Fania All-Stars and The Night Salsa Music Was Transformed


This post is also available in: Español

The event that occurred in New York’s Cheetah’s nightclub on the night of August 26, 1971, changed Salsa forever. The Fania All-Stars transformed a popular niche Latin music genre into an international phenomenon.

People that liked Salsa now became fervent fans. Popular Salsa musicians became Latin music icons. People that didn’t understand what Salsa music was all about now began to enjoy it. What made this possible was a combination of two things.

First, the release of the music recorded “live” that night.

Additionally, the release of a movie that captured what happened that night, and provided a view of the Latino environment in New York City at that time.

The Fania All-Stars Cheetah Concert

[Note: this blog was originally published in 2011 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this Salsa event]

That fateful night, the Fania All-Stars created an inflection point in the history of Salsa music. They did this by performing perhaps the most famous concert in the history of Salsa and recording it in audio and video. The audio became the 2nd album released by the Fania All-Stars. Their 1st release, at the Red Gater, was not nearly as commercially successful as the “Live at Cheetah” albums.

However, this 2nd album became a huge hit. The music was much better organized and performed, even if (as we later learned) it was put together almost at the last minute. The lineup of musicians was amazing. Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz were returning to New York after their recent relocation to Puerto Rico. Cheo Feliciano was back singing Salsa with a new album that was taking off towards a huge commercial success. Band leaders like Roberto Roena, Bobby Valentin, Ray Barretto, and Willie Colon had released popular hits since the last time the Fania All-Stars got together at the Red Gater.

Here’s the intro of “Our Latin Thing” to the music of Ray Barretto’s “Cocinando”.

“Our Latin Thing” The Movie

Fania All Stars "Our Latin Thing" Salsa movie soundtrack cover art
“Our Latin Thing” movie of the Fania All Stars concert at the Cheetah (40th Anniversary Ed.)

The movie that came out of this event, “Our Latin Thing” was just as important in making that night so relevant in the history of Salsa. In an era before YouTube or Cable TV, it gave people around the world a glimpse of the electrifying energy the attendees experienced that night. It showcased the Fania All-Stars and Salsa music at its best. And it also showed the context in which this music was created; life in El Barrio in New York City.

All of these circumstances worked together to create a mega-marketing campaign for Salsa music. The Fania All-Stars and the artists under the Fania label became household names around the world. Salsa fans couldn’t get enough of it. They searched and bought some of the previous Salsa albums recorded by these Latin music stars.

This month Salsa music fans around the world commemorate the anniversary of the historic night that changed the course of Salsa music.

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