Latin disco was the logical step forward following the emergence of Latin funk, which had evolved from boogaloo and Latin Soul. Throughout the '70s, the musicians and DJs who grew up in New York were exposed to a variety of influences. When the disco era reached its apex, it was inevitable that the Latin scene would be influenced by it. The Fania label was at the forefront of this hybrid, with musicians such as Tito Puente, Louie Ramírez and Joe Bataan leading the way. El Barrio: Latin Disco includes anthems by the movement's heavy hitters, as well as lesser known gems and rare grooves.
LA CHARANGA 76 – GOOD TIMES (COMO VAMOS A GOZAR)
Formed in 1976 by Cuban güiro player Felipe Martínez, and featuring the vocals of Hansel Martínez & Raúl Alfonso (who would later become the famous duo of Hansel & Raúl), Charanga 76 is known mostly for its Latin versions of disco hits. Listening to their unique take on McFadden & Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” and Chic’s “My Forbidden Lover” was a real eye opener for me back in the '80s. It is only fitting that the opening track of this compilation would be the Latin disco gem "Good Times."
JIMMY SABATER – TO BE WITH YOU
Born to Puerto Rican parents in the heart of El Barrio (Spanish Harlem) between 112th Street, 5th & Madison Avenue, Jimmy Sabater was taught percussion by Willie Bobo and Tito Puente. He helped form the Joe Cuba Sextet in 1954. Even though it was named after Gilberto Calderón - or Joe Cuba, as he was known in the music world - the group was very much a unit. It was hastily named just before a show by Catalino Rolón, a promoter at the legendary Palladium ballroom, when he was told that the band had still to be named. Jimmy Sabater was the combo's timbalero. In 1962, he was offered the chance to sing the track “To Be With You,” because he had a better English accent than the band's lead vocalist, one José ‘Cheo’ Feliciano. Sabater stayed with Cuba for 23 years, working also with such luminaries as Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco and Tito Rodríguez. This heavy disco version of “To Be With You” was produced by Bobby Marín and released in 1976. It features a great break around the first third of the track, becoming a staple for disco and hip hop DJs all over the world.
ORQUESTA NOVEL – DANCE, DANCE, DANCE
Led by Afro-Cuban pianist Willie Ellis, Orquesta Típica Novel was formed in New York City during the '60s, performing mostly as a charanga and boogaloo group. Its debut album, Do the Boogaloo, came out in 1967 on the Fonseca label. The orchestra released a series of records with TR, before signing with Fania in the mid '70s and shortening its name to Orquesta Novel. Notable members have included Eddie Drennon, Ray Maldonado (the brother of Ricardo Ray), Alfredo ‘Chocolate’ Armenteros, Jimmy Bosch, Mauricio Smith, Néstor Torres, and Louie Ramírez. The 1980 session Novel Invites You To A Novel Experience was devoted entirely to the disco sound. A cover of “My Cherie Amour” on this album has been used by the likes of Dimitri from Paris and other electronica heavyweights. Here, we decided to include a less obvious choice - the Eddie Drennon composition “Dance Dance Dance,” which will work up a storm in any dancefloor.
SEGUIDA – ON OUR WAY TO A BETTER TOMORROW / MAMBO ROCK
Formed from the ashes of two high school bands from the South Bronx - Latin Soul Inc. and Devoshun - Seguida was brought together by Randy Ortiz, a local arranger and rock bassist. He led the band together with percussionist Angel Nater Jr. and guitarist Louie Pérez. Support slots with Willie Colón, Ray Barretto and Larry Harlow led to a deal with Fania Records. Seguida's critically acclaimed debut, Love is..., was released in 1974 and contained the crossover hit “Mambo Rock.” The song would become the theme tune to Izzy Sanabria’s Salsa television show, which featured Seguida as the house band. After touring with Sly & the Family Stone, War and Crown Heights Affair, the band embraced the emerging disco sound on its sophomore effort, On Our Way To Tomorrow. We've picked the album's title track - a killer song. Seguida has recently reformed, releasing Seguida III on its own label.
LTG EXCHANGE – WATERBED
The lineup of LTG Exchange included Bruce Slade (congas, vocals), Melvyn Barton (bass, vocals), Walter Chiles (keyboards, vocals), Víctor Santos (drums, vocals), and Kevin Beverley (Guitar). The group is known for its two hits: “Corazón,” a cover of the Carole King standard, and the sublime “Waterbed.” Originally released by Fania Records in 1974, it was later extended at Bell Sound Studios, NYC, for a 12” release on Disco International. This limited edition is now a highly prized collector’s item, selling for large amounts of money on internet auction sites.
MILTON HAMILTON CRYSTALISED – MY LOVE SUPREME
Milton Hamilton was a music teacher at the Third Street Music School Settlement, confusingly located on East 11th Street, New York, when he formed Yambú with colleague Ramón Rodríguez. Their self-titled 1975 debut was a heady mix of Latin, soul, jazz, rock and disco - enjoying a hit with a “hustle” version of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny.” This record is sought after by beat junkies for the massive break on “Hippopotamus.” It was also a groundbreaking part of the jazz-dance scene with DJ Bob Jones making “A New Thing” one of his biggest dancefloor tunes. In 1976, Milton formed his solo group, Milton Hamilton Crystalized. He released the great Disco Madness album, featuring “My Love Supreme” and covers of “Poinciana” and “Theme from Mahoghany.” “My Love Supreme” was released on 7” format and immediately hit the Billboard disco charts. There is also an extremely rare promo 12” DJ Copy with the full 5.10 minutes version of the tune.
LOUIE RAMIREZ – BAD LUCK / SALSA
Legendary bandleader, percussionist, pianist, composer, arranger and producer Louie Ramírez barely needs an introduction for anyone with even the slightest interest in Latin music - he is a living legend. During the '50s, he played with Joe Loco, joining the Joe Cuba group the following decade. Louie was the arranger and timbalero on the classic Jazz Espagnole album by Sabú Martínez. He was co-leader of the Alegre All Stars with Charlie Palmieri, Kako and Al Santiago - as well as staff producer and arranger with the Fania group of labels, and president of Alegre Records throughout the '70s and '80s. Louie caught the disco bug and recorded a great album titled A Different Shade of Black. It was released in 1976 on Cotique. The album featured contributions from Bernard Purdie, Cornell Dupree, Johnny Rodríguez, Randy Ortiz, Marty Sheller, and Sonny Bravo, and it is famed among record collectors for the funky “Do It Any Way You Wanna.” Here, we have included the smooth disco grooves of “Bad Luck” and “Salsa.”
TITO PUENTE – WATU WASURI
Taken from the 1974 Tico album Tito Unlimited, “Watu Wasuri” was one of the earliest disco flavored records to emerge from New York. Tito played virtually all of the instruments on this recording - the only other credit went to producer Joe Cain. He performed vibes, piano, electric piano, mellotron, tambourine, marimbas, organ, tympany, cowbells and assorted percussion. Born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents in 1923, Puente formed The Piccadilly Boys in 1948 and spearheaded the '50s mambo craze, which reached an apex in 1956 with his classic LP Dancemania. Puente would record over 100 albums, enjoying his biggest hit with Santana's ubiquitous version of his composition “Oye Como Va.” Sadly, he passed away in 2000.
W.R.L.C. – JOHNNY’S NO GOOD
The sole album that W.R.L.C. released on the Fania imprint came out in 1975, featuring soft rock and disco versions of classic Fania songs: Willie Colón’s “Che Che Colé” and “Jazzy,” and Johnny Pacheco’s “Acuyeyé.” The disco version of Joe Bataan’s “Johnny’s No Good” is an overlooked guitar groover. The band featured Slim Pezin (guitar), Lucien Dobat (drums), Mamhoud Houari (sax), Patrick Bourboin (flute), Pierre Honoré (bass) and Michel Deverc (violin).
FAUSTO REY / LARRY HARLOW – ES UN DEMONIO ELLA
Made at a time when a growing number of Dominicans were migrating to New York, this collaboration between Latin legend Larry Harlow and the Dominican Republic's Fausto Rey was probably geared towards that market. The album is largely forgettable, with the exception of a disco version of “Devil Woman” - made famous in the UK by Cliff Richard. The track's killer breakdowns would fit in nicely on any dancefloor today.
JOE BATAAN – CALL ME
Taken from the unreleased LP Bataan in San Frantasia, “Call Me” is a cool disco inspired number. It can also be found as the b-side of the “Latin Soul Square Dance” 45 rpm single. Born in Spanish Harlem in 1942, Bataan is credited as a Latin Soul pioneer - fusing Afro-Cuban rhythms with R&B, he came to prominence in the mid '60s with the hits “Gypsy Woman” and “Ordinary Guy.” In the '70s, he recorded a series of excellent albums for Fania, finding the time to produce artists on the Ghetto label and co-found the innovative SalSoul label. It was with SalSoul that he enjoyed a top-10 European hit with the crossover rap-disco track “Rap-o Clap-o.” After spending 20 years counseling juvenile delinquents, he returned to the music scene with a new album, and continues touring to this day.
LOU PEREZ – AFRO HUSTLE
Of the 15 albums that Lou Pérez recorded under his own name, De Todo un Poco is by far the most famous one. Why? Simply because the title track was used in the movie Dirty Dancing. Sad but true. Also included on this album was the uptempo disco bomb “Afro Hustle.” Recorded in 1977, it featured Cuban pianist Ricardo ‘Eddy’ Martínez, Cuban conguero Cándido, and other notable players.
JOE CUBA – JOE CUBA’S LATIN HUSTLE
Joe Cuba formed his group in 1954 and experienced instant success using English lyrics over Latin beats. A pioneer of the boogaloo sound with the hit single “Bang Bang,” he went on to record a number of albums for various Fania related labels. Cocinando La Salsa was the first LP that Cuba recorded for Tico after it had been taken over by Fania co-founder Masucci. He asked Joe to make "a blockbuster salsa album” - and Cuba delivered on all fronts, including stunning tracks like “Ataca de Nuevo” and “Quinteto Sabroso.” The track included on this compilation has a boogaloo/disco feel, featuring the drumming of Alphonse Mouzon. Other notable musicians include Sonny Bravo, Jimmy Sabater and Louie Ramírez.