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World Music CD Reviews Greater Latin America

THE FANIA ALL-STARS

By Paul-Emile Comeau
Published April 26, 2006

¿Qué Pasa? The Best of Fania All-Stars
Columbia/Legacy

Calling this album “The Best of Fania All-Stars” is a half-truth. It would have been more honest to title it “The Best of the Columbia Years: 1976-1979.” The band’s earlier live albums set high standards but the four Columbia studio albums, which make up only a small part of the group’s output, were mostly inconsistent. Although not every track here is a gem, this compilation is welcome for making available 13 of those four albums’ highlights. These sessions’ attempts at mixing salsa with crossover pop styles such as fusion jazz and R&B dance music were controversial at the time. Considering the more recent success of Latino pop, this music could now be considered ahead of its time. Besides making good use of elaborate horn charts, and a string section on half these tracks, there are also featured guest vocalists (Ruben Blades, Celia Cruz), and guest musicians (Steve Winwood, Eric Gale). Gale’s guitar especially shines, such as on the opening “Ella Fue,” which includes a short but clever musical reference to “Twist And Shout” in the chorus.