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The Salsa Revolution

Chapter 9: The Decline of Fania Records

Ironically the Pan American success of Siembra was the beginning of the end of Fania's domination of Salsa. New outposts of production sprang up throughout Latin America.

Back in New York, the creative team of Blades and Colon was falling apart.

W. COLON: (VO) On a personal level, we didn't connect at all, 'cause Ruben is (OC) a guy that was raised by his mom and dad and he went to the university and he decided to come to New York and dabble, you know in the ghettos and listen to the music. So he understood everything intellectually, but he didn't know what it really is, you know?

[STILLS: Willie Colon and Ruben Blades]

W.COLON: (VO) And I'm a guy that's raised with holes in his shoes in El Barrio. It was very hard for us to work together.

[STILL: Hector Lavoe]

Another Fania star, Hector Lavoe, was in trouble.

For years he had struggled with drug addiction, which now began to get the upper hand.

[STILLS: Montage of Hector Lavoe LPs]

[STILL: Hector Lavoe singing]

BLADES: (VO) Because of his drug use, he was beginning not to show up in the shows, (OC) and his voice was beginning to suffer and his sales began to drag. And when that happened Jerry Masucci called me and I'm sure he called Willie too and said, "We need to do something with Hector. (VO) You've got something? It's gotta be great."

[FOOTAGE: Hector Lavoe performaing 'El Cantante']

Blades gave Lavoe a song he had written for himself, a portrait, tinged with sadness, of a singer, 'El Cantante.' It would become Lavoe's signature song.

I am the singer,
Famous everywhere I go
But when the show ends,
I am just an ordinary man.

I live my life
with laughter and pain
With bitter moments
and sweet things
I am the singer,
and my business is to sing
And for those who follow me,
I offer you my song.

BLADES: (VO) And he did well with that album. But (OC) then, you know... What a tragic life he had. (VO) It's such a sad thing.

[FOOTAGE: Hector Lavoe performing 'El Cantante.']

W. COLON: (VO) I was able to help him (OC) a lot at the beginning, but when it got too strong, it's just that, you know, I had to let go.

[FOOTAGE: Hector Lavoe performing 'El Cantante.']

CHEO FELICIANO, SINGER: (VO) He wanted to get out of it, but (OC) it was hard. So things got so bad that he ended up the way he did. He was a great guy.

Hector Lavoe would die of AIDS in 1993.


LARRY HARLOW, MUSICIAN: (OC) Towards the end of the seventies the Fania family was starting to fall apart. Masucci had bought his own pressing plant, which means we didn't know how many records he was pressing, which means we didn't know how many records were being sold. All the singers were leaving and forming their own bands.

J. MASUCCI: (Archive Interview) It's like a baseball team you know, if you're a winning manager and you're powerful, but once the team starts losing — you're only as good as your players you know.

ALEX MASUCCI, BROTHER: (VO) You talk about Rock and Roll, you have one group, you make millions of dollars. Jerry had 35 groups that he had to listen to, (OC) every [deleted] day, and listen to their [deleted] and listen to their problems and listen about the cockroaches and listen about their kids and listen...and I think he just said "[deleted] it" you know, (VO) I think he just said "[deleted] it I'm getting out of here."

[STILL: Jerry looking tired smoking a cigarette]

J. MASUCCI: (Archive Interview) They wear you down, and I just wanted to get away and take a break. You know, 'burnt out', that thing, I was burnt out.



[FOOTAGE: Spinning Record]

TITLE: In 1979, Fania stopped record production.

TITLE: In 1980, Masucci sold the label.

[STILL: Masucci]

TITLE: Masucci died in 1997... a rich man.

FELIPE LUCIANO, BROADCASTER: Fania was a movement. They saw themselves as a business making entity, as a profit making entity, but it was a movement. Fania produced, supported, encouraged, some of the finest musicians in our country.

[FOOTAGE: Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, et al, perform 'La Murga.']

FELICIANO: (OC) We became kings. We were the kings. Our salsa music (VO) and specifically the Fania All Stars, we were the kings.

[FOOTAGE: home movies Fania All Stars by pool]

A. MASUCCI: (OC) We had so much fun. It was just so much fun. They were all nuts, you know, (VO) and they were young, and they were all stars. You know, to me they were all family.

[FOOTAGE: home movies Fania All Stars by pool]

[FOOTAGE: home movies Fania All Stars by pool]

CHEO FELICIANO: (OC) We said at the beginning, "We're gonna take over the world!" and we did. We did.

[STILL: Group photo of the Fania All Stars]


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