Canyon Cody, the Los Angeles-based DJ and music scholar who is Fania’s recently appointed Vice President of A&R, is both a purist and an innovator. Cody executive produced Calentura: Global Bassment, a new album that marks a turning point for the storied salsa label and its enduring catalogue of vintage urban Latino hits.
“I had in my head what this album would sound like for a really long time,” says Cody, whose mother is Cuban (he is also a direct descendent of Buffalo Bill Cody). Creating something new with some of the best known and most sampled dance songs of all time is, as has often been witnessed, risky. How do you make a new version that doesn’t make listeners either run for the original song, or totally ignore that the original ever existed?
Cody’s respect for a legacy he knows intimately is matched by his fervor for a current dance music scene he has been part of developing. Calentura is the name of a regular Fania-promoted dance party in Los Angeles. With the Calentura, album, Cody has given the Fania gold new luster, moving the sound forward in a way that comes off as natural as the creation of the music that first sweated out of New York’s Latino community in the 1970s.
The two-disc set starts with Happy Colors’ take on Celia Cruz & Johnny Pacheco’s “Virgencita,” and ends with a Jose Marquez remix of “Aguanile,” one of the most emblematic Fania songs. On one highlight, Bomba Estereo takes the lesser known “Pa Colombia” deep, realizing the dream duet of Li Saumet and Hector Lavoe and bouncing into an Afro-Latin frenzy. Dengue Dengue Dengue and Major Lazer’s Jillionaire helm other tracks. Celia Cruz, who enthusiastically kept up with the times until her death at age 77, would surely have been thrilled by Cody and Captain Planet’s version of “Pun Pun Catalu.”
Calentura: Global Bassment comes out today (March 11). Album artists will perform at a release party at L.A.’s Rey Theatre on Sat. March 12.
Billboard talked to Cody about the new album, the recent discovery of original Fania recordings in a storage facility, and the future of the Fania label.
For this album, you were working with some of the best, and best known, Latin dance tracks of all time. A daunting task. How do you make songs like “La Murga” and “Aguanile” new?
I think this is a really natural evolution for Fania, which has always been about experimental popular dance music. [Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe, Johnny Pacheco and the other Fania artists] brought together Caribbean and Latin American influences with funk and jazz in the sixties and seventies. Now we’re mixing Fania’s history with what’s going on on the dance floor today. Whether that’s house or hip hop, it all falls under the umbrella of mixing our past with our future. I grew up with this music, but I wanted to express where we are now.
Now you are Fania’s VP of A&R. What kind of responsibility to you feel to the legacy? What do you think is important to remember about Fania?
The way we think of Fania now in retrospect is that it was traditional. But during its time, it was disruptive. It was doing things that in the eyes of purists of the time were in some way corrupting Latin music by bringing in electric bass being played in disco style, or singing in English.
Or the topics they were talking about. Most of tropical music is about love songs and heartbreak and celebrating where you’re from in the countryside. These guys in New York started to talk about poverty, crime and gangsterdom. They were reflecting what their reality was at the time.
How has hosting and DJing parties in Los Angeles and other cities informed how you directed the production of this album?
A lot of the people who come to our parties are second-generation Americans, and they heard their parents play all these Fania Records. We were playing bootleg Fania remixes at our parties before. We have a love for that history, but we also have our own style. A lot of the music we are playing comes under the umbrella of global bass.
Live events are very important [for Fania]. All of the DJs on the album, like Happy Colors and Uproot Andy, and all of these artists, have come through the Fania party to debut their track.
There have been Fania remix albums before this. What makes this one different?
We had access to the original multi-track recordings.
Fania was sharing the original multitrack stems for the first time with the producers – you have clean a capella, isolated conga…It really opened up possibilities for producers. They could take the song apart and really use it as sample material. A lot of these songs don’t need to be called remixes. They are using source material to make new songs.
Why weren’t producers given that access to the recordings before?
Fania recorded from the mid-sixties until the mid-eighties, and after Fania co-founder and president] Jerry Massucci died [in 1997], no one knew where most of the original multitrack recording sessions were. A lot of the music that subsequently came out on CD was ripped from existing vinyl. Fairly recently, a paper trail was found with receipts to a Fania storage locker at a facility in the Hudson Valley that no one had known existed. They went to see what was there, thinking it was probably a bunch of albums. It turned out to be the original tapes, thousands of tapes of the original sessions.
The first thing I did when I started at Fania [in 2015] was go through the list of tapes and decide which ones were the ones to digitize and get into hands of DJs.
Its been really magic to listen to these recordings. Hearing the multiple takes, and outtakes, like hearing [legendary singer] Hector Lavoe cracking up in the studio. Those fly-on-the-wall moments are so precious.
Where does Fania go from here?
Now we are looking toward next 50 years. The next step is signing new artists and releasing new orignal material.I think the sound you hear is a good indication of the sort of music we’re looking toward: experimental, popular, global dance music. Our priority has always been dance, and what that means today is a different thing than it was forty years ago.