Sunday, November 29, 2015

YBCA Music Movies: We Like It Like That

Joe Cuba & Jimmy Sabater penned one of the most infectious dance hits ever. It is impossible to keep still while listening to their original recording of “Bang Bang.” Dizzy Gillespie’s cover was just as groovy, but with more trumpet. Heck, even David Sanborn’s cover is catchy. It was one of a handful of Latin Boogaloos that defined a short-lived but still fondly remembered Latin music craze. Matthew Ramirez Warren’s chronicles the music’s heyday and the musicians that forged its funky trail in We Like It Like That: the Story of Latin Boogaloo (trailer here), which screens this week during the Music Movies series at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

In the 1960s, you heard R&B and soul on the radio. For young musicians coming up in neighborhoods like East Harlem, it was natural to integrate the sounds of their generation with the Latin music they grew up with. Thus Latin Boogaloo was born, more or less. More than anything, they had a groove.

There were only a handful of really classic, influential boogaloos, like “Bang Bang,” Pete Rodriguez’s “I Like it Like That,” Johnny Colon’s “Boogaloo Blues,” and Joe Bataan’s “Gypsy Woman,” but they briefly spawned a host of followers. Many Latin musicians were strongly encouraged record boogaloos. Some embraced them, like Ray Barretto, whereas others were less enthusiastic, such as Larry Harlow (whose presence as a respectful dissenter greatly enriches the film). Then, suddenly around the time Fania Records really established its hegemony over the Latin music industry, the boogaloo just seemed to vanish.

Warren and the musicians he interviews do a great job of breaking down the process of getting down with a boogaloo. Although many were self-taught or informally schooled, it is clear everyone understands music at a very high level. Yet, the documentary is never dry or technical.  Far from it. We Like grooves just as hard as the music it surveys.

Calle 54 remains the greatest Latin music doc ever, due to its elegant simplicity and the sheer virtuosity of the performances it captures, but We Like still ranks way up there. We are necessarily overusing derivations of the word “groove” because that is what it is all about at its core. Indeed, Warren’s film is like a party, except it also comes with a lesson in Twentieth Century music history. Great nostalgic fun, We Like It Like That screens this Thursday (12/3) and next Sunday (12/6) as part of Music Movies at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.