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La Playa Sextet : Hong Kong, Hunca Munca, Olaya & El Chico Boogaloo
taken from the album
Bailando El Boogaloo on Musicor (1967)

La Playa Sextet : Le-Lo-Lai & Sugar’s Delight
taken from the album
Vaya Means Go! on United Artists (196?)

La Playa Sextet : Coco Seco/Anabacca & Mambo Inn
taken from the album
The Exciting New La Playa Sound
on United Artists (196?)

I felt inspired to give La Playa (even THEY have a myspace page!) their due respect for several reasons. The first is selfish: I’ve been carrying these records in my crate consistently, week-in week-out, for probably a year now, and before I wear out the grooves on my favorite tunes, I wanted to retire the vinyl properly and let the music itself live on forever in digitally-preserved mp3/serato heaven. The second reason is because I’d also like to start doing a regular feature on somewhat overlooked latin groups. “Dura Obscura” or something like that. If I highlight a big name artist like Tito Puente or Eddie Palmieri, I’ll pick out something that is a bit lesser-known from their catalogue. La Playa seemed like as good a place as any to start. Chronologically, they rose to popularity on the Latin tidal wave that crashed in 1968 with the death of the Boogaloo and the subsequent birth of “Salsa” superpower Fania. Cha-cha, Charanga, Mambo, Bomba, Bolero all got branded conveniently under one banner, and La Playa somehow didn’t make the grade.

Most of what little I know about La Playa I picked up here and here. But without knowing about all the players and particulars, one of the major aspects of the group’s sound that stood out to me from the start, and caused me to seek out other titles, is the killer electric guitar playing by Payo Alicea. Beyond simply taking over the montuno parts traditionally played on piano, Payo really steered the sound of the group in a latin-rock direction (pre-Santana). “Hunca Munca” has that classic bluesy rock progression that sounds pretty dated today (maybe even tacky to some), but back then I imagine this was some pretty progressive stuff. I’m not sure what happened to the group after “Bailando..” was released, but their music is still heating up dancefloors here in Brooklyn on a weekly basis.