Salsa Explosion: The Sound of Fania Records
Starbucks Entertainment / Fania Records (4/3/07)
Latin / Salsa
Last week I went to Starbucks to get my usual Frappuccino fix. Yes, I go to Starbucks, and no, it’s not because I want to be a yuppie. There just so happens to be one in the building in which I work (there is also another one across the parking lot), and while at first it was more of convenience thing, I’ve become hopelessly addicted to Frappuccinos. I realize they are overpriced but I still buy them. Much like gasoline, I can’t run without them. But anyway, I was in Starbucks and noticed that they had a new dulce de leche-flavored Frappuccino, so I gave it a shot. I also saw that they had a new Salsa Explosion compilation at the counter, and I was drawn in by the fact that it was from Fania Records, so I bought that, too. I ended up liking one of my purchases, while the other was incredibly unimpressive. Lucky for me, the CD was the one I liked, and since I dropped more money on that (but not much), I was glad.
Fania Records, also known in certain circles as “the Latin Motown”, is the New York-based record label that was founded in the 1960s and would act as the vanguard at the time in exposing the world to Salsa music. While it never enjoyed the same popularity as the then-also-emerging rock movement, without Fania, the world would have never been exposed to such stars as Celia Cruz, Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, Larry Harlow, RubÃ©n Blades, HÃ©ctor LavoÃ© and Tito Puente.
While this is meant as more or less a crash course in Salsa for yuppies, it ends up being one of the best compilations I’ve bought in a very long time. Willie ColÃ³n’s “Che Che ColÃ©” opens up the set (and ends it with LavoÃ© on “Todo Teine Su Final”) with an infectious dance track that should have anyone moving. I feel like I’m back in MÃ©rida, where my friend and I stumbled upon a dingy Salsa bar across the street from our hotel. It was the real f*cking deal: full band, waiters in tuxedo shirts, cheap tequila… everything you’ve ever wanted but didn’t get because you decided to go to a resort instead.
Joe Cuba’s “TÃº Lo Sientes” and Ralfi PagÃ¡n’s “Brother Where Are You?” mixes Otis Redding-style soul and Bob Marley-style reggae, respectively, with a Salsa backdrop. They’re good, but they (Joe Cuba in particular) sort of stick out like a sore thumb amid the rest of the set, which is pretty much straight-up Salsa, and in the end it ends up disrupting the flow of the rest of the album. The goal was to show that Salsa flirted with pop fusion, but those tracks could have been omitted and I would not have minded.
Eddie Palmieri’s “Bilongo” and “Pachito EchÃ©” by Celia Cruz and Tito Puente are like a tropical jazz explosion, while Ray Barretto’s “El Nuevo Barretto” does early Salsa much justice. There’s even a track thrown in by the Fania All-Stars, a “supergroup” that was created to serve as the archetype for the label. They would end up outliving the label itself, as it was sold to Emusica in 2005.
As far as the remastering goes, most of the tracks sound pretty crisp, while a choice few were more than likely benefitted by the process though the limitations of the original medium are definitely there. If you can get past that, the compilation is still very good.
Even a slow track like “O Mi Shango” by Mongo SantamarÃa is danceable, showing that this whole compilation moves like gangbusters. If you are not at least tapping a foot or nodding your head while listening to this, you just don’t get it. You’ve either got no appreciation for anything except a small niche of music, or you are deaf. Either way, I feel sorry for you. As for the rest of you who have never heard of Fania Records but enjoy jazz and Latin, buy this before it gets replaced at the Starbucks counter by the new John Mellencamp. Hurry.