When he and his family moved to the Bronx in the 1940s to escape dictator Rafael Trujillo’s oppressive regime, he picked up more instruments, including the accordion, violin, flute, saxophone and clarinet — his father’s primary instrument.
His label created salsa stars
Their specialty? A unique blend of Latino musical styles, mostly up-tempo, marked by strong percussion and a musical ensemble that could steal the show from the singer.
The public called it “salsa.”
The Fania All-Stars’ lineup changed over time, though its best known members include Cruz, beloved Puerto Rican salsa singer Héctor Lavoe and jazz pioneer Ray Barretto. But Pacheco was its constant. He played on records with the label’s talent, produced their albums and served as their bandleader in live concerts.
And at the same time Pacheco’s All Stars were going mainstream, Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans and Latin Americans were establishing a new identity in the US. The music of Fania inspired many Afro Cubans and Puerto Ricans to become involved politically, political science professor Jose Cruz told NPR in 2006.
Perhaps the best evidence of salsa’s impact occurred in August 1973, when the Fania All-Stars performed to a crowd of more than 44,000 at Yankee Stadium. Attendees hung Puerto Rican flags throughout the stadium and at one point stormed the field during an especially riveting conga duel between Barretto and Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria.
The concert ended early after the field-storming but was commemorated with a live album and a documentary.
The end of Fania Records
Fania’s success eventually waned as salsa was eclipsed by other burgeoning genres, and it stopped recording in 1979. But its success signified a shift in the American musical landscape, pushing it in a more international direction.
He continued to tour with an orchestra in the early aughts, playing many of the same songs he wrote for his Fania artists. The “enthusiasm” powered his performances, he said.
Despite his fractured relationship with Fania co-founder Masucci and his early exit from the label, he told Billboard he was still “very proud” of the work he did then.
“I put together a group that was unbelievable,” he told Billboard in 2014. “It’s been 50 years, and we’re still like a family.”
“He was much more than a musician, bandleader, writer, arranger and producer; he was a visionary,” the record label wrote. “His music will live on eternally, and we are forever grateful to have been a part of his wonderful journey.”