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R&B-meets-Latin boogalo is signature Los Po-Boy-Citos

Matt (back row second from left) rest Los Po-Boy-Citos headline FitzGerald's Feb. 28.  | PHOTO COPYRIGHT AUBREY EDWARDS.

Matt (back row, second from left) and the rest of Los Po-Boy-Citos headline FitzGerald's on Feb. 28. | PHOTO COPYRIGHT AUBREY EDWARDS.

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Los Po-Boy-Citos, 9 pm. Feb. 28, FitzGerald’s, 6615 W. Roosevelt Rd., Berwyn. $9. (708) 788-2118;

Updated: February 27, 2014 5:27PM

Los Po-Boy-Citos evokes the renewed spirit of New Orleans on several levels.

The eight-piece band’s blend of Crescent City rhythm and blues and Latin boogaloo is indicative of the post-Katrina cultural face of New Orleans. Scores of Central Americans and Mexicans have moved to the city’s outskirts since the storm, which has played into cuisine and music. Los Po-Boy-Citos makes its Chicago-area debut on Feb. 28 at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn.

On top of the boogaloo-soul gumbo, bandleader-guitarist Matt Sakakeeny is an associate professor in the Department of Music at Tulane University. He has a doctorate in ethnomusicology from Columbia University in New York City and just released a book, “Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans” (Duke University; $23.95).

“There [were] a lot of Latinos in New Orleans pre-Katrina,” Sakakeeny said last week from New Orleans. “Then there was an explosion after Katrina. By far the biggest cultural impact has been food. Musically, a lot of us were anticipating an influx of new Latin bands, but it never seemed to coalesce. The post-Katrina Latino population lives and works in the suburbs. I’m sure there’s music happening out there. And there’s always a modest [salsa] scene with Fredy Omar (‘The Latin King of Frenchman Street’) and Ashe Son.”

Los Po-Boy-Citos formed in the fall of 2006, a year after Katrina, in the Uptown neighborhood. The group has released three albums, and last year’s “Hasta” was a masterpiece, blending the deep grooves of the original “Mary Wants to Boogaloo” with a knock-out cover of Monguito Santamaria’s “Puchi’s Boogaloo.” Los-Po-Boy-Citos was one of the great finds of last year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, delivering broad and engaging strokes of 1960s boogaloo legends like Joe Cuba and Willy Bobo.

“We began as just a fun get-together for people who loved Latin Boogaloo music,” Sakakeeny said. “A lot of those guys are gone but Dave Greengold (singer-congas), myself and Dan Cutler (bass) and Jason Brettel on drums were the core of the band from that time. The impetus is to show the affinities between boogaloo, an African-American soul-based form of Latin music and New Orleans funk rhythms and horn section solos.” For example, the band will mash up Tito Puente’s “Fat Mama” with Ernie-K-Doe’s rollicking “Mother-In-Law.”

“We knew in theory we could mix Latin boogaloo with New Orleans,” Sakakeeny continued. “But we didn’t know how it would actually happen. There’s a lot of misfires. We tried to do Rebirth’s [Brass Band] ‘Feel Like Funkin’ It Up’ with Lee Dorsey’s [R&B hit] ‘Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky’ in a Latin style, and we ended up sounding like the white funk boy music none of us likes. It was a learning phase. It helped us figure out the nexus between boogaloo and New Orleans. We’re different from a Latin band. The percussion section is all there, but having guitar instead of piano gives us our own sound. You find horns in a Latin band a lot, but we have New Orleans cats who don’t play a fine Latin horn. They play in a ratty, loose New Orleans style. The goal is to never tame that and bring it in line. We still play those mash-ups, but more satisfying for us was figuring out how assimilate it and come up with something on our own. And ‘Hasta’ does that.”

Some have compared Los Po-Boy-Citos to New Orleans’ Iguanas, another dance band that goes well with tequila. But the Iguanas use a Tex-Mex influence in place of the Los-Po-Boy-Citos boogaloo vibe.

“We open for them all the time,” said Sakakeeny, former contributing producer of the “American Routes” public radio music program. “For the most part we’re English-speaking white guys. The Iguanas singer [Rod Hodges] is Latin-American, but they try to take a style of Latin music and mix it together with New Orleans grooves. It’s a New Orleans sensibility that is hard to pin down; looser rhythms and looser improvisations. We love their music. ”

Twitter: @cstdhoekstra

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