Salsa Music Best All-Time “Coristas”: Part 2


The chorus is an integral part of Salsa music. Good “coristas” can make or break a song. In this Part 2 of the best “coristas” I’ll cover some of the more contemporary “coristas”.

Their work may overlap with some of the “coristas” I covered in Part 1. However, even if the chronology is not exact, they merit to be mentioned among the best.

Adalberto Santiago as Fania’s Premier “Corista”

Adalberto Santiago was the lead singer for Ray Barretto’s band for many years, and then moved on to co-found the Tipica 73, and Los Kimbos. The Puerto Rican singer was probably one of the best “coristas” around, as he could blend his powerful voice in tones necessary to make a chorus sound harmonious and “full”.

Adalberto understood how harmony and contrast are used in a chorus to make them more effective. Perhaps because of this skill and his voice, he was one of the most sought-after “coristas” during the golden years of Salsa music in the 70’s, 80’s, and even into the 90’s.

Tito Allen and Nestor Sanchez; Chorus Masters

Besides Adalberto Santiago, other two singers that worked the New York scene as “coristas” later in the 80’s where Tito Allen and Nestor Sanchez.

Tito Allen and Adalberto Santiago
Tito Allen, here with Adalberto Santiago, replaced the latter as singer in Ray Barretto’s band.

In my opinion, Tito Allen had one of the most beautiful voices in Salsa music. Tito also had good technique and used his voice in very creative ways. When Ruben Blades was coming up in the Fania Records label, he was used frequently as a “corista”. In those days, Ruben used his voice with a lower tone, trying to emulate his idol Cheo Feliciano. As a result, he was frequently paired with Tito Allen on recording chorus.

Tito worked as “corista” in many of Fania recordings. Some of those recordings include some for the late “Sonero Mayor” Ismael Rivera. His work with Sonora Ponceña in the albums “Musical Conquest” and “El Gigante del Sur” are memorable. The song “Noche Como Boca’e Lobo” is a perfect example of Tito Allen dominating a chorus. He also worked in Ruben Blades later work Son del Solar.

Nestor Sanchez gained prominence as lead singer of Orchestra Harlow. From his success as singer, he started to participate as “corista” in other Fania recordings. His melodic voice and singing tone also made for a good chorus. When Ruben Blades decided to go solo, and evolved his Seis del Solar into the trombone-backed and more Salsa sounding Son del Solar, he frequently recruited both, Tito Allen and Nestor Sanchez to help with the chorus. The three of them could do some great things behind the microphone.

Chorus Recording on “Anacaona”

You’ve probably seen this video many times before, but here’s the Fania All Stars song “Anacaona”, with a part in middle where Ismael Miranda, Adalberto Santiago, and Cheo Feliciano work on dubbing the chorus at the recording studio.

Female “Coristas” in Salsa Music

And then there is the role of females in Salsa music chorus. Today there are a plethora of female Salsa music singers. However, back in the Salsa golden years, two of the most prominent where Miki Vimari, who sang with Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz, and later Yolanda Rivera with La Sonora Ponceña.

Miki Vimari did chorus for Ricardo Ray
Miki Vimari with Ricardo Ray and Bobby Cruz in “Jammin Live”

La Vimari’s participation with Richie Ray’s band was pretty remarkable. Mignaluz Rosas Medina, her real name, joined the band when she was only 17 years old. She moved to New York in 1968 to work with Richie and Bobby and stayed with them for six years.

She left a big print on some of Richie Ray’s most famous albums. These included “El Differente” (1970), “El Bestial Sonido de Ricardo Ray y Bobby Cruz” (1971), “Ricardo Ray Presenta a La Vimari” (1972), Jammin Live” (1972), and “Felices Pascuas” (1975).

Her powerful voice, along with Bobby Cruz tenor-like voice, created a very unique chorus. This supported the very unique sound of Richie Ray’s orchestra.

Yolanda Rivera joined the Sonora Ponceña around 1976. She participated in eight albums with them, starting with “El Gigante del Sur” (1977) all the way through “Determination” (1982). She gave the Sonora Ponceña a 3rd singer and a powerful chorus. Her falsetto voice would resonate almost like Johnny Pacheco did in his band, providing La Ponceña with a fresh variant to the band’s trademark “sonora” trumpet sound.

Like Miki Vimari, Yolanda was mostly a secondary singer that did great work doing chorus for the band.

Who Did I Miss? What’s Coming in Part 3?

In all, “coristas” are an important element of recordings and the above mentioned were the ones that left lasting impressions in me. Since there are hundreds of “coristas” that participate in recordings, I’m sure that a review of my old LP’s backcovers and some CD backliners will reveal that I have omitted many other notable “coristas” from the golden years of Salsa music.

From Part 1, I was reminded by one of Latino Music Café readers of Elliot Romero, who perhaps fits more with this era of “coristas”. Darvel Garcia, Chegui Ramos, Papo Rosario, and many others have been left out. If you can think of others I’m missing, please add a comment on the “Comments” box below this blog.

In Part 3, I’ll focus on just one singer and “corista” that had dominated the 90s and 2000’s with his chorus, particularly in Puerto Rico.

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  1. Antigonum Cajan says

    Even If I decider not to disagree at this time, with your premise, the best coristas ever in my opinion were those
    in which YAYO EL INDIO participated. It does not matter who else sang along since his unique, tuned, powerful, pitch voice made any composition a masterpiece. .

    That voice would have been excellent, even in opera. I will name just one example of the tens if not hundreds of recordings he participated: VAMONOS PAL MONTE, Eddie Palmieri’s gretatest recording during that era of violent and radicalr struggles in the USA in terms of civil rights and protests against the brutal, unfair, unnecessary war in VIETNAM.

    Individually, from those you have chosen as the best., only Nestor Sanchez, the other wonderful albino along Cano
    Estremera with Tito Allen wonderful pitch really deserve my respect.

    The last one Adalberto could not improvise as a sonero, even when his voice was adequate and tuned.

    1. Hector Aviles says

      Totally agree amigo! Yayo El Indio is without doubt one of the best “coristas” of all-time. I did write about him in Part 1. Did you read it?

    2. Hector Aviles says

      Amigo Cajan – on the point that Adalbarto Santiago can’t improvise, I have to say that many well known singers can’t or won’t do it either. Ismael Miranda, Tito Nieves, Luis Enrique…the list is long. It’s almost (and as I have mentioned in previous blogs) as if improvisation is a lost art. That said, and in Adalberto’s case in particular, that does not take away of him being, in my opinion, one of the best coristas of all-time. You don’t need to improvise while doing coros. Nor, as I made the case, you don’t even need to be a good singer (Johnny Pacheco or Ramon Rodriguez).

      Good discussion 🙂

  2. Antigonum Cajan says

    The problem I see with your well written views, is scope. Fania was a terrible cancer, making almost impossible for other talents, to reach an audience.

    Cotique records Joey Pastrana, Lebron Brothers, New Swing Sextet, to name 3, were significant bands in those years. The FANIA monopoly orchestrated by renegade Johny Pacheco, who should be playing merengues and bachatas, along Jerry Masucci effectively killed the afro Cuban beat, called salsa in New York.

    For the future, I kindly suggest to present a wider scope in terms of analysis., After all FANIA, was not necessarily the best, or the only recording company with talent.

    It was only the most efficient black balling other recording studios/brands in clubs and radio stations through payola.

    1. Hector Aviles says

      Dear Cajan,
      I do keep the scope narrow on purpose as what I’m writing is a blog rather than a big article. You also make a good point about Fania’s monopoly (did Ruben Blades bring this up enough?) and about other great bands outside the Fania label. El Gran Combo, which I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, is one of them. The “corista” of the 2000’s that I’m about to highlight in Part 3 of the series, is another example.

      I’m glad you are reading the blog, and thanks for your comments!!! Stay tuned as I resume my CD reviews in video.


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