The following history of FANIA is taken directly from the FANIA website.
Like many American stories, the tale of Fania comes from the boroughs and inner city barrios of New York City. In the early 60’s young Latin musicians brought the music from their homelands into the Great Apple and thus began a great period of musical reinvention and free cooperation amongst the melting pot of cultures living in the city.
During that time of cultural change, musical life in New York was exciting and unpredictable. One could visit Greenwich Village and listen to the topical folk of Bob Dylan, or take that A train to Harlem and watch James Brown shred his R&B all over the Apollo Theater. Fania would evolve, out of this diverse and dynamic mix of ideas, into one of the most influential and beloved Latin musical institutions of our times.
The new sounds coming from Spanish Harlem and the Bronx were sometimes rough and dangerous but always real and immediate, like the New York streets that inspired them. Along the way, Fania artists mixed a cornucopia of styles that transcended the boundaries of traditional Latin music and set the path for the genres of salsa, boogalu, Latin R&B, and afro-Cuban jazz.
Throughout our memorable forty-two year history, Fania has been home to some of the greatest musicians in the history of 20th century music. Johnny Pacheco, Larry Harlow, Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe, Rubén Blades, and Celia Cruz are just a few of the musical legends that form part of the proud Fania legacy. To experience the joys and wonders of Fania is to know the depth and excellence that Latin music has to offer.
How was Fania started?
Fania was founded in New York City in the year 1964 by Italian-American lawyer Jerry Masucci and the Dominican born composer-bandleader Johnny Pacheco. Their shared passion for good music and innovation would turn Fania Records into the ideal birthplace for a new style of Latin music.
Fania got its name from an old Cuban song by the sonero (singer) Reinaldo Bolaño. A version of the song was included in Fania’s first record release, the excellent Cañonazo (Cannon Fire, 1964) by Johnny Pacheco.
During those early years, Fania would take its records to music lovers throughout New York City, sometimes selling their merchandise out of the trunks of cars. However, thanks to good word of mouth and the tremendous success of Fania’s first official recording, Johnny Pacheco’s Cañonaso, the label would forge ahead and expand its talent roster. With Masucci acting as the executive negotiator and Pacheco as the musical director, Fania quickly began to sign-up innovative young New York City artists such as Larry Harlow, Ray Barretto and Bobby Valentín.
What is Salsa and what does it have to do with Fania?
Salsa is not just about music; it’s a lifestyle full of passionate grooves and exotic twists. Whenever someone plays or dances to salsa a little bit of magic takes place.
The second album released under the Fania imprint was Larry Harlow’s 1965 Heavy Smoking. The record’s modern take on traditional afro-Caribbean music served as the template for what soon would come to be known as the Fania Sound.
Encouraged by the public’s positive reaction to the groundbreaking rhythms offered in the Heavy Smoking album and inspired by the creative spirit of the late 60’s, Fania musicians began to mix together the popular sounds of the day with the long-established Caribbean compositions of the past. This brand new musical stew would lead to the hard-hitting sounds that have come to be categorized as salsa music.
Salsa stars like Johnny Pacheco, Larry Harlow, Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colón, Ray Barretto, and Rubén Blades changed the way that people dressed, talked, and danced. Their music spoke to the hearts of young Latin men and women that were looking for something new to call their own.
The Fania music catalog enjoys the honor of documenting the history of the entire salsa movement and counts with an astounding array of talent that has never been duplicated. Widely acknowledged as the primary impulse behind the music style known as salsa; Fania remains the central destination for salsa lovers and can be heard on dance floors around the world.
Who are the Fania All Stars?
The Fania All Stars are one of the most beloved and influential groups in the history of American popular music. Having sold millions of records and cultivated a fervent following of fans throughout the world, the legendary Fania All Stars continue to be treasured and recognized as the quintessential Latin band of all times.
Conceived in New York City in 1968 by the renowned bandleader and Fania co-founder Johnny Pacheco, the Fania All Stars were a bona fide super-group with an ever revolving line-up that included all the top players of the salsa, Latin jazz, Latin soul and boogaloo music scene. Acclaimed stars such as Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe, Ray Barretto, and Rubén Blades are just a few of the heavyweights that have contributed to the Fania All Stars musical saga.
Celebrated for their star-studded-one of kind performances, the Fania All Stars music has been lovingly captured in a series of best-selling live recordings. Chief among those albums is the now legendary set “Fania All Stars: Live At The Cheetah Vol. 1 and 2”. Produced in 1972 by Fania’s very own keyboard virtuoso Larry Harlow, the Live At The Cheetah recordings showcase the full Fania family at the heart of New York City’s jam-packed Cheetah Lounge. Considered by critics and fans to be the epitome of the Latin sound, the Live At The Cheetah Vol. 1 and Vol.2 albums produced a collection of once in a lifetime classic reinterpretations of hits like “Quitate Tu” and “Descarga Fania All Stars”.
During their long and illustrious history, the New York City based, Fania All Stars have taken their incendiary rhythms to every known corner of the world, and left us with an extraordinary catalog of unforgettable performances that will seize the hearts and souls of music lovers for many generations to come.
What music styles is Fania known for?
Fania was never about just one style of music. Although widely known for its exceptional catalog of salsa, Fania was also active in carrying the many other varieties present in Latin music. With over 1,300 albums and more than 40 best selling artists under its roster, Fania has a treasure throve of musical jewels. Tumbao, clave, Latin jazz, and Latin R&B are just a few of the sounds to be found in the Fania imprint.
Following the acquisition of the Tico-Alegre music label, Fania consolidated its position as the leader in tropical music, aggregating icons like Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and La Lupe to its impressive talent lineup. Furthermore, Fania artists like the afro-Filipino Joe Bataan made insteps onto the future with their excursions into Latin R&B. His songs like Gypsy Woman and Subway Joe sound as fresh today as they once did 30 years ago. Bataan combined the music he heard in the streets of his Spanish Harlem neighborhood with the Funky music rhythms from African-American music, the result would lead to classic albums such as St. Latin Days Massacre (1972), a futuristic masterpiece that preceded modern day R&B.
Meanwhile the gifted conga player known as Joe Cuba was busy setting the charts ablaze; his recording of Bang Bang (1967) was the first to add English lyrics to salsa music. The Joe Cuba Sextet would ultimately unite the many influences of New York life and alert English speakers of this funky and influential style.
The impact of Bataan’s and Cuba’s funky boogalu would also reach Europe, where their New York street tough sound found its way into the hearts and dancing-feet of hip music aficionados throughout the continent. The record Latin Soul Man (1969) by Pete Rodriguez would blur the line between Latin music and soul music, proving that in the end great artists make superior music and rules are just there to be broken. Other artists like Ismael Rivera would find their inspirations with sounds from the past. Known for his revival of the Puerto Rican afro-Caribbean music style known as bomba, Ismael Rivera’s music was living proof that innovation could come from looking back at other golden eras. Fans of his work have included the reggae legend Bob Marley and the reggeaton star Tego Calderón.
What’s so special about Fania and the seventies?
The 70’s decade came to represent a golden age for Fania and salsa music in general. During those years the demand for the sounds of salsa would reach a fever pitch amongst its clamoring audiences and Fania musicians like Ray Barretto, Cheo Feliciano and Papo Lucca would consistently up the ante with new releases that took the genre to new musical heights.
For many 70’s salsa aficionados the place to dance and be seen was New York’s glamorous Cheetah Ballroom. During one very special evening in august 1971, salsa lovers were treated to a historic concert at the Cheetah featuring the renowned Fania All-Stars. This special event was lovingly documented in the film Our Latin Thing/Nuestra Cosa, which includes an earth-shattering version of the classic salsa anthem Quítate Tu (Get Out of My Way) that still stands to this day as one of the most brilliant performances and songs of the decade.
Making the most out this new Fania sound was a young Nuyorican trombonist by the name of Willie Colón. Assisted by gifted singer Héctor Lavoe, Mr. Colón’s music captured the essence and excitement of what it was like to be a young streetwise Latino living in New York City during the 70’s.
Colón’s Fania recordings such as Cosa Nuestra (1970), Crime Pays (1972) and Lo Mato (To Kill Him, 1973) are full of larger than life tales that brim with realism and passion. A pioneer in his field, Willie was the first one to truly modernize the traditional Latin rhythms of clave and tumbao with contemporary arrangements that appealed to a younger generation. Fania’s in-house graphic artist Izzy Sanabria designed a series of album covers that marvelously visualized Mr. Colon’s fashion and are acknowledged today as true classics of 70’s design.
In 1975 Héctor Lavoe makes his debut as a solo artist with the release of the era defining
La Voz (The Voice). The record would turn Lavoe into a Latin icon, with songs like the spiritual Todopoderoso (The Almighty) and the Johnny Pacheco penned Mi Gente (My People) confirming his status as the best male vocalist of his generation.
No history of Fania or the 70’s however brief would be complete without mentioning the Rubén Blades and Willie Colón best selling salsa masterpiece Siembra (Cultivate 1978). A funky mix of progressive sounds, politics and social commentary, the evergreen Siembra remains one of the most beloved and influential Latin albums of all time, with classic cuts like Pedro Navaja and Plastico remaining in constant rotation in DJ’s playlists throughout the world.
What does the future hold for Fania?
Beyond the 70’s, the Fania All Stars continued to shine playing salsa for millions of adoring fans around the globe and creating records that resonated with new generations of music lovers.
The acquisition of Fania Records by the Miami based Emusica in 2005 marks the beginning of a new and exciting era for the legendary label. Starting in 2006, Emusica will be overseeing the restoration of the Fania catalog. The re-issues will include original cover designs with extensive English/Spanish liner notes and for the first time in history, the music will be available in a completely re-mastered sound that restores the glory of the Fania sound. Expect many more surprises and special future announcements because Fania, the label that embodies the Latin Experience is back!