Right from start, Fania Records and its subsidiaries exceeded everybody’s expectations. The label was created in 1964. It penetrated the market so successfully and became so popular at the international level that its executives decided to broaden its talent in order to reach an even wider audience. The result? The wildly successful Fania All Stars, a group that brought together several of the label’s most popular artists. This move would further solidify the label’s standing in the international music scene.
The Fania All Stars’ first concert, “Live at the Red Garter,” was a promotional experiment designed solely to test the waters. The all-star cast included Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Ricardo Ray, and Bobby Cruz, and resulted in a live double album. The experiment couldn’t have been more successful. In 1971, the band revolutionized salsa as a genre with “Fania All Stars at the Cheetah,” a concert that was filmed and recorded live. In 1973, following a successful tour, the band made its first appearance at Yankee Stadium in New York. The stars performed before countless fans that had caught the fever and were swooning in the presence of consecrated performers of the genre such as Willie Colón, Johnny Pacheco, Bobby Valentín, Ray Barreto, and Mongo Santamaría.This concert, too, was filmed and recorded live, and set the standard in the music industry.
The All Stars were on fertile soil, and they wasted no time in reaping the benefits. In 1974, they appeared live at the Statu Hai stadium in Kinshasa, Zaire, which was the scene of the movie “Fania All Stars Live in Africa.” In 1975, the band returned to Yankee Stadium, this time with such famous names as Celia Cruz, Héctor Lavoe, Justo Betancourt, Ismael Quintana, Cheo Feliciano, Ismael Mirando, Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez, Bobby Cruz, and Santos Colón. One after the other, the band continued performing in concerts that were just as successful and multitudinous: “Salsa,” “Live,” “Best Of,” "Live in Japan" (1976), and "Tribute to Tito Rodríguez,” which marked Rubén Blades’ first performance with the All Stars.
To properly celebrate the Fania All Stars’ 20th birthday and Fania Records’ 30th, the label has re-released two concerts: “Live in Africa” and “Live in Japan,” which propelled a successful tour across five continents and showed the identity of a created family that has spread its social, musical, and cultural message throughout the world.
Desde su inicio en 1964, el sello Fania y sus subsidiarias superaron todas las expectativas. Tal fue su penetración y demanda popular a nivel internacional, que se dio a la tarea de expandir sus talentos para una mayor difusión lo que motivo la creación de la llamada y exitosa “Fania All Stars”, que agruparía varios de sus más populares y acreditados artistas. Esto al mismo tiempo, le proporcionaría una proyección más ambiciosa en el panorama de la música internacional.
El primer concierto de la “Fania All Stars”, “Live At The Red Garter”, fue un intento con un único fin, sondear su proyección únicamente con carácter promocional en el que intervinieron: Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Ricardo Ray y Bobby Cruz, del que se derivaron grabaciones agrupadas en dos volúmenes.
El intento no pudo ser más exitoso, y en el año 1971 se produciría un trascendental acontecimiento que revolucionaría la industria de la Salsa como género musical, con la presentación del concierto denominado “Fania All Stars at the Cheetah” que fue grabado y filmado en vivo.
En 1973, después de cubrir una exitosa gira, hicieron su primera presentación en el “Yankee Stadium” de la ciudad de Nueva York, ante una multitudinaria audiencia de fanáticos contagiados con la presencia de consagradas estrellas del género como: Willie Colón, Johnny Pacheco, Bobby Valentín, Ray Barreto y Mongo Santamaría. El concierto fue igualmente filmado y grabado y constituyó un acontecimiento que marcaría pautas en la industria musical.
El terreno estaba abonado, en lo sucesivo se sucedieron otros exitosos conciertos: En 1974, se presentaron en el estadio Statu Hai, Kinshasa, Zaire, (Africa) que diera origen a la película “Fania All Stars Live In Africa”. En 1975, “Fania All Stars” volvió a presentarse en concierto en el “Yankee Stadium”. En esta oportunidad con la participación de destacadas figuras como: Celia Cruz, Héctor Lavoe, Justo Betancourt, Ismael Quintana, Cheo Feliciano, Ismael Miranda, Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez, Bobby Cruz y Santos Colón.
Cronológicamente se sucedieron otros conciertos no menos exitosos y multitudinarios: “Salsa”, “Live”, “Best Of”, “Live In Japan” (1976), “Tribute To Tito Rodríguez”, en el que participó e hizo su incursión en la agrupación, Rubén Blades. Para celebrar el vigésimo aniversario de la “Fania All Stars” como agrupación y el trigésimo de haberse constituido el sello “Fania”, reestrenó los conciertos: “Live In Africa”, y “Live In Japan”, que impuso una exitosa gira por los cinco continentes para mostrar la identidad de una familia constituida, que ha contribuido a expandir su mensaje social, musical y cultural en el mundo.
Fania All Stars
The Fania All Stars, the house band of Fania Records, comprised of the label's bandleaders, top sidemen and vocalists, and whose history represented the rise and promulgation of salsa as a marketing tag for Latin music, had their relatively humble beginnings at the Red Garter club in New York's Greenwich Village in 1968. The band's Monday night performance with invited guests in front of an audience of 800 people was recorded and issued as Live At The Red Garter Vols. 1 & 2. "The albums sales were not too spectacular," admitted Fania co-founder Jerry Masucci (1934-1997).
Masucci decided to film the band's second concert, which took place in 1971 in front of 4,000 people – twice the capacity of New York's Cheetah club where it was staged! The results were captured on the two-volume album Live At The Cheetah (1971), which became the biggest selling live Latin recording up to that point, and the 1972 movie Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa), - prominently featuring clips from the Cheetah concert – started opening doors overseas.
In 1973 Masucci took the risk of booking New York's massive Yankee Stadium for a salsa concert headlined by the Fania All Stars. Before the event, Masucci ambitiously predicted: "This concert will revolutionize the music business like the Beatles in the early '60s and Woodstock in ‘69."
His gamble paid off, because the event attracted a crowd of about 45,000. The following year the band debuted in San Juan, Puerto Rico, opening the new Roberto Clemente Coliseum, and toured Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Panama and Mexico. Material from the Yankee Stadium and Roberto Clemente Coliseum concerts were issued in the album Latin-Soul-Rock (1974) and in two volumes of Live At Yankee Stadium (1975). Clips from these concerts were also included in Masucci's movie production Salsa (1976).
The highlight of 1974 was the band's performance in front of 80,000 fans at the Stadu du Hai, Kinshasa, Zaire, as part of the entertainment before the Mohammed Ali / George Foreman heavyweight title fight, the legendary "Rumble In The Jungle". Leon Gast, director of Our Latin Thing and Salsa, was hired to film the band in Zaire, the result being Live In Africa (1974).
The mid-1970s were a pivotal period in relation to Masucci's pursuit of a wider market for salsa: he made deals with Island Records in the UK (resulting in the release of a compilation and two Fania All Stars albums) and Columbia in the USA (for a series of crossover-oriented albums by the Fania All Stars). 1976 was also the year the All Stars performed in Europe, notably at the MIDEM festival in Cannes, France, and London's Lyceum Ballroom, and in Japan. "We were in Japan about a week," recalls trombonist and violinist Lewis Kahn, "and performed at least twice. I was really amazed how much the Japanese loved and embraced the music. Shortly after we started to play, they were on their feet waving their arms."
In 1986 Fania Records issued two collectors' albums, Fania All Stars Live In Japan 1976 and Live In Africa. While Live In Japan reprises numbers from the band's earlier live albums, namely, "Descarga Fania" and "Quítate Tú" (both from Live At The Cheetah Vol. 1; the latter was also a one of the hits spawned by Our Latin Thing), "Ponte Duro" (from Live At The Cheetah Vol. 2; later recorded by Roberto Roena for his 1973 Apollo Sound 5 album on International Records), "El Ratón" (from Latin-Soul-Rock) and "Mi Debilidad" (from Live At Yankee Stadium Vol. 2; subsequently a solo hit for Ismael Quintana from his 1974 debut album on Vaya Records), it includes three songs not previously issued in a live form by the All Stars. These are "Lamento De Un Guajiro", originally sung by its composer Ismael Miranda with Orchestra Harlow in a block party scene in Our Latin Thing, "Mambo Mongo", a hit from Mongo Santamaría's Grammy-nominated album Afro-Indio (Vaya, 1975), and the Tito Puente classic "Picadillo". The All Stars' studio version of the latter was included in Delicate & Jumpy (Columbia / Island, 1976), a collaboration with British rock star Steve Winwood.
Live In Japan has been criticized for its audio quality and editing, nevertheless it documents an important landmark in the history of salsa's most famous supergroup.
Written by John Child, contributor to Descarga.com
1. Descarga Fania All Stars
Vocals: Ismael Quintana; Bass solo: Bobby Valentín
2. Lamento De Un Guajiro
Vocals: Ismael Miranda; Flute solo: Johnny Pacheco; Violin solo: Pupi Legarreta
3. Mambo Mongo
Fender Rhodes Electric Piano solo: Larry Harlow; Conga solo: Mongo Santamaría
Piano solo: Larry Harlow; Cuatro solo: Yomo Toro; Trumpet solo: Luis "Perico" Ortiz
5. El Ratón
Vocals: Cheo Feliciano; Trombone solo: Reinaldo Jorge
6. Mi Debilidad
Vocals: Ismael Quintana; Piano solo: Larry Harlow; Trumpet solo: Héctor "Bomberito" Zarzuela
7. Quítate Tú
Vocals: Ismael Miranda, Cheo Feliciano, Santo Colón and Ismael Quintana; Cuatro solo: Yomo Toro
8. Ponte Duro
Bongo solo: Roberto Roena
Johnny Pacheco - Musical Director / Flute
Bobby Valentín - Bass
Larry Harlow - Keyboards
Mongo Santamaría - Conga
Roberto Roena - Bongo
Luis "Perico" Ortiz and Héctor "Bomberito" Zarzuela - Trumpets
Reinaldo Jorge – Trombone
Lewis Kahn - Trombone / Violin
Pupi Legarreta - Violin
Yomo Toro - Cuatro
Ismael Quintana, Ismael Miranda, Cheo Feliciano and Santo Colón - Singers
Descarga Fania - Ray Barretto and Louie Cruz
Mambo Mongo - William Allen
Picadillo - horns arranged by George Annis
El Ratón and Mi Debilidad - Bobby Valentín
Quítate Tú and Ponte Duro - Johnny Pacheco and Bobby Valentín