In 1974, the Fania All-Stars performed in Zaire, Africa, at the 80,000-seat Stade du 20 mai in Kinshasa. In this rare Zairean appearance they performed at a music festival held in conjunction with “The Rumble In The Jungle”. In addition to promoting the Ali-Foreman fight, the Zaire 74 event was intended to present and promote racial and cultural solidarity between African American and African people. Thirty-one performing groups, 17 from Zaire and 14 from overseas, performed. Featured performers included top R&B and soul artists from the United States such as James Brown, Bill Withers, B.B. King, and The Spinners as well as prominent African performers such as Miriam Makeba, TPOK Jazz, and Tabu Ley Rochereau. When Muhammad Ali fought George Foreman in 1974 for the heavyweight title of the world with the promotion of Detroit promoter, Don King, he brought a global audience to Africa and a message of unity along with musical gifts from North America consisting of Funk, Soul and Salsa.
The Queen of Salsa, the Cuban Goddess Celia Cruz, lending her spectacular voice to the Fania All-Stars performing in 1974 in Zaire, Africa before over 60,000 crazed fans, became a homecoming of sorts. To call their music African-originated is somewhat of a misnomer. Although Salsa bears African roots with its complex percussion based on the clave (two wooden sticks struck in four different rhythms), the cowbell, the “tumbao” (conga drums), Spanish guitars, pianos and brassy horns, Salsa is a concoction of Cuban and Puerto Rican ingredients that mingled with American Jazz and matured in New York City in the 1950s. Its heyday came in the 1970s in dance clubs like the Palladium and in the tenements of El Barrio (East Harlem or the so-called Spanish Harlem). From there, Salsa’s popularity spread throughout the Americas, Europe, Japan and Africa.
The Zaire concert was a performance of The Fania All-Stars at one of their most glorious moments. It was made into a movie and celebrated by lovers of exquisite music all over the world. View the film below.
The concert was a shining masterpiece of bandleader Johnny Pacheco, the now 85-year-old Dominican musician, composer, arranger, producer and one of the most influential artists of Latin music. He was a creator of The Fania All-Stars that included some of the greatest Latin musicians and singers at their prime, as well as Fania Records, co-founded in 1964 with an Italian-American divorce attorney, Jerry Masucci. Known as “the Latin Motown,” Fania Records became the most successful record label in the history of Latin Music. Pacheco is credited with coining the term “Salsa” to denote the genre.
We are the very fortunate heirs of Salsa at its zenith in films such as “Our Latin Thing,” “Yo Soy La Salsa,” “Celia Cruz and The Fania All-Stars in Africa,” “Soul Power,” “Mondo New York,” “Celia: The Queen,” and others have been made accessible via YouTube. Footage of the performance was also included in the 2008 documentary Soul Power.