Various Artists: Fania Essential Recordings: Salsa Explosion! The New York Salsa Revolution 1968–1985 (Strut) 

The reissue gurus at Strut Records are at it again with Salsa Explosion!, a collection of salsa essentials first released in 2004 from the greatest American-based Latin record label of them all, Fania Records. Lots of labels released vintage salsa, but no others achieved the iconographic status of the star-studded Fania roster.

Salsa Explosion! sports 15 tracks by most (but not all) of the genre's heavy hitters, including Ray Barretto, Willie Colon, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Joe Cuba, Mongo Santamaria, Johnny Pacheo, Eddie Palmieri and the Fania all-star revue/house band, the Fania All Stars.

These tracks are, of course, some of the building blocks of the genre, the very DNA of salsa: "Che Che Cole," "O Mi Shango," "Tu Lo Sientes?," "Mama Guela." This collection works equally well as an introduction to the genre and to the label, and as a touchstone for salsa fans, a jukebox full of dance floor hits.

Salsa is joyful music, designed for dancing, socializing and good times in general, and it's hard to imagine a collection that fits that bill more than this. The term "salsa" itself is a bit of a misnomer; salsa itself isn't so much a precise genre as a mixed-and-matched collection of percussion-heavy, Cuban-influenced affiliated genres, including mambo, cha cha cha, son, rumba and guaracha. But it all came together in New York in the late '60s, and we're still reaping the benefits decades later.

More by Carl Hanni


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