musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia


In the world of music Joe Bataan is far from a household name, yet he was a fairly prolific recording artist in the 1970s and helped found an influential record label. To many of his fans, he is known as the “Afro-Filipino guy”, borrowing a line from one of his more popular songs, “Ordinary Guy”. A description on Wikipedia of Bataan calls him a “Filipino-African-American Latin soul musician from New York.” That sounds a bit convoluted, but Bataan’s background was indeed all of that and more.


Joe Bataan (Bataan Nitollano) was born to Filipino and African-American parents in New York City and grew up in the Hispanic neighborhood of East Harlem. Having such a diverse array of cultural influences growing up certainly helped forge Bataan’s own musical style. His songs combine soul and Latin influences with contemporary dance rhythms. His brand of disco, if you want to call it that, was a happy, uplifting one. Plus, he had a smooth, pleasant singing style, equally comfortable in whatever genre of music he played. In addition to being a gifted singer and musician, Bataan was also a producer and music executive, helping to form the influential Salsoul (Salsa & Soul) record label.


Bataan’s 1975 Latin-Funk version of Gil Scott-Heron’s classic “The Bottle,” re-titled “La Botella,” was a very popular club hit at the time. That was the very first song I ever heard by Bataan and it made a very favorable impression. Although Bataan mostly recorded his own original material, “The Bottle” was one of several great cover versions he did. One of his first singles, back in 1967, was a ”Latinized” cover of the Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions’ big hit “Gypsy Woman.”


I recently picked up a CD edition of The Lost Sessions: New York 1976, a previously unreleased album by Bataan that features some re-recorded versions of songs he had done on previous albums, along with a couple of tasty covers, including the Isaac Hayes instrumental “Theme From The Men” and Billy Stewart’s “I Do Love You.” It’s a relatively short CD, clocking in at 42 minutes, but the songs and performances are all of high quality. Seductive dance beats, sweet string arrangements, nimble piano playing, and Bataan’s sweet vocals all merge to make these songs magical ones. The CD also comes with an informative booklet that includes an essay about Bataan and his career written by noted soul music historian Dean Rudland. Another excellent reissue from the BGP label.

By the beginning of the next decade, in 1982, Bataan stopped putting out albums and had pretty much retired from the music business. But in the past decade he has recorded some new material and started performing shows again. Clearly, singing songs is still in his bones. In addition to Bataan’s The Lost Sessions here are the other albums (all them actually purchased as CDs) that have me smiling, dreaming, and dancing lately.


Neil Diamond – Melody Road

Sonny Rollins – Night At the Village Vanguard

Aimee Mann – Whatever

R.E.M. – Unplugged 1991/2001

The Peppermint Trolley Company – Beautiful Sun



Little Beaver – Party Down

Cannonball Adderley – The Black Messiah: Live at the Troubador

Various Artists – Jamaica to Toronto: Soul, Funk & Reggae 1967-74

The Dirtbombs – Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-bloey!

Bread, Love and Dreams – Amaryllis


Southern Funkin

Various Artists – Southern Funkin’: Louisiana Funk and Soul 1967-1979

Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio 2

Sagittarius – Present Tense

Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright in the End

Scott Walker & the Walker Brothers – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore: The Best of



Mbilia Bell – Bel Canto: Best of the Genidia Years 1982-87

Vic Chestnutt – About to Choke

Various Artists – Sound Stage 7 Soul Story

Chris Spheeris – Desires of the Heart

Bryan Ferry – Olympia



Jackie Mittoo – The Keyboard King at Studio One

Linda Thompson – Won’t Be Long

The Troggs – The Very Best of

Charlie Daniels Band – Midnight Wind … plus

Siouxsie and the Banshees – Juju



Various Artists – Get Your Lie Straight: A Galaxy of Funky Soul

Husker Du – Warehouse: Songs and Stories

Quazar – Quazar

Various Artists – More Lost Soul Gems from the Sounds of Memphis

Pleasure – Glide: The Essential Selection 1975-1982



Nicholas Payton – Payton’s Place

Solomon Burke – The Chess Collection

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly – The Essential Collection

Cate Brothers – The Crazy Cajun Recordings

Toro Y Moi – Underneath the Pine



Various Artists – The World Ends: Afro-Rock & Psychedelia in 1970s Nigeria

Skull Snaps – Skull Snaps

Leon Ware – Musical Massage

U2 – Songs of Innocence

O.V. Wright – The Complete O.V. Wright on Hi Records: Volume 1



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