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Tribute Page: Johnny Pacheco – En Orbita (Fania All Stars)

Bandleader and songwriter Johnny Pacheco, who is widely credited with bringing salsa to the world as a co-founder of Latin music label Fania Records, died yesterday on 15th February 2021 at the age of 85.

Johnny Pacheco was a Dominican-American musician, arranger, composer, bandleader, and record producer. He became one of the leading exponents of a new dance in the late 1950s called the pachanga, a blend of Cuban rhythms and merengue, which propelled him to worldwide notoriety and had an important role in the evolution of Latin music. As the founder and musical director of Fania Records, known as the “Motown of Salsa”. Pacheco became a leading figure in the New York salsa scene in the 1960s and 1970s. He popularized the use of the term "salsa" and established the Fania All-Stars to showcase the leading artists of the genre. Pacheco was a 9-time Grammy nominee and was awarded the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award by the Latin Recording Academy in 2005.

His band, Pacheco Y Su Charanga, formed in 1960 and toured the US and internationally with their increasingly popular pachanga style. He and attorney Jerry Masucci founded Fania Records in 1964, which became famous for its work in popularizing Cuban dance music worldwide in the 1970s. In 1968, Fania Records created a continuously revolving line-up of entertainers known as the Fania All-Stars. They were considered some of the best Latin Music performers in the world at that time. The original lineup consisted of Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barretto, Joe Bataan, Willie Colon, Larry Harlow, Monguito, Louie Ramirez, Ralph Robles, Mongo Santamaria, and Bobby Valentin, Very often band recorded and performed with Tito Puente, Ricardo Ray, or Eddie Palmieri.


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Watch the video of Fania All-Stars performing salsa killer En Orbita from their classic album Rhythm Machine:

“We took the Cuban music and gave it a face-lift – a different approach and a more progressive sound,” Pacheco says in the interview. “We grew up in New York listening to rock and jazz, so we’d dress up our arrangements. We put the rhythm section up in front because we were used to rock-group drums — you know, that heavy sound.”

During his decades-long career, he worked with some of the most prominent salsa artists, including Celia Cruz, Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe, Rubén Blades, Cheo Feliciano, Pete ‘El Conde’ Rodríguez, Eddie Palmieri, Charlie Palmieri, Tito Puente, but also he recorded with some prominent jazz artists like George Benson, Kenny Burrell and McCoy Tyner.


Listen to Fania All-Stars salsa killer En Orbita from their classic album Rhythm Machine:

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