Joe Cuba: Inventor of the boogaloo

Starting with the twist, the 1960s was a decade for new dances. One of these, the boogaloo, was a Latin-American dance that first became popular in New York, where its principal exponent was the Joe Cuba Sextet. The group had a million-seller in the US with the highly infectious "Bang Bang" (1966).

"You don't go into a rehearsal and say, 'Let's invent a new sound or dance,'" Joe Cuba would later say, "They happen."

Joe Cuba's parents came from Puerto Rico to New York in the late 1920s and settled in East Harlem, also known as Spanish Harlem. He was born Gilberto Miguel Calderon in 1931 and his father owned a sweet shop on the ground floor of the apartment building in which they lived. His father organised a street version of baseball but after the young Gilberto broke a leg, he had nothing more to do with it. He played the congas and after graduating from high school, he joined a band.

Calderon intended to qualify as a lawyer but he became entranced by the music of the Puerto Rican bandleader and percussionist Tito Puente, who was based in New York. Puente encouraged him to form his own band, and in 1954, he led the Joe Cuba Sextet, the new name being the suggestion of his agent, and they played key ballrooms in New York City. Most Latin music was performed by orchestras, but although Cuba favoured a smaller unit, he had three percussionists (Cheo Feliciano, Jimmy Sabater and himself), who could sing and dance as well as play. He was a good-natured, friendly man and an ideal bandleader.

Many of the Puerto Ricans spoke English and so Cuba made records in both Spanish and English, which gave them a wider appeal. In 1962, his sextet had success with "To be with you", and in 1965, they had their first million-seller with "El Pito (I'll never go back to Georgia)", which borrowed a catchy chant from Dizzy Gillespie's jazz record, "Manteca". Cuba's hit came from the successful album, Estamos Haciendo Algo Bien.

By now, Cuba was adding American soul music to the Latino sound. The mix developed into the boogaloo and the best record for dancing it was Cuba's "Bang Bang" (1966), written by him and Sabater. Admittedly a variation of "La Bamba", this was a vibrant and exciting track with a party spirit that would entice even non-dancers on to the floor. Cuba followed it with "Push, push, push" and "Sock it to me, baby", which became a key phrase on the TV show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, where the boogaloo was featured for comic effect.

With a few more twists and turns, the boogaloo developed into the more sophisticated salsa, and again the Joe Cuba Sextet recorded some key tracks. Joe Cuba remained at the forefront of Latin events in New York and in later years he was a director of the International Salsa Museum in Manhattan.

Spencer Leigh

Gilberto Miguel Calderon (Joe Cuba), bandleader: born New York 1931; married (two sons, one daughter); died New York 15 February 2009.

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices