Will history repeat itself. An interview with Joe Bataan and Michael Ruker.
From L.f. Chaluisan Batlle Editor Salsa Magazine
“With all due respect to Joe Bataan (who has been successful in keeping his brand alive with his West Coast following) the current Fania Record’s leadership and legal team haven’t got a clue how to relaunch the label as a viable source of alternative Latin culture. In the first place, utilizing contemporary DJ remixes of classic material instead of nurturing reasonably priced live music presentations by current Latin Tinged orchestras is delusional. In the second place, abandoning individuals like Mr Salsa Izzy Sanabria who knew how to market Salsa via publishing, television and artwork is self defeating. And in the third place, the backroom politics of Larry Harlow and his crew of non-Latino industry thugs to make it seem that it is Harlow who pushes Salsa into it’s Golden Age of productivity is the ultimate insult to all Latino musicians/supporters who create the genre.”
“This Is Gone Forever”
Meanwhile in the Bronx, things haven’t been working very well for Mike Amadeo, owner of the famed Casa Amadeo salsa record store. The store has been in continuous operation since 1941. But it might not last much longer.
“Business is lousy,” says Amadeo. “Nobody in the music business is going to tell me after 64 years in the music business that this is going to be like it was before. It will never happen again, this is gone forever.”
Amadeo says that in Fania’s heyday, records flew off the shelves—he made $7 thousand dollars a week, more than three times what he takes in today. He says there used to be over a hundred ballrooms with live bands in the Bronx alone. Today, not one is left. And if you ask him about the new Fania owners—let’s just say he’s not pleased.
“Let them buy an American record company, for the English speaking people that know what the hell they doing. They don’t know what the hell they doing,” says Amadeo.
Amadeo was once a shot-caller in the salsa industry, back when everybody involved were friends and extended family from the barrio. He and other old-timers say they feel neglected by the new Fania. Amadeo, for example, says the new owners never once called him up to try to learn from his decades of experience selling music to the community. He says the stuff they are putting out doesn’t make sense.
“What Fania is doing right now is killing the industry. The few people that are left that go to the stores to buy records, they want the original recordings as they came out,” says Amadeo.
Reinvent, or Die
The new Fania isn’t particularly interested in reaching the people that go to the stores to buy records. For Michael Rucker at Fania, there’s a different audience in mind.
“Now we look forward and we say – how do we take this to a younger audience today,” says Rucker. “Because at the end of the day, if you aren’t reinventing, if you’re not going to find new listeners then ultimately you die. And that’s exactly what we don’t want to happen.”
In an attempt to reach younger audiences, Fania is has been working with DJs and putting out remix albums that sample their catalog. For some members of the salsa community like Mike Amadeo, this amounts to sacrilege—a watering down of a rich musical history. But Joe Bataan, for one, isn’t so sure.
“If you sit on history, it dies. So you got to lift yourself from your seat, let history breath, and pass it on, and then you’ll have a chance with the music,” says Bataan.
It’s unclear whether the new Fania will succeed in reaching the youth — the label won’t share sales numbers, so we don’t know how well they are actually doing. But, says Bataan, at least they are trying, and giving the next generation a chance to decide what Fania means to them.
Michael Ruker and the Fania/ Codigo people are working to revive the Fania label and mystique. Only time will tell. http://latinousa.org/2014/08/15/fania-records-fifty-years-sabor/