu (a.k.a. Boogaloo), a fusion of Rhythm and Blues and Cuban son montuno, was popular in the United States from 1966-69.  Boogalu was the first contemporary Latin music form that captured my attention because of its  funky sounds, engaging choral chants by the audience,  English lyrics, references to symbols of African American culture (“cornbread, hog maws and chitlins”),  and background sounds of raucous party goers.   Boogalu was a highly successful crossover musical style,  capturing the attention  of audiences who were previously not familiar with Latin music.

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 Wap 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.  


  By 1966 “Bang, Bang”, “ Pete’s Boogalu” and “I Like it Like That” had captured the American public.  Major boogalu bandleaders included Joe Cuba, Ricardo Ray, Pete Rodriguez and Johnny Colon.  During its heyday nearly every major Latin band recorded boogalus including Ray Barretto, El Gran Combo and even Eddie Palmieri, one of the styles most visible opponents. According to JJ Rassler in a article, Boogalu occupied a unique position in Latin music history since it emerged as the popularity of  Charanga music was waning and before the emergence of Salsa.

 According to music historian Juan Flores,  Boogalu was not an accidental development in Latin  music but was the embodiment of the social  and cultural interplay found on the streets of  Black and Spanish Harlem. 

 “As neighbors and coworkers, African Americans and Puerto Ricans in New York had been partying together for many years.  For decades they had been frequenting the same clubs, with Black and Latin bands often sharing the billing  … African American audiences generally appreciated and enjoyed Latin music styles, yet those who fully understood the intricacies of Afro-Cuban rhythms and came to master the challenging dance movements remained the exception rather than the rule… Popular Latin bands found themselves creating a musical common ground by introducing the trappings of Black American culture into their performances and thus getting the Black audiences involved and onto the dance floor.  “Bang Bang” by the Joe Cuba sextet and Latin boogaloo music in general was intended to constitute this meeting place between Puerto Ricans and Blacks and by extension, between Latin music and the music culture of the United States.” (Flores 2000) 

There was no structured dance style or patterns  associated with Boogalu.  It tended to be a freestyle dance without a closed embrace where partners often faced each other  and created spontaneous innovative steps in response to the music much like other popular dances of the 60's. 

As with most issues in Latin music, there is a great deal of debate about who was the first person to coin the term “boogalu or to create the musical style .  Richie Ray was certainly among the first innovators with his 1967 album Jala Jala Y Boogalu.  The song “Pete’s Boogalu” written by trumpeter Tony Pabon was the first Latin boogalu song to be played on the radio.

 What happened to the golden age of Boogalu? Was it just a passing musical phase, edged out by Salsa and Rock and Roll? Not everyone had been ecstatic about the popularity of Boogalu.  In an interview by Max Salazar,  Fernando “King Nando” Rivera revealed his view of the rise and eventual fall of Boogalu. 

 “We felt the jealousy of the older band members.   The boogalu didn’t die out. It was killed off by envious old bandleaders, the only booking agent at the time, a few dance promoters and a popular Latin music disc jockey.  We were the hottest bands and we drew the crowds.  But we were never given top billing or top dollar.  The boogalu bandleaders were forced to accept package deals’ which had us hopping all over town…one hour here, one hour there…for small change.  When word got out that we were going to unite and not accept the package deals any longer, our records were no longer played on the radio.  The boogalu era was over and so were the careers of most of the boogalu bandleaders."  (Salazar 1997)

Others such as Willie Torres have another explanation for the disappearance of  Boogalu.

“…the main responsibility for the eclipse  of boogaloo in the name of salsa, aside from the musicians themselves, was Fania Records.  Thought the category of salsa did not come into currency until 1972, it was Fania that shook New York Latin music loose of the boogaloo and went on to define the sound of the 1970s to world audiences." (Flores 2000) 

Though the heyday of boogalu was brief, the music form continues to endure.  In the late 1990’s Nito Nieve’s breathed new life into the form with his rendition of “I Like it Like that”, adding hip hop, rap and house music stylings to this old standard.  Boogalu may have reached new heights (or depths?) of cross-over appeal when the Nieve’s version of  this song became the background music for Burger King commercials in the late 1990’s.   Contemporary Salsa bands continue to revive old boogalus and create new pulsating, energetic  selections such as those  found on CD such as Salsa Con Swing by Sonora Carruseles and Grupo Gale's "Boogalu con Gale" on their tenth anniversary CD.


 If you want to hear boogalu and Latin Funk selections, log into  or and listen to some vintage soundclips.   For interviews with Boogalu artists (Pete Rodriguez, Johnny Colon, Joe Cuba) about the impact and untimely demise of boogalu, log into


There were many popular Boogaloo bands including Joe Cuba, Johnny Colon, Ricardo Ray, Joe Bataan, King Nando, Joey Pastrana, the Lebron Brothers, the Hi-Latins, Pete Terrace and Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers.  This section will profile several of the important musicians  that were synonymous the infectious, funky  sounds of Boogalu.


 Joe Cuba (born Gilberto Miguel Calderon) of Puerto Rican descent grew up in Spanish Harlem surrounded African American and Puerto Rican music and culture.  A talented conga player he began his career playing with the Joe Panama Quintet.  He went on to took over the leadership of this band which ultimately became “The Cha Cha Boy’s".  They made their first appearance at the San Juan Club in 1953.  The Cha Cha Boys band was later named The Joe Cuba Sextet and they began holding court at the Starlight Room in the Bronx.  The Joe Cuba Sextet was comprised of timbales, vibraphones, piano, bass and wonderful singers like legendary Jimmy Sabater and Cheo Feliciano.  Jimmy Sabater and Joe Cuba wrote the song “Bang, Bang” which is on the CD Wanted Dead or AliveWanted Dead or Alive sold over a million copies and climbed to number 63 in the US pop chart in 1966.

During an interview I conducted with Joe Cuba in October 2000, he said that his 1965  tune called “El Pito”  contained many elements synonymous with his later Boogalu style.  "El Pito" is was based on a Dizzy Gillespie melody  "I'll Never Go Back to Georgia."  "El Pito" was created to finish an album called We Must Be Doing Something Right.  Cuba said in his desperation to complete the album he told the band members to repeatedly play the band’s sign off musical phrase (Asi Se Gozar) and they were instructed to laugh, talk, clap and create a party atmosphere.  The song was constructed around this recurring musical theme, interspersed with joyful, raucous party sounds. Cuba later added the sound of whistles.    When a DJ at WBLS radio in New York played "El Pito", it was an immediate hit.  During live performances, Joe would whip his audiences into frenzy by throwing whistles out to the crowd so that they could join in the fun.

Why have the sounds of the legendary Joe Cuba endured so long?  According to Max Salazar the answer is simple.  “The success of the Joe Cuba Sextet is a result of elements, six musicians, four self taught …original songs…quality arrangements.. the intended execution of the arrangements and promotion." (Salazar 1992)

 Joe Cuba is considered one of the first Latino/Nuyorrican (New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent) Salsa musicians to incorporate English into his lyrics. Recently Alfredo Naranjo,percussionist,  released Las 6 Es La Cita: Tributo A Joe Cuba.  Joe Cuba remains quite active and ebullient about his life, his music and the Harlem neighborhood where he still lives.  He is one of the founders of the International Salsa Museum and has recorded over 20 albums.  If you go to the International Salsa Museum in New York, you just might run into him--like I did.


The Lebron Brothers were raised in Brooklyn of Puerto Rican descent and organized their first band in 1965.  Originally composed of Pablo (lead vocals), Jose (piano), Angel (Bass), Frankie (Congas) and Carlos

(Bongos), they rode the wave of boogalu popularity from 1968-1974.  Later other family members Ruben (Trombone) and Nadine (piano) and Corrine (vocals) recorded with the band. Still popular in Colombia even in the 1990s, their music was a melding of Latin music with Spanish and English lyrics with a smattering African American Doo Wop influences.  Legend has it that George Goldner, their record producer for Cotique crowned them with the name The Lebron Brothers.  Their album Psychedelic Goes Latin, released in 1967, was extremely popular.  Their biggest hit record was "Salsa Y Control"  recorded in 1970 and established them as heavy hitters resulting them recording over 30 CDs in their career.  They are known for their driving bass line, earthy piano stylings and blaring horns.   Their sound was heavily influenced by soul melodies and hard vibrant urban funky styling of R+B groups such as Frankie Lymon.

In a interview with Nelson Rodriguez, Angel reveals racial discrimination affected their music career because their Afro-Puerto Rican looks.

 “One club in particular, La Casa Blanca on 53rd and Broadway, would not hire in the year 1975/76 due to our skin color.  The owner then was a Cuban named Bobby who refused to showcase us even though we had a number one hit with Al Impulse.  A year later an incident came up during a New York radio interview and the reaction resulted in the club closing down.  It was a rude awakening to the guys that a Latino would do this to them because of their skin color.”

Boogalu lovers should pick up the Nasimento release that includes Psychedelic Goes Latin and The Brooklyn BumsThe Best of the Lebron Brothers is a wonderful compilation CD, with hits such as "Salsa Y Control" and "Vacilon".  These CDs will give you a sampling of the gritty, street wise sound that characterized the Lebron Brothers.   Their discography can be found on 

Other bands continue to perform covers of their hits such as "Salsa Y Control".  Many feel the the Lebron Brothers were one of the most underappreciated bands of the Boogalu era.  Check out their music and keep Boogalu alive.


Even though the heyday of Boogalu was the short period of 1966-1969, the hits and the bands from that era are too numerous to mention.  But here a short list of classic Boogalu tunes.



Bien Dulce

Let's Ball/Pastrana

El Watusi


I like it like that

I like it like that/Rodriguez

El Pito

We must be doing something Right/Cuba

Bang, Bang

Wanted Dead or Alive/Cuba

Salsa Y Control

Salsa Y Control/ Lebron Brothers


I like it like that/Rodriguez

Ay Que Rico!


Gypsy Woman

Gypsy Woman/Bataan

Let's Ball

Let's Ball/Pastrana




Salazar, Max  Development of Latin Music in New York City: Lecture at UCLA.  Latin Beat Magazine May 1997

Rodriguez, Nelson. The Lebron Brother: The Funky Side of Latin Music. Latin Beat Magazine March 2000 

Rassler, JJ. The Lebron Brothers 1992,

 Salazar, Max.  To Be With You. Joe Cuba Sextet.  Latin Beat Magazine.  June/July 1992.

Salazar Max, The History  of Latinized Afro-American Rhythms. Latin Beat Magazine, Oct 1997

Flores, Juan “Cha Cha with a Backbeat” in From Bomba to Hip Hop pp 77-129  Columbia University Press 2000


My special thanks goes to Max Salazar and Juan Flores who were invaluable in helping me assemble this material.





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