In a moving social media post, salsa icon Rubén Blades recalled Don Rafael Viera, the “friend and mentor” who led him on a two-week adventure around the island in the late 1970s to promote Siembra, the album in which “the people at Fania had little faith.”
Viera, record store owner and the promoter largely responsible for the success of New York salsa in Puerto Rico – and by extension, internationally, died on Jan. 13 at a reported 90 years-old. His death was publically announced by his son, musicologist Richie Viera.
“They put me in the hands of a gentleman who they introduced as someone who had the best contacts with the best DJs on the island,” Blades wrote of his first promotional trip to Puerto Rico to push what would become the best-selling salsa record of all time (Willie Colón, his collaborator on the album, did not make the trip.). “His name was Rafael Viera.”
Expresamos nuestro pesar por el fallecimiento de Don Rafael Viera,el gran promotor discográfico de Puerto Rico cuya labor fue fundamental para el boom de la Salsa. Nuestro pésame a su familia, en especial a su hijo @richieviera (con quien está en la foto) que sigue sus pasos QDEP pic.twitter.com/WmIRz8XFsd
— @discosdesalsa (@discosdesalsa) January 14, 2019
Rafael Viera was the owner of Viera Discos, also known as La Casa de Coleccionista, often called “the cathedral of Latin Music,” which for over 60 years was housed in a former church in San Juan. The store had an inventory of approximately 180,000 recordings when its closed its doors in San Juan in 2016.
He worked as a promoter in Puerto Rico for Fania and other New York Latin labels, including Tico and Alegre. In 1973, Viera was the promoter of the first Fania All Stars concert in Puerto Rico. That legendary show inaugurated the Roberto Clemente Stadium in San Juan.
“I asked Rafael how many stations there were in Puerto Rico at that time,” Blades recalled, in Spanish, in his fond remembrance of his first encounter with Viera in 1978, one that captures the grass roots spirit of the time. “He asked me on what part of the island I was referring to. I told him, ‘ALL of Puerto Rico, Rafael.’ He stared at me, amused, and said there were a lot. I said, ‘well, let’s go to all of them, even the most remote ones, the ones that even he didn’t visit with artists. He told that would take some time. I answered, ‘time is what we’ve got plenty of now, Rafael.’ And for two weeks we went all around Puerto Rico, from the East to the West, north to South and we reached stations that had dirt floors or blocks of cement that hadn’t been painted and never would be. We slept in the car, or wherever we found space, and I’ll never forget the face of the DJs when we walked into their studio. “No one ever comes here,” many of them said, and they made us feel like family, professionals and appreciated.”
Viera worked with a long list of Latin artists who would become household names, including Hector Lavoe, Celia Cruz, Larry Harlow and others on the Fania roster, and many more.
“Thank you for your support, your affection, because you always believed in me, in our work, in our person, in our music,” Blades wrote.
Viera is being honored today (Jan. 14) with funeral services open to the public at the Frankie Memorial funeral home in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.
RAFAEL VIERA?Mi primer viaje promocional a Puerto Rico fue debido al álbum ¨Siembra¨. La gente de Fania, deseosa de mover un disco en el cual no tenían mucha fe, consideraron necesario el que viajara a la isla, para promocionarlo…
(Texto continúa en foto adjunta) … pic.twitter.com/ZZVCgHwFVA
— Rubén Blades (@rubenblades) January 14, 2019