Liner Note Author: John Child.
1974 was a landmark year for the Fania All-Stars. Not only had the band performed its massive Live at Yankee Stadium concert, but they also played to sold-out crowds in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Mexico. Their biggest crowd, however, was in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in front of 80,000 fans as part of the music festival that preceded the legendary Muhammad Ali/George Foreman fight, Rumble in the Jungle. Other performers included Bill Withers, B.B. King, the Crusaders, Manu Dibango, Miriam Makeba, the Pointer Sisters, the Spinners, and Sister Sledge. This DVD/CD package documents the Fania All-Stars arrival, performance, and interaction with the music fans of Zaire -- where they had reached phenomenal chart success. The Leon Gast-directed original film wasn't released until 1986. This package provides a very fine remastering of that film on DVD, with a CD companion piece. The DVD is the selling point because as a film, it's fascinating and integral in capturing the group at the height of their powers. It documents the entire performance featuring Celia Cruz, Jorge Santana, Yomo Toro, Larry Harlow, Bobby Valentín, Héctor Lavoe, Santo Colon, Ismael Quintana, Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barretto, Pupi Legarreta, and Joseíto Fernandez, to name a few. The transfer is the same one released by Código Music in 2011. The difference in the packaging is, of course, the addition of the CD (which was also previously released everywhere but the United States). Rather than contain the film's soundtrack -- since it would have to be cut to fit -- the disc is, rather bizarrely, the soundtrack to the bonus footage in the film, plus three musical performances by the Fania All-Stars from the show. This isn't a complaint per se, since it does contain a great Congo Tribal song, a jam in the Ivory Market, and one at the Kinshasa airport, and the three concert performances, including the lengthy "Descarga Fania All Stars," with Cruz improvising, "Guantanamera," and the inimitable "Ponte Duro." There's even a brief performance of a traditional song by Lavoe and Quintana. The CD is not essential if you already own the DVD, but given the price tag, Live in Africa as a package is a nice addition and stands up as an individual listen. The film, however, is indispensable for any fan of the Fania All-Stars. ~ Thom Jurek