Johnny Pacheco, Who Helped Bring Salsa to the World, Dies at 85

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The band signed with Alegre Records, and its first album sold more than 100,000 copies in the first year, becoming one the best-selling Latin albums of its time, according to his official website. It jump-started Mr. Pacheco’s career with the introduction of a new dance craze called the pachanga. He became an international star, touring the United States, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Fania Records was born out of an unlikely partnership between Mr. Pacheco and Mr. Masucci, a former police officer turned lawyer who fell in love with Latin music during a visit to Cuba.

From its humble beginnings in Harlem and the Bronx — where releases were sold from the trunks of cars — Fania brought an urbane sensibility to Latin music. In New York, the music had taken on the name “salsa” (Spanish for sauce, as in hot sauce), and the Fania label began using it as part of its marketing.

Guided by Mr. Pacheco, artists built a new sound based on traditional clave rhythms and the genre Cuban son (or son Cubano), but faster and more aggressive. Many of the lyrics — about racism, cultural pride and the tumultuous politics of the era — were far removed from the pastoral and romantic scenes in traditional Cuban songs.

In that sense, salsa was “homegrown American music, as much a part of the indigenous musical landscape as jazz or rock or hip-hop,” Jody Rosen wrote in The New York Times in 2006 on the occasion of the reissue of the Fania master tapes — after they had spent years gathering mold in a warehouse in Hudson, N.Y.


Mr. Pacheco teamed up with Ms. Cruz in the early 1970s. Their first album, “Celia & Johnny,” was a potent mix of hard-driving salsa with infectious choruses and virtuosic performances. It soon went gold, thanks to Ms. Cruz’s vocal prowess and Mr. Pacheco’s big-band direction, and its first track, the up-tempo “Quimbara,” helped propel Ms. Cruz’s career to Queen of Salsa status.

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