PREVIEW & INTERVIEW - Jonathan Goldman of Spanglish Fly
The revival of Latin soul and boogaloo has arrived in the form of New York City-based band, Spanglish Fly. Founder Jonathan Goldman formed the group around 2009, during his days as a DJ when he noticed the fiery reaction people had on the dance floor to Latin soul music. Spanglish Fly, now 11 members strong, has since released a five song EP, simply titled Latin Soul y Bugalú, and performed all over the city.
The band is now working on a follow-up album, filled with original songs and tighter melodies. We caught up with Goldman before the band’s first ever show in D.C. at U Street Music Hall this upcoming Saturday.
[9:30] Well, first question off the bat is the inspiration behind the name! How did you come up with Spanglish Fly?
[JG]Well, Spanglish just made sense because we sing sometimes in Spanish and sometimes in English. And we’re also mixing genres, like Latin music with U.S. pop and soul music of the 1960s. So Spanglish encapsulates all of that and then Spanglish Fly is a play on Spanish fly, which is an aphrodisiac for centuries and centuries and we like to think that [of] our music…because it makes people shake their booties and also makes them feel a bit tingly inside, if you know what I mean. We like people going home from our shows and feeling like we were the aphrodisiacs for the night for them.”
[9:30] That kind of ties into my next question. The website for the band says that it all started because you used to be a DJ and you really like the way people reacted to Latin soul. When did it hit you that you actually wanted to start a band and start making this type of music?
[JG] It was a long time before I actually started the band that I started thinking about it. I think it was probably around ten years ago or so. I was sitting up in the DJ booth looking out at the dance floor watching people groove to Joe Cuba and Mongo Santamaria and I was thinking ‘Nobody’s playing this stuff, in this style — not in New York City anyway.’ And this is where the music’s from, so I’ve got to do it.
[9:30] How did you find other members for the band?
[JG] “It was mostly word of mouth. I started…some sessions which were really nothing more than jam sessions with people I knew and people I had met that I knew were into boogaloo. I just kept arranging sessions and rehearsals until there was a group of people in the room who all seemed interested and knew what the project was about and were interested enough to keep doing it. That’s when I said ‘Ok, we’ve got a band, now I’m going to get us a gig.’ And that was about 3 years ago and that’s when we really started.”
[9:30] Did you expect it to get to be 11 members?
[JG] Oh yeah. There’s been times it’s been 12…and we’ve played shows with nine or 10 but we’re usually 11. What I knew was that I needed a lot of people to get the big sound and I knew I needed a real percussion section, which was going to be at least three people. I knew it’d be big.
[9:30] “Who are some of the big artists [of the genre] to you?
[JG] If you ask different band members what their favorite booglaoo music is, you’ll get different answers. But if I were doing like a desert island boogaloo [pick] or something, you would probably start with Ray Barretto’s record Acid and it would definitely include on the list Joe Cuba, Joe Bataan, Johnny Colon — I mean, that’s sort of like the inner-circle. And there’s some others that are favorites of mine that are not as well-remembered, but well-thought of, like Joey Pastrana.
[9:30] Can you describe boogaloo in your own terms?
[JG] It’s not such a defined genre, musically. A lot of it has to do with steel and just what kind of groove and feel is going on in the music. What basically happened was in the mid-1960s, a lot of Latin musicians got turned on to American soul music. They were steeped in traditional Cuban music…[but] they were listening to what their neighbors in Central Harlem were listening to, which was Motown and James Brown and Sam Cooke. It’s sort of a weird mix of naiveté and dirty funkiness all at once.
[9:30] Is there an aspect of pop in your music and in the way you interpret it?
[JG] Yeah, I mean, 1960s pop. If I think about that question a lot harder, I’d say our music is meant to be easy to like. We have a lot of guys in the band who play really complicated music with their other bands, but it’s all designed to get people out on the dancefloor and have a good time with each other and have a good time with us.
[9:30] Is Spanglish Fly your main musical project?
[JG] It is!
[9:30] Are you guys all New York-based? And since that’s where the Latin sound originated, does that inspire you?
[JG] Oh, for sure. If you take any 11 New Yorkers off the street, what you’re going to find is only a couple were born and raised in New York. That’s the case here. I’m actually from New York City, and a couple other guys in the band are from here, but most people moved here from elsewhere because they wanted to be a part of the city, [and] the city’s musical culture. We’re all constantly inspired by the musical culture of New York City. One of our original tunes we just recorded was called ‘Brooklyn Boogaloo,’ one of our favorites to play live is a cover of ‘New York Soul’ by Ray Barretto, and most of our original tunes have some reference to New York in it at some point or another.
[9:30] I heard you guys are working on another album, so what can we expect from that? What will be different about the last album?
[JG] It’ll be better (laughs). We work on really getting better, striving to sound better, be tighter as a band, write better songs, and certainly the work we’ve done so far towards the album is going to reflect that. We’re working right now with Harvey Averne — and he produced many of the great boogaloo records of the 1960s and a lot of great salsa music throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s — so he’s working with us on honing our sound and making it better in every way. I can’t give you a release date, but sometime in the near future.”
[9:30] Fair enough. Have you been doing a lot of the writing, lyrically?
[JG] A lot of the people in the band contribute to the writing and everybody contributes to the arrangements. I wrote a bunch of songs. A couple of other people have written a coupe of other songs. There’s a collaboration for sure.
[9:30] I want to turn to the live performance aspect of the band. What’s the dynamic like with so many people onstage?
[JG] Our lead singer, Erica Ramos, is a dynamo in performance. She’s like a female version of James Brown. We all take our cues from her. We’re communicating with each other, we’re communicating with the audience, we’re getting the audience involved. We keep things lively. No one in the band is allowed to sit back and look at their instruments. No one’s allowed to just be within themselves.