The man has a fascinating history. Born in Spanish Harlem, Bataan Nitoliano spent his youth running with Puerto Rican gangs and, from age 15 to 20, was incarcerated at the Coxsackie State Prison on car theft charges. Upon release, the self-taught pianist opted to pursue music, not crime. He formed his first band in 1965 and, two years later, was on the charts with a cover of The Impressions' Gypsy Woman. Throughout the late-'60s and 1970s, he'd record several landmark Latin albums (1970's Riot!, 1972's St. Latin's Day Massacre, 1974's Salsoul, 1975's Afro-Filipino), first with New York salsa label Fania, later on his own Salsoul imprint. Just as he ended the 1960s playing music that anticipated a dominant genre of the coming decade — disco — Bataan closed the 1970s with Rap-O, Clap-O, a 1979 single that anticipated a dominant genre of the coming decade — rap. (See the video below.)
Yet the streets eventually drew him back. Bataan put his musical career on hiatus following his 1981 album, Bataan II, and went to work for the next 20 years counselling juveniles at correctional facilities, where he'd share his own tales of crime and redemption. This was a full-time job, not some altrustic whim, and Bataan apparently didn't record or produce a note of music over those two decades.
Surely Bataan fans had long given up hope for new music when, in 2005, the sexagenarian surprised all by releasing his first record in 24 years, Call My Name, on Spain's Vampi-Soul label. Better still, the disc's eight tracks — including today's uber-funky post — pick up where his mid-'70s classics left off.
Chick-a-Boom is a groove-alicious treat, with its cool, syncopated drumming, spine-bending bassline and stabs of Hammond B-3. Great opening line, too — "This is a hold-up!/ Everybody on the ground!/ Put your hands behind your head/ Don't make a sound" — that leads into a lyric that puts the listener into the mind of the criminal in order to acknowledge (if not validate) the reasons for lawless behaviour. "Too much money in too few hands," sings Bataan (quoting Paul Weller's Money-Go-Round). "Imagine how it feels to be rejected/Imagine how it feels to be despised." Bataan might not have been writing music while counselling juveniles but Chick-a-Boom's lyrics suggest he was listening closely and taking mental notes.
Bataan continues to tour and his official website promises a new album is "coming soon."
Chick-a-Boom (link expired)
Here's Bataan, performing the forementioned Rap-O, Clap-O on Germany's Musikladen program in 1979:
Buy it here