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The Salsa Revolution

Chapter 4: Salsa: From the Cheetah Club to the Latin Sound of the 70s


[FOOTAGE: Hector Lavoe rehearsing new song]

By the early seventies, Fania was set to explode. The catalyst was a single night's concert, in a former roller-skating rink in midtown Manhattan, the Cheetah club.

The label had gathered its best talent to create The Fania All Stars, led by Johnny Pacheco. They were a super-group, the Cream of New York's Latin scene... though they didn't sound like it at the afternoon's rehearsal.

A. MASUCCI: That day when they were rehearsing, it was horrendous. And we were saying, this is gonna be terrible.

W. COLON: It was like a corral full of peacocks.

[FOOTAGE: Fania All Stars rehearsal]

W. COLON: (VO)Really, it was not easy — the egos.. I remember that I had brought a chart that Hector and I (OC) had written and I won't say who did it, but one of the old timers took it and threw it on the floor and we couldn't play it so I was very pissed.

[FOOTAGE: Fania All Stars rehearsal]

W. COLON: (VO) But Jerry said, (OC) "Ahh, take it easy Willie, go ahead..." so I went and I played. And we did it and it was great.

[FOOTAGE: Fania All Stars Cheetah Club performance with audience dancing]

SANABRIA: The place was completely packed. The police and firemen came you know they blocked and people couldn't get in and there was a line around the block — boom.

PACHECO: After the third number we knew it was a happening.

[FOOTAGE: Fania All Stars Cheetah Club performance with audience dancing]

A MASUCCI: (VO) That was one of the most (OC) amazing nights that you could ever witness in music.

That night at the Cheetah has been called "the Birth of Salsa." It was the moment when many strands of music converged in New York to create "the Latin Sound of the 70s."

[FOOTAGE: Fania All Stars in the concert in the Cheetah Club showing the various parts of the band — percussion, brass and piano]

JOHNNY PACHECO: (OC) It was Cuban music that we took and we changed the arrangements, being that most of the guys were born here or grew up in New York, we had the rock influence, the jazz influence (VO) and we changed the approach. And it was a New York sound. And now what happened was people were getting confused with the mambo, cha cha cha, guaracha (OC) so what we did was took the music and put it under one roof and we called it Salsa.

[FOOTAGE: Fania All Stars in the concert in the Cheetah Club]

A typical Salsa band features one lead vocalist.

[Pete Rodriguez sings.]

That night the All-Stars had six.

SANABRIA: (OC) The energy from the stage and the energy from the audience, created what I call an incredible spiritual religious revival meeting know, it was just something that started somewhere in the depths of your stomach through your emotions and your feet and, (VO) people couldn't sit, they they you know they wanted to stand up and dance in the aisles.

[FOOTAGE: Fania All Stars in the concert in the Cheetah Club with the audience dancing]

SANABRIA: (VO) For the people themselves, the audience, salsa's rhythms provided an escape from everyday life in El Barrio. It became a rhythm they lived by, a rhythm (OC) they breathed, and a rhythm they made love to. It was the essence of the Latino soul.

[FOOTAGE: Recreation of a reel of film being taken from a can.]

The magic of that night at the Cheetah club might have dissipated, except for another bold stroke by Masucci. He filmed the event.

W. COLON: He was just thinking just out of the box, you know, just, this is not, nobody was investing this kind of money, nobody had these kind of dreams.

[FOOTAGE: Archive from the start of 'Our Latin Thing' film]

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