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Cheo Feliciano’s Salsa Navideña classic, “Felicidades” celebrates its 48th anniversary this year. A Salsa Dura album with great flavor, “Felicidades” became a perfect complement to the few existing Salsa Navideña music albums that had been released until then.
[Note: this post was originally published in 2013]
Salsa Navideña Until 1973
Launched in 1973, “Felicidades” became an instant hit with Salsa music fans. At the time it came out, there were other Salsa Navideña music albums on the market.
El Gran Combo had launched its classic “En Navidad” in 1966, and in 1973 it would launch its second Salsa Navideña album titled “El Gran Combo 5” (which had the hit “Eliminación de los Feos“).
La Sonora Ponceña had launched its popular “Navidad Criolla” in 1971, and with the also popular “Asalto Navideño” albums (Vol 1 and Vol 2) from Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe, there was enough Salsa Navideña music to go around.
With a recording band made up almost entirely of members of the Fania All-Stars, and with songs from the great songwriter Tite Curet Alonso, “Felicidades” reflected all the good that Salsa music had to offer at its peak.
The title song “Felicidades” became one of the first hits of the album. Other hits followed rapidly, like “Mampeyé“, “La Fiesta“, y “Aleluya de los Campos“. To this day, these are some of my favorite Salsa Navideña songs and continue to be played on the radio.
For this recording, Cheo Feliciano was on top of his game as a singer. A mature singer that had now been clean for a couple of years, Cheo could bring the flavor and aggressiveness in attacking the clave that separated him from other singers. With a strong and clear voice, and with creative “soneos”, Cheo Feliciano captivated Salsa music fans with “Felicidades“.
The recording band provided Cheo Feliciano’s “Felicidades” the best of the Salsa sound of the 1970s. This was the first recording of Cheo Feliciano as a solo artist with FANIA (besides the one with the Fania All-Stars at the Cheetah) where he was backed by a full orchestra.
In his previous solo recordings “Cheo” (1971) and “With a Little Help From My Friend” (released earlier in 1973) Cheo used a format that had a vibraphone instead of a wind section. The format for “Felicidades” was with trumpets and trombones, highlighting the talented Barry Rogers in the trombone solos.
Cheo Feliciano would not record another Salsa music album until 3 years later when he finally released “The Singer” in 1976. In between these albums, Cheo released the bolero album “Looking for Love” in 1974.
In the meantime, “Felicidades” remained the album in which Cheo Feliciano demonstrated all he could do in front of a full Salsa Dura music orchestra. It’s worth noting that the only other exception to this was his collaboration with Eddie Palmieri in the album “Champagne“, which was released in 1968 ahead of Cheo’s temporary retirement from the music business for a few years to heal both physically and mentally.
A Salsa Navideña Classic
All this environment of the music in the 1970s worked so that “Felicidades” would solidify its place with every passing year as one of the favorite Christmas Salsa music albums of all time.
Because of the thick Salsa music, it contains, as well as for the flavor Cheo Feliciano brings with his singing to this recording, “Felicidades” remains one of my favorite Christmas albums ever!