Joe Cuba played an important role in the movement that shaped Latin music during the 1960s in New York. Although his music touched everything from Mambo and Cha Cha to Pachanga and Bolero, his repertoire was mainly defined by Latin Boogaloo. Today, however, Joe Cuba's main contribution to Latin music falls into the realm of Salsa. The following is a short biography of Joe Cuba, the legendary Father of Latin Boogaloo.
Joe Cuba was born in New York in 1931. His real name was Gilberto Miguel Calderon, and his parents were immigrants from Puerto Rico who settled in Manhattan's Spanish Harlem. Joe Cuba developed an interest in the music he listened in the streets of his beloved barrio and learned to play the conga when he was just a teenager.
Meeting Tito Puente
One day, while he was studying Law, he had the opportunity to meet Tito Puente after a concert. Thanks to that episode, Joe Cuba was inspired to make a career in Latin music. In addition to that, the encounter with Tito Puente represented the beginning of a long friendship that very often found its best ground in music.
Joe Cuba Sextet
After playing with La Alfarona X for 5 years, Joe Cuba decided to create a new band in 1955. He wanted to introduce something new into the emerging Salsa movement of that time. In fact, Joe Cuba moved away from the idea of the Big Band Mambo orchestra creating a six-member band with three singers on stage. Besides reducing the number of band members, Joe Cuba added a unique vibraphone sound to his melodies.
During the last half of 1950s, Joe Cuba built his sound. However, it was at the beginning of the next decade that the Joe Cuba Sextet met success. To a large extent, this success was the result of the development of Boogaloo. That was also the time when Joe Cuba brought to his legendary sextet the voices of two of the best Salsa singers in history: Cheo Feliciano and Jimmy Sabater.
Joe Cuba Sextet's 1962 album Steppin' Out brought enduring hits including songs like "A Las Seis," "Oriente," "To Be With You" and "Cachondea". That was just the beginning of the legend Joe Cuba built around himself with his music and a style loyal to the Nuyorican culture he belonged to.
Latin Boogaloo Fever
Joe Cuba became the Father of Latin Boogaloo because of his innovative approach to music. He was in the right place at the right time. His innovation fit perfectly into the new sounds that were coming from the streets of Harlem, which were marked by a fusion of R&B with Latin music.
After Stepping' Out, Joe Cuba consolidated his Latin Boogaloo sounds with productions like Hangin' Out (1963) and Estamos Haciendo Algo Bien! (We Must Be Doing Something Right!) (1965), two outstanding albums that included classics of the Latin Boogaloo era such as "Bang Bang" and "El Pito (I'll Never Go Back To Georgia)". In fact, "Bang Bang" became the first million-selling Boogaloo song in history.
This vibrant rhythm took by storm the Big Apple and very soon major artists were forced to play Boogaloo in order to secure gigs and keep up with the wave of the moment. Joe Cuba's role in the development of Latin Boogaloo was essential.
A Place in Salsa Music
Although Latin Boogaloo enjoyed tremendous popularity during the 1960s, its momentum was a short one. At the end of the 1960s, Latin Boogaloo had lost much of its appeal during a time when Salsa music was finally getting its place in the world thanks to artists like Eddie Palmieri and the legendary Fania All Stars.
Being one of the founders of Latin Boogaloo, Joe Cuba suffered from the downturn that affected the rhythm he helped to create. Nevertheless, Joe Cuba continued with his musical production after the Latin Boogaloo craze.
Although his role during the 1960s was mainly associated to Latin Boogaloo, Joe Cuba has now a place in history as one of the artists that defined Salsa music. Anyone with a serious interest in Salsa music must get an idea of the stuff Joe Cuba produced back in the 1960s. The world lost the Father of Latin Boogaloo in 2009. His music will be around forever.