Willie Colón & Rubén Blades – Siembra
1978 Fania Records (original)
2021 Craft Recordings / Concord (reissue)
If you are only going to have one salsa album in your collection, you could do much worse than a copy of Siembra. For fans of the music, I’ve heard many stories about the opening track, Plástico, that are typically along the lines of “I remember when I first heard that song and it blew my mind. Singer and lyricist Rubén Blades had only broken out of working in Fania’s mail room a few years prior — his first recording, if I’m not mistaken, was on Ray Barretto’s 1975 album, Barretto. And he seemed determined to do what activist Felipe Luciano, then of the Young Lords,was entreating young salsa musicians to do in this cool documentary of the period: create music that moved away from commercialism (and by the late 70’s Fania had perfect a “formula” for hit records, and was sticking to it…) and instead spoke to the lived experience of the struggling communities who embraced the music, both in New York and throughout Latin America.
So don’t be taken aback by the opening bars of disco that great your ears in the opening bars of Plástico: it’s not an experiment in musical hyrbids (which, if you frequent this blog, you know I’ll defend ’till the end of time), since it doesn’t recur anywhere else throughout the albums 43 minutes. Instead it is a musical meta-commentary on the lyrics about materialism and conformity, lyrics which conclude with a hopeful and exultant call to resist the crushing sameness. And the best news is:the rest of the album is equally good as this opening cut.
On this last day of this 12 Days of Christmas series, I’m trying to do my small part to take back January 6 for what it has traditionally been throughout Latin America (and not just the Spanish-speaking parts of it) — Three Kings’ Day – instead of the shitshow that date currently symbolizes in the U.S.
Fania Records SLP 340
Original release, 1967
1990’s CD reissue
Emerging out of the hybrid crossroads of boogaloo, R&B, Latin Soul, and the nascent salsa scene, Joe Bataan was defying categorization and bending genres long before it was hip. The first album I heard by him was “Subway Joe”, but it was years before I realized he didn’t actually sing any of the Spanish-language numbers in his repertoire – those, in the early days at least, were handled by Joe Pagan. For a fascinating glimpse into the complexities of being an Afro-Filipino in the barrio, you can watch this interview with him done by Red Bull Academy. Although I personally like that there is an entire 2 hours of it, somebody could probably edit that down a bit, for the non-fanatical. Continue reading
The Alegre All Stars – s/t
Vinyl transfer in 24-bit/192 kHz | FLAC | 300 dpi scans | Latin, Descarga, Salsa
1961 Alegre Records LPA-810 || Repress, 1960s/70s || Mono
This is the first of several albums made by The Alegre All Stars and the only one with Johnny Pacheco on flute, who left the label to form Fania soon after. It features Charlie Palmieri on piano and Barry Rogers on trombone. It a big way, it set the template for one component of what would become known as “salsa”: in particular, the loose jamming that would become a trademark of the Fania All-Stars live performances (at least through the mid-1970s). The vocalists are no slouches either: Dioris Valladares, Yayo “El Indio” Paquero, and Rudy Calzado were all well-known in their day and deserve more renown. The album features lots of studio banter and even the sound of drinks being poured: the informal atmosphere was deliberate, with aim to capturing the kind of vibe that Israel ‘Cahcao’ Lopez had on his famous Cuban “descarga” sessions. Continue reading
Mambos, cha chas, son montunos, pachangas, Latin jazz… Tito Puente played all of those, and he apparently never liked the catch-all term “salsa” (and he stayed out of Fania Records’ orbit, for the most part). And he has a point – each of the sub-genres and rhythms (and there are many more than those listed here) have their own backstory and sensibility….
Joe Cuba Sextet – Wanted Dead or Alive (Bang! Bang! Push, Push, Push)
1975 Fania/Tico Repress SLP-1146, Mono mix ||| 1966 (Original release)
You can’t really talk about the Latin boogaloo without mentioning the song “Bang! Bang!”. The Joe Cuba Sextet had been around the flourishing New York scene for a while by this time, and had a bunch of records under their collective belts, so you can’t exactly call this a ‘breakthrough album.’ But the song – allegedly written on the spot during a live gig – catapulted them to newfound heights of popularity. But it’s definitely not all boogaloo either on this record, and the closing tune here, Cocinando, jams for 9 minutes in what is a prescient template of the genre that would soon become known as “salsa” around the world. This is just fun music in every way, and a great way to get your summer started if you are in the Northern Hemisphere! Continue reading
Joe Cuba Sextet – Vagabundeando! (Hangin’ Out)
1964 Tico Records SLP-1112
1990s CD reissue (undated)
The Good Doctor has been busy shaping young minds and maybe some hearts in recent days, toiling away on a class where I hopefully provoke them to think about music in different ways than they had before. And while there is almost always a soundtrack involved, I have precious little time to share it with you all. Here is another offering from the Joe Cuba Sextet, pre-boogaloo, containing so many of the elements of what would soon become the global phenomenon known as ‘salsa’. Personal favorites here include Quinto Sabroso, Nina Nina, and El Raton, this last track a composition from Cheo Feliciano whose vocals grace the album. Continue reading