The Fania All Stars’ had their first official performance in 1968 at the Red Garter in the Village. But it wasn’t until three years later that the group got hot at the Cheetah in New York.
That summer, I was visiting New York from Puerto Rico. I was a young, impetuous youth strongly drawn to the honeyed sound of salsa that had been a musical magnet for most of my formative years. A group of my friends and I went to the Cheetah on that unforgettable night to see our musical idols and to share in the incredible sound that the distinguished leaders of their respective orchestras created together.
Johnny Pacheco, Larry Harlow, Ismael Miranda, Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe, Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez and Ray Barretto passed in front of us, while others that we had known back on the Island –Bobby Valentín, Cheo Feliciano and Roberto Roena– said hello to us. The combined delight of both public and arriving artists was palpable, an electricity that prefaced a special night.
It was an exciting experience for this 17-year-old youth who never dreamed that years later he would be working as a journalist in New York City. That night at the Cheetah was a salsa-induced delirium marking the lives of many who were present on that historic occasion.
Now with the new release of this recording, you have the opportunity to relive and enjoy that historic moment that would forever change Latin music throughout the world.
The opening track is a traditional guajira number with a typically Cuban arrangement boasting the refrain, “Estrellas de Fania Llegaron Pa’Gozar.” (“The Fania All Stars are here to have fun.”) This theme of fun ran the night: the dance concert was a veritable adventure in delight and joy for all salsa fans.
“Oye que rico suenan, las Estrellas de Fania,” (“Listen to how great the Fania All Stars sound”) boasts the refrain of the song “Descarga Fania,” a number that showcased the musical talents of the group, deftly directed by Maestro Johnny Pacheco.
The mood then shifted with to a beautiful guaguancó number penned by Catalino “Tite” Curet Alonso and performed by Ponce native Cheo Feliciano: “Anacaona.” This song was widely broadcast in New York and Puerto Rico and marked the magnificent singer’s return to salsa after his recovery from drug addiction. “Anacaona,” a tribute to our cultural tradition, never sounded better than it did that night, under the New York City lights and with the accompaniment of the Fania All Stars.
The album ends with the traditional number that the Fania All Stars performed in countless venues over the next three decades: “Quítate tú.” Here, the myriad singers of the impressive group –Cheo Feliciano, Héctor Lavoe, Pete “el Conde” Rodríguez, Adalberto Santiago; in short, all the stars that shone on that stage– demonstrated the talents that characterized the New York salsa sound.
“Live at the Cheetah” is Part One of the musical volumes that will give you the chance to experience an unforgettable moment in time. Listening to this album, you will understand the music scene during an era that formed the roots of all subsequent movements that have sprouted from it and that continue flowering today in our vast musical forest.
Written by Juan A. Moreno Velázquez
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