This new disc from the legendary Fania finally tells the story of Joe Bataan, an Afro-Filipino singer whose style fermented in the Puerto Rican environs of East Harlem. Concentrating on his early work, the compilation tracks the cross-pollination of Latin boogaloo, salsa, and American R&B that he helped popularize. What's clear here is the influence that the country's civil rights movements had on his music. Seen as an answer to James Brown's "Say It Loud — I'm Black and Proud," Bataan's own "Young, Gifted and Brown" became an anthem for young Latinos. The lyrics to "Freedom," meanwhile, seem to draw from Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
The rest of the album concentrates on songs that depict everyday life for him in the Big Apple, such as "I'm Satisfied," "Under the Streetlamp," and a cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Gypsy Woman." The only track in Spanish here is "Coco E," which bears the stylistic stamp of Willie Colon and Bataan's other Fania labelmates. In all, Under the Streetlamps highlights the role of this unsung artist in crossing genre and language boundaries, and helps him gain his rightful place in R&B history.
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