In the early 60's young Latin musicians in New York's Barrio brought the music from their homelands into the Great Apple and started period of musical reinvention and free cooperation amongst the melting pot of cultures living in the city. The new sounds coming from Spanish Harlem and the Bronx were sometimes rough and dangerous but always real and immediate, like the New York streets that inspired them.
|from left to right: Bobby Valentín, Ray Barretto, Johnny Pacheco, Jerry Masucci y Roberto Roena
Fania was founded in New York City in the year 1964 by Italian-American lawyer Jerry Masucci and the Dominican born composer-bandleader Johnny Pacheco. Their shared passion for good music and innovation would turn Fania Records into the ideal birthplace for a new style of Latin music.
Fania got its name from an old Cuban song by the sonero (singer) Reinaldo Bolaño. A version of the song was included in Fania's first record release, Cañonazo (Cannon Fire, 1964). Fania artists mixed a cornucopia of styles that transcended the boundaries of traditional Latin music and set the path for the genres of salsa, boogaloo, Latin R&B, and afro-Cuban jazz.
During the early years, Fania would take its records to music lovers throughout New York City, sometimes selling their merchandise out of the trunks of cars. However, thanks to good word of mouth and the tremendous success of Fania's first official recording, Johnny Pacheco's Cañonaso, the label forged ahead and expanded its talent roster.
With Masucci acting as the executive negotiator and Pacheco as the musical director, Fania quickly began to sign-up innovative young New York City artists such as Larry Harlow, Ray Barretto and Bobby Valentín.
Their motto was: "Salsa is not just about music; it's a lifestyle full of passionate grooves and exotic twists. Whenever someone plays or dances to salsa a little bit of magic takes place."
The second album released under the Fania imprint was Larry Harlow's 1965 Heavy Smoking. The record's modern take on traditional afro-Caribbean music served as the template for what soon would come to be known as the Fania Sound. Larry Harlow and his sound were very important to Fania's structure and success.
Encouraged by the public's positive reaction to the groundbreaking rhythms offered in the Heavy Smoking album and inspired by the creative spirit of the late 60's, Fania musicians began to mix together the popular sounds of the day with the long-established Caribbean compositions of the past. This brand new musical stew would lead to the hard-hitting sounds that have come to be categorized as salsa music.
Fania musicians like Johnny Pacheco, Larry Harlow, Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colón, Ray Barretto, and Rubén Blades changed the way that people dressed, talked, and danced.
The 70's decade came to represent a golden age for Fania and salsa music in general. During those years the demand for the sounds of salsa would reach a fever pitch amongst its clamoring audiences and Fania musicians like Ray Barretto, Cheo Feliciano and Papo Lucca would consistently up the ante with new releases that took the genre to new musical heights.
For many 70's salsa aficionados the place to dance and be seen was New York's glamorous Cheetah Ballroom. During one very special evening in august 1971, salsa lovers were treated to a historic concert at the Cheetah featuring the renowned Fania All-Stars. This special event was lovingly documented in the film Our Latin Thing/Nuestra Cosa, which includes an earth-shattering version of the classic salsa anthem Quítate Tu (Get Out of My Way) that still stands to this day as one of the most brilliant performances and songs of the decade.
Making the most out this new Fania sound was a young Nuyorican trombonist by the name of Willie Colón. Assisted by gifted singer Héctor Lavoe, Mr. Colón's music captured the essence and excitement of what it was like to be a young streetwise Latino living in New York City during the 70's.
Colón's Fania recordings such as Cosa Nuestra (1970), Crime Pays (1972) and Lo Mato (To Kill Him, 1973) are full of larger than life tales that brim with realism and passion. A pioneer in his field, Willie was the first one to truly modernize the traditional Latin rhythms of clave and tumbao with contemporary arrangements that appealed to a younger generation. Fania's in-house graphic artist Izzy Sanabria designed a series of album covers that marvelously visualized Mr. Colon's fashion and are acknowledged today as true classics of 70's design.
In 1975 Héctor Lavoe makes his debut as a solo artist with the release of the era defining La Voz (The Voice). The record would turn Lavoe into a Latin icon, with songs like the spiritual Todopoderoso (The Almighty) and the Johnny Pacheco penned Mi Gente (My People) confirming his status as the best male vocalist of his generation.
Willie Colón & Rubén Blades
Original Release Date: 1978
No history of Fania or the 70's however brief would be complete without mentioning the Rubén Blades and Willie Colón best selling salsa masterpiece Siembra (Cultivate 1978). A funky mix of progressive sounds, politics and social commentary, the evergreen Siembra remains one of the most beloved and influential Latin albums of all time, with classic cuts like Pedro Navaja and Plastico remaining in constant rotation in DJ's playlists throughout the world.
Fania was never about just one style of music. Although widely known for its exceptional catalog of salsa, Fania was also active in carrying the many other varieties present in Latin music. With over 1,300 albums and more than 40 best selling artists under its roster, Fania has a treasure throve of musical jewels. Tumbao, clave, Latin jazz, and Latin R&B are just a few of the sounds to be found in the Fania imprint.
Following the acquisition of the Tico-Alegre music label, Fania consolidated its position as the leader in tropical music, aggregating icons like Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and La Lupe to its impressive talent lineup. Furthermore, Fania artists like the afro-Filipino Joe Bataan made insteps onto the future with their excursions into Latin R&B. His songs like Gypsy Woman and Subway Joe sound as fresh today as they once did 30 years ago. Bataan combined the music he heard in the streets of his Spanish Harlem neighborhood with the Funky music rhythms from African-American music, the result would lead to classic albums such as St. Latin Days Massacre (1972), a futuristic masterpiece that preceded modern day R&B.
Meanwhile the gifted conga player known as Joe Cuba was busy setting the charts ablaze; his recording of Bang Bang (1967) was the first to add English lyrics to salsa music. The Joe Cuba Sextet would ultimately unite the many influences of New York life and alert English speakers of this funky and influential style.
The impact of Bataan's and Cuba's funky boogalu would also reach Europe, where their New York street tough sound found its way into the hearts and dancing-feet of hip music aficionados throughout the continent. The record Latin Soul Man (1969) by Pete Rodriguez would blur the line between Latin music and soul music, proving that in the end great artists make superior music and rules are just there to be broken. Other artists like Ismael Rivera would find their inspirations with sounds from the past. Known for his revival of the Puerto Rican afro-Caribbean music style known as bomba, Ismael Rivera's music was living proof that innovation could come from looking back at other golden eras. Fans of his work have included the reggae legend Bob Marley and the reggeaton star Tego Calderón.
The Fania Allstars
In 1968 Pacheco invented a "superband" called Fania All-Stars that brought together the elite of Salsa musicians and singers for joint performances and recording. Fania All-Stars were Fania's best selling band, outlasting the label itself. They made their debut at the Red Garter club located in the Village of NYC, but it was their performance at the Cheetah a midtown manhattan club in 1971 which became legendary, Larry Harlow was chosen by Jerry Masucci to be the recording producer of the superband while Pacheco was the director on stage only.
Fania All-Stars in 1972
photo courtesty SalsaFrance.com
The Fania All-Stars was filmed for the documentary "Our Latin Thing" released a year later. (Leon Gast, who directed the film, is an Academy Award winning director of the documentary of Ali's days in Africa prior to the "Rumble in the Jungle". Gast was there to film the concert associated with the performance, which included the Fania All-Stars.)
Many did not know that Jerry Masucci structured Fania after Motown. Even the logo became similar in design. In 1993 Chino Rodriguez manager of many of the Fania artist suggested to Jerry Masucci to bring back the Fania All-Stars in the form of Live concerts, now in 2008 all that is left is "Larry Harlow and the Latin Legends of Fania".
Among Fania's signature stars are: Celia Cruz, Larry Harlow, Ray Barretto, Ralfi Pagan , Luis "Perico" Ortiz, Bobby Valentín, Rubén Blades, Hector Lavoe, and many others.
Due to Fania's dominance by the early 1970s, most of the Latin music luminaries of the salsa "boom" of that period came under the umbrella of Fania. These included Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, and Ray Barretto among many others.
Masucci would eventually become sole owner of Fania Records and the numerous other labels and umbrella labels in South America that he acquired and created. In September 2005, Fania's assets were sold to Emusica and by early 2006, the new owners began to reissue material from Fania's backlog catalog (some of which have never appeared on CD before) with enhanced sound and liner notes. Fania is releasing approx 30 New Mastered CDs every 60 days.
The new president and CEO have plans to launch a New phase of Fania All-Stars with Larry Harlow at the Helm and Chino Rodriguez as the agent for the Latin Legends of Fania. Jerry Masucci died in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Sunday, December 21st 1997. He was 62 years old.
List of Fania Records artists:
- Ray Barretto
- Willie Colón
- Celia Cruz
- Hector Lavoe
- Eddie Palmieri
Among the many musicians that performed as members or guests of the Fania All-Stars Masucci's artist's were, in alphabetical order:
Adalberto Santiago, Andy Montañez, Barry Rodgers, Bobby Cruz, Bobby Rodriguez, Bobby Valentin, Celia Cruz, Eddie Palmieri, Harvey Averne, Hector "Bomberito" Zarzuela, Héctor Lavoe, Ismael Miranda, Jimmy Sabater, Joe Bataan, Johnny Pacheco, Jorge Santana, Jose Cheo Feliciano, Larry Harlow, Larry Spencer, Louie Ramírez, Luis "Perico" Ortiz, Manu Dibango, Nicky Marrero, Orestes Vilato, Papo Lucca, Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez, Ralph Robles, Ramon Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto, Renaldo Jorge, Ricardo Richie Ray, Roberto Roena, Rubén Blades, Santitos Santos Colon, Tito Puente, Victor Paz, Willie Colón, and Yomo Toro.
Fania Records, Wikipedia, Allmusic; JerryMasucci.com;
Bolding added by BAILA Society