Fania All Stars
It was 1966 when Jerry Masucci, co-founder of the successful Fania record label, received a phone call from promoters Jack Hooke and Ralph Mercado while Jerry fished in Mexico. They had come up with the idea of gathering popular Fania artists along with invited guests Tito Puente of Tico Records and Eddie Palmieri and Ricardo Ray from Alegre Records, to appear on stage at the famed Red Garter nightclub in New York’s Greenwich Village and record a live album. Jerry liked the idea and contacted his partner, Johnny Pacheco, to set it up.
Two years earlier, Pacheco and lawyer Masucci had formed Fania Records. Pacheco, a Dominican Republic-born band leader, was a hot commodity at the time. He was responsible for creating the Pachanga dance craze in the late fifties. So, Pacheco put some material together to produce the albums Live at The Red Garter, Volumes 1 and 2. The club was packed with 800 enthusiastic fans to witness the creation of the Fania All Stars on that special night. A group that went on to perform to sold-out concerts in Puerto Rico, Chicago and Panama. The Fania All Stars made an appearance at the house that Ruth built, Yankee Stadium, in August 1973. The show was a phenomenal success featuring Ray Barretto, Willie Colón, Larry Harlow, Johnny Pacheco, Roberto Roena, Bobby Valentín who jammed with Manu Dibango, Mongo Santamaría and Jorge Santana (younger brother of Carlos Santana and guitarist with Malo). The filming of this concert and a concert at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico were filmed. In 1974, the Fania All Stars performed at the 80,000 seat Stadu du Hai in Kinshasa, Zaire, and was filmed by Leon Gast and released as the documentary film Fania All Stars Live in Africa. The Zairean appearance featured Stevie Wonder in conjunction with the Mohammed Ali & George Foreman heavyweight championship fight.
The Fania All Stars’ return to Yankee Stadium in 1975 resulted in two volumes of Live at Yankee Stadium, which highlighted Fania Records’ top vocalists Celia Cruz, Héctor Lavoe, Cheo Feliciano, Ismael Miranda, Justo Betancourt, Ismael Quintana, Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez, Bobby Cruz and Santos Colón. Clips from their August 1973 and 1975 Yankee Stadium concerts, as well as the Roberto Clemente Coliseum concert were included in Masucci’s movie Salsa in 1976 which was co-directed by Masucci and Gast.
Their Fania All Stars albums between 1980 and 1989 included Latin jazz productions of California Jam (1980) and Guasasa (1989); the crossover effort Social Change (1981) with guests Steel Pulse and Gato Barbieri; Bamboleo (1988) with four “salsafied” versions of Gypsy Kings hits; along with the sturdier Commitment (1980), Latin Connection (1981), Lo Que Pide La Gente (1984) and Viva La Charanga (1986). To mark the 20th Anniversary, Live in Africa, was recorded in Zaire in 1974, and Live in Japan in 1976 were released in 1986. The 13th Anniversary of Fania Records was commemorated in 1994 with a three-city tour (San Juan, Miami and New York) by the reconvened orchestra. Overall, the Fania All Stars recorded an incredible three-dozen albums that were cherished enthusiastically by music lovers throughout the world. —Bobby Marin