40 years ago, on the evening of August 26th, the Fania All-Stars emerged onstage at the legendary Cheetah club in New York and proceeded to single-handedly unleash the musical phenomenon known as the Salsa Explosion of the '70s. The show, which included such classic tropical jams as "Anacaona" with a fiery Cheo Feliciano on vocals, and the playful "Quítate Tú," was recorded for posterity and released as the two LP set Live At The Cheetah. But Fania founder Jerry Masucci had an even grander vision in mind: movie cameras filmed the concert, setting up the foundation for a feature length movie documenting the burgeoning salsa movement.
Entitled Our Latin Thing, the resulting film has been something of a collector's item during the past decades. Now, a remastered edition of both the movie and the music associated with Our Latin Thing is being released by Fania. This is the definitive, 40th Anniversary edition of a historic moment in tropical music.
Directed by celebrated documentary filmmaker Leon Gast, Our Latin Thing captures the sweaty fever of that 1971 show at the Cheetah. The cast of salsa stars, including Héctor Lavoe, Larry Harlow and Johnny Pacheco among many others, look natural and spontaneous, seemingly unaware of the cameras surrounding them. Gast followed them to the recording studio - a sequence showing producer Harlow working with Feliciano on "Anacaona" is particularly memorable. Scenes from life in the Spanish Harlem add texture to a film that acts like a virtual time machine, sending the viewer right into the lightning-in-a-bottle moment when salsa was born.
The 40th Anniversary Limited Edition of Our Latin Thing includes a DVD of the remastered movie, as well as two CDs containing the music of the film and a few bonus tracks. A true collector's item.
For a number of years now, Fania's prestigious "Man & His Music" collection has been paying tribute to the most transcendental artists in Latin music: from Rubén Blades and Héctor Lavoe to Machito and Tito Rodriguez, to name just a few. Now, a legendary orchestra from Puerto Rico famed for its elegant mystique and jazzy soundscapes is receiving its due. Sonora Ponceña - A Band And Its Music is a definitive anthology, including 27 tracks and a lavish booklet with an informative essay on the group and many rare photos.
The compilation kicks off with the salsa dura classic "Hachero Pa'Un Palo" - included in the band's debut album under the sophisticated musical direction of keyboard virtuoso Papo Lucca. Marked by its thunderous lineup of trumpets, a rootsy rhythm section and Lucca's velvety piano solos, La Ponceña quickly developed a unique sound that conquered the heart of both Latin jazz aficionados and devoted salsa dancers. The early incarnation of the band during the early '70s is documented through such gritty tunes as "Fuego En El 23" and "Juana Bayona," with excellent vocal work by soneros Tito Gómez and Luigi Texidor.
La Ponceña reached its artistic zenith between 1976 and 1978, establishing an ambitious brand of progressive salsa that took the genre to unsuspected levels of artistry. The second half of Disc 1 illustrates these heights on epic workouts like "Boranda" and "Moreno Soy," coupled with mega-hits "El Pío Pío" and "Bomba Carambomba."
Disc 2 features "Soy Antillana," a fiery track off the band's 1979 classic collaboration with Celia Cruz. It then showcases the inspiration and commercial success that defined La Ponceña throughout the '80s, with the chocolaty vocals of Puerto Rican diva Yolanda Rivera shining on tracks like the patriotic "Borinquen" and the Machito classic "Ahora Sí." The orchestra enjoyed new hits well into the '90s, and the compilation comes to a conclusion with the band still at the top of its game.
Sonora Ponceña - A Band And Its Music is the ultimate collection of one of the most mercurial bands in tropical music. Casual fans who know only a couple of their songs will be dazzled by the treasure trove of melodies and rhythms to be found in these 27 tracks. The collection is available on CD format, and also as a digital download.
Our free download this month celebrates the sheer magic to be found in the vast catalogue of veteran Puerto Rican orchestra La Sonora Ponceña. Culled from the 1980 album Unchained Force, which found the group at the apex of its career - and also included in the new compilation Sonora Ponceña - A Band And Its Music - "Luz Negra" combines salsa with jazz, percussive power with exquisite piano lines. A composition by boricua master Tite Curet Alonso, it delivers a powerful contrast between its sinuous melody, a propulsive groove and melancholy lyrics about unrequited love. Enjoy.
On August 26th, 1971, New York gives birth to a sound that would change the face of Latin Music forever. That evening the legendary label Fania, presented an ensemble of its best artists – The Fania All-Stars. The show was billed as “Our Latin Thing.” In the decades ahead the All-Stars would become the ambassadors and juggernauts of Latin Music around the world. They became the musical reflection of the times, needs, and struggles of New York’s Latino community. The music was influenced by American jazz, soul, and rock-and-roll. Their music became part of Americana. Today, taking up the mantle of Our Latin Thing, an ensemble of seventeen musicians pays tribute to this legendary group, performing an assortment of the All-Stars’ top hits and taking the audience on a musical and poetic journey.
The Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra is unlike any band you’ve heard before, a traditional 11-piece Latin band which plays dynamic, thrilling arrangements of indie rock tunes. With an ever-evolving set list that includes songs by Yeaseayer, Japanther, Animal Collective, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV On The Radio, The Mars Volta, Arcade Fire, and many more, the WSO will make a salsa-believer out of you! Lead by percussionist/arranger Gianni Mano, (from the Brooklyn Latin-funk legends Radio Mundial), the WSO contains some of the best young players on the scene including a full compliment of horns and percussion. With the attitude of a rock band, and the grooves of classic New York salsa, not to mention a brand new album, we hope the WSO is here to stay.
DJ Ronzilla and DJ Dres will be joining the salsa acts.
Openhouse Gallery, the New York pop-up space, 201 Mulberry St, New York, NY, 10012
Date: Thursday, July 28th
Wherever they performed, the Fania All Stars made history from the late '60s to the end of the '70s. Latin music had never witnessed an orchestra of such epic proportions - every one of its members, a star.
The biggest Fania All Stars show of all, however, took place far away from New York, the epicenter of salsa. In 1974, the band was invited to participate in a huge music festival that took place in conjunction with a boxing match in the city of Kinshasa, Zaire. Performing in Africa was a poignant experience for the Fania artists. They were bringing the roots of Afro-Cuban music back to their place of origin. The performance was captured on film by director Leon Gast. Now, Fania is releasing a remastered version of this spectacular concert on DVD.
The quality of both video and audio is pristine. Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco were huge stars in Africa at the time of this performance, and you can see the crowd of 80,000 fans going crazy when Celia takes the stage for the best live rendition of "Químbara" ever committed to tape. Acting as musical director of a band that includes Ray Barretto, Roberto Roena, Orestes Vilató and Larry Harlow, Pacheco can barely control himself as he jumps up and down, feeling the sheer electricity of the music.
As was customary with the Fania All Stars, the label's famous singers are content with being part of the smoldering coro whenever a fellow vocalist takes the spotlight. Watching Héctor Lavoe, Cheo Feliciano and Santitos Colón doing backup vocals with gusto is, in itself, worth the price of admission. Other highlights include a zesty "Mi Gente," the ubiquitous Pacheco composition that became Lavoe's anthem, a darkly textured "El Ratón" with Cheo Feliciano, and Roena's famous dancing interlude on "Ponte Duro."
Live In Africa gives Fania aficionados a unique opportunity to experience the salsa movement at its absolute apex. It also serves as the perfect introduction for the genre beginner wanting to fully understand the intoxicating power of this music.