Ray Lugo and the Boogaloo Destroyers
July 11, 2014
Originally founded back in 1964 by the Dominican bandleader and composer Johnny Pacheco and an Italian-American lawyer, Jerry Masucci, Fania Records quickly became the beloved home of salsa music, the sound that courses through the barrios of the Lower East Side, Spanish Harlem, the South Bronx, South Williamsburg, Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst, Corona and countless others. And in some way for many New Yorkers, salsa is the very sound of sweltering summer days and nights and of parties that stretch on until the wee hours …
Although the label initially began as a very small venture, the label had quickly gained popularity and became known as the home to now beloved artists such as Celia Cruz, Ray Barreto, Hector Lavoe, Luis “Perico” Ortiz, Ruben Blades and a lengthy list of others – including the legendary supergroup the Fania All-Stars, which outlasted the original incarnation of the label and continued in various forms until 2007. Interestingly enough, the Fania All-Stars’s most famous release, their 1975 Live at Yankee Stadium album was included in the second set of 50 recordings preserved in the National Recording Registry — if that doesn’t cement how vitally important Fania Records and the Fania Records All-Stars are to not just New York but national history and culture, I don’t know what would.
In 2005, Emusica, a Miami, FL-based label purchased Fania Records’s assets and began to release much of Fania Records’s back catalog, including some never-released material — and all of it, they remastered with enhanced liner notes, in the hopes of preserving some profoundly amazing music. Over the last couple of years in particular, Fania Records has made a reappearance releasing works by new artists and celebrating its beloved past — and as the label celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding, it’s been hosting and/or co-hosting a number of events around town including the Latin Alternative Music Conference’s Summerstage showcase with Bodega Bamz, Tan Boyz, Ana Tijoux and the Beanuts. But probably the most prominent events they’ve been hosted are Fania Records’s own DJ Turnmix parties at NUBLU which feature Turnmix on the 1s and 2s and contemporary acts playing the sounds that made Fania Records so legendary – sometimes those artist are labelmates such as the Boogaloo Assassins, who will be at NUBLU tonight. Other times, the artists aren’t Fania Records artists; however, they owe Fania Records and its legendary artists a great debt – and in some way, they’re playing to show their appreciation and love.
Back in mid July, I was with a very dear friend, whose first apartment in New York; in fact, she lived off East 7th and Avenue C, so just being in the neighborhood brought back a flood of associations – many of them around salsa, bachata and meringue. Somehow, we showed up much later than we thought and wound up walking into NUBLU around the very end of Ray Lugo and the Boogaloo Destroyers first set. But what I can tell you is that the place was rocking – and stiflingly hot from an entire room of people dancing to complex polyrhythm, explosive blasts of horns and just straight out funk. (You know it’s hot when as soon as you walk in someplace you see someone desperately fanning themselves with anything they can find, and when the most popular beverage at the bar is ice water.)
The second set was comprised of the material that appears on the band’s most recent release, Que Chevere!, an album that easily sounds as though it could have been released during Fania’s heyday as the material is sensual, full of tight, danceable grooves – and yet it’s incredibly witty such as “Que Chevere! (My Baby’s Got Latin Soul)” which Lugo jokingly said was dedicated to those women who aren’t Latin but really dig Latin culture. Of course, live the heroes of the song are the horn section and the percussion. “El Ritmo del Nueva York” was a particular highlight because it brings to mind my own associations – of hearing salsa streaming out of apartment windows and cars in Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights throughout the spring and summer. But I think the thing that manages to be forgotten is how much the compositions – and I mean this in the truest sense – owe a great debt to jazz. Whenever I think of Lugo and his Boogaloo Destroyers, the work of the great Horace Silver, whose work managed to have great joy, wit and deceptive simplicity.