Released in 1978,”A Todos Mis Amigos” was one of the many compilations that the Fania empire put out during the apex of the salsa era. It was an obvious attempt to recycle the existing catalogue of gems from the legendary Tico label.
At the time, Celia Cruz had been crowned as the queen of the New York salsa explosion through her sparkling collaboration with bandleader Johnny Pacheco, as well as her electrifying live performances with the Fania All Stars.
Even though “A Todos Mis Amigos” would appear to be a rather random anthology of musty nuggets, there is a good reason why this remastered version is seeing the light of day in the new millennium.
Casual followers of Latin music remember Celia Cruz through “La Vida Es Un Carnaval,” the sticky pop anthem that she recorded during the last stages of her career (La Reina passed away in 2003.) Salsa connoisseurs treasure her seminal collaborations with Fania’s notable bandleaders: Pacheco, Willie Colón, Ray Barretto and La Sonora Ponceña’s Papo Lucca. And nostalgic music fans of a certain age venerate her ’50s output with Cuba’s supreme conjunto, La Sonora Matancera.
On the other hand, history has been particularly unfair to the excellent series of LPs that Celia recorded in Mexico and the U.S. during the ’60s – from the moment she left Cuba following the revolution to her rebirth as a hip salsa star in 1973, thanks to her appearance in Larry Harlow’s Latin opera Hommy.
“A Todos Mis Amigos” offers a tantalizing glimpse of this mostly forgotten period in Celia’s career. Hopefully, it will serve as an incentive for listeners to seek out the original albums from which these 10 tracks are culled.
When Celia and her husband, the late Pedro Knight, arrived in New York, Nuyorican timbalero Tito Puente jumped at the opportunity to record with her.
In fact, the opening track of this compilation, the exuberant Chivirico Dávila composition “La Guarachera,” is also the opening track of Cuba y Puerto Rico Son…, the 1966 session that began an artistic collaboration between Cruz and Puente that would continue until the bandleader’s death in 2000. This is Tito Puente at his artistic best – he had already released masterworks such as Dancemania and Tambó, and was more than ready to complement the high voltage energy of his band with a powerhouse vocalist such as Celia.
Notice the call-and-response interplay between Celia’s scat vocalizing and Tito’s timbales – as well as Celia’s endearing shout-out “este niño estás en algo” (you’re into something, kid) that vividly illustrates the chemistry between both performers.
Unfortunately, sterling Puente/Cruz albums like Quimbo Quimbumbia (1969) and Algo Especial Para Recordar (1972) suffered from inadequate promotion and did not receive the attention that they deserved. Here’s a good chance to rediscover some of this material.
During her stay in Mexico in the ’60s, Celia recorded a string of albums with the orchestras of Memo Salamanca and Juan Bruno Tarraza. She also collaborated with Sonora Matancera piano player Lino Frías. From the album La Excitante Celia Cruz, “Mi Treque Treque” finds the diva in full Matancera mode – a bewitching combination of Afro-Cuban rhythms with a honey-sweet pop sensibility. Frías’ crystalline solo adds a dash of jazzy magic to the track.
In later years, Celia’s music would reflect the sensibility of the time by becoming tougher, faster and funkier – the wide-eyed innocence of the Sonora Matancera was left behind. The songs on this compilation provide a stylistic bridge between those two moods. Celia Cruz fans who have yet to discover her ’60s output will probably regard “A Todos Mis Amigos” as a revelation.
Written by ERNESTO LECHNER
Víctor Paz – Trumpet
Pedro Puchi Boulong – Trumpet
Tony Cofresi – Trumpet
Jimmy Frisaura – Trumpet
Charlie Palmieri – Piano
Lino Frías – Piano
Dick Taco Meza – Tenor Sax
Mario Rivera – Baritone Sax
Bobby Rodríguez – Bass
Louie Ramírez – Percussion
Frankie Malabe – Conga
Kako – Timbales
Johnny Dandy Rodríguez – Bongos
Pedro Knight – Guru & Mentor
Chorus – Willie Torres, Santos Colón
Producers – Tito Puente, Joe Cain, Pancho Cristal, Al Santiago
Arrangements – Louie Ramírez, Memo Salamanca
Audio – Mario Salvati
Coordinator – Esmeralda Dering
Compilation – Al Santiago
Executive Producer – Jerry Masucci
Engineer – Fred Weinberg, Pat Jacques
Original Photography – Lee Marshal
Original Art & Design – Charlie Rosario