Roberto Roena is probably the most famous bongo player in salsa. He has released many records as a leader of his own group, the Apollo Sound, and has been an integral part of the Fania All Stars since Jerry Masucci asked him to join the orchestra in 1971.

Cuts such as “Cui Cui” and “Coco Seco” ensure that he will always be remembered as one of the kings of salsa. Fans of the Fania Rare Groove series will find in his early albums an interesting glimpse into Roena’s aesthetic – a distinctly Puerto Rican, not Nuyorican, attempt at fusing mainstream American music with a Latin sensibility. Apollo Sound 2 is the rarest of those albums. We are proud to reissue it. Originally a dancer, Roena got his first break as a member of Rafael Cortijo’s group. After Cortijo migrated to New York, Roena joined El Gran Combo and remained with the band until the late ’60s. It was at that point that he formed the Apollo Sound.

Although he had already made an album as a leader in 1966 for Alegre Records, this was the first time that he had his own working band with a unique sound of its very own. Speaking to Mary Kent, the bongosero explained that his musicians were into rock and Latin music. The peculiar horn section of two trumpets, a trombone and tenor sax was influenced by bands like Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears. He also explained that this unusual mix could not remain together for long. While it did, however, it sounded great – particularly within a live context. The album was recorded during February and March of 1970 at Trans Recording Studio in Santurce, Puerto Rico. It found the band taking a step forward from its debut album in terms of the power and confidence of the performances. The Apollo’s take on Santana’s “Shades Of Time” is fantastic. “Let It Rain” boasts an amazing R&B groove that sounds ahead of its time both in American and Latino terms, but the whole orchestra is firing on all cylinders with it. “Puerto Rican Blues” has a mighty jazz groove, whereas “Apollo Special” mixes jazz and Latin rhythms to great effect. When it was released, it was clear that the record company felt that the American angle was not the way to go in promoting Roberto and the Apollo Sound. The Latin tracks of the album were selected as its three singles. The first one coupled “Chotorro” with “El Barrio Sin Guapo,” followed by “Te Le Voy A Jurar”/“Yo Soy Candelón” and “Mandigore”/”Tani.” The band was starting to get press attention in Puerto Rico and they gained attention in the U.S. as they started to perform there regularly. Even though non-Latin rhythms would still be employed on subsequent Apollo Sound recordings, the intense fusion of these two sounds would cease after Apollo Sound 2. Not necessarily a bad thing, considering that the salsa that followed was astounding and we can still enjoy the brilliant fusions that make up the band’s first two albums.

Liner Notes written by Dean Rudland