The boogaloo craze was on the brink of extinction and Tony Pabon saw which way the wind was blowing. He was ready to add a little gasoline to the pyre and let the winds fuel a revolutionary blaze that would ignite a new sound.
Tony had been the trumpeter with Pete Rodriguez’s band in 1966 when he penned “Pete’s Boogaloo” on the Latin Boogaloo LP (Alegre). It became the first boogaloo track to get radio play. He went on to cement the sound as cowriter of one of the biggest Latin soul hits ever, “I Like It Like That” from Pete’s follow-up album of the same name.
Boogaloo was out by 1969; with no radio play, it was smothered by the oncoming salsa beast. Tony was full of ideas and felt the devil on his heels; so he hooked up with Ralph Cartagena’s upstart label, Rico, in 1970, and pulled together a ragtag group including Angelo Rodriguez and Benny Bonilla (a couple cats from Pete’s band), Manny Duran, Kenny Gomez, Tommy Rivera, Jose “Candido” Rodriguez, and Nestor Sanchez on vocals to form La Protesta. Their self-titled debut was the first release on the new label and came out of the box with a hot sound that grew out of classic Latin music. But this wasn’t mami and papi’s music; this was a youthful, raw music that took the energy of boogaloo and redirected it back at the barrio with purpose and Latin American pride.
By the time they went in to record their second effort Free, salsa was still a year away from becoming the commercialized juggernaut that Fania would turn it into. The LP is intense, dark, and raucous. The band had gelled into a force of nature where the driving piano rumbles like the earth’s core forcing the screaming horns to blow hot magma while wild percussion rains heat from every corner. The title song and centerpiece of the record is Tony’s swan song to boogaloo. It is an anthem with no home; if someone like Santana had covered it, it would be a classic, but the jacked-up banger was fated to be the smoldering ember that knows it can burn brightly one last time, and it delivers enough heat to sting every time a needle hits its grooves.