August 10, 2020
In a tiny club, 2,000 peacocking punters witnessed a historic gathering of talent for this mini-festival, showcasing a music craze on the brink of a breakthroughRead the rest of our 20 iconic festival sets seriesIt’s the evening of 26 August 1971, and on the cramped stage of the Cheetah – a glitzy discotheque on Broadway and 53rd in Manhattan decorated in aluminium, black velvet and thousands of multicoloured lightbulbs – gather some of the finest Latin musicians of their era. Included among them are trombonist Willie Colón, conga-player Ray Barretto, pianist Larry Harlow and a murderers’ row of vocalists, featuring Cheo Feliciano, Héctor Lavoe, Ismael Miranda, Bobby Cruz, Adalberto Santiago and Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez. These are the artists who have helped coin salsa, that seamy fusion of Afro-Caribbean and South American sounds forged within the barrios of New York, with a name aficionados detest but grooves no living soul can resist.
Iconic music festival sets: Fania All-Stars, New York City 1971
Two years from now, these Fania All-Stars will headline a sold-out show at Yankee Stadium before more than 45,000 fans. Tonight, they have to settle for merely packing this 2,000-capacity club. But the evening will become an important triumph for Johnny Pacheco and his business partner Jerry Masucci, who conceived this festival of Latin luminaries as a showcase for their record label, Fania Records, and hired photographer Leon Gast to film the show for a documentary about the scene the label was a part of.
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