A companion piece to the Broadway show "Ghetto Klown," this electrifying compilation of timeless salsa hits finds actor, comedian and producer John Leguizamo selecting his favorite tracks from the Fania vaults. If anything, the resulting mix shows Leguizamo's deep understanding of the '70s salsa movement - a musical revolution that shaped his life.
"My career as an artist is really a prism of all the influences that move me," he explains from his home in New York. "Salsa is very important to me. Some of those lyrics about growing up in the Spanish Harlem are a poignant reminder of the fact that the '70s was the coolest time for music in this city. I remember the lingo. The tracks on this album bring back many memories."
The son of a Puerto Rican father and a Colombian mother, Leguizamo grew up in the U.S. from the age of four. But his parents made everything in their power to cherish their son's Latino heritage. "They had an unusual rewards system," he remembers with a laugh. "On Christmas, I could only open my presents if I read a book in Spanish first."
Leguizamo's dream mix begins with the raucous "Estrellas De Fania" by the ultimate Afro-Caribbean supergroup, the Fania All Stars.
"They're like a basketball dream team that goes to the Olympics," he enthuses. "The Fania All Stars remind me of the Justice League of superheroes, all of them getting together to fight one villain. You know these guys are having a great time playing together. It's almost like you're part of it. You're witnessing it."
When it comes to female vocalists, Leguizamo showcases his superb musical taste by picking key tracks from Fania's two timeless divas: Celia Cruz's zesty "Químbara" and La Lupe's lush "Puro Teatro" - a composition by Puerto Rican master Tite Curet Alonso.
"You've got to have La Lupe in there," he says. "I don't think people know her enough. I was introduced to her music by Frank Reyes, the director of the movie Empire. There's so much emotion and dissonance in her voice. I'm going to pretend that I'm a musician for a moment and tell you that I hear minor chords in her singing."
Celia's "Químbara," recorded with Johnny Pacheco for the genre-defining 1974 album Celia & Johnny made a deep impression on Leguizamo. "The rhythm, the syncopation, the sheer power of her voice," he explains. "They elevate you. Suddenly, you feel that everything is going to be OK in your life. When I think of Celia, I always think of the incredible joy that's encapsulated in her songs."
The actor honors his Puerto Rican roots by picking the crowd pleasing anthem "Mi Gente" by Héctor Lavoe - the quintessential sonero from la isla del encanto.
"His skills were just incredible," he offers. "In a way, Héctor reminds me of Billie Holiday. There's a quality that's plaintive and calming about his style. Like your friend next door singing for you, not showing off at all. That's a rare virtue for a star singer."
An eclectic listener, Leguizamo boasts a huge collection of CDs and vinyl spanning a variety of genres, from Colombian cumbia and vallenato to hip-hop, jazz, blues and rock. He also has a weakness for the '80s wave of syrupy salsa romántica - Eddie Santiago's "Lluvia" reminds him of his painful breakup with a beautiful girl. Still, when it comes to tropical music, his heart belongs to Fania.
"The old school stuff has a real quality to it that separates it from the rest," he concludes. "It's transcendental."
Liner notes by Ernesto Lechner--Habiendo crecido en Nueva York, el actor y cómico John Leguizamo recuerda la década del '70 como "la mejor época para la música en esta ciudad". Como resulta natural para el hijo de un padre puertorriqueño y una madre colombiana, la explosión salsera protagonizada por las estrellas de la Fania fue una parte fundamental de la educación musical de Leguizamo.
Coincidiendo con el espectáculo de Broadway "Ghetto Klown", que ha sido todo un éxito con el público y la crítica, el actor tuvo acceso a los archivos de la Fania para compilar un disco con sus canciones favoritas.
La selección muestra el impecable gusto musical de Leguizamo: Celia Cruz, Héctor Lavoe, Rubén Blades e Ismael Miranda son algunos de los cantantes que aparecen en el disco. Cuando habla de esta música, el actor expresa su debilidad por el estilo inigualable de la diva cubana La Lupe, además de la energía colectiva de la Fania All Stars.
Presentando doce clásicos salseros y un librito con comentarios del mismo actor sobre las canciones y sus intérpretes, "Ghetto Klown" es altamente recomendable para todos los fanáticos de John Leguizamo y la vieja guardia de la Fania.