Joe Bataan, the King of Latin Soul, comes home to El Barrio

Joe Bataan, the King of Latin Soul, plays Boogaloo for Carnegie Hall Citywide at El Museo del Barrio in East Harlem, New York City on Saturday, May 18, 2019 at 4pm. FREE

Bataan grew up three blocks away from El Museo, so this is really a homecoming.

Joe Bataan, the King of Latin Soul

Joe Bataan. Courtesy the artist.

Joe Bataan. Courtesy the artist.

Joe Bataan, born Bataan Nitollano in 1942, is a FilipinoAfrican American musician from El Barrio East Harlem. He grew up at 103rd St and Lexington Avenue.

Those were tough times in a tough place and Bataan was a tough kid. He ran a gang and did some time. When he came out, Bataan put his focus on music and turned his life around.

Bataan’s first hit was “Gypsy Woman” (Fania, 1967) YouTube. In the song, you can hear the blend of Latin, R&B and Doo Wop that is Boogaloo.

He worked with FANIA during the Boogaloo moment of the late 1960s and then for his own Salsoul label in the 1970s. Bataan even had an early hip-hop hit. His big hits include “Subway Joe” (YouTube) and “Ordinary Guy” (YouTube).

Battan is the guy you think of when you think of Boogaloo. After retiring in 1982, he came back with Call My Name in 2005. In 2017, the elder statesman of Boogaloo recorded with Spanglish Fly, a young New York City band that works the genre.


Boogaloo is Latin music mixed with African-American soul. It exploded in the 1960s youth movement, but faded quickly when the powers that be in Latin music refused to support the new teen sound.

New York City is a big city with distinct little neighborhoods where a lot of cross-pollination occurs. Uptown in the west you have African American Harlem and in the east you have East Harlem, El Barrio.

As always, kids from both communities were mixing it up in the clubs. Latin kids were going to Black clubs in Harlem and Black kids were going to Latin clubs in East Harlem.

Boogaloo blends the R&B and 1950s doo-wop of Harlem with the many forms of Cuban dance music being played mostly by Puerto Ricans in El Barrio.

The early Boogaloo standards included Mongo Santamaría’s cover of Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man and Ray Barretto’s El Watusi.

The big Boogaloo hit was the Joe Cuba Sextet’s Bang Bang (1966).

It was danceable and cool in that 1960s way. It was that magic moment when we were trying to sort out civil rights on a national level and there was this awakening. If Black is Beautiful then Brown could be beautiful too. Everyone was full of pride and that youthful hope for the future.

Boogaloo is Latinized R&B. You get Latin music with R&B styling and occasionally lyrics in English. Latin culture is Black anyway, so it’s just a natural blending. A similar fusion took place in Cuba starting in the 1970s and 80s when bands like Irakere and Los Van Van brought R&B and rock into Cuban dance music in the form of Timba.

I keep coming back to something Eddie Palmieri once said at the 92nd Street Y just south of El Barrio because it’s short but describes how we got here and our relationships. He said, “The Spaniard brought the African. The African put everyone to dance. In the states they took away the drum and we got the blues.”

Blues is the root music of the United States. It evolved into jazz, rock and hip hop. The music keeps folding in on itself and thereby creating something new. No matter what the music, parents hated it.

The Palladium Ballroom at 53rd St and Broadway was the American heart of Latin music in the 1950s. The house bands Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puente and Machito drove the Mambo and Cha-Cha-Cha crazes that swept the country. The Palladium closed in 1966 and for a few years Boogaloo took over. But then Latin music began to jell again around Salsa and the Boogaloo moment faded.

Today the Boogaloo sound is best remembered in the remake of the Pete “Conde” Rodriguez hit “I Like it Like That” (1967) which became a Tito Nieves hit (1997) and most recently the foundation of Cardi B’s I Like It featuring Bad Bunny and J Balvin (2018).

Joe Bataan Carnegie Hall Citywide

Your first reaction to Carnegie Hall may be to imagine a bunch of arrogant classical musicians, but nothing could be further from the truth. Yes the best classical artists play Carnegie Hall, but the production team really gets music and they really get New York’s communities.

Carnegie Hall Citywide is a program by which Carnegie Hall plays some of the best music from New York’s communities in New York’s communities for free.

A lot of love and respect should be flowing back to Carnegie Hall about now. It’s great to be valued. Thank you.

Joe Bataan Tickets

The best things in life are free. These concerts fill up though, so go early.

El Museo del Barrio

1230 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10029
(between 104th & 105th St)
East Harlem, Manhattan

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