Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Superstar house lineup of the Fania label (formed NYC '64 by lawyer Jerry Masucci, b '35 Brooklyn; d 21 Dec. '97, Buenos Aires, and bandleader Johnny Pacheco) filling a gap left by the demise of all-star groups of the Alegre and Tico labels as Fania's catalogue became a unique record of the formative years of modern salsa. FAS were nominated for several Grammys; personnel depended on availability, at its peak including members of several bands, Pacheco, Willie Colón, Ray Barretto, Larry Harlow; vocalists Celia Cruz, Cheo Feliciano, Héctor Lavoe, Ismael Rivera, often guests from outside salsa.

Masucci was fishing in Acapulco when promoters Jack Hooke and Ralph Mercado (who co-ran the Manhattan Cheetah R&B club) phoned him with the idea of staging a Fania All Stars gig with guests at Greenwich Village's Red Garter; the sold-out concert resulted in two volumes of the essentially jam session (descarga) Live At The Red Garter '68, which sold poorly at the time. Masucci decided to film the next FAS concert and struck a deal with Mercado for a concert at the Cheetah (Aug. '71), attended by a double capacity crowd; Live At The Cheetah vols 1 and 2 '71 were the best-selling live Latin LPs up to that point; clips from concert featured in film Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa) '72 co-produced by Masucci and Harlow, directed by Leon Gast. FAS debuted at NY's Yankee Stadium Aug.'73, material from this and a Roberto Clemente Coliseum concert in Puerto Rico was included on Latin-Soul-Rock '74, a fusion set with guests Jan Hammer, Billy Cobham, Manu Dibango (doing crossover hit 'Soul Makossa'), Jorge 'Malo' Santana (guitar solo on live version of 'El Raton', with author Feliciano). Film Live In Africa '74 (UK video title: Salsa Madness '91), directed by Gast, captured their appearances in Zaire coinciding with the Mohammed Ali/ George Foreman title fight. Two-volume Live At Yankee Stadium '75 had Dibango on 'Congo Bongo', written by Harlow and Heny Alvarez; film footage from Yankee Stadium ('73 and '75) and Roberto Clemente Coliseum gigs in Salsa (soundtrack '76), co-directed by Masucci and Gast, who deliberately stripped salsa of its ghetto roots, highlighted in Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa), in an attempt to repackage the music for the crossover market. Newcomer Rubén Blades debuted with FAS on Tribute To Tito Rodríguez '76, singing 'Los Muchachos de Belén'. Crossover LPs on Columbia '76-9 included Delicate And Jumpy with reduced band, guest Stevie Winwood; Rhythm Machine, with guitarist Eric Gale (d 25 May '94 aged 55), standout track 'Juan Pachanga' (still a Blades classic); Spanish Fever; Crossover included disco-oriented tracks, Cruz's 'Isadora'. FAS' Live and Delicate And Jumpy were issued in UK '76 by Island; they made their live UK debut that year. Fania All Stars Live from Madison Square Garden '78 had Cruz and Rivera singing 'Cucala'. Habana Jam '79 on Fania came from a live concert in Cuba in March, including merengue star Wilfrido Vargas; Havana Jam on CBS was a two-disc live set from same series of concerts, with Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge, Stephen Stills and Weather Report alongside Cuba's Orquesta Aragón, Irakere, and one track by FAS (Blades's composition 'Juan Pachanga').

Releases dwindled as Fania began its decline in '80: Commitment '80 was a vocal feast including Lavoe on 'Ublabadu', Cruz duet with Pete 'El Conde' Rodríguez on 'Encantigo'. California Jam '80 moved to Latin jazz; Social Change '81 was seen as disappointing, with socially conscious lyrics, guests Gato Barbieri, UK reggae band Steel Pulse. Latin Connection '81 included Rivera singing classic 'Bilongo'; The Last Fight '82 was the soundtrack of a flop film starring Colón and Blades; standout track on Lo Que Pide La Gente '84 was Lavoe's 'El Rey de la Punctualidad'; Viva La Charanga '86 featured José Fajardo. Concert archive material released '86 for their 20th anniversary: Live In Africa recorded in Zaire '74, Live In Japan '76. Bamboleo '88 included salsa remakes of Gipsy Kings hits; Guasasa '89 was a thin Latin jazz set. Thirtieth anniversary of Fania was marked by tour of reunited FAS '94; Bithorn Stadium (PR) concert issued as Live '95 co-producded by Harlow.