May 27, 2009

The Chicano/Mexicano community has long had a love/hate relationship with the pachuco. Ask anyone old enough to remember them and you are bound to get a bounty of conflicting emotions and opinions, ranging from declarations that they embodied the strength, defiance and pride of La Raza to dismissals that they were nothing more than common criminals. Yet fascination with the subculture has not waned in the sixty years since the pachuco and his zoot suit reached the consciousness of the general public via the Sleepy Lagoon murder case and the ensuing zoot suit riots in downtown and East Los Angeles, as evidenced by the play “Zoot Suit” and the numerous songs paying homage to the subject from the recent swing revival. On Pachuco Boogie, the tenth volume of its Historic Mexican American Music series, Arhoolie Records provides an overview of the music that was made by and about the pachucos during their heyday in the 1940s and early 1950s. As with the broader community, the music featured here is varied in both execution and viewpoint, from the decidedly pro-“pachuco swing,” blues and mambo of the legendary Lalo Guerrero and Don Tosti (arguably the originator of the genre) to the condescending, dim view offered in the canciones and corridos of Las Hermanas Mendoza and Dueto Taxco to the “to hell with it all, let’s just dance” stance of Jorge Córdoba and Conjunto Alamo. Unlike the dubious quality of so many other “historic documents” covering music eras gone by to be found in the racks these days, the tracks compiled here are some of the finest representations of the featured artists available, the sound restoration is impeccable and, most importantly, the songs themselves are damn good and guaranteed to make any listener, whether or not they claim(ed) the pachucada as their own, to dust off their trapos, shinear las tablitas, pull the tando down and boogie into the night. Highly, highly recommended.

 –jimmy (Arhoolie)

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