Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Fania All Stars - Congo Bongo

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part pancocojams series on recordings entitled "Congo Bongo". This post showcases a sound file of the 1973/1974 recording "Congo Bongo" by The Fania All Stars.

Information about that group is included in this post. This post also includes an excerpt of an article about the first performance of "Congo Bongo" by that group.

Part II of this series showcases a sound file of the 2003 song entitled "Congo Bongo" by Ghanaian vocalist Blakk Rasta.

Click for that post.

For a related post, click

The content of this post is presented for cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.


The Fania All-Stars is a musical ensemble established in 1968 by the composer, Johnny Pacheco, as a showcase for the musicians on the record label Fania Records, the leading salsa record company of the time.[1]

In 1964, Fania Records was founded in New York City by Jerry Masucci, an Italian-American lawyer with a love for Latin melodies, and Johnny Pacheco, a composer and bandleader, born in the Dominican Republic. Masucci later bought out his partner Pacheco from Fania Entertainment Group Ltd., and was the sole owner for many years until his death in December 1997.

Throughout the early years, Fania used to distribute its records around New York. Eventually success from Pacheco's Cañonaso recording would lead the label to develop its roster. Masucci and Pacheco, now executive negotiator and musical director, respectively, began acquiring musicians such as Bobby Valentín, Larry Harlow and Ray Barreto.

In 1968, Fania Records created a continuously revolving line-up of entertainers known as the Fania All-Stars. In 1971 they recorded Fania All-Stars: Live At The Cheetah, Volumes 1 and 2. It exhibited the entire All-Star family performing before a capacity audience in New York's Cheetah Lounge.

Following sell-out concerts in Puerto Rico, Chicago and Panama, the All-Stars embarked on their first appearance at New York's Yankee Stadium on August 24, 1973... Live at Yankee Stadium was included in the second set of 50 recordings in the List of recordings preserved in the United States National Recording Registry, solidifying the All-Stars as "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant."

"By 1973 Fania Records' flagship super-group, the Fania All Stars, were on a roll. Their two-volume album Live At The Cheetah (1971) had became the biggest selling live Latin recordings up to that point and the 1972 movie Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa), prominently featuring clips from the Cheetah concert, was opening doors abroad. Despite advice to the contrary, label boss Jerry Masucci (1934-1997) took the bold step of booking New York's massive Yankee Stadium for a salsa concert on Friday, August 24, 1973. They thought we were crazy, said Masucci. But I rented the place for one night for $180,000 cash. His gamble paid off, because the event attracted a crowd of about 45,000.

It was a condition of the stadium rental that the performers should stay on the platform stage and the audience remain in the stands, located far away from the stage. All went according to the stipulation during performances from Típica 73, El Gran Combo and Mongo Santamaría's group. However, midway through the Fania All Stars' rendition of "Congo Bongo," an incendiary conga duel between Ray Barretto and Mongo written by Larry Harlow and Heny Alvarez, the audience could no longer contain themselves, and charged the stage. Police intervened, the lights went up and the event had to be abandoned with about five numbers still to perform.

1974's "Latin-Soul-Rock" was the first album to include material from this historic concert, namely the tracks "Congo Bongo" and "El Ratón." The two-volume Live At Yankee Stadium, released the following year, featured four more songs from the concert. The live recording of "Soul Makossa" on "Latin-Soul-Rock," a cover of the 1972 hit by Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango, and the remaining six cuts on the Live At Yankee Stadium albums were all recorded at the Fania All Stars' debut in San Juan, Puerto Rico, opening the new Roberto Clemente Coliseum. For the rest of "Latin-Soul-Rock," the band and its invited guests, Dibango, Jorge Malo Santana, Billy Cobham and Jan Hammer, reconvened at Good Vibration Sound Studios to record the material they were supposed to have performed at Yankee Stadium."


Pedro Barriera - Dec 23, 2012
December 26, 2019: This video replaces the one that was originally embedded in this post but is no longer available.

In researching the phrase "Congo Bongo", I also learned that "Congo Bongo" was the title of an early 1980s video game, and is the name of vacation lodges in Costa Rica.

"Congo Bongo (J: Tip Top (ティップタップ Tippu Tappu?)) is an isometric platform arcade game released by Sega in 1983. The game has come to be seen as Sega's answer to the highly successful Donkey Kong game that was released two years prior. The player takes the role of a red-nosed safari hunter who tries to catch an ape named "Bongo"... Like Donkey Kong, the levels are composed of a series of four single screens that loop in a higher difficulty when completed… Despite being a commercial failure when it was initially released [4] Congo Bongo has been ported to nearly every major gaming platform of the day, including SG-1000, MSX, Intellivision,[5] ColecoVision, Commodore 64 (twice - by Sega in 1983 and by U.S. Gold in 1985), IBM PC, Atari 2600, Atari 5200 and Atari 8-bit computers."

From for information about the Costa Rican vacation houses.

I want to add a comment about the cultural context that I bring to this song.

I admit that I had a negative reaction to the words "Congo Bongo" and I tried to figure out why that was so. After some thought, I realized that I had that negative reaction as a direct result of the 1960s American cartoon King Leonardo And His Short Subjects in which "Bongo Congo" was given as the fictitious name for an African nation. The link for the post that I published about "Bongo Congo" is given above.

Furthermore, my initial reaction to the "Bongo Congo" song title caused me to wonder if the the composer of this "Congo Bongo" song was influenced by the definitely culturally offensive 1947 "Bongo Bongo Bongo" song and/or the 1960s cartoon series based in the fictitious African nation of "Bongo Congo". It's possible that the "Congo Bongo" name had nothing at all to do with either of those sources. Still, I have to struggle against a negative reaction to that title. However, I'm aware that people from other cultures probably don't have the same reactions to this song title because they don't have the same negative associatons from the 1947 song and frivolous if not actually negative associations from the cartoon show that I bring to that "Congo Bongo" title.

Thanks to the Fania All Stars for their musical legacy. Thanks also to the composers of "Congo Bongo", the authors who I quoted, and the publisher of this soundfile on YouTube.

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