The Last Dance

Remembering King Nando's daring salsa/R&B fusion.

King Nando helped to define a shortlived genre that threatened traditional Latin music.

Our success, and the large crowds we drew, led to friction with some of the traditional Latin musicians. We opened for salsa giants Tito Puente, Machito and Eddie Palmieri, even when we often outdrew the established bands. The older musicians were critical of our simple chord structures and our musical skills – criticisms that have dogged every new genre that threatens or challenges the old. Years later, Nando told interviewers that the older bandleaders pressured music promoters to limit the success of boogaloo bands. Even when Nando had a No. 1 hit on the Latin charts, he could not get top billing at a dance and he would be paired with several other boogaloo bands, cutting his revenue – and his ability to sustain his band.

For whatever reason, boogaloo died out in the early 1970s and the period all but disappeared from histories of Latin music. It was as if Nando and his contemporaries were erased from memory. Yet for several years, his bold melding of cultures filled the dance halls and the airwaves – long before Latin-rock and jazz-rock fusions and even today’s reggaeton, which connects salsa and hip-hop.

Nando tried to keep his music going, playing fewer boogaloos and more traditional salsa. Then he saw his best friend killed in a bar fight and he was never the same. Yet in the last couple of years, Nando benefited from an unexpected revival. Someone reissued our old records as CDs (we got no money, of course) and DJs began playing the music again. One DJ even tracked me down last year to talk about the era and about Nando’s music. It was fresh and different, he said, and people liked to dance to it. Sadly, the resurgence came too late to benefit King Nando.

Joel Dreyfuss is editor-in-chief of Red Herring, Inc.