In 1967, Puerto Rican bandleader and timbalero Francisco “Kako” Bastar was approached with a proposition to record a Latin boogaloo album. The man extending the offer was Al Santiago, former founder of Alegre Records where Kako was one of the Alegre All-Stars. By this point, Santiago was now working with Art Talmadge’s Musicor Records, principally a rock and country label (think Gene Pitney and George Jones), but they also nurtured a budding Latin series that included such boogaloo-laced projects as La Playa Sextet’s The Sound of Puerto Rico and Willie Rosario’s Two Too Much. ...MORE >
In 1967, Puerto Rican bandleader and timbalero Francisco “Kako” Bastar was approached with a proposition to record a Latin boogaloo album. The man extending the offer was Al Santiago, former founder of Alegre Records where Kako was one of the Alegre All-Stars. By this point, Santiago was now working with Art Talmadge’s Musicor Records, principally a rock and country label (think Gene Pitney and George Jones), but they also nurtured a budding Latin series that included such boogaloo-laced projects as La Playa Sextet’s The Sound of Puerto Rico and Willie Rosario’s Two Too Much.
The bandleader needed some convincing, however. For several older Latin artists, boogaloo was seen—at best—as a passing fad, and many of its detractors, including Tito Puente and Larry Harlow, held out on recording them until market forces encouraged reconsideration. Composer/producer Bobby Marín recalls, “Al wanted more boogaloo music, and Kako said, ‘Well, we already have one or two; why do we need more?’ He was a little reluctant, because his thing was percussion, and boogaloo had no percussion value [with its] straight backbeat.”
In the end, Santiago apparently won the argument, since Live It Up boasted an impressive five boogaloo/shing-a-lings plus the boogaloo-esque “Ritmo Melon.” However, the LP still offered two mambos plus the hyperkinetic jala jala “A Golpe de Timbal” that gave Kako room to run on his beloved drums. Most of all, many other boogaloo bands had small outfits, but Kako brought the full weight of his orchestra and its powerful bank of horns. The result is a full, rich sound that helps make Live It Up one of the best of the “big band” boogaloo albums from New York, easily rivaling similar albums by Tito Puente or the Palmieri brothers.
The choice of vocalist was perhaps the album’s biggest surprise. Panamanian singer Camilo “Azuquita” Argumedes had come to New York with Rafael Cortijo’s band and had been preparing to return to Puerto Rico with them. However, he and Kako had become friends, and the bandleader tried to convince Azuquita to stay in New York. “When I talked to the rest of the musicians in the band,” Azuquita recalls, “they told me it was a good idea to work with Kako, that he’d need a singer like me.” As it was, Azuquita had never actually recorded with Cortijo, and shares, “I was so happy knowing that I would be recording in New York.”
The decision to record most of the album in Spanish was unusual. Part of what fueled boogaloo’s crossover chart success had been easy-to-sing, doo-wop-influenced English-language songs such as the Joe Cuba Sextet’s “Bang! Bang!” and Pete Rodriguez’s “I Like It Like That.” However, Mike Amadeo—songwriter and owner of the famous Bronx Latin-music store Casa Amadeo—points out, “Kako had a lot of followers at the time,” and based on that reputation alone, he “could take a chance” by recording one of the few Spanish-language boogaloo albums cut in New York.
For Live It Up, Santiago brought in a who’s who of local New York Latin talents, including Amadeo (“Panama’s Boogaloo”), Ricardo Marrero (“La Chica Del Barrio Obrero”), Johnny Pacheco (“Lo Que Sea”), Heny Alvarez (“El Guapo”), and a duo who had fast become the go-to Latin soul team: Louie Ramírez and Bobby Marín. The two had already successfully released Ramírez’s In the Heart of Spanish Harlem on Mercury and were concurrently working with Fania (Ali Baba) and Speed (the Latin Blues Band).
The two wrote “A Golpe de Timbal” and the slow, slinky “Shingaling Shingaling,” but surprisingly, even though Marín sings lead on the title track, “Live It Up” was actually written by the Detroit team of Richard “Popcorn” Wylie and Anthony Hester. They were one of the few non-Latin, out-of-towners to contribute to the album, and unlike Kako’s cover of the Capitols’ big dance hit, “Cool Jerk,” “Live It Up” seems to have been an original composition. Wylie and Hester had already written and produced the Platters’ “Washed Ashore” for Musicor just a year earlier, and it’s likely that someone at the label had recommended the team to Santiago.
“Live It Up” was meant to be Azuquita’s sole English song, but, as Marín recalls, “His accent was kind of thick in those days, and they turned around and asked me to sing it. I said, ‘Well, I’m not a singer.’ They said, ‘Well, at least they’ll be able to understand what you’re saying.’” Marín, who recorded the vocals in a single take and assumed “they were going to replace it,” says, “I wish I would’ve had a chance to do another take on it! That was the first time I had ever recorded lead on any recording.”
One of the other hits off the album was “Panama’s Boogaloo,” expressly written for Azuquita by Amadeo. “They asked me if I could write a song for Azuquita,” says Amadeo, who knew that Kako and the band “were going back to Panama for the Carnavales. If you understand the lyrics,” he says, “this is about Azuquita’s life: ‘I came over to New York in 1966…and now I’m coming with a different rhythm, and it’s called “Panama Boogaloo.”’” Indeed, at Carnavales, that song, alongside Kako’s self-composed guaguancó boogaloo “Aunque No Tengo Dinero,” went over big, as did “Shingaling Shingaling.” Azuquita recalls, “The people started calling me Mr. Shingaling.”
Besides the music, the other memorable feature of Live It Up was the cover photo. On it, Kako and Azquita can be seen in a horse-drawn coach, rolling through Central Park, toasting one another with glasses of champagne. Azuquita especially enjoyed having that photo to tout, since it meant that “the people back in Panama City would really know I was on a Kako project,” he says.
Indirectly, Live It Up’s legacy paid dividends for several of its principals. Kako went on to record another Latin soul album for Musicor, Sock It to Me, Latino. Marín’s successful debut as a singer led to his own Musicor album, Bobby Marín and the Latin Chords’ Love Burst. And Azuquita and Marín also teamed up again, several years later, for the 1975 album Pura Salsa on Vaya.
Kako and His Orchestra Live It Up (West Side Latino 4246)
Vocals by Azuquita
Produced by Al Santiago
Originally released in 1968 by Musicor (MS-6036)
Cover photo: Jon Stevens
Album design: Abe Gurvin
Album coordinator: Bob Scerbo