Before hip-hop and punk, there was boogaloo – a quintessentially New York rhythm that defined a generation. Boogaloo was a sound that collided Afro-Cuban rhythms like mambo and cha cha with homegrown blues and R&B. It was a sound forged by Puerto Rican New Yorkers and their African-American neighbors, a sound that cast off genre boundaries in favor of something that spoke to New York’s Puerto Rican teens, who were one of the first generations to experience the bicultural realities of U.S. Latinidad. Much the way that hip-hop en español does today, boogaloo captured the spirit of youth culture, taking a popular mainstream style and setting it to a rhythm that made sense to Latino New York.
By the late 1960s, younger boogaloo musicians saw their music squashed by salsa’s heavy hitters. The new generation often lacked the resources and technical training of their salsa counterparts, and would play clubs for far less than the more established artists like Tito Puente. As boogaloo practitioners lost out to the bulldozing force of Fania Records, the sound fell out of favor to the crystallizing salsa movement.
We Like It Like That, a 2015 documentary directed by Mathew Ramirez Warren, sets out to capture the monumental force of boogaloo in 1960s New York. Through oral history, archival footage, and interviews with iconic artists like Johnny Colón, Joe Bataan, and Richie Ray, Ramirez Warren paints a vivid portrait of how the movement changed the lives of a generation of Puerto Rican teenagers. With the film heading to iTunes and Amazon next week, we decided to catch up with Colón and Ramirez Warren to reflect on the film’s significance, and how boogaloo speaks to youth culture today.