Salsa, the Spanish word for sauce, is virtually synonymous with New York’s Fania Records. Often described as the Latin Motown, the label hosted recording sessions by anyone who was anyone in Spanish Harlem’s electrifying music scene during the late ’60s and ’70s — everyone from Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria and La Lupe to Louie Ramirez, Eddie Palmieri and Willie Colon. All of these performers and dozens of others are represented on “El Barrio,” Fania’s new 4-CD, 64-track collection of Nuyorican funk, soul, disco and boogaloo from the label’s heyday.
Disc one concentrates on the funk, including “Together (Juntos),” conga great Ray Barretto’s bracing denunciation of racism, and “Everybody’s Got Soul,” a churning slab of psychedelia by the aptly named, one-album wonders Flash and the Dynamics. The second disc focuses on disco and is highlighted by Puente’s 1974 hit “Wata Wasuri,” Colon’s meringue-steeped “Amor Verdadero” and Lou Perez’s brisk “Afro Hustle.” The third disc is dedicated to boogaloo, the infectious fusion of Latin and black R&B that achieved mainstream popularity in the late ’60s. Maybe the most irresistible of the four CDs, disc three is galvanized by the horn-charged call-and-response of Joey Pastrana’s “King of Latin Soul” and Dave Cortez’s breakbeat-triggered “Happy Soul With a Hook,” one of several tracks here built around the groovy rhythm of Archie Bell and the Drells’ 1968 hit “Tighten Up.” Disc four is subtitled “Gangsters, Latin Soul and the Birth of Salsa,” but really everything in “El Barrio” defies classification, other than as salsa, and of the most piquant variety.
“Wata Wasuri,” “King of Latin Soul,” “Happy Soul With a Hook”