FANIA: The Music Revolution That Started Salsa

In 1971 a small record label from New York gathered all its music stars for one concert. The band was presented as the “Fania All Stars”. After 2 years of shows they performed in front of 45,000 fans at the Yankee stadium. After 3 years, they achieved world stardom.

In 1930, the clarinet and trumpet player Mario Bauza arrived to New York running away from racism in Cuba. He became famous for playing the melody of the swing song “Stepping”. It was the first approach of the Latin soul and the American genres. Years later, in the 50’s the “Manicero” became the first Cuban success song in the U.S. Other important names by that time were Tito Puente, Joe Bataan and Machito and his “Afro Cuban”

In the decade of the 60’s, Harlem was “the barrio” where half a million latinos (mostly Puertoricans) became an important social group in the city. They call themselves NewYoricans. Musicians such as Mongo Santamaria, Joe Cuba and Pete Rodrigues started to mix their Latin music influences with the American music like R&B, blues and Funk. The result was a genre named Bugaloo, which was pretty successful. Some of the hits of that time were “Watermelon man”, “Bang Bang” and “I like it like that”.




Fania records was founded in 1964 for the Dominican musician Johnny Pacheco and the Italo-American ex police officer Jerry Masucci. In 1967, a sixteen years old-trombonistfrom New York Willy Colon, was sign for Fania. There was only one condition, that Hector Lavoe who was a “Jibaro”(mountain-dwelling peasants)  from Puerto Rico, became the singer of the project.  This reunion changed the Latin music forever. Willy Colon releases his first album “El Malo” which became the first great hit for the company.


Their music started to change taking every time more distance from Bugaloo style. Hector Lavoe started to make some his famous “skas” improvisation at the end of the songs. Thanks to his rural origins from in Puerto Rico and his particular voice, Hector was identified as an idol for the Latin music fans. In addition, Willy traveled many times to Puerto Rico and started to mix the Jibaro feeling by using “El Cuatro”. El Cuatro is a small guitar, similar to ukulele, which is played in many countries in Latin America. The best hit of that time was “La Murga”.



In the beginning of the 70’s the success of Fania was triggered thanks to one concert made in an old ice skate space.  The most important musicians of the Latin music history was gathered to play in a big orquestra conducted by Johnny Pacheco.  Some of the big starts in that concert were Pete Rodriguez, Santos Colon, Cheo Feliciano among others. That night was called “El Nacimiento de la salsa” (The born of the Salsa).


The concert was a huge success not only because the music. The event was filmed and the movie was produced and shown in theatres as “La Cosa Latina”. It was considered the Woodstock of the Latin music. The movie was a phenomenon in New York and in many Latin American countries.



This economical success led Fania to absorb some small competitor labels becoming the only salsa record label in N.Y. It importance can be compared with Motown as a genre and label. The Salsa started to be the symbol that develops an identity within the Latin people.

Jerry Masucci started to make business of this boom and most of the time the contract were unfair sharing few revenues to the musicians. This businessman took advantage of his position and kept all the copyrights of the repertoire. Actually Tite Curet Alonso who was the composer of all the greatest hits of Fania had to work as a port man to survive. He died in poverty. One of his famous song is “Anacaona”.



On the other hand Masucci was a man with great business vision. He wanted to make a second film so he rented the Yankee stadium to make a huge concert. That nigh 45,000 fans enjoy the historic concert. One remarkable fact is that people started to go to the field and took the stage and the concert had to be suspended.

The film was incomplete so Masucci decided to make another historic gig. This time Fania All Stars flew to Puerto Rico. The song “Mi Gente” became the Salsa’s anthem. And it was the first time that the legend of the afro-Cuban music Celia Cruz joined the band. Her powerful rhythm and voice was the cherry on the top of Fania.



The second movie lack of commercial success. Nevertheless Fania All Stars and Celia Cruz started a world tour becoming the ambassadors of the Salsa. They made concerts in most of the counties in Latin America, Japan, U.K., Africa reaching huge success everywhere. Moreover the biggest success came when the young composer and singer from Panama Ruben Blades recorded his first album with Willy Colon. Blades brought to the Salsa style sophisticated lyrics full of social and political content. From that point the Salsa was not only to dance but to create conscience in the Latin society. By the time there was  a social and political instability in Panamá, Puerto Rico Nicaragua etc.

One of his first hits was “El Número 6”. Inspired in a New York’s subway train. It was recorded for “Bobby Rodriguez y la Compañía”.


Willy Colon and Ruben Blades recorded the album considered the “Sgt. Pepper” of the Salsa: “Siembra”. This album sold 500,000 only in Caracas Venezuela. The biggest hit of the album is the song “Pedro Navajas”.


By the end of the 70’s Fania was starting to break up. Jerry Masucci was fed up of the stress and decided to quit the company. Despite of the success the personal relation between Colon and Blades started to break down. In addition Pedro Lavoe started to have drugs and alcohol addiction problems. This song composed by Blades and sang by Lavoe became the most characteristic song for him: “El cantante”.