Friday, May 18 at 11: 30 AM

Master percussionist and bandleader Bobby Sanabria and his Multiverse Big Band take us on a musical journey to discover Boogaloo, a fusion of soul music, Rhythm & Blues, and Latin rhythms that was born in New York City in the 1960’s, particularly El Barrio, Harlem, and the Bronx.

As a Nuyorican with a passion for music, Sanabria was familiar with and even performed with some of the musicians who helped create the sound of Boogaloo. Follow Sanabria’s personal and professional reflections on the musicians and their music in our Interactive Digital Guide and learn more about the historical context for the musical genres out of which Boogaloo was born in our Teacher’s Guide.

(Most appropriate for Grades 3 - 12)

Take a look at this digital resource guide for a deeper dive into the history of Afro-Latin jazz music:

Afro Latin Jazz



In New York City in the 1960's, musicians blended elements of Latin and African American music to create a funky, feel-good sound that was fun to dance and sing along to. They called it Boogaloo.


A uniquely "Americano" music, Boogaloo grew out of the rich cultural diversity of New York City, particularly in East Harlem, a neighborhood also known as "El Barrio." Having undergone multiple waves of immigration in its past, by the 1940's the ethnic makeup of East Harlem had become majority Puerto Rican. Out of this population, the first generation of Nuyoricans was born.

As much as they enjoyed the Latin music styles their parents were raised with, Nuyoricans were also exposed to African American R&B and Doo Wop music growing up in Harlem. With world-famous theaters like The Apollo just blocks away, which presented both "R&B Revues" and "Mambo Shows" in the 1950's, audiences were treated to the most popular black and Latino entertainers of the day.

By the early 1960's, musicians in East Harlem and The Bronx were taking elements from Latin, R&B, and Doo Wop music and putting them together in new and exciting ways. The Afro-Latin hybrid caught on with audiences and soon became known throughout New York City as "Latin Boogaloo."



First-generation Nuyoricans grew up idolizing Latin music superstars like Tito Puente, who was celebrated around the world as the "King of Latin Music." For residents living in East Harlem and The Bronx in the 1940's and 50's, the festive sounds of Mambos, Cha Chas, and Guajiras filled the streets with Latin beats.

At the same time, Nuyoricans also related to the popular styles of African American music of the day. Drawing from the fun and oftentimes funny lyrics featured in R&B songs, paired with the smooth singing of Doo Wop vocalists, Boogaloo musicians took many of their musical cues from Black artists. Inspired by Afro-Latin music hybrids like Mongo Santamaria's recording of "Watermelon Man", early Boogaloo musicians integrated elements of Latin and African American music to create their highly danceable party music in the 1960s.

With hit recordings like Johnny Colon's "Boogaloo Blues", Joe Cuba’s "Bang! Bang!", and Pete Rodriguez' "I Like It Like That", Boogaloo became popular with black, white, and Latino audiences alike.

When Soul music became popular in the 1960's, artists like James Brown had an enormous impact on African American and Latino communities in New York City, both of which suffered from the effects of urban decay in the 1960's and 70's.

In El Barrio, pianist and singer Joe Bataan felt this impact and expressed concerns for the suffering he saw in his community through songs like "What Good is a Castle?". Influenced by Soul music, Bataan's distinct brand of Latin Soul not only invited audiences to dance, it also moved listeners to think.

Photo Credit: (L- R) Bobby Sanabria - timbales and drums, Eddie Resto - electric bass, Salvador Santamaria - güiro macho, Mongo Santamaria – congas; HEATWAVE - PBS TV c.1983; Photo provided by: Bobby Sanabria


Harlem has long been a melting pot of different cultures. Originally inhabited by Native Americans, the area was first settled by the Dutch in the mid-1600's. Named after a city in the Netherlands, the Dutch called their new home "Nieuw Haarlem."

Remaining mostly rural until the 19th century, the development of the New York and Harlem Railroad marked the beginning of urbanization in Harlem in the 1830's. Following a wave of Jewish and Italian immigration after the Civil War (1861-65), massive numbers of African Americans moved to Harlem during the Great Migration (1910-70).

By the 1920's, Central Harlem had become the epicenter of Black culture in America, leading to a remarkable period of artistic output known as the Harlem Renaissance. African American musicians, dancers, actors, playwrights, painters, poets, and more, found safe haven in Harlem to pursue their artistic ideals, sparking a cultural revolution never before seen in the United States.



Meanwhile in East Harlem, immigrants from Puerto Rico were developing a vibrant culture all their own. Following President Woodrow Wilson's signing of the Jones Act in 1917, residents of Puerto Rico were granted U.S. citizenship. This led to thousands of Puerto Ricans moving to New York City and settling into East Harlem by the end of World War I (1914-18).

After a second wave of immigration followed World War II (1939-45), Puerto Ricans became the largest ethnic population in East Harlem, which was more commonly referred to by locals as "Spanish Harlem" or "El Barrio."

With African Americans, Puerto Ricans, and immigrants from other Caribbean islands such as Cuba and the West Indies, as well as South America, living in such close proximity to one another, their cultures inevitably began to intermingle and merge. A common reference for all of these groups was Africa where many could trace their heritage through the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

As a result, first-generation Nuyoricans were exposed to both Latin and African American styles of music growing up. Born in New York City to Puerto Rican parents, many Nuyoricans were raised in East Harlem, where the sounds of Mambos and Cha Chas could be heard side by side with the popular R&B, Doo Wop, and Soul music of nearby Central Harlem.

Inspired by the musical mashups they heard, young Nuyorican musicians developed a new hybrid of Afro-Latin music in the 1960's, called Boogaloo. Inviting audiences of all ethnic backgrounds to dance and sing along, Boogaloo became the pride of El Barrio and an important chapter in Harlem's rich history.

Boogaloo All Stars

Joe Cuba

Born: April 22, 1931

Hometown: Spanish Harlem, New York City

Musical Background: Conguero, Composer

Notable Song: "Bang Bang" (1966)

Johnny Colon

Born: April 21, 1942

Hometown: Spanish Harlem, New York City

Musical Background: Piano, Trombone, Singer, Composer

Notable Song: "Boogaloo Blues" (1966)

Pete Rodriguez

Born: April 16, 1932

Hometown: The Bronx, New York City

Musical Background: Piano, Composer

Notable Song: "I Like It Like That" (1967)

Joe Bataan

Born: November 15, 1942

Hometown: Spanish Harlem, New York City

Musical Background: Piano, Singer, Composer

Notable Song: "What Good is a Castle?" (1968)




Bongos - A set of two small drums held between a player's knees.

Central Harlem - The central most section of Harlem ranging from 110th Street north to 155th Street, and Fifth Avenue west to Amsterdam Avenue.

Claves - A set of two thick wooden sticks played together and keeps the beat in many styles of Latin music.

Congas - A set of two or three large drums held in percussion stands and played standing up.

Conguero - A master conga player.

Cowbells - A metal bell played with sticks.

Doo Wop - A smooth style of vocal music popular in the 1950's.

East Harlem - The easternmost section of Harlem ranging from 96th Street north to 135th Street, and Fifth Avenue to the East River.

El Barrio - A nickname for East Harlem.



Great Migration - The movement of over 6 million African Americans from the Southern U.S. between 1910-70.

Harlem Renaissance - A period in the 1920's when African Americans thrived as artists in Harlem.

Jazz - A swinging style of music popular in the 1930's and 40's.

“Latin Boogaloo” - A combination of Latin music with elements of R&B, Doo Wop, and Soul.

Latin music styles - Musical styles that originated in Latin American countries such as Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Latin Soul - A style of Boogaloo that blended Latin rhythms with socially conscious lyrics.

Nuyoricans - A person born in New York City with Puerto Rican heritage.

Rhythm and Blues (R&B) - A bouncing style of music popular in the 1950's.

Soul - A style of music popular in the 1960's that raised social consciousness.

Spanish Harlem - A nickname for East Harlem.

Timbales - A set of two medium-sized drums that stand tall and are played with sticks.