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In the pockets of far-right and anarchist groups, there is a word often conveyed: “boogaloo”. In January, NPR first reported that fringe movements including right-wing militias and “patriot groups” had started using the word “boogaloo” on social media as a thinly veiled code for a race war or civil. Such discussions – which often exist in the form of memes and anonymous posts on 4Chan, Reddit, and Facebook groups – criticize the government, encourage violence and armed resistance, and often employ racist and xenophobic language.
While finding the majority of right-wing boogaloo content requires browsing message boards or accessing protected Discord servers, boogaloo supporters have stepped out of the shadows. One of those Texas “Boogaloo Boys” was arrested in April after threatening to assassinate police officers on Facebook Live; he had previously shared memes from boogaloo Facebook groups.
Coronavirus has accelerated extremists’ calls for “boogaloo”, according to New York Times, and its mandatory closures are used as evidence of an increasingly totalitarian state. An April report from the Tech Transparency Project found that the newly formed boogaloo groups on social media have capitalized on discontent over the pandemic, drawing tens of thousands of members during the quarantine alone.
As the far right makes headlines with its boogaloo perversion, there is a new opportunity to learn more about the word real the story. Boogaloo is not a culture war, but rather a cultural bridge that is experiencing a resurgence. And the racist co-optation of the word by the far right has a strange irony: boogaloo was developed by and for black and brown communities.
Sometimes stylized as bugalu, the boogaloo is both a kind of dance and music. It is most often a mixture of Latin styles, such as mambo, cha cha, and pachanga, with doo-wop and soul. And it’s playful and easy to dance – a free dance where the bodies move to the beat of the music. Elbows and arms are thrown to the sides or shoulders, and dancers are free to add as many whimsical footwork as they can.
The word boogaloo has been attributed to several sources across the United States. In the 1950s, LA-based musician and songwriter Kent Harris performed songs like Boogaloo and His Gallant Crew. Then came Tom and Jerrio’s soul-twist 1965 hit, “Boo-ga-loo” in the 1960s; the Chicago duo reportedly attributed the word to a dance that local teens brought to the Midwest from Spanish Harlem.
Still, some researchers argue that boogaloo’s origins can be traced back to Bogalusa, Louisiana, where Deacons for Defense and Justice clashed with the Klu Klux Klan in the mid-1960s and potentially inspired James Brown, who traveled south on Chitlin Circuit and may have named a dance and her 1966 single after the city (although an archive video shows Brown dancing the boogaloo as early as 1963).
American audiences had long been captivated by novelties and trendy dances like mashed potatoes and the twist, which they saw in shows like American kiosk, Fiesta after that, Soul Train. If the ever popular James Brown appeared in a program dancing in a new style, these movements would be part of the public discourse – including the boogaloo. Funk and soul artists have used boogaloo for decades, including Brown and The Fantastic Johnny C, whose “Boogaloo Down Broadway” made the Billboard Top 10 in 1967.
For those unfamiliar with the musical genre, however, “boogaloo” might more easily recall a movie that is only tangentially related to dance: Breakin ‘2: Electric Boogaloo. The 1984 breakdancing flop would have its subtitle of the stage name of one of its stars: Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers. While the film is now fondly remembered, the phrase “Electric Boogaloo” was used for over a decade as a shorthand for an unnecessary sequel. “You see this since Bush’s second re-election, [for example], George Bush 2: Electric Boogaloo, âsaid James Stone Lunde, a graduate researcher in the history department at UC Berkeley who is writing an article on right-wing Internet culture.
It was this movie that turned “boogaloo” into a meme – and, over time, attracted extremists who were perhaps nostalgic for “white America” ââof the 80s. After all, the word sounds funny and alliterative, which makes it easy to stick in the brain and proliferate in an increasingly self-referential internet culture, Lunde argues.
Even in the 1960s, the sonic appeal of the word “boogaloo” caught the attention of a performer who would become one of his living legends: Joe Bataan, an Afro-Filipino singer and conductor. âI thought it was a funny term, like watusi or any other dance,â Bataan says.
He jumped head first into New York’s boogaloo scene, which was in full swing in the city’s Latino communities in 1967. Musicians such as Ricardo Ray, Joe Cuba, and Johnny ColÃ³n were the young Afro-Latinos who canonized genre ; they defined boogaloo’s sound standard as uptempo, contagious, and somewhat amateurish. It was a sound created by young people, for young people. These teenage musicians – many of whom grew up in El Barrio, or Spanish Harlem, with black and Latinx friends – refused to follow the Latin music tradition of working first under established conductors, and did boogaloo an inherently political genre for its non-conformist values ââand commitment to the multi-ethnic fusion of soul and traditional Latin sounds.
The Latin boogaloo scene partially developed on stage when young bands – sometimes performing four times a night in front of an audience trying to appear of age – learned to dance, dress and play their instruments effectively in front of a crowd. They rehearsed in the basements of apartments and churches, and performed for a small fee in community centers and some of the city’s biggest clubs at a time when more traditional and “adult” Latin music was in decline. .
“The boogaloo is coming and, pow, everything starts working again. The boogaloo, I think, was something that connected people, that connected cultures, that transcended cultures, âsaid Johnny ColÃ³n. Wax poetics magazine in 2010. “Without a doubt, something that comes from the result of an environmental effect. It’s like graffiti.”
Whether boogaloo was systematically annihilated by record companies, as some boogaloo veterans claim, or the taste simply evolved to favor salsa, boogaloo disappeared from the decks in the 1970s. Free dance that accompanies it has seen a resurgence alongside the trickle of less salient extremist rhetoric. Bands such as Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, Spanglish Fly from New York and Boogaloo Assassins from Los Angeles are part of a new generation of appreciators who, alongside DJs and collectors, continue to make boogaloo a message. relevant and positive for fans of Latin, funk and soul music.
So, for his part, boogaloo legend Joe Bataan doesn’t pay much for extremist use of boogaloo. “If people use this term in a derogatory way, it is out of ignorance,” he says.
James Stone Lunde isn’t too worried either. âEven people who arm themselves to resist anything will have stopped using that word and switched to another in 15 years,â he says. “Boogaloo has been around for 60 years. Internet memes don’t last that long.”