Canyon Cody, vice president of A&R at Fania Records, sits behind his desk flanked by a wall of vinyl records of legendary Fania artists such as Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe and Celia Cruz. The enormous Cheshire Cat–like grin on his face is a tipoff that he’s about to reveal something special. He taps a few keys on his laptop and cues up Lavoe’s isolated vocal track from his famous song “Aguanile,” complete with outtakes and previously unheard tidbits.
“As a fan and as a digger, it was so rewarding to get to listen to all these things that literally no one has ever heard since they were recorded,” he says excitedly. “For 20 years, these songs were only available as rips of commercially existing vinyl, and certainly none of the multitracks [were available].”
The original analog, multitrack tape recordings for most of the label’s material (roughly 18,000 songs) were lost for decades and were only recently unearthed. As Cody scoured Fania’s treasure trove of archives, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with the material.
Calentura: Global Bassment, a 14-track album of remixes due out March 11, is the culmination of Cody’s work at Fania since he first walked through the label’s door nearly a year ago. Named after Cody's global bass DJ crew and club night, the collection is a labor of love and a dream come true that he hopes both reflects the influence of Fania’s legendary roster and reinvents Latino music as a symbolic passing of the torch to the next generation of fans and artists.
The label, during its heyday of the 1960s through 1980s, was a musical, social and political force that challenged numerous norms of the day. Many of Fania's artists were U.S.-born Latinos, and their style of music was something new and wild that the old cats from the big-band mambo scene just couldn’t dig. These rebellious kids from the streets of New York were, in the eyes of the old guard, disrespecting Latin music with their fusion of Latin and non-Latin sounds — a style of music we recognize today as salsa.
“When I think about what Fania should represent today, it’s all of those same things,” explains Cody, who grew up listening to Fania artists thanks to his Cuban family. “It’s fusion, it’s experimental, it’s dance above everything. I see what we’re doing now as being the natural evolution of that ethos. We’re taking the best of our history and incorporating it with the most exciting stuff of now and our future. There’s that chance of angering the previous generation which clings dearly to the classic stuff, which I do as well, but my loyalty is to the people who are on the dance floor today.”
The producers and DJs on the album are a diverse assortment of music aficionados who were exposed to Fania in different ways and pay their respects accordingly. Happy Colors, for instance, is a Dominican dude who shows his love for Cuban singer Celia Cruz by remixing her song “Virgencita,” which just so happens to be a song where Cruz expresses her love for the Dominican Republic. Italian duo Ckrono & Slesh give The Lebron Brothers’ “Que Pena” the Italo-disco treatment, while Jillionaire of Major Lazer cranks up the zouk bass BPMs on another version of “Virgencita.” There’s also plenty of moombahton, tropical bass and Afro-house amidst the salsa, boogaloo and merengue, all of it made possible by the discovery of those original analog tapes.
Fania Records ceased recording operations in the 1980s, and its future was left uncertain after label co-founder Jerry Masucci died in 1997. Masucci was the only one who knew the whereabouts of the master tapes. Emusica Entertainment Group, based in Miami, purchased Fania’s assets in 2005 and audited the company soon after. The audit revealed receipts for a long-forgotten storage unit in the Hudson Valley in New York, paid for via automatic payments. What they found in that storage unit was akin to Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon entering King Tut’s tomb: boxes full of the original multitrack master recordings complete with their liner notes, engineer's notes from recording sessions, financial receipts and other miscellaneous items.
Cody’s immediate order of business was digitizing every single one of those items in order to preserve them, then getting the isolated tracks into the hands of producers and DJs. It was a long process that required baking the tapes to prevent them from falling apart, listening to and cataloguing each individual track, scanning paper items and a billion other tedious things.
“That was a huge procedural first step that someone could have seen as a hassle,” explains Cody in one of the understatements of the year, “but to me was my favorite part. It was so much fun to go and listen to all of these things.”
Fania will celebrate the release of Calentura: Global Bassment with a show at the El Rey Theatre on Saturday, March 12. Panamanian rudeboys Los Rakas will open the night for Brazilian trap duo Tropkillaz and Peruvian dark cumbia outfit Dengue Dengue Dengue, who have remixes on the album.