Fania Mania

Latin alternative goes vintage with the re-release of a legendary collection

The album also includes "Pedro Navaja," a retelling of the Bobby Darin standard "Mack the Knife." In this case, Blades relays the story of a legendary pimp who, in the midst of trying to stab a discontented prostitute, dies from the gunshot wounds she inflicts upon him. "New York has five million stories," Blades chants.

Rather than playing as nostalgia, songs like these have become a source of inspiration for younger Latin musicians. "I discovered Fania in my early teens when I moved to Miami and was going through my dad's record collection," says Javier Garcia, Universal Records' latest Latin alternative pop phenomenon.

Garcia already knew all about Celia Cruz, whose Fania recordings mark her ascendance from back-up vocalist to salsa superstar. But he became intrigued by the label's more offbeat offerings as well. He can still remember listening to the 1981 Blades/Colón tune "Tiburón," which warns Latin Americans to resist the imperial shark from up north. "I thought it was supercool, almost cartoonish, but with a lot of attitude," Garcia says.

Fania loves Willie Colón (left) and Rubén Blades
Fania loves Willie Colón (left) and Rubén Blades

As a crossover artist in conservative Miami, Garcia doesn't make such overt political statements on his tracks. But he and other Latin alternative artists on the scene still use an amalgam of musical styles and rhythms to chronicle the lives of second- and third-generation Latinos, as well as newly arrived immigrants.

"One of the prevailing attributes to Latin music in general is the fact that it's so uplifting, and of course the African rhythms mixed with the Latin-Caribbean swing," Garcia notes. "Fania had all that and on top of it, it had urban American appeal due to the eclectic instruments and of course [being based] in New York." Fania's groundbreaking style, he says, is evident in the "dirty salsa" and "vintage Latin grooves" found in today's Latin alternative music.

Rucker agrees. He says many fans who listen to the Fania recordings tell him they're shocked to hear old-school salsa sounding so, well, contemporary. "Fania always pushed the envelope," he says. "Even today their music is revolutionary to the industry."

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