[JPL] Celebrating the Godfather of Salsa’s 50-Year Itch

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Oct 23 19:13:47 EDT 2006

October 23, 2006
Music Review | Johnny Pacheco
Celebrating the Godfather of Salsa’s 50-Year Itch 
New York City music, like New York politics, thrives
on coalition-building, and Johnny Pacheco was an
architect of a momentous New York alliance: the salsa
that became a worldwide phenomenon in the 1970’s. Mr.
Pacheco contributed to the music as a flutist, a
songwriter, an arranger, a bandleader, a producer and
the founder of salsa’s most high-powered group, the
Fania All-Stars. In 1964, he and a lawyer, Gerald
Masucci, started the definitive salsa label, Fania

On Friday night at the Theater at Madison Square
Garden, Mr. Pacheco celebrated a 50-year career by
leading three reconstituted bands — Su Charanga, El
Tumbao Añejo and the Fania All-Stars — that summed up
decades of Latin music in a crescendo from Cuban roots
to New York exhilaration. Some of the many singers Mr.
Pacheco has backed up returned to sing old hits and
improvise laudatory rhymes about him. 

The bands played disciplined, irresistibly kinetic
dance music despite the seated audience. And the songs
commemorated an Afro-Cuban heritage while pushing it
into New York’s pan-Caribbean flux. Many of them, from
“Cachita” to “La Esencia del Guaguancó,” had lyrics
about making music.

Mr. Pacheco, 71, was born in the Dominican Republic.
In New York, he studied percussion at the Juilliard
School and worked in Latin bands before starting
Pacheco y Su Charanga in 1960. Charanga is an urbane
Cuban style, with a violin section providing riffs and
harmony while a solo flute darts between vocal lines.
On Friday, Mr. Pacheco played flute only occasionally,
but with a pungent tone and a pithy sense of rhythm. 

El Tumbao Añejo was Mr. Pacheco’s forceful New York
version of a Cuban conjunto, with singers and an
insistent brass section riding the vamps of a piano
and the guitar-like Cuban tres. The music grew
earthier and more percussive on Friday, topped by the
appearance of Milly Quezada, a leading Dominican
merengue singer. She dared to sing one of Celia Cruz’s
signature hits — “Quimbara,” from an album Ms. Cruz
made with Mr. Pacheco — and her gutsy, raspy voice
stoked more than nostalgia. 

That was just a warm-up for the Fania All-Stars, a
group Mr. Pacheco assembled in the late 1960’s as
Latin competition for rock ’n’ roll: fast, brash and
virtuosic. For this concert, the group still had a
Puerto Rican core, including Papo Lucca on piano, Yomo
Toro on cuatro and Roberto Roena on bongos. The band
backed two Puerto Rican singers, Ismael Quintana and
Adalberto Santiago. But they were upstaged by the
Venezuelan singer Oscar D’León, whose voice was
brighter and showier: putting jazzy twists into his
improvisations, goading the band and challenging the
other singers in round-robin contests. 

There was another guest vocalist, too: El General, a
pioneer of reggaetón, who praised Mr. Pacheco in the
untuned cadences of Jamaican dancehall. His presence
was a reminder of the generational change that’s
moving salsa off radio stations and dance floors as
Latin music forges newer coalitions. 


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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