West Side Latino Records, Reborn

The Wax Poetics crew helps unearth another trove of classic NYC salsa and Latin soul

As Bataan tells it, Masucci ran the label like a cross between a CEO and a mob boss. "They were relied upon when you needed something. As far as paying the rent, or if you needed some quick cash to take care of bills, you could go to Papa Masucci at Fania Records."

Rucker says Codigo has honored all of Fania's royalty agreements, and of course, the artists themselves bear some of the blame for signing away their rights in the first place. "We were stupid and naïve and didn't have any representation," says pianist and producer Larry Harlow, who played on and produced dozens of Fania's releases, including its flagship salsa supergroup, the Fania All-Stars. But while Harlow acknowledges that he won't see a nickel from his own reissued albums, he's clearly focused on moving forward, noting that he settled his claims against Fania a month before Masucci died in 1997 ("for way less than they owed me"), which may make it easier for him to let go of the past. But whatever the case, he may point to a future that addresses both Bataan's grievances and Torres' expansive ambitions.

Starting this month, Codigo will release a batch of long-out-of-print gems from its newly acquired vaults: April releases include West Side Latino classics from Joe Cuba and Beny Moré, among others, while in May they'll unleash a handful of Tito Rodríguez titles. In turn, this flurry of activity will make it easier for still-active salsa artists to highlight their new projects: On August 14, Harlow will present a performance of his shamefully overlooked 1978 work La Raza Latina, an ambitious concept album for salsa band and string orchestra that received a terrible audio remastering job when first reissued on CD and fell out of print thereafter. The free outdoor concert at Lincoln Center will be partly sponsored by Codigo to coincide with the album's rerelease, with new packaging and thankfully restored audio.

Larry Harlow and Joe Bataan, in younger, more naïve days
Fania Archives
Larry Harlow and Joe Bataan, in younger, more naïve days

"Some of these guys are still kicking ass!" says Torres, mentioning future projects tied to original Fania and West Side artists—shows, remixes, possibly even new recordings. Bataan, too, sees opportunity. For him, his bitterness over Fania is partly about money, but also tied to the label's shortsightedness in properly documenting what he rightfully calls a momentous period in Latin music and New York City history both—a time when a Filipino-Afro-American like himself mingled with New York-born Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and at least one Jewish-American (Harlow, whose nickname was "El Judio Maravilloso") in creating popular music unlike anything before or since. "If Codigo has the ability and insight to see what Wax Poetics can do," he says, "then maybe there's not only hope for the company and the musicians—maybe there's a vital part of history that can be turned, and maybe this time it can be documented properly."

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