Craft Latino is proud to present an all-analog reissue of Live at the Cheetah, Vol. 1, the iconic Fania live album responsible for officially launching the salsa explosion that emerged from New York and swiftly conquered the entire planet. Consisting of three electrifying tracks and a brief intro, the album was recorded on the night of August 26, 1971, just as the Fania label was complementing its growing catalogue of studio classics with the concert performances of a mega-orchestra made up entirely of stars. Never in music history has a band boasted the inclusion of most of the key protagonists in a genre within a single outfit. The Fania All Stars did just that, and the results speak for themselves: The Cheetah gig showcased an orchestra of virtuosos singing and playing harmoniously in a vibrant display of Latino power that continues to feel relevant today.
Out on October 21st and available for pre-order now, the new edition of Live at the Cheetah, Vol. 1 was cut all-analog from the original tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio and pressed on 180-gram audiophile quality black vinyl in a single-pocket gatefold tip-on jacket. A Yellow Smoke Vinyl variant will be available exclusively on our store. The album will also be released in hi-res digital for the first time, including 192/24 and 96/24 formats on October 21st.
In interviews, the late Johnny Pacheco described Fania All Stars concerts as family gatherings. Perhaps because they were already enjoying wide acclaim on their own throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and the rest of Latin America, its members were happy to lend their individual talents to a bigger cause. The summer of 1971 edition of the Fania All Stars was arguably its best. In terms of vocalists, it included Héctor Lavoe, Pete ‘El Conde’ Rodríguez, Adalberto Santiago, a very young Ismael Miranda and the elder statesman of the bunch, Tito Puente orchestra veteran Santos Colón. The instrumental lineup was equally mind blowing: Ray Barretto on congas – fresh off the masterful The Message LP; Roberto Roena on bongó – just as his Apollo Sound band was taking off in Puerto Rico; Orestes Vilató on timbales; Bobby Valentín on bass; Larry Harlow on piano – admired in New York for his rugged Afro-Cuban sessions with Ismael Miranda; Reynaldo Jorge and none other than Willie Colón on trombone; Roberto Rodríguez on trumpet and boricua folk master Yomo Toro on tres; Cheo Feliciano, Bobby Cruz and Ricardo “Richie” Ray appear as special guests courtesy of Vaya Records. Pacheco played the flute, sang backup vocals and acted as the outfit’s buoyant MC and bandleader.
After an extended intro by Pacheco and legendary radio DJ Symphony Sid, the band launches into Ray Barretto’s “Descarga Fania” featuring Adalberto Santiago on lead vocals and showcasing the deep influence that traditional Cuban dance music had on the vintage salsa sound.
1971 was also the year when Puerto Rican singer Cheo Feliciano emerged victorious from an extended period of personal turmoil, and – with the assistance of his trusted friend, fellow boricua composer Tite Curet Alonso – released Cheo, the most ambitious and fully realized album of his career. Cheo opens up, famously, with the raucous “Anacaona,” a song that mirrors Feliciano’s own narrative of rage and vindication. It is hard to imagine Live at the Cheetah without the fiery reading of “Anacaona” in concert. Partly due to Larry Harlow’s stunning piano solo, it rivals the studio version in passion and warmth.
The album ends with a 16-minute jam that would become a tradition in subsequent Fania All Stars concerts: “Quítate Tú,” the joyous Pacheco composition that serves as an excuse for the orchestra’s star vocalists to take turns improvising soneos where they jokingly boast of their individual superiority against the other members’ talent. The air of camaraderie is palpable in every single chorus.
Years of splendor would follow for both the Fania label and its dream orchestra. Not only a mythical concert at Yankee Stadium and an African tour, but also the expansion of the salsa aesthetic in an ongoing effort to create soundscapes that were ever more thrilling, progressive and experimental. Still, nothing compares to the adrenaline of the moment when it all came together. More than 50 years after the fact, Live at the Cheetah, Vol. 1 delivers an aural snapshot of the specific time when the rhythm of salsa found itself, against all odds, on top of the world.