The musicians on Fania Records are some of the most skilled, most soulful players with heart & spirit…anywhere in the world…in any genre. Their joy for the music totally resonates with listeners, transcending time & cultural differences, whether you understand the lyrics or not.
Read this article to learn about the marvelous musicians from Latin America and New York City that made Salsa music beloved by millions and famous worldwide. Listen to the Spotify playlists below for many of my Fania favorites. Then explore the current Salsa music from Fania Records, and find out how they’ve enjoyed such success in recent years.
Watch some unbelievable videos below that show The Fania Allstars in their prime and the sensational stage show they could out on, as well as a video that captures the New York Salsa scene in its 1970s glory…
See The Fania All Stars going hard, live in Africa in 1974 during the music festival (which also had James Brown & others) in conjunction with
the Rumble In The Jungle in Zaire…”Ponte Duro”
Ahora sí — Pa’ que gozes estas Favoritas de La Fania…
Listen to & follow this Salsa Brava Spotify playlist…
¡Ponte Duro! — La Fania Salsa Dura
The early Fania All-Stars band was made up of:
- Johnny Pacheco, musical director and flute
- Larry Harlow on piano
- Bobby Valentín (later replaced by Salvador “Sal” Cuevas) on bass guitar
- Ray Barretto on conga (replaced later on by others, including Mongo Santamaría, Johnny “Dandy” Rodríguez and Eddie Montalvo)
- Roberto Roena on bongos
- Orestes Vilató on timbales (later replaced by Nicky Marrero due to a conflict with Ray Barreto, whose singer, Adalberto Santiago, formed La Típica 73 with Vilató, angering Barreto and forcing Pacheco to replace Vilató to prevent internal conflicts)
- Willie Colón, and others on trombones
- Roberto Rodríguez, Víctor Paz, Juan “Juancito” Torres and Héctor “Bomberito” Zarzuela on trumpets
- Yomo Toro on the cuatro (a small Puerto Rican guitar with 5 pairs of double strings).
The lead singers included vocalists from:
- The Colón, Pacheco, Barretto and Harlow bands…
- Héctor Lavoe, Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez, Adalberto Santiago, and Ismael Miranda were joined by…
- Santitos Colón (from the Tito Puente band), José Cheo Feliciano (from the Joe Cuba band) and Ismael Quintana (from the Eddie Palmieri orchestra)
- Early Fania All-Stars guests were Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, Joe Bataan, Monguito, Mongo Santamaría, Jr., Jimmy Sabater, La La, Louie Ramírez, Ralph Robles, Ricardo Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz. The 1970s lineup included Rubén Blades, Celia Cruz, Papo Lucca, Luigi Texidor, Jorge Santana (Carlos’s brother), drummer Billy Cobham and the African Funk superstar, Cameroonian sax player Manu Dibango, who appeared as a guest in concerts and live recordings in Puerto Rico and New York.
Hector Lavoe — “El Cantante de los Cantantes”
Then all the other greats chime in, telling their stories, singing their songs, and jamming out on the percussion with indestructible, unequaled heart & soul.
Ruben Blades — Salsa Icon of Panamá
Ruben Blades is up next with “Plastico.” A light disco Salsa groove with a dope bass line, and scathing lyrics. The plastic disco template is just a front for him to rail against plastic people with plastic minds, who only look at one’s appearance and not into one’s heart.
Willie Colón — El Malo
Willie Colón & Hector Lavoe were the dynamic duo of Salsa in the 70s. Everything they touched turned to gold, like the Puerto Rican Glimmer Twins. “Che Che Cole” was one of their biggest hits, and still easily gets people onto dance floors in Latin America.
Roberto Roena — Superstar of Puerto Rico
Roberto Roena is one of my favorite Fania All-Stars. He was a brilliant band leader & percussionist. His albums with Apollo Sound are phenomenal! Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound 5, from which we get “Avisale a Mi Contrario,” is the best one…check it out.
Watch him killing his bongos live in Africa in the above video, then do an incredible dance routine (that gives James Brown a run for his money) all while wearing his Evel Knievel 70s Salsa suit. Roberto Roena is still going strong!
“Maelo” — Ismael Rivera — “El Sonero Mayor”
My favorite Fania sonero (singer that invents lyrics on the fly & gets people fired up) was Ismael Rivera. His unique, deep voice and sabroso stylings are just so cool. He enjoyed much success with Cortijo y Su Combo and El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico before working with Fania.
Watch this real cool 70s style video of Ismael Rivera sharing good tropical music Salsa vibes in some funky Caribbean beach town…
Ray Barretto — Manos Duras
“Indestructible” is his indestructible Hard Salsa masterpiece. See him in action on the congas in the Fania All Stars Live In Africa video above. He served as musical director for the Fania All-Stars during its heyday.
Ismael Miranda — “El Niño Bonito de la Salsa”
The Lebrón Brothers — Phenomenal Familia Musical
Bobby Valentín — King of the Bass
Cheo Feliciano — La Voz Sensual
Celia Cruz — The Queen of Salsa
La Sonora Ponceña — Eternal Puerto Rican Supergroup
Johnny Pacheco – El Maestro
Johnny Pacheco is one of the most influential figures in Latin music, best known for being the creator of the Fania All-Stars, and some say it was he who coined the term “Salsa” to denote the genre. Pacheco’s career as a musician peaked when he joined forces with Jerry Masucci to create Fania Records, of which Pacheco was the CEO, creative director, and musical producer. There, he launched and solidified the careers of many artists who are now part of the history of the “Fania Family.”
Johnny Pacheco, Dominican flautist & charismatic band leader extraordinaire, made legendary albums with Celia Cruz and Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, among others. “Dulce Con Dulce” is a sweet, feel-good classic he made with Rodriguez.
The Fania Allstars — Latin Music Hall of Famers
Fania Records brought their whole stable of the world’s best Latin musicians together as The Fania All-Stars for amazing albums, and mythical concerts at Yankee Stadium, and elsewhere across Latin America. And of course, the legendary music fest in Zaire to celebrate the fight between Muhammed Ali & George Forman. Watch the whole concert here.
So, I close out this Spotify playlist with two classic, high-energy live ones. “Quitate Tu” & “Ponte Duro” show how the entire enormous band got together and gave it their all. Their live shows are the stuff of legend — it would have been so awesome to get to experience The Fania Allstars live in their 1970s prime!
Listen to this Spotify playlist of the Fania Allstars live albums…
Watch the awesome movie, Our Latin Thing, to see what this
whole phenomenon was like in in New York in the 70s…
Fania Records — Current Salsa Music
In addition to re-releasing the classic records in superior sound quality than ever before, they’ve asked some of the best re-mixers in the business — Bosq & Whiskey Barons, Quantic, Joe Clausell, Louie Vega (nephew to Hector Lavoe), and others — to remix the old school Salsa songs. They also have a great DJ Series with quality compilations coming from Gilles Peterson, DJ Le Spam, and more.
Listen to & follow my Favorite Fania Remixed Playlist…
Another notable Fania remix record is Ralfi Pagan Latin Soul Remixes (Compiled by Geko Jones). Ralfi Pagan was a Latin Soul singer with a one of a kind voice. Read his tragic story here.
Listen to Whiskey Barons’ Fania Funky Sabroso Remixes (the very best of all the Fania remix projects) and follow them on Soundcloud for more choice nuggets like these…