Latin Swing's Last Lion

Johnny Pacheco Returns To The New York His Salsa Once Changed

After 20 years of sustained growth and virtually no competition from other companies large or small, Fania was under siege. Artists who had sold hundreds of thousands of albums and couldn't understand the dearth of back-end royalties either left outright or went into creative retirement. Formerly supportive radio stations changed ownership and format. Soon, even the hottest Afro-Cuban jams went unplayed when regional trends swung to romantic ballads and merengue.

Until his death in 1997, Jerry Masucci kept Fania only marginally active, mostly for the sake of periodic releases from Celia Cruz, or an occasional reissue. Experiments at distributing some new Cuban product failed. Since Pacheco was still in demand as a freelance sideman, arranger, and producer as well as a live attraction, he didn't sweat Fania's interim quiescence. After Masucci's passing, Pacheco and his Matured Sound (which is one way Tumbao Anejo can be translated) simply shifted over to the Charly label. Artifacts from Fania's catalog still circulate through persistent licensing deals and the willingness of its creative alumni to keep working and periodically reunite under Pacheco for Fania All-Star shows. This fall New York saw one such revival, which flanked the Fania stal-warts with the similarly magnificent orchestras of Puerto Rico's Gilberto Santa Rosa and Venezuela's Oscar d'Leon.

johnny Pacheco, one of the last of a vanishing breed
photo: Sylvia Plachy
johnny Pacheco, one of the last of a vanishing breed

And January 21, when he hits the LQ stage, Pacheco will be returning to the roots of his calling—as elegant as Duke Ellington and as shrewd as Berry Gordy, testing new material before a sharp-dressed crowd with dancing feet.

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