Sunday, November 26, 2006

Our Latin Thing featuring Fania all Stars film review



A few kids playing on a rooftop in Spanish Harem and one of them, to the sound of the Wah Wah Rhodes of “Cucinando” by Ray Barretto, leaves the group and begins to run. Through side streets, avenues, right up to a wall where you can read names written in a 70’s style Street Graffiti, names like Ray Barretto, Larry Harlow, Willie Colon, Ismael Miranda, Jerry Masucci and Ricardo Ray as well as the title “Our Latin Thing”. As many of you have already understood this month I want to talk to you about a documentary by Leon Gast of which the theme was the Hispanic music phenomenon in the ghettos of Harlem at the beginning of the 70’s. Thanks to Vampisoul, a Spanish label, it is back onto the market (in a DVD version) called “Our Latin Thing, Nuestra Cosa” and offers all of us lovers the possibility of seeing and tasting the ‘authentic’ story of Latin music, something with contaminations from Africa, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jazz… well, ‘hybrid music’. Vampisoul is, and always has been, one of the more attentive labels in its selection as well as specialising in the distribution of lost tracks from musical styles such as Latin, soul, funk, r’n’b and groove from the 60’s and 70’s because it sources out and represses excellent taste pieces of vinyl of the highest quality. To note also that this label has brought back onto the market, after 20 years, one of the symbols of Latin Soul, ‘The Ordinary Guy, Mr. New York’ Joe Bataan with his newest incredible album entitled “Call My Name”. Getting back to New York though… The principal protagonists of this documentary-film are the Fania All-Stars come along with those people who at this period in time were and integral part and daily ‘animation’ for Spanish Harlem in New York. Jerry Masucci, boss of Fania (a leading label for Latin Music) and Larry Harlow (‘El Judio Meravilloso, The Wonderful Jew’, one of the musicians, better still, the musician that brought Salsa to the whole world) wanted this film to realise a project that had been going ahead for some time: to spread the Latin culture throughout the world. As I said before, to realise this film, filmed in New York in 1972, they called on Leon Gast who was probably the only person capable of collecting together the whole essence of everyday life and transforming it with a touch of cinematic sense. The film starts off with a rehearsal inside a ballroom where the Fania All-Stars are trying out there songs on a few spectators, amongst which two very cool dancers. Between some improvised interviews with Ray Barretto and a cut to some kids who were banging tin cans as though they were conga drums, you could already make out the documentary taste of Gast. The street scenes are also very present: a slightly beat young man with another slightly drunk walk alone in the streets improvising a ‘few moves’ with a passing young lady; the percussionist Ray Barretto as a make believe ice cream man breaking up ice to make ice pops for the kids; the people are gathering in the streets to hear the Harlow Orchestra with the singer Ismael Miranda playing their latest song Proto Salsa directed by Larry Harlow and his electric piano. To note that the Harlow Orchestra played on the steps of one of those classic households in Harlem between rubbish bins and people who were shouting out. After filming a clandestine cock fight in a kind of basement as well as a kind of African or Voodoo rite beneath an underpass, Gast goes back to the ballroom where the Fania are ready for the announced concert with its very eager Hispanic-American audience. “Estrelle De Fania” and all of their pieces of the moment are played including trumpet solos, conga drums solos, Latin choruses and couples dancing or others on their own making moves that would make any modern day Salsa maestro jealous. Trumpets and trombones together, as the rules of the Harlow Orchestra or Johnny Pacheco state, looking after the orchestration of the band (an orchestration that was taken as an example by all Salsa groups in the future). All this as Larry Harlow made me understand initially cost 5000 dollars, almost a years work leaving very little pay for the artists, it was however very important in other ways: it sent Salsa as well as all of the Fania artists into stratosphere making the Hispanic community famous and respected throughout the world.
Thanks to Vampisoul for gave me the Video .

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