Posts Tagged ‘Motown’

PRdream mourns the passing of Joe Cuba, 1931 – 2009

Sunday, November 1st, 2009
February 19, 2009
1:41 am

Viewing on Wednesday & Thursday, February 18 & 19, 2PM – 10PM

R&G Ortiz Funeral Home
204 E. 116th Street, between 3rd & 2nd Avenues
212.722.3512

From: Aurora Communications, Inc.

Joe Cuba: Father of New York Boogaloo has passed away

The “Father of Boogaloo” Joe Cuba passed away on Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 4 p.m. at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. He was the most popular exponent of the boogaloo, a fused Latino and R&B rhythm that exploded onto the American top 40s charts during the turbulent 1960s & ‘70s. Hits such as “*Bang Bang,” “Push Push,” “El Pito,” “Ariñañara,” and “Sock It To Me Baby,” rocked the hit parades establishing Joe Cuba and his Sextet as the definitive sound of Latin New York during the ‘60s & ‘70s. The Joe Cuba Sextet’s unusual instrumentation featured vibraphones replacing the traditional brass sound. His music was at the forefront of the Nuyroican movement of New York where the children of Puerto Rican emigrants, America’s last citizens, took music, culture, arts and politics into their own hands.

Joe Cuba’s Sextet became popular in the New York Latino community precisely because it fused a bilingual mix of Afro-Caribbean genres blended with the popular urban rhythm & blues of its time creating a musical marriage between the Fania and Motown sound. His was the first musical introduction to Latin rhythms for many American aficionados. The lyrics to Cuba’s repertoire mixed Spanish and English, becoming an important part of the emerging Nuyorican identity.

Joe Cuba’s music validated the developing Nuyorican population whose language and music Cuba captured with his sound, underlines Giora Breil, CEO of Emusica, the company that now owns the Fania label and who has remastered many of the classics to a new generation of music lovers. “He led the urban tribe,” pointed Breil, “into a united front of cultural warriors that were defining the social and political times they lived in.”

Longtime manager and promoter Hector Maisonave recalls Cuba as ”an innovator who crossed over into mainstream music at an early time. He was the soul of El Barrio. After Joe Cuba, El Barrio is just a street that crosses an avenue.”

In 1962, Cuba recorded “*To Be With You” *with the vocals of Cheo Feliciano and Jimmy Sabater whose careers he spotlighted after the bands introductory appearance at the Stardust Ballroom prior to its summer stint in the Catskills.

Born in 1931 in the heart of Spanish Harlem, his Puerto Rican parents arrived in New York City in the 20s. Christened “Gilberto Miguel Calderón,” Cuba was a “doo wopper” who played for J. Panama in 1950 when he was a young 19 year old before going on to play for La Alfarona X, where the young “congüerro” percussionist replaced Sabu Martinez tapped to play with Xavier Cugat.

By 1965, the Sextet got their first crossover hit with the Latino and soul fusion of “El Pito” (I Never Go Back To Georgia), a tune Cuba recorded against the advice of the producer later to be “broken” by a DJ over WBLS FM in N.Y.. The Dizzy Gillespie “/Never Go Back To Georgia” chant was taken from the intro to the seminal Afro-Cuban tune, “Manteca.” Vocalist Jimmy Sabater later revealed that “none of us had ever been to Georgia.” In fact, Cuba later comically described a conversation he had with the Governor of Georgia who called him demanding why he would record a song whose chorus negatively derided the still segregated Southern town. The quick thinking Joe Cuba replied, “Georgia is the name of my girl.”

“Joe Cuba exemplified the power that comes from collaboration.” highlighted East Harlem’s councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito. “Through his music, Joe brought together Latinos and African Americans and his art form reflected the influences of both cultures, Furthermore, his music united Harlem and East Harlem by reflecting the growth both communities experienced during the 1960s and ’70s. Joe Cuba made Spanish Harlem proud as he bravely brought his particular New York Latino identity to stages all over the world.”

In 1967, Joe Cuba’s band ––with no horns– scored a “hit” in the United States National Hit Parade List with the song “Bang Bang” – a tune that ushered in the Latin Boogaloo era. He also had a #1 hit, that year on the Billboard charts with the song “Sock It To Me Baby.” The band’s instrumentation included congas, timbales, an occasional bongo, bass, piano and vibraphone. “A bastard sound,” is what Cuba called it pointing to the fans, the people, as the true creators of this music. “You don’t go into a rehearsal and say ‘Hey, let’s invent a new sound or dance.’ They happen. The boogaloo came out of left field.“ Joe Cuba recounts in Mary Kent’s book:” Salsa Talks: A Musical History Uncovered. “It’s the public that creates new dances and different things. The audience invents, the audience relates to what you are doing and then puts their thing into what you are playing/,” pointing to
other artists such as Ricardo Ray or Hector Rivera as pioneers of the urban fused rhythm.

“I met Joe up in the Catskills in 1955,” /recalls nine time Grammy Award winner *Eddie Palmieri*. “When I later started La Perfecta,” Palmieri muses, “we alternated on stages with Joe. He was full of life and had a great sense of humor, always laughing at his own jokes,” chuckles the pianist. Palmieri pointed to Cuba’s many musical contributions underlining the power and popularity of his small band and bilingual lyrics while providing a springboard for the harmonies and careers of Cheo Feliciano, Willie Torres and Jimmy Sabater. “He was Spanish Harlem personified,” describes Palmieri recalling the “take no prisoners” attitude Cuba had when it came to dealing with those who reluctantly paid the musicians. Recalling their early recording days with the infamous Morris Levy, Palmieri cites the antics of Joe Cuba, Ismael Rivera and himself as the reason for Levy selling them as a Tico package to Fania label owner, Jerry Masucci.

Funny, irreverent and with a great humor for practical jokes, Joe Cuba, or Sonny as he was called by his closest friends, was raised in East Harlem. Stickball being the main sport for young boys of the neighborhood, Cuba’s father organized a stickball club called the Devils. After Cuba broke a leg, he took up playing the conga and continued to practice between school and his free time. Eventually, he graduated from high school and joined a band.

“He was not afraid to experiment/,” said *David Fernandez*, arranger & musical director of Zon del Barrio who played with the legendary Cuba when he arrived in New York in 2002.

By 1954, at the suggestion of his agent to change the band’s name from the Jose Calderon Sextet to the Joe Cuba Sextet, the newly named Joe Cuba Sextet made their debut at the Stardust Ballroom. Charlie Palmieri was musical director of the sextet before his untimely 1988 death from a heart attack.

Since then, the Joe Cuba Sextet and band has been a staple of concerts and festivals that unite both Latinos, African-Americans and just plain music lovers in venues all over the world.

In 2003, the following CDs were released:

* “Joe Cuba Sextet Vol I: Mardi Gras Music for Dancing”
* “Merengue Loco” and
* “Out of This World Cha Cha”.

In 2004, Joe Cuba was named Grand Marshall of the Puerto Rican Day Parade celebrated in Yonkers, New York. Musician *Willie Villegas* who traveled with Joe for the past 15 years said, “It didn’t matter where we played around the world Joe would always turn to me and say, To My
Barrio…. With Love!”

Joe Cuba is survived by his wife Maria Calderon, sons Mitchell and Cesar, daughter Lisa, and grandchildren Nicole and Alexis.

Condolences can be sent directly to Joe Cuba’s widow: Maria Calderon at mariacuba1@verizon.net.

Which Side Are You On?

Friday, December 5th, 2008

By SUZANNE VEGA

In the last few months I have had a chance to review a song I wrote in October of 2007. It’s called “Daddy Is White,” and I haven’t sung it out loud yet in front of an audience except to record a demo of it. My daughter worries that people might make fun of me. However, I feel that it is a truthful song.

In my last blog post I mentioned that I was raised in a half-Puerto Rican family and spent five years in East Harlem as a young child. At some point, when I was about 9 years old, I learned that my birth father was actually English-Scottish-Irish. Or white, as we used to say in my old neighborhood. Actually, anybody looking at me could probably tell that this was the case, but I felt I was the last to know, partly because I was treated by my Puerto Rican abuelita and my aunt and uncle as one of their own. I was proud, and still am proud, to be a Vega.

One person wrote in after my last blog entry to ask whether I had any plans to record Puerto Rican songs or songs in Spanish as a way of honoring those roots. I thought about this, but have to say no, even though I have had experience singing songs in Spanish. One of my first performing jobs was with a group called The Alliance of Latin Arts. I was 15 years old, and it was a government sponsored job, where we traveled from borough to borough singing songs in Spanish, like “La Bamba.” I attracted attention wherever I went, and it wasn’t because of my singing. (Somewhere in storage in a folder marked “scrapbook” I have a flyer from that job — when I find it I will post it here.) If you could look at the photo, you would see one girl in the line of dark-skinned Latinas to the far right looking down, and that is me, sticking out as usual.

It always struck me that in this picture I look like I am not only of a different race, but of a different century, as though I were Emily Dickinson and had somehow wandered into the Bronx in the 1970’s. (It should be noted that Puerto Ricans are not of one race — there are blue-eyed blond Puerto Ricans, though I never actually met any until recently.) I feel it would be false of me to do an album of Puerto Rican songs, since pretending I fit in, even back then, always felt a bit forced.

Songs brand us a part of a tribe. We can pick and choose what tribe we belong to. Goth, emo, hippie, punk, folk, alternative, for example. “Mom! Why are you wearing all black?” my daughter recently shouted at me. “You look so emo!” “I always wear black,” I mumbled. “But we are at the beach!” she said. Well, maybe she had a point.

I am of Irish descent, among other things, but I feel it would be false of me to perform traditional Irish music, even though I find some of it very moving. When I worked with Mitchell Froom, I liked that he said, “I will reveal you to be the mutant you really are!” when he heard how I grew up and about the mixed bag of stuff I grew up listening to — from Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs to Motown, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. But perhaps one day I could do an album of Jewish folk songs in A-minor, or an album of cante jondo, which Federico Garcia Lorca wrote of; this would take guts. I love sad and tragic songs, and I love the sensuality of Brazilian bossa nova; perhaps my melancholic temperament could do justice to an album like this.

I remember walking down the street one day, wearing a Smiths t-shirt, back in the mid-’80s. I was headed for the subway station, and I had to pass through a crowd of black teenagers to get there. There were maybe eight or so young men, looking me up and down as I picked my way through them. My neck prickled with worry. What would they say? Would they call me a goofy white girl, or worse?

One of them snickered. My stomach dropped. Then another one sang out, “I am human and I need to be loved!! Just like everybody else does!!” Morrissey’s transcendental lyrics from “How Soon Is Now?” It was so unexpected that I burst out laughing. They knew the song! Then we all laughed, and the tension was broken. Maybe we were the same tribe after all.
* * *
ed-vega-guitar.jpg

Ed Vega, circa 1972.
This song is called “Daddy Is White,” and I don’t know what tribe it represents. Maybe you also thought your daddy was Puerto Rican, and then you turned out to have another father! The song doesn’t even apply to my brothers and sister, whose daddy really was Ed Vega, who is shown here at the dining room table with the family guitar. However, the second and third verses were also drawn from reality — the second verse applies to the neighborhood I live in, where if you walk anywhere you run into the projects, where you can still feel those prickles, and feel all eyes on you: “What is she doing here?”

In the weeks following the recent election, though, there has been a very different feeling in the air in these neighborhoods, a feeling of relief, of recognition, of pride. There is going to be a man in the White House (Barack Obama) whose mother was white and whose father was black. He was a mixed-race child; he is a black man. His family is multicultural, as mine is. What a relief to see this represented in the realities of power and politics! In the media!

We say these words out loud and in print. Black, white. When I recorded the demo of this song earlier this year my engineer and I discussed what the song was about. At one point I realized we were whispering those words. Now we say them out loud, and they reflect our reality. It matters.

The last verse was inspired by a real-life discussion I overheard at a bar in Baltimore. A black man and a white woman were discussing a recent sports event. He called her “baby” playfully. She called him “stats boy,” meaning, I guess, someone well-versed in statistics. The conversation escalated quickly into a loud yelling argument, as he did not feel he was a boy of any kind and that word had racist overtones. Maybe the recent election means my song is on its way to being obsolete. I hope so.

Daddy Is White (By Suzanne Vega, 2007)

I am an average white girl who comes from Upper Manhattan.
And I am totally white, but I was raised half Latin.
This caused me some problems among my friends and my foes,
Cause when you look into my face, it’s clear what everybody else knows:

Chorus:
My daddy is white.
So I must be white too.
When you look into the mirror, what
Comes looking back at you?

If your daddy is white,
You must be white too.
When you look into the mirror
what comes looking back at you?

I feel it in the city when I take a walk uptown
I feel the tension in the air, I feel it ticking all around,
I feel it filling up the sidewalk, in the spaces in between,
Between my face and your face in public places where we get seen.

Chorus

He called her baby. She called him boy, and then it started.
They were strangers at the bar, and they both ended broken hearted.
And it was a conversation, but it ended as a fight.
And I can tell you it’s because he was black, and she was white.