TUNES FOR TUESDAY -- Fania
I grew up hearing of Fania as a musical institution. The history of Fania, the Record Label, and of Fania All Stars, the Band, could fill large tomes. That history has been explored by many, and can be easily found on the Internet. I highly recommend PBS's Latin Music USA documentary, which contains a chapter called Salsa Revolution. It is great, even though the story is told from an American perspective.
As Jimmy Smits, the narrator, puts it, "by the end of the 70s, Fania had sold millions of records around the world. All the while, back in the US, most people barely noticed. So, this is the story of what they missed. . . . the birth of Salsa."
The creation of Fania Records in 1968 is, in my opinion, that birthday. The label was created by an Italian, Jerry Masucci, and by a Dominican, Johnny Pacheco. By the time Fania All Stars performed their famous concert in Yankee Stadium in 1973, the label had signed up the likes of Willie Colón, Bobbie Valentin, Ray Barreto, Larry Harlow, and even Carlos Santana's younger brother Jorge Santana. Other Stars such as Ismael Miranda, Cheo Feliciano, Ruben Blades, and Celia Cruz would soon join Fania as well.
Fania All Stars traveled the world spreading the new rhythm. One of my favorite appearances is the one the band made in 1974 in Zaire, a country known today as the Democratic Republic of Congo. This happened around the same time that Cassius Clay, better known as Heavy Weight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, fought George Foreman during their famous Rumble in the Jungle title fight. James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, was also in Kinshasha, Zaire at the time.
Salsa was now around six years old, full of life and playful. And Fania played Salsa for fun. The Zaire concert like Fania's many live presentations was filled with powerful jam sessions designed to showcase the amazing talents of its members. Here are two samples taken from Zaire. Some jam sessions were slow such as this one:
El Ratón by Cheo Feliciano with Fania All Stars
Some were explosively fast, such as this one: Turn it up! Azuuucarrrr!
Quimbara by Celia Cruz with Fania All Stars.