A Great Day in Salsa, Indeed

There was something off with the picture. On one side, there were about 50 of the greatest salseros on the planet waiting to have their group photograph taken: Johnny Pacheco, Ismael Miranda, Joe Bataan, (a skinny!) Tito Nieves, Bobby Sanabria, my  favorite “Marvelous Jew” Larry Harlow, the list goes on. And on the other side stood the staff of a New York City daily paper that’s been boycotted by many, including myself, since its publication of a racist cartoon depicting of our president. It was great to see all these men gathered together in one room at Montana Studios on 56th Street: the electricity, for someone whose been reared on salsa and the Fania sound, was almost overwhelming. However, it was strange to see that the honor of shooting these titans was given to someone painfully oblivious to who they are.  This wasn’t just another gig. And what made it even more off-kilter was that photographer Joe Conzo, whose shot many of the men in the room, was standing on the sideline. If it weren’t for his homeboy Joe Bataan, he may have missed the session altogether. My favorite awkward moment, though, came when all these men were told by the photographer to scream, “Viva la Salsa” (now, picture someone like, say, George Bush, Jr. demanding Tito Puente to say  that in lieu of “cheese” and you’ll overstand what I’m getting at). To her credit, the photog succeeded in quieting the room down. You could hear a pin drop for like five whole seconds. Joe Conzo is someone so rooted in the currents of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s music and nightlife scene in New York City—his dad, Joe Conzo, Sr., was the late Tito Puente’s “confidant and historian”— that it was almost blasphemous not seeing him man the shoot. Art Kane shot A Great Day in Harlem. Gordon Parks shot A Great Day in Hip-Hop. So why wouldn’t we treat our salsa legends with the same respect? Go figure. Here are some of the moments Joe captured (and gave me permission to post).

Pacheco, FelicianoJohnny Pacheco, Cheo Feliciano

getattachment-7Ismael Miranda, Johnny Pacheco and yours truly

Joe BataanJoe Bataan

Dave ValentinDave Valentin

Pacheco, CepedaJohnny Pacheco sharing a story with me about performing in Abidjan. Incredible.

Bobby Sanabria, Joe BataanBobby Sanabria and Joe Bataan

Comments 10

  1. Amazing to be in the presence of these “gran maestros”! I see you flirting with the Johnny Pacheco…lol. Thanks for sharing this historic day with the light and introspection that only you can bring to it.

  2. “that it was almost blasphemous not seeing him man the shoot.” I couldn’t of said it better, sis. You & I both know what time it is – and that’s why we’re currently doing a movie on his life. Having my man Joe playing the sidelines for such a historical shoot, one that he was certainly overqualified to memorialize, was dead wrong. Love the shots though, Joe; and appreciated your words, Raquel.

    Paz Y Amor,

  3. Thank You Raquel for the great story behind the story… bitter sweet but sweet nonetheless… Wow such musical greats within that room with so many stories, I can’t wait to hear more.

    Much love,

  4. raquel!!!

    you have quite the following on your blog, huh? the names above are like a who’s who!

    thanks for sharing the day and thoughts. no doubt props to joe conzo, the coolest of the cool.

    why didn’t they shoot it in El Barrio outdoors? or at the Julia De Burgos community center or something like that?

    oh, shout out to Bobby Sanabria, mad dope brother, too, met him a couple of years ago and we were building on some real fly vibes. good dude.


  5. I’m a Nuyorican raised on Fania, and seeing these photos brought me to tears. Right now I’m juggling an ongoing battle with my landlord for my Harlem apartment (gentrification) and trying to find an appropriate school for my little ones (de-facto segregation). Right before I stumbled on this page, I saw something about Lincoln Center, celebrating 50 years… my grandfather lived in San Juan Hill and was displaced, 50 years since a black neighborhood was declared blighted and razed from its location. We’re forever held down and treated like shit, but through ‘arts and letters’, through music… we still rise to incredible heights.

    The logistics might be complicated, but I would love to see these guys perform together (maybe in Lincoln Center somewhere…) and there should be another photo shoot, by Joe Conzo – because there’s more than one great day in salsa.

    Pride & gratitude,

  6. Pingback: Snapshots of Fania Worship, New York City Style! - djali rancher

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.