Fifty years of the Fania All Start concert
At the Manhattan Cheetah Club in New Yor
In the early 1980s it counted Izzy Sanabria in his Latin NY magazine that The worldwide growth of New York’s Latin music can be attributed to its label “salsa,” a term that almost all major musicians have resisted. The main objection is that they believed they were being categorized. What they did not see is that the term itself is what made the world notice what they were creating … The commercial message that I sent through the magazine is that salsa was a new sound created by sons and daughters of Caribbean immigrants. It was music based on the rhythms and roots of his parents’ homeland, but updated and modernized through the influence and fast-paced New York lifestyle. And one of the main events that led to the explosion of Latin music was the movie Our Latin Thing, filmed at the Cheetah club in 1971..
The summer of 1971 was a very hot summer. It was 35 degrees on average, making it especially muggy on August nights. It’s the New York of hot-pants girls in Manhattan and boys playing shirtless next to an open fire hydrant in Harlem. That is why the Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park was so popular, where great artists paraded since June 24: Nancy Wilson, Buddy Rich, Ike & Tina Turner, The Beach Boys, Ravi Shankar, Ella Fitzgerald, The Supremes, Peggy Lee, The Allman Brothers, Roberta Flack, Dave Brubeck, Kris Kristofferson, Cannonball Adderley O John Denver; and on the Latin side, Mongo Santamaria, Herbie Mann, Cal Tjader, Willie Bobo and the Joe Cuba Sextet. So until August 28. But look, how curious! On Thursday 26 of that month there were no concerts at the festival.
Taking advantage of that date Jerry Masucci made the decision to do the all-star Fania Records concert at the Cheetah, located on 52nd Street halfway between Eighth Avenue and Broadway. The Cheetah had been founded in 1966 by the French businessman Olivier Coquelin in partnership with the American Borden Stevenson. The Cheetah was the first nightclub to be considered as such in New York, but it had two venues: first, one on 53rd Street and then another on 52nd between Eighth and Broadway. In the late 60s Ralph Mercado, a New Yorker of Dominican descent, a New Yorker of Dominican descent who ran a boogaloo and Latin soul club on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, 3 & 1, appeared at the office of the two businessmen and proposed Thursday as Latin night, with minimal consumption , and Tuesdays as the night of the women. That activity at the Cheetah Club, which he did in partnership with Joe Cavallaro, made Mercado the most famous Latino promoter in town.
We think of several places to do the concert, I would confess Larry Harlow, one of the ideologues of the project. I first proposed the Fillmore East, in the East Village, which was from Billy Graham and it had become a symbol of psychedelia. There they played John Lennon, Frank Zappa, Led Zeppelin… I had played there with my rock band, Ambergris. But we were unlucky.
Indeed, the Fillmore East died of success. The venue had become too small to house so many people eager for big concerts. So Graham closed it in June of that year. Masucci then told them to do it in Central Park, but since the Schaefer Music Festival was being held, they were not given permission. And that’s where the possibility of the Cheetah arose.
The Cheetah was important because it had teenagers dancing disco and Latin music, and developing a new Latin lifestyle in New York.says Sanabria. They wore colorful clothes, platform shoes (the afro and long hair were just beginning), and the ladies had a very special sexy look with dark lipstick and big earrings, which was very Latin. Sanabria is not mistaken, LIFE magazine would call this fashion a “gipsy look”, while a very popular form of dance on the East Coast called Hustle would come from there.
But why a concert by the musicians of a record label, when their first experience in 1968 had not yielded any financial results? Ralph Mercado said that when he sat down with Masucci to talk about the Cheetah, he already had the idea of filming that concert of the stars of Fania. It was then that we joined the two projects and that was when the explosion of salsa in the world began in August 1971.
That idea of filming was an occurrence of Leon guest. Gast was a New Jersey filmmaker and photographer who had become known with a television documentary series called High Adventure With Lowell Thomas, and which aired in mid-1964 on CBS. Then he dedicated himself to the world of fashion: Esquire, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar … And he got the music bug, taking the photos that would illustrate the album covers Fania All Stars Live at the Red Garter, that experience of 1968. But in 1971 Gast wanted to go further.
I just wanted to rollLeon Gast confessed. I had a budget that I expected Masucci to approve of me. But the budget went up as everyone gave ideas. And I was approved!. Gast’s initial idea was to shoot the concert and then take each of the musicians and do some extra takes in their everyday life. The inclusion of other aspects of Latino life in New York were not his ideas, but Larry Harlow’s and Ismael miranda, who were excited about the project.
Harlow came up with a visit to a botanist and show the influence of Santeria on street life. And Miranda took them to a clandestine cockfight in a basement where they couldn’t reveal its location, because fighting was forbidden. Everything was filmed over two days on the Lower East Side, an area where Miranda moved like a fish in water; and in the so-called “Devil’s Kitchen” on the West Side. The scenes of Johnny pacheco as Pied Piper of Hamelin and of Ray Barretto As a seller of scraps or pirogues, they were the result of common agreements. But everything had the concert as a backdrop. When they talked about filming in the Cheetah, Mercado and Masucci thought about making it profitable, says Sanabria. I was hired to design the posters and create the radio advertising that invited people to be part of the history of Latin cinema and music.. Sanabria used the music of 2001 Space Odyssey, specifically Thus Spoke Zarathustra from Richard Strauss. Word spread that there would be television cameras, and the public attended as if it were a casting for American Idol. To everyone’s surprise, the Cheetah was filled with approximately 5,000 Latinos.
But not everyone agrees. No one knew they were filming the movie. Nobody… What happens is that that was so big and nobody expected it. We couldn’t start. We couldn’t get in! The firefighters came, that was a mess. That was an incredible mess. We had to look for a door back there. There were some guys with video; they record everything there. But from there down it was that the movie came up. Who claims this is Roena roena, and although they seem the words of a clueless, there is some reason.
Jerry Masucci was so enthusiastic about the idea of the film that the music took a back seat. Johnny Pacheco says that Masucci called him one afternoon in August 1971 and said: Ralphy Mercado is promoting in a salon, the Cheetah, around here, and he wants to do a concert. Then Pacheco replied: Well, and when are we going to do it? And Masucci said: Thursday. And it was Tuesday! And anguished Pacheco asked him: What music are we going to make? And Masucci: You can do something.
The first thing Johnny Pacheco did was call Bobby Valentine and the two went to the Howard Johnson Hotel that was diagonal from the Fania Records offices and began to write a repertoire. Thus arose the proposals for two songs: You get out of the way and Male Cimarrón. After a while Roberto Roena joined them and proposed Hard Bridge. They were exhausting days with some sad consequence
I had to go to New York for two or three months, says Bobby Valentin, and I think that was part of my divorce from my marriage, because I spent it traveling. Jerry Masucci called me and said: Bobby you have to come to New York, because we are going to write music and we are going to do all this … But for the idea that he had, it was not the ideal music.
Roberto Roena says that on Wednesday, August 25, important people from the Fania label were summoned. Some were in New York by chance and others lived there. They were given the idea and decided to rehearse the whole thing the next day during the sound check. It was so amazingsays Roena, that we rehearsed in the afternoon, and most of the numbers weren’t there. It was like 5:30 to 6 in the afternoon, and we were Johnny Pacheco, Bobby Valentín, I don’t remember who else, and I were at the Howard Johnson. The point is that the three of us went to the fourth to change the repertoire that was played at night. We create something else between 6 and 9 at night.
But here there are also discrepancies. Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, other newcomers from Puerto Rico, carried a theme titled Now i come, with an arrangement that according to them was very complicated. Richie went overboard with the arrangements again and no one could touch himsays Cruz. So we did a download. I told them: when we get there I tell them what to play, but right there, at the moment.
Ray confirms: I said to myself: well, here are the best musicians in Latin music. That is going to be tremendous and I jumped in to make an arrangement, and I remember that we went to rehearsal, and I break rehearsal, and Bobby had to go buy a hat, I don’t know; and he says to me: well, I’ll see you right now and then we rehearse the voices. Bobby came in about three or four hours and I was still fighting with them to play the intro.
It was a problem of timing, without a doubt, because there was plenty of quality in that band: Larry Harlow, piano; Bobby Valentin, bass; Orestes Vilató, timbales; Ray Barretto, congas; Roberto Roena, bongoes; Roberto Rodriguez, Larry Spencer and Hector Zarzuela, trumpets; Barry Rogers, Reynaldo Jorge and Willie Colon, trombones; Johnny Pacheco, direction and flute; Yomo Toro, four; Saints colón, Hector Lavoe, Ismael Miranda, Pete Count Rodriguez, Adalberto Santiago and Cheo Feliciano, voices; as well as Ricardo Ray and Bobby Cruz.
But the matter could have been more stellar and something happened.
In the promotional brochure designed by Sanabria and sold for a dollar at the entrance, there were other names as part of the cast that night: Monguito Santamaría, Justo Betancourt, Pete Bonet, Monguito The only Quian, Ralfi Pagan, Markolino Dimond and the bands The conspiracy and The different. Not only that. In the emblematic illustration where the faces of the musicians appear in each letter of Fania All Stars Live, there is also Louie Ramírez.
I was a bit rebellious. I got into a fight with Jerry Masucci when they made the question about the movie Our Latin Thing, says Pete Bonet. They wanted the dance at the Cheetah, they wanted the recording and the movie, and pay us $ 50. And I told them: what is it? You know! And I decided not to go and Louie Ramírez decided not to go … But we are in the original poster.
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