As the Colombian writer José Arteaga tells us: "The Fania Wings Stars was not only an orchestra formed by the most famous Latin American artists. The attraction went beyond the mere fact that represented in music. It was the most genuine expression of those places full of misery where they lived at the rampant pace of the big city; where the limited time that you could find for rest was destined for the only thing that kept it alive and combined this gigantic community: the music of the Antilles. That same music that Cubans called son and Puerto Ricans bomb, the same one that in a few years, thanks to the great enthusiasm of the Fania All Stars, ended up taking for this and other generations the name "salsa". The record label Fania was founded towards the end of the ' 60 's, from Dominican Johnny Pacheco with the support of Jerry Masucci, barrister of Italian origin. At the time, to dominate the market of Latin music were the labels Tico y Alegre along with colossus United Artist. Aboard their car, Pacheco and Magid went personally to replenish their prospective clients. When Dominican disks began to be successful, the partners sought to expand the company by contacting then emerging artists: Larry Harlow and Bobby Valentín. The first was an American pianist, with a background in rock music; the second, a young Puerto Rican bass player. The same year the company received him on their staff the already famous percussionist Ray Barretto and a trombonist of fifteen years which in time would become one of the most important figures of the movement salsero Willie Colón. The Fania label, taking advantage of the growing interest in the music they produced, cast, shortly thereafter, almost all the orchestras Latina who operated in the city. Inevitable, it seemed at that point, create within the label a group formed by the best artists under contract: the great band took the name of Fania All Stars and became one of the main architects Salsa boom. The first meeting of the orchestra occurred in a small Club in the Bronx, the Red Garter.
The official debut of the orchestra would, however, place a couple of years later in a historic August night which would have radically changed the fates of Latin music. The timing was propitious. Over the golden age of the Beatles, disestablished right at the beginning of ' 70, Latin youth had begun to look with renewed interest to musical turmoil coming from the "barrio latino". It was necessary to accelerate the course of events, ride the enthusiasm that had resulted in the "nueva ola". So it was that Mercado and the official presentation of the Masucci organized Fania All Stars. The historic concert took place at the Cheetah (a huge ballroom in the heart of Broadway) on August 26, 1971 and was attended by 5000 fans, come from the Latin quarter in New York to celebrate the Renaissance of afro-Latin-Caribbean. From that fateful evening produced two key documents: the four discs that he published la Fania and film "our Latin Thing", directed by Leon Gast. The Fania Wings Stars on that occasion presented Ra y Barreto at congas Roberto Roena, the bongó and Orestes Vilató to timbales. The horn section replied in full to the fees laid down by the new sound wave, i.e. the combination of trombones and trumpets, without the use of saxophones. The first trombone was entrusted to the American Barry Rogers; the second trombone to a young Puerto Rican musician recently arrived in New York, Reinaldo Jorge; the third trombone was the only real star of section: Willie Colón. The trumpet players that the orchestra used at that time were all leaders of orchestras that accounted for the Fania — the Cuban Roberto Rodríguez, the Dominican Héctor Zarzuela Bomberito and American Larry Spencer. To complete the rhythm section are Larry Harlow on piano, while Richie Ray was appointed special guest. The low fell to Bobby Valentín, responsible for many of the arrangements that were made that magical night. They added the presence of Yomo Toro that incorporated the orchestra with a Puerto Rican cuatro, a species very similar to the Cuban tres guitar. To conduct the orchestra was of course Dominican flutist Johnny Pacheco. The Fania All Stars in the magical night of the Cheetah uses seven singers, some of whom were already authentic stars. Ismael Miranda and Héctor Lavoe, the younger ones, already enjoyed great popularity among the public and were definitely among those who were more comfortable with the new sounds coming from the Latin ghetto. Héctor Lavoe had sung in six discs that Fahmi had published with Willie Colon. He possessed a very personal style and an extraordinary ability to play with vowels: it was considered at the time a very innovative. Ismael Miranda was one of the pillars of the orchestra by Larry Harlow. His face like a good kid had earned the nickname "el niño bonito". The Group of singers including Pete El Conde Rodriguez and Adalberto Santiago, respectively from the orchestra of Johnny Pacheco and Ray Barreto. The two veterans were considered and were definitely the most traditional wave. The other Puerto Rican Bobby Cruz, ever mate of the pianist Ricardo Ray, was in an intermediate place between old and young people. Puerto Rico was the sixth of the singers, Santos Colon (known for his collaborations with Tito Puente) that up to then had distinguished himself primarily as a fine and elegant interpreter of Boleros. Last but not least, is the only character who at the time was considered a true Idol: Cheo Feliciano. All the fame of "niño mimado" from Puerto Rico came from days spent with the Joe Cuba Sextet. The expectation of the audience was mainly concentrated on him, seeing that, on that occasion, Cheo Feliciano returned to singing after a stormy period spent in prison for a drug problem. Of that historic evening at the Cheetah, the Fania released four discs. The first "Fania All Stars Live at the Cheetah," published in two volumes, then the double album "Our Latin Thing" (Nuestra Cosa Latina), which collected some of the material that had already been published in two volumes in front, apart from some conversations, interviews or general evidence collected in the film of the same name. Director of film was Leon Gast, a veteran of the photography of New York, author of commercials for television. Strength of the film was to present without demagoguery points from which these characters, the world that they represented and the social and cultural circumstances that would answer the music that they played. The film is set in the "barrio latino" where Puerto Ricans, despite their particular condition of free and bound, are considered second-class citizens, if not third category ria. After the failed concert of Yankee Stadium, the musicians of Fania returned to sit in a studio at the beginning of ' 74 to give life to the album "Latin, Soul, Rock". The disc aimed to ride the enthusiasm aroused by Mexican guitarist Carlos Santana with his Latin rock. To emphasize the similarities with Santana we invited Jorge (brother of the famous Carlos). You invited drummer Billy Cobham, the pianist Jan Hammer, African saxophonist Manu Dibango and Mongo Santamaria (famous Cuban percussionist from increasingly linked to jazz than the sauce.) With this formation they recorded a disc, which proposed a music without a real personality and failed to capture the attention of the American public, nor of the Latin one. In 1971 the Fania All Stars released the double album "Live at Yankee Stadium". Although the cover showed a picture of missed New York's concert recordings on the disk had been collected in various recitals including Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan. On this occasion he officially became part of the legendary Cuban singer Celia Cruz. In 1976, after some lucky tour, the orchestra he published what is considered his last record of sauce: "tribute to Tito Rodríguez". To signal the presence from the Panamanian singer Rubén Blades, destined to become one of the most innovative stars soon in the world of salsa. In 1978 the band released another record called "Spanish fever", in the wake of the runaway success of the film by John Travolta: "Saturday's night fever". Despite the presence of characters like Maynard Ferguson and the eye wrung to disco music, the disc was not inspiring. The mistake was to try to get at any cost in the u.s. market, a market that is always difficult to all those musical expressions with authentic ethnic roots. With the end of the boom in salsa, Fania All Stars finally closed its golden experience, returning only sporadically in recording Studio. The Fania All Stars will remain in any case at the heart of all fans. Will be transformed over time into a symbol: salsa orchestra. An orchestra that still meets occasionally, bringing together from time to time those stars that are still in business. Meetings that each time reborn that spell linked to a group that, in addition to being an authentic landmark, has been able to really make a decisive impact on the evolution of the whole afro-Latin-Caribbean.
Fania All Stars
The Legendary Salsa Music Band
by Nathan CHAN