The following are some recently published articles about Salsa, its music and its growing popularity.
-an excerpt from "La Descarga Cubana-
The Beginning and Its Best"
Latin Beat Magazine, February 1997 Vol. 7, No. 1
By MAX SALAZAR
What is a descarga you say? You probably heard it many times: Como Mi Ritmo No Hay Dos; and never realized it. Charlie Palmieri, who recorded it, once said, "there's no music written. It's a soloist's freedom of expression, ad-libs, an improvisation of the melody . . . whatever he feels at the moment. It began during the early forties, when a band ran out of tunes. They played a C7 chord; they faked it. Noro, Macho and Curbelo ended many a night with a descarga, only then it was called "una rumbita."
The first descarga that made the world take notice is traced to a Machito rehearsal on May 29, 1943, at the Park Palace Ballroom, at 110th Street and 5th Avenue. At this time, Machito was at Fort Dix (New Jersey) in his fourth week of basic training. The day before at La Conga Club, Mario Bauza, Machito's trumpeter and music director, heard pianist Luis Varona and bassist Julio Andino play something which would serve as a permanent sign off (end the dance) tune.
On this Monday evening, Dr. Bauza leaned over the piano and instructed Varona to play the same piano vamp he did the night before. Varona's left hand began the introduction of Gilberto Valdes' El Botellero. Bauza then instructed Julio Andino what to play; then the saxes; then the trumpets. The broken chord sounds soon began to take shape into an Afro-Cuban jazzed up melody. Gene Johnson's alto sax then emitted oriental-like jazz phrases. By accident, Afro-Cuban jazz was invented when Bauza composed Tanga (African word for marijuana) that evening.
Thereafter, whenever Tanga was played, it sounded different, depending on a soloist's individuality. In August, 1948, when trumpeter Howard McGhee soloed with Machito's orchestra at the Apollo Theatre, his ad-libs to Tanga resulted in Cu-Bop City, a tune which was recorded by Roost Records months later. The jams which took place at the Royal Roots, Bop City and Birdland between 1948 - 49, when Howard McGhee, tenor saxophonist Brew Moore, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie sat in with the Machito orchestra, were unrehearsed, uninhibited, unheard of before jam sessions which at the time, master of ceremonies Symphony Sid called Afro-Cuban jazz.
The Machito orchestra's ten or fifteen minute jams were the first in Latin music to break away from the traditional under four minute recordings. In February, 1949, the Machito orchestra became the first to set a precedent in Latin music when it featured tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips in a five minute recording of Tanga. The twelve inch 78 RPM, part of The Jazz Scene album, sold for $25.
Another popular descarga which later became a mambo is Tito Puente's Picadillo, recorded by his Picadilly Boys for the Spanish Music Center label in 1949. Picadillo's history began in 1948 when dance promoter Federico Pagani visited the Embassy Club to ask Pupi Campo's drummer Tito Puente, to form a "pickup" for a Sunday matinee at the Palladium Ballroom. Puente, Campo's contractor, was also his music arranger. Pagani sat In the audience and listened to the Campo orchestra. After a tune ended, Puente went to the piano and played a phrase for pianist Joe Loco. Puente then instructed bassist Manuel Patot and trumpeter Chino Gonzalez what to play. After the descarga was over Pagani walked up to Puente and said "Wow!. . . what was that."
"Un Picadillo," (hash with potatoes, ham and beans mixed) replied Puente. After Puente agreed to play, Pagani said, "I'll present the group as The Picadilly Boys." On the night before the June 1, 1949 Spanish Music Center recordings of El Mambo Se Ha Puesto Duro, Tararero, Drume Negro, and The Arthur Murray Rumba (Picadillo) which featured Alfredito Valdes on vocals, Puente wrote the music and orchestration of Picadillo.
Months later on December 1, 1949, the Julio Andino orchestra, which featured Joe Loco on piano became the second orchestra to break away from the traditional recording time when Gabriel Oller's Spanish Music Center recorded Loco's Plaza Stomp Mambo and Nos Comimos La Paella, each nine minutes and ten seconds long. Although Tito Puente's Latin jazz recordings of Esy, Mambo Diablo, Mambo Birdland, Mambo Inn, Mambo City, Mambo Night, George Woods Mambo, Tee Pee, and Mambo Lenko are under three minutes, they were lengthened with jazz inserts to allow Mongo Santamaria and Gustavo Mas whatever time needed to improvise whenever the band performed at Birdland.
Cuba's first recorded descarga occurred during 1952 when American jazz impresario Norman Grantz was vacationing in Havana. Grantz visited the Andres record store owned by Irving Price. Mr. Price mentioned he knew Cuban musicians who made him feel at home with their brand of jazz. Grantz laughed and said no one played like American jazz musicians. Price convinced Grantz to finance a recording session which was performed at the Havana Panart Studios.
Price then contracted pianist Bebo Valdes, who selected the Hotel Tropicana musicians Gustavo Mas on tenor sax, Salvador "El Negro" Vivar on trumpet, Kiki Hernandez on bass, Guillermo Barretto on timbales, and Rolando Alfonso on conga. Valdes' group recorded the tunes Desconfianza, Tabu, Duerme and Blues for Andre. Grantz was dumbfounded. His words of praise indicated that for him Cuban musicians were on the same level of proficiency with American jazz and Latin musicians. Grantz requested they record How High The Moon but Hernandez said he was not familiar with the tune. In recalling this historical moment, Bebo Valdes said, "we were asked to do one more tune, so I started it with a guajeo, you know, a jam session for seven minutes... we called the tune Con Poco Coco.
The reason Cuban music historians didn't know about the session is that it was recorded for Grantz and released as a 45 in the United States in early 1953. To own Con Poco Coco, one had to purchase the 10" Panart label LP CUBANO... The Andres All Stars. This historic recording is available on the Verve CD The Original Mambo Kings.
During the '40s and '50s, the Les Brown orchestra was among the ten most popular bands in the United States because of hit recordings such as Leap Frog, Bizet Had His Day, I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm, and the over one million seller Sentimental Journey, sung by his vocalist Doris Day. Brown provided the music for the radio, TV and tours of Bob Hope. In September 1953, Brown took his band Into the Hollywood Palladium for a three week engagement. He arranged to have all his broadcasts from the ballroom tape-recorded. While listening to the radio, Brown was exposed to Valdes' Con Poco Coco. He urged his trumpeter Wes Hensel to listen to Valdes's recording and write a fast driving Afro-Cuban theme. On Labor Day, 1953, Les Brown shook the Hollywood Palladium's foundation with his finger popping Montoona Clipper. The spark plug driving this arousing jam session was tenor saxophonist Dave Pell's ad libs a la Gustavo Mas, against a background of continuous ninth chords. Clipper was released in the LP Les Brown, Concert At The Palladium, Vol. I, on the Coral label.
In 1955, Holiday Magazine published a story entitled Holiday In Havana. The Decca Recording company capitalized on it and recorded Your Musical Holiday In Havana. The back liner notes read "Havana is a gay and light hearted city, with untold amusement and sport centers, a world famous casino, many superlative restaurants, and any number of lively, far-renowned night clubs. Perhaps the most glamorous night spot under Havana's palms is the 'Tropicana' which specializes in dazzling floor shows. . .whose dancers gyrate to the pulsating rhythm of one of Cuba's outstanding bands. The man who conducts the band, composes much of its music and writes all of the arrangements is Bebo Valdes." Via this 1955 album, Bebo Valdes and the arousing tenor sax solo of Gustavo Mas, recorded Mambo Caliente, the second descarga in Cuban music history. In the United States, Cal Tjader, of Swedish English descent, was on his way to Latin jazz stardom. In 1954 he formed his quintet and immediately became a disciple of the Latin Jam Sessions. In his first LP, Ritmo Caliente, Tjader exhibits his jam skills via the tunes Mueve La Cintura and Cubano Chant. Most every Tjader LP thereafter included one or more head arrangements.
In September, 1956, it became apparent that a few Cuban musicians had been influenced by the Jazz at The Philharmonic Jam Sessions and the exciting Bebo Valdes sound. The Panart record company was searching for a gimmick to sell pianist Julio Gutierrez's as yet unrecorded LP. It decided to record an album in which musicians would jam at a party. Word spread throughout Havana about the event in which musicians and a selected group of friends were invited. The incentives to attend were free food, free liquor, and lindas Cubanas to dance with. Musicians had to bring their ax.
A few musicians at the party were vocalist Francisco Fellove, guitarist Jose Antonio Mendez, pianist Peruchin Justiz, trumpeter Alejandro "El Negro" Vivar, flutist Juan Pablo Miranda, tenor saxophonist Jose Chombo Silva, conguero Marcelino Valdes and timbalero Walfredo De Los Reyes. When asked to play, they were told to ignore the microphones hooked up to a tape recorder, that it was not a recording session, but a tape for private use to record this historic occasion. Each musician accepted twenty dollars, then continued to drink and play his butt off.
It was at this session that vocalist Francisco Fellove introduced Afro-Cuban scat singing on the album's outstanding track Cimmarron. Cimmarron is the best example why the Cuban son montuno has been embraced in remote cities throughout the world. Fellove's and Peruchin's performances are exceptional. The seventeen minute Descarga Caliente (which is in Volume 2) is why the word "descarga" was coined to indicate a Cuban jam session. Six months after the party, Panart Records released Cuban Jam Session Volume 1. Its worldwide sales over a two year period was estimated at more than one million dollars. The participating musicians soon learned that accepting $20.00 constituted "payment in full."
In 1956, Chico O'Farrill was in Mexico. He married the beautiful Lupe and returned to Cuba to live a life of leisure at his father's farm in the suburbs of Vedado outside Havana. Word spread that the international celebrity was back home. Although he had no intention of working, Chico accepted offers to write music for hotel revues and a few RCA albums. To date, there is speculation about which occurred first. . . the Panart or Gema jam sessions. The fact is that Alvarez Guedes founded his Gema label in 1956 or 57, recorded descargas of Chico O'Farrill and Bebo Valdes which were released as 78s, then re-released on a 12" LP years later entitled Los Mejores Musicos De Cuba...
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"A Refresher Course in Salsa Standards"
Los Angeles Times, June 4, 2000
By ERNESTO LECHNER
(Ernesto Lechner is a regular contributor to LA Times Calendar)
Five years ago, Mario Rincon had a problem on his hands. The musical director of Colombia's Discos Fuentes, one of the most renowned Latin record labels in the world, Rincon is an avid fan of the tropical genre, with a weakness for the New York sound of the '70s. Rincon's problem was that he couldn't quite enjoy his favorite vintage releases. By today's standards, the sound quality of those LPs is poor at best. And the badly remastered CD versions are even worse. "The songs were phenomenal," Rincon says. "But the sound was so terrible that it really ruined your enjoyment of the music"
Rincon's solution? He created a band whose mission would be to rerecord the old standards with state-of-the-art equipment, safeguarding salsa history for a new generation of fans. In five years and with four albums, the group, Sonora Carruseles, has become one of the best outfits in the genre. Its combination of agile, supple rhythms with aggressive, sensuous melodies boasts a rootsy authenticity that separates it from most groups of its kind. The band was supposed to make its Los Angeles debut last month at the Conga Room, but its members' visa problems forced the club to postpone the shows until the issues are resolved. For now, Carruseles' new album, the hyperkinetic "Con Todos Los Hierros," will have to do.
At a time when tropical music is dominated by rampant commercialism, Carruseles rejects the pop influences that have become the genre's trademark. Reflecting musical director Rincon's devotion to the past, its repertoire includes a number of tunes made famous by singer Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez. The band also revisits forgotten subgenres such as the boogaloo, a sweetly infectious dance that caused a commotion in late '60s New York. And because it does hail from Colombia, this Sonora performs its own brand of cumbias, the country's most popular dance.
That Carruseles is the brainchild of Discos Fuentes is no surprise. For decades now, the people behind the label have been obsessed with emulating the sound of classic salsa as created by the legendary Fania label. Founded in 1964 by flutist Johnny Pacheco and attorney Jerry Masucci, New York-based Fania was the most formidable record company in the history of Afro-Cuban music. In the '70s and '80s, it was home to superstars Ruben Blades, Celia Cruz, Eddie Palmieri and countless others.
Discos Fuentes, on the other hand, was created in 1934 by Antonio Fuentes Lopez in Cartagena, Colombia. But it wasn't until the '60s that the company became an international sensation through La Sonora Dinamita, an ensemble that charted new territory performing poppy versions of traditional Afro-Caribbean dances. Salsa became an important influence for the label when Fuentes began to distribute the Fania catalog in Colombia. "As soon as we got those first Fania albums in the mid- to late '60s, Mario [Rincon] fell in love with salsa," recalls Jose Maria Fuentes, one of the founder's sons and a key player in the company. "We immediately decided to create a band that would copy the Fania sound." Fuentes, Rincon and percussionist Julio Ernesto Estrada spent years listening to the Fania albums, studying every nuance in the performances of such artists as Pacheco, Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe. "We studied the bass lines, the bongos, the things they did with cowbells," Fuentes recalls. "We went to New York specifically to meet the Fania bands and see them play in concert."
A band was formed in 1970 with Rincon as musical director and Estrada as the leader and timbale player. The band, which signified the birth of Colombian salsa, was baptized Fruko y Sus Tesos, and its success led to a whole generation of Discos Fuentes salsa artists including the Latin Brothers, Los Titanes and singer-songwriter Joe Arroyo. When the Fania label folded the mid-'80s, Fuentes took place as the foremost provider of quality tropical music.
Although Carruseles is the most impressive act in the Fuentes roster, many of its vintage names continue to record on a regular basis. Fruko y Sus Tesos released a new product in 1999 after years of inactivity. The Latin Brothers' last two albums are superb, vital efforts. With a new office in Miami, an amazingly rich catalog of classic material to reissue and the ripples of last year's Latin explosion still affecting the U.S. music industry, the new label might find itself at the crossroads of mainstream success.
"Our stuff has nothing to do with commercialized, romantic tropical music," Fuentes insists "We're not at all like [Colombia's competing band] Grupo Niche. Our specialty is the brand of salsa, known as hard salsa, the one that dancers love."
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The Forbes Top 40 edition
Forbes Magazine, September 22, 1997
by ROBERT LO FRANCO
Beverly Hills. Greenwich Village. South Beach. Some of Americaâs most trendy nightspots have embraced Latin dancing. Like the scene pictured here at the Los Angeles-based club Mayan, Londonâs club scene pulses with Latin beats. ã Salsa has a revival every few years or so,ä says Argentinean film producer Miguel Kohan. ãBut every time it comes back stronger that before.ä No Question. In Londonâs progressive cultural mix, a small Colombian population has kept Salsa live. But the current trend is being fueled by British natives and European transplants who make up at least 70% of the cityâs scene. Today there are some 50 chances every week to dance Salsa in London, up from about 20 five years ago.
As sales of music in Latin America outpace sales growth in the rest of the world, sales of Latin music in the U.S., where Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group, are surging.
GLORIA ESTEFANâS fiery Latin dance anthem Mi Tierra blasts through the packed dance floor of the Mayan. Red and yellow spotlights flash through the clouds of fog that permeate the hot, downtown Los Angeles nightclub. Sweating profusely, 700 dancers twist and spin to machine-gun Salsa beats.
Same story at Miami's Starfish, which throbs each weekend to the beat of Estefan and other top Latin singers. In London, where Latin dance is bursting at the seams, it's even more impressive. It's 70% to 80% Anglo and European," says Ara Kazarians, a disc jockey who is plugged into the London scene. "Latin is really starting to happen."
And the dollars are flowing in for Gloria Estefan and Emilio Estefan, her husband, manager and producer, who are riding what is, in 1997, the hottest trend in show business.
Their collection of ten English and Spanish albums for Sony Corp.'s Epic Records has sold more than 60 million units and created a franchise that the Cuban immigrant couple has exploited in restaurants, merchandise, talent management, song writing, record production, television and, soon, motion pictures.
Line extensions in entertainment are certainly nothing new. Hawkers sold copies of Shakespeare's plays outside the Globe Theatre as long ago as the 17th century. Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Walt Disney Co. have made an art form of merchandising successful shows and films. Most every cable network has a link of collectible merchandise these days.
The Estefans have something special going for them. More than 400 million people claim Spanish as their first Language. Many more have absorbed elements of Spanish÷or at least Hispanic - culture. It is dominant in Latin America and has outposts in the Pacific Rim, and it is increasingly spoken in the richest market of all, the U.S. There are currently 29 million people of Hispanic origin in the U.S., 11% of the total population. Moreover, these people are younger than the population as a whole and thus at the age where they buy records and go dancing.
Broadcasters like NBC and Fox are adding Latin characters to their programs. Viacom, which has been broadcasting its MTV Latin America to Central and South America for four years, is also broadcasting MTV en Espanol in the U.S., aimed at a very young and fully bilingual group. Last year Universal Music group dispatched Jesus Lopez, a veteran Latin music executive, to Miami to open the company's first regional office to develop the Latin market and sign up talent.
The appeal to TV is obvious. Where there are young people with cash and credit cards, there are advertising dollars. "Advertisers are trying very hard to find ways to reach this market," says NBC West Coast President Don Ohlmeyer.
Make no mistake, however: Show biz's new Latin accent owes to more than a desire to attract Spanish speakers. From its powerful Hispanic base, Latin music and Latin attitudes are beginning to spread to non Hispanic populations. The Estefans are cashing in. Universal Television Group has committed at least $10 million for Emilio Estefan to produce English-language television programs infused with an undeniably Latin flair. Sales of Latin music in the U.S. grew 25% in the first half of the year, while the overall recorded music market fell 5%.
Disney has heard the beat. Bongos Cuban Cafe, the Estefans' 550-seat, Cuban-themed restaurant, will join Planet Hollywood, a David Copperfield magic shop and a Wolfgang Puck Cafe in Disney World's expanded Downtown Disney attraction this fall.
Emilio Estefan has invested $5 million in the project and has hired the Miami architectural firm Architectonica to produce the building's 1950s design. Bongos will feature a Cuban menu of croquetas, arroz con frijoles and vaca frita. Naturally, after they've paid their bill, patrons will be invited to pull out their plastic again. On sale will be $300 Bongos leather jackets, $28 Bongos T shirts, $20 Bongos fishing hats and $25 cigar-paper stationery. Bongos is expected to do some $35 million in business in its first year, and Estefan Enterprises will get 80% of the projected $2.5 million in yearly profits.
Helping fuel interest in commercial ventures like Bongos are the world's leading Latin musicians. Luis Miguel, a Latin pop singer, has sold more than 12 million copies of the first two albums in his Romance trilogy for Warner Music in the last three years. That's more than the U.S. sales of rap star Tupac Shakur's last two albums. Miguel's third album in the trilogy recently debuted at number 14 on the mainstream Billboard 200 chart. Dreaming of You, by the murdered superstar Selena, debuted at number one on the Billboard chart two years ago.
Look for more Latin-themed music to Show up on the charts. Enrique Iglesias, son of the Spanish crooner Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, a Puerto Rican-born pop singer, and Shakira, a Colombian singer, are expected to do just as well with broader audiences. Celine Dion, a Canadian who has previously recorded in English and French, is getting on the Latin bandwagon. She is one of Sony's top-selling performers of the last two years.
This article goes on the detail how the Estefans have created their empire from their beginnings where the group Miami Sound machine played at weddings to get by. It also includes a section which describes how Latin American television program producers are successfully competing with Disney, Time Warner, Viacom, Sony and other producers and distributors of TV programs on the world wide market in countries such as Nigeria, Philippines, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Russia and Germany.
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