IIt’s 1967. The Latin boogaloo, a fusion of African-American R&B and Cuban rhythms that reflect the rich melting pot of East Harlem, New York, is taking the neighborhood by storm. Johnny Pacheco, a devotee of traditional Latin music, considers boogaloo “horrendous” and “not music.”
However, you will quickly learn to love the money your innovative label makes, Fania Records. After the boogaloo craze wanes, a new wave of innovative and charismatic young stars will rise to make Fania the premier Latin label in the US Salsa, its distinctive blend of traditional tropical rhythms, will become the vibrant pre-album New York soundtrack.
A comprehensive new set of boxes tells this story. “People often say that Fania was the Motown of Latin music,” says DJ and producer Dean Rudland, curator of It’s a good, good feeling: Fania’s Latin soul. “But African-American music easily passed into the American mainstream, whereas, until recently, the crossover has been very elusive for tropical music in the United States. Fania tried the Nuyorican [New York Puerto Rican] the community could fill Yankee Stadium, its artists could sell stadiums around the world. It was powerful. “
A flautist of Dominican origin, trained in Juilliard, who presented the madness of the Cuban dance pachanga To the United States, Pacheco founded Fania in 1964 with Jerry Masucci, a divorce attorney who hated his day job but loved Latin music. It was a rundown operation, with his partner selling LPs from the trunk of a car. A turning point came when his new signing Larry Harlow, a Jewish musician and devotee of Latin music, introduced Masucci to a man named Harvey Averne.
Harlow had played in Averne’s band, Arvito and His Latin Rhythms, in the 1950s. Those were salad days for Afro-Cuban jazz, when Manhattan nightclubs like the Palladium Ballroom rocked to the beat of mambo titans like Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez and “Prez” Prado.
“Every hotel had to have a Latin band,” says Averne. His father, a poor Georgian émigré who worked in the garment district, fell in love with the music and culture of his Puerto Rican co-workers. Sharing her father’s passion, Averne had been performing between Manhattan ballrooms and Jewish resorts in the Catskill Mountains since she was 14 years old. “I grew up in Brooklyn, a tough neighborhood,” he says. “Music was my ticket out.”
Beatlemania ended the reign of the mambo, however, and hotels soon abandoned Latin bands for beat groups. Averne started a home renovation business that was lucrative (he had a chauffeur and an apartment on the East Side), but it wasn’t fun. He swooped in when Masucci asked him to run Fania while he finished his legal practice. “I told him that I would never run a record label; He hadn’t even walked into a recording studio. He said, ‘You’ll learn fast.’ Work pays 300 [dollars] one month. I said, ‘But Jerry, I pay my driver 300 a month!’ ‘Well then I hope you haven’t forgotten how to drive.’
Averne says that Fania was “a seat-of-his-pants operation back then. My thing was to maximize every opportunity. ”The boogaloo boom was his best chance yet.
“Boogaloo was a cha-cha-cha with a backbeat,” says Joe Bataan. The son of a Filipino father and an African-American mother, he could pose as a Latino and had risen through the ranks of the neighborhood thugs. “I was a neighborhood bully, they kicked me out of school and sent me to reformatory.” He fell under the spell of the reformatory school music teacher and, upon his release, spent his afternoons practicing piano at the local community center.
One night, he arrived and found a group of local teenagers rehearsing; sticking his razor into the piano, he declared himself the leader of the band. Within six months, they were recording their first album for Fania.
That album, Gypsy Woman 1967, was registered in one day. Its main theme was a Latinized rewrite of Curtis Mayfield which, along with contemporary boogaloo hymns: I like Pete Rodríguez like that and Bang Bang by Joe Cuba – signaled a generational change within Latin music. “Boogaloo changed the times,” says Bataan. “We were chosen as the Latin band of the year in 1968, over Puente, Machito, Rodríguez and the rest. Our third album, Riot, sold four to one more than all of them. Boogaloo was not the music of our parents. He spoke to a wider audience. And he ruled East Harlem for three years. “
Pacheco thought that boogaloo exhausted the traditions of Latin music. However, he still struggled to escape from the neighborhood. The music industry in general became a Latin music ghetto. The biggest labels, including Atlantic, dabbled in Latin soul, but saw it as a fad; there were only two radio DJs from New York playing Latin music, Symphony Sid and Dick “Ricardo” Sugar. “I wanted to compete against James Brown, against Smokey Robinson,” says Bataan. “But Fania had limited money and experience.”
With the crossing proving elusive, the label’s next wave of stars took a direction closer to Pacheco’s heart. “After the boogaloo, the Fania artists began to investigate their roots,” says Rudland. The label signed Puerto Rican percussionist Ray Barretto, whose pedigree indicated the label was “serious,” says Averne: He had played conga for Puente, recorded for the Blue Note label and released a hit single, The Watusi. Averne produced Barretto’s Fania debut, 1968’s Acid. Despite the title, it was not a psychological rock work, but a radical update on traditional Latin music. Averne describes it as “a milestone” in the evolution of the genre for which Fania would become best known: salsa.
Salsa encompassed traditional styles and rhythms originating from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic that enjoyed a resurgence in the 1970s, when a generation of Nuyoricans, inspired by the black power movement, embraced their heritage. Although it was in debt to the past and the homeland, this diasporic sound had a character of its own: strongly percussive and marked by fierce and joyful brass and a conducting piano.
“Fania’s music was urban,” says Averne. “Taxis could be heard, the dizzying rawness of the concrete jungle. It was the sound of New York City. “The city responded to salsa with a passion that outshone boogaloo, embracing the elegant glamor of its stars and devotees. The furious dancing and wild moments at nightclubs like the Cheetah on Broadway and 53rd Street anticipated the decadent excitement of the disco era.
Harlow, Averne’s former bandmate, was a key architect of the sound. Described by Rudland as “a serious scholar of Cuban music,” Harlow sought to put salsa on his feet with rock music. He was the first artist to play Latin music to tour with his own sound system and light show (by then, the norm for rock tours). After The Who released their groundbreaking rock opera Tommy, Harlow responded with Hommy, a “Latin opera” about a deaf, blind, and speech-impaired conga. “Larry even went to Havana to become a santero [a priest in the Santería religion]”Averne adds. “It is not easy for them to include you when you come from abroad. He earned it. ”Harlow died in August at the age of 82.
Fania’s in-house art director Izzy Sanabria (who later submitted a Latino response to Soul Train, sauce, on a New York television channel), claimed to have coined the name of the genre. A marketing genius, he portrayed Fania’s latest signings, trombonist and bandleader Willie Colón and singer Héctor Lavoe, as smooth gangsters on albums including 1969’s Cosa Nuestra and 1970’s Wanted By FBI. of ‘crime pays’ and it was brilliant, ”says Averne, who loaned the couple his girlfriend’s Rolls-Royce to pose. “Willie and Hector were special. They were street children, they They were the audience and they were writing the stories and emotions of those children. They quickly became Fania’s biggest sellers. “
“They knew nothing about being a gangster,” says Bataan. “I was the one who really ran the streets, the one who went to jail, they were just pretending.” The first tag star had trouble being a team player. “We were rival bands in music, if I saw Willie Colón on stage, I would think: ‘I want to kick his butt tonight.’ But Pacheco wanted his signings to work together for the good of the label, forming a supergroup. , Fania All-Stars, the cream of their roster, including Barretto, Harlow, Colón, Lavoe, Ismael Miranda, Bobby Valentin, Mongo Santamaria and many more.
The All-Stars were at the forefront of Pacheco and Masucci’s ambitions to break up Fania and salsa globally. They were the featured attraction in Our latin thing, a 1972 concert film that vividly captured the guts and glamor of ’70s East Harlem; They toured Europe, Africa and Japan and headlined Yankee Stadium. Fania became synonymous with salsa, and as the decade progressed, business did so well that Masucci cruised Manhattan in a chauffeured Rolls-Royce with the license plate “Salsa-1”.
It did not last. Synchronizing the posh glamor of Latin nightclubs with rhythms more familiar to white audiences, the disco halted Fania’s progress. Averne left in 1972 to form her own label, CoCo Records. After splitting from Colón in 1973 to pursue solo stardom, Lavoe struggled with fame, drug addiction, and depression. Colón teamed up with Ruben Blades for the 1978 political classic Siembra; Lavoe died of AIDS in 1993, at the age of 46.
Bataan left Fania after wage disputes and an attempt to unionize the label’s artists; in 1974, he co-founded the Salsoul label, uniting salsa with disco and achieving the kind of crossover success that Fania had always dreamed of. The All-Stars switched to disco and signed with Columbia Records in the late 1970s. In 1988, however, they were reduced to releasing a cash version of the Gypsy Kings’ worldwide hit Bamboleo. “Fania sold out,” says Rudland. “It’s hard to stay relevant doing the same. But then after about 20 years, you have the perspective of looking back and saying, ‘This was really important.
Pacheco continued to fly the salsa flag until his death this year, at age 85. Masucci, meanwhile, moved to Argentina in the 1980s to raise his family; He died of a heart attack in 1997, at the age of 63. His business savvy remained enthusiastic to the end. “Jerry founded a modeling agency with Eileen Ford, and when AIDS came to Argentina, he invested in a condom factory,” says Averne.
“Jerry got burned after the disco came along,” he says. “Sometimes I thought he was crazy and that he was investing more money in this business than anyone else. But he did. He created the iconic Latin label of all time. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism