Sunday, May 4, 2008

American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music October 13, 2007 – September 7, 2008, Experience Music Project, Seattle, WA

Jasen Emmons, Manager EMP Programs, and Senior Curator at EMP walks through the exhibit....

"American Sabor, which opened last week at EMP and will run until Sept. 7, 2008, savors the Latino influence on American popular music [and is] a joyful, colorful, interactive study and celebration of the long-overlooked contribution of Latino music and rhythms to American pop music since World War II."
- Oct. 18, 2007

By Peter Kelley for University Week

This is a show that I was invited to help curate, "American sabor" - specifically I was asked to create a wall of album cover art & write about it for the wall signage. The wall's size and scope grew as I got deeper into it; I also expanded my input to help the EMP team find archive material, as well as providing a "soundtrack" of sorts for the listening kiosks attached to the album wall. In addition I put together some displays covering the different record labels that serviced the Latino markets in the various U.S. cities focused on in the exhibit. Below is some text that will help give you an idea of the show, as well as some pictures. ¡A gozar! - enjoy!

From the EMP web site:

American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music is the first interpretive museum exhibition to tell the story of the profound influence and impact of Latinos in American popular music. The exhibition was created in partnership with guest curators from the University of Washington. Rich with artifacts, instrument interactives, listening kiosks and films, American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music is open at EMP|SFM through September 7, 2008. A cell phone audio tour is available in the exhibition gallery.
The 5,000-square-foot exhibition focuses on five major centers of Latino popular music production in the post-World War II United States—New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio and San Francisco—which represent the diversity of Latino music. Each city section draws visitors into the broader histories and cultures that shaped these musicians’ contributions through artifacts, hands-on instrument interactives designed to teach key concepts, highly produced listening kiosks that allow critical listening and learning, three films created for the exhibition and interpretive text presented in English and Spanish.

American Sabor: Latinos en la Música Popular Norteamericana es la primera exposición inter pretativa sobre la profunda influencia eimpacto de los latinos en la música popular de los Unidos. Repleta de artefactos, juegos interactivos con instrumentos, cabinas musicales y películas, American Sabor: Latinos en la Música Popular Norteamericana se inaugurará en el EMP|SFM el 13 de octubre del 2007.
La exposición, con 5,000 pies cuadrados, se enfoca en cinco centros de producción de música popular latina en los Estados Unidos de la postguerra, que representan su diversidad: Nueva York, Los Ángeles, Miami, San Antonio y San Francisco. Cada sección urbana atrae al visitante a las historias y culturas que definieron a estos músicos mediante la presentación de artefactos, actividades interactivas con instrumentos cuyo propósito es resaltar conceptos clave, cabinas musicales de alta tecnología que promueven la audición y el aprendizaje críticos, tres películas producidaspara la exposición, y material interpretativo en inglés y en español.

The Catalog to the Exhibition

(exerpts from the American Sabor Narrative Touring Text provided by Experience Music Project)

Experience Music Project, in partnership with the University of Washington School of Music and College of Arts and Sciences, is currently creating American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music, the first interactive and interpretive museum exhibit to tell the story of the profound influence and impact of Latinos in American popular music. Rich with artifacts, instrument interactives, listening kiosks, and films, American Sabor will debut at Experience Music Project (EMP), a non-profit music museum in Seattle, Washington, in October 2007, before becoming a national traveling exhibition in October 2008.

To tell this complex story, the 5,000-square-foot exhibition focuses on five major centers of Latino popular music production in the post-World War II United States—New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio, and San Francisco—which represent the diversity of Latino music. Each city section draws visitors into the broader histories and cultures that shaped these musicians’ contributions through artifacts, hands-on instrument interactives designed to teach key concepts, highly produced listening kiosks that allow critical listening and learning, four films created specifically for the exhibit, striking graphics, and interpretive text presented in both English and Spanish. Following its 11-month run at Experience Music Project, American Sabor will travel to five cultural institutions (and possibly more) around the United States, spending 13 weeks at each venue.

Latino contributions to popular music in the United States have too often been relegated to the margins and footnotes of a narrative dominated by the interaction of African and European Americans—an overly black and white view of our musical history. Where it is addressed, Latin music is often portrayed as an exotic resource for “American” musicians, as suggested by pianist Jelly Roll Morton’s famous reference to “the Spanish Tinge” in U.S. music.

American Sabor (sabor is the Spanish word for taste or flavor, commonly used to describe good music) is a museum exhibit that turns that phrase and that perspective on its head, documenting the roles of post-World War II U.S. Latino musicians as interpreters and disseminators of Latin American genres, but also highlighting their roles as innovators within genres of music that we understand to be indigenous to the United States, such as jazz, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, and hip-hop. American Sabor thus addresses problems of cultural representation that are of concern to members of an increasingly visible and influential community in this country (Latinos constitute approximately 13% of the U.S. population, and gaining), while at the same time documenting musical histories and connections to the broader Americas that can be embraced and celebrated by all Americans.

Recent exhibitions about Latino music have been much narrower in scope. Latin Jazz: La Combinacíon Perfecta (Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit Service) focuses exclusively on Latin Jazz and does not contain any artifacts, while ¡Azúcar! The Life and Music of Celia Cruz (Smithsonian National Museum of American History) concentrates on a single artist. By focusing on five major production centers, American Sabor demonstrates the ethnic roots and diversity of Latino music, from mambo, salsa, and hip-hop in New York City to mariachi, punk, and banda rap in Los Angeles, from post-disco and pop in Miami to conjunto and Tex Mex in San Antonio and salsa and psychedelic rock in San Francisco.

The choice to focus on “popular music” is not simply a curatorial bias or a way to attract big crowds, but is predicated on the fact that popular culture is a medium through which many people make sense of their histories and their places in society. Rather than simply dismissing popular culture as a commercial product of the mass media, contemporary scholars also see it as a source of new ideas that may even shape “high culture.” American Sabor looks to popular music for what it can tell us about how people make sense of a fast-changing world and for the ways Latinos have articulated their identities in and through it.

The Exhibition

Curated by a team of experts from Experience Music Project and the UW School of Music, American Sabor presents the music of U.S. Latinos as never before, in an interpretive and interactive museum exhibition. The exhibit explores the five featured cities’ unique histories, artists, and musical styles since World War II. These geographical and chronological boundaries make the scope manageable for a 5,000-square-foot exhibit while remaining flexible enough to allow stories in the exhibit to extend into other places and times when necessary.

Among the more than 100 artifacts are instruments, costumes, and photographs that document the cultural history of U.S. Latinos, as well as records that have changed the course of U.S. music history. Hands-on music-making, critical listening, and films created by the EMP/UW curatorial team are central elements of the exhibit, designed to deepen visitors’ understanding of Latino music, rhythms, and dance. The instrument interactives teach visitors some basic techniques of button accordion, clave, hand drums, and keyboards, and the five listening stations help visitors identify some of the distinctive components of different genres, through a close listening to and breakdown of key songs. Exhibit films are especially important for the representation of social dancing, which has been a primary means for the integration of Latin music genres into the U.S. mainstream. An hour-long audio tour allows viewers to hear artists and experts share stories about specific artifacts, events, and developments. An important aim of this exhibit is to provide educational models and resources for teachers, including a companion catalog and book of essays, supplementary Web-based materials, and references to other resources.

American Sabor communicates important new perspectives on the music and cultural history of this country by providing ways for visitors, educators, and students of many different backgrounds to actively engage with the music of U.S. Latinos.

American Sabor Album Wall (Curated & Written by Pablo Yglesias)



Before I started to design Latin album covers, they were usually put together by the printers. They'd get a photo and then put down the type / titles with their eyes closed (or so it seemed to me at the time). The album covers did not have much importance to anyone, it was just some small market. I gave up my job at an advertising agency to devote myself to improving the image of Latinos by combining Music and Art.”
—Izzy Sanabria

This wall of record jackets explores the evolution of Latin music album cover art over the last 50 years. Album art should be seen not as a mute ephemeral commodity enslaved to the demands of the music bursting within, but rather as a window onto a culture’s identity, evolution, and inner dynamics. Latin music, and the design that presents it, is a unique collision of influences: African, Indigenous, European, American.
This exhibit proposes that the album is not only an invitation to dance, but that the jacket is a piece of art inspiring feelings of nostalgia while speaking to social themes (the immigrant experience, food, dance, machismo, rebellion, ethnic pride, faith) and political concerns (justice, oppression, racism). Note that humor, folklore, and fantasy were often used in the cover art to mask deeper commentary on aspects Latino life.
These album covers provide us with a visual companion to the evolving soundtrack of various Latino identities as they were shaped by experiences in the U.S. What emerges from looking at this time line of Latin music packaging is the sense that a growing consciousness of self over time has been integral to shaping perceptions of both how others see us and how we see ourselves as Latinos. The covers became more powerful and artistically challenging as the imagery moved away from the outsider view during the first 5 decades of the 20th Century that saw Latino cultures as mysterious, primitive, titillating, threatening, and hopelessly exotic. By the late 1960s, a more native identity was being expressed by designers from within the musical culture, producing a body of work increasingly in control of its own destiny and commercial representation, sometimes honest, sometimes playful and irreverent, but predominantly self-created.
In addition to representing the diversity of Latino musicians in the U.S. market, and investigating representations of identity, this wall of covers pays tribute to the numerous graphic designers and artists who frequently received very little (if any) credit or recognition for their efforts in promoting Latin music and culture.
The left half (six panels long by 12 panels high) concerns itself with the largely Chicano/Mexican-American produced music of Texas and California, while the right half shows the music industries of New York and Florida, produced primarily by people of the Spanish Caribbean. African-American influences and contributions to Latin music are also represented through out.
Though the music and cultures of the two halves are different in many ways, there are some similarities, crossovers, and common themes, the most important of which is the unique aural and visual flavor of Latin music made in this special melting-pot environment of the United States.

By the late 1960s, a more native identity was being expressed by designers from within the musical culture, increasingly producing work free from the constraints of the past, and in control of its own destiny.

Though the music and cover art of the two halves (Chicano versus Caribbean) differ in many ways, there are similarities, crossovers, and common themes, most importantly the unique flavor produced by the U.S. melting-pot environment.

Cover art helps shape perceptions of both self and other. Graphics became more powerful and artistically challenging as the imagery moved away from the initial portrayal of Latino cultures as primitive, wanton, threatening, foolish, exotic.

Humor, irony, folklore, and fantasy were often used in cover art to mask deeper commentary on aspects Latino life such as the immigrant experience, food, dance, machismo, rebellion, ethnic pride, faith, justice, oppression, and racism.

“[Our] aesthetic forces you to deal with being simultaneously enlightened and offended. [It] display[s] a keen sensitivity to universal fears, fantasies, frustrations, and stupidities. In essence, raunch and taste…achieved through craftsmanship [and] truth...” —Walter Velez

American Sabor Record Label Signage (Curated & Written by Pablo Yglesias)


The diverse melting-pot environment of the East Coast, specifically New York City (or La Gran Manzana), has been immensely important for the creative development and sustainability of Afro-Caribbean based Latin music and dance. Many record labels, big and small, have been documenting this vibrant scene for over a century now.


Various small domestic record labels sprung up in Texas from the 1950s - 70s to record the diverse Latin music made by people of primarily Mexican-American heritage. Some were Latino owned, while others were not. Starting in the 80s much of the music was licensed to multi-national corporations based elsewhere.


California represents a musical environment as multi-cultural as New York, though the musicians are primarily Mexican-American. From tiny independent labels to huge corporations, the music has found a home, with markets based primarily in L.A. and San Francisco.


Until the arrival of multi-national corporations in the 1980s, small labels were the norm and flourished in Florida, though some of them had previously existed in Cuba, and were transplants to the U.S. due to the Cuban Revolution.

Photos of the opening and related events

The three guest curators of American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music. From the left, they are Michelle Habell-Pallán, Shannon Dudley and Marisol Berríos-Miranda. Behind them in a similar pose are Latino performers Celia Cruz, Ricky Martin and Gloria Estefan.

Pablo Yglesias, curator, and renounded mambo, Latin Soul, and salsa singer Willie Torres (member of the Joe Cuba Sextet, composer of hit tune "To Be With You" and the guy dancing in the photo used for the invitation and show signage)

Members of Santana, the EMP crew, and Manager EMP Programs/Senior Curator Jasen Emmens

Jasen Emmons, Manager EMP Programs, and Senior Curator at EMP and the man in charge of the exhibit (a LOT of hard work and dedication!)

Jorge Santana, leader of Malo

Mark Guerrero, musician (solo work, Mark & The Escorts, Tango, son of Lalo Guerrero, exhibit guest curator, historian, educator) with Pablo Yglesias

Santana percussionist Mike Carabello

Santana drummer Mike Shrieve

Exhibit curators Marisol Berríos-Miranda, Shannon Dudley, and vocalist (and pster boy!!) Willie Torres

DJ Bongohead plays at the opening...

Dr. Phil Scher, scholar of Carnival

Outisde the EMP building

Album cover wall

Album wall with listening stations featuring music selections from the albums on the wall, assembled by Pablo Yglesias

Musicians from the opening: Adrián Areas (the son of Chepito Areas) and bassist and orchestra leader Joe Santiago

Bassist and orchestra leader Joe Santiago (played with many salsa and Latin Jazz greats in NYC in the 70s, including the original Willie Colon Orchestra where he played trombone, and with Andy Harlow, as well as playing on the Eddie Palmieri "La Perfecta II" albums!!)

Full text of article on the show:
EMP's 'American Sabor' savors the Latino influence on American popular music
By Peter Kelley - University Week

It's possible to discuss American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music, the new exhibit at the Experience Music Project curated by three UW researchers, without singing -- but it's not nearly as much fun.
So we'll be doing some humming and singing to ourselves in this story. Ready?
Let's start with "Louie, Louie," that famous song by The Kingsmen. (You know: "Dadada! da-da, dadada! da-da …") Get it going in your mind and we'll get back to it in a minute.
American Sabor, which opened last week at EMP and will run until Sept. 7, 2008, is a joyful, colorful, interactive study and celebration of the long-overlooked contribution of Latino music and rhythms to American pop music since World War II. You can learn more at
The exhibit was guest-curated with love and enthusiasm by UW faculty Michelle Habell-Pallán, associate professor of women studies (formerly with American ethnic studies); Shannon Dudley, associate professor of ethnomusicology; and Marisol Berríos-Miranda, who has taught in ethnomusicology, music education and Latin American studies, with assistance from graduate students Rob Carroll and Francisco Orozco. The project also was supported by the UW Simpson Center for the Humanities and the College of Arts & Sciences.

"Without Latino music there wouldn't be any pop music in the United States as we know it," said Berríos-Miranda. "And what is exciting about this exhibit is the amount of creativity and enthusiasm and love that Latino musicians have given to the U.S. that has never been acknowledged."

Dudley, the UW ethnomusicologist, said, "The exhibit covers music that most Americans think of as 'Latino,' including salsa, which first developed in New York, or conjunto music from Texas. But we also wanted to show how Latinos have contributed to musical styles that we think of as quintessentially American, including jazz, rock, hip hop, and country music."

His colleague Habell-Pallán said, "Everybody knows the story of how rock emerged -- country and western got together with the blues and had a baby named rock and roll. But there was a third party there, too," she added. "The rhythms and musical sounds of the Latino community. You can't have rock and roll in the U.S. without that third element."

Sabor in Spanish means taste, or flavor. In American Sabor the researchers ask, "What makes the music of the United States tasty? What flavors distinguish it, and where have they come from?" The exhibit answers these questions with about 100 artifacts -- record sleeves, lyrics, posters, musical instruments and films -- and perhaps best, listening kiosks where visitors can hear for themselves the powerful influence of Latino rhythm on the music they've been hearing for generations.

Still humming "Louie, Louie"? Good. You're humming a cha cha cha rhythm straight out of Cuba, called "El Loco Cha Cha." Dudley said, "That riff was composed by a Cuban band leader named Rene Touzet, and then an African-American musician named Richard Berry picked up on that recording and wrote the song."

He added, "The cha cha cha has become part of the language of rock and roll, and people don't identify it as Latino anymore, because it's the American sound now. And that's the point of the exhibit -- these Latino musicians are American, they have been participating in American popular culture all along."

Let's try another. Remember "96 Tears" by ? (Question Mark) and the Mysterians? Let it play in your head ("You're gonna cry -- cry-cry-cry! You're gonna cry -- ninety-six tears!") right up to the organ solo in the middle.

Got it? That organ solo you're humming, performed by keyboardist Little Frankie Rodriguez, is an icon of 1960s pop, but it started out as a Tex-Mex-style accordion solo. Habell-Pallán said, "When you hear it in that context you say ‘Oh my God,' and you can never not hear the accordion again."

Group and performer names were often changed by record companies to hide the ethnicity of the performers, she said. But in some cases, bands invented their own "way-out" names such as Question Mark and the Mysterians or used barrio names such as Cannibal and the Headhunters, who did the 1965 song "Land of a Thousand Dances." You might remember it for its famous "na-na-na-na-na" refrain that tells listeners, "You gotta know how to pony! Like Boney Maroney!"

"They were a group out of East L.A. and you wouldn't know they were Mexican-American," Habell-Pallán said, "At the time, records were marketed as black or white, and if you were brown you really felt out of that alignment."

Examples abound throughout American Sabor. In fact, visitors of baby boomer age who have a mainstream, Top-40 sensibility are likely to hear many familiar riffs, rhythms and refrains -- only this time attributed to the correct ethnic and international influence.

The exhibit focuses on five American cities that have been key centers in Latino music: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio and Miami, with maps showing the international influences on each city. It celebrates the music of well-known Latino stars -- Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Richie Valens (whose vest, which he wore on the television show American Bandstand, is on display as well as a guitar), Selena, and the great Carlos Santana, who started life as a violinist.

There is the painful history of Latino marginalization here to be explored as well as the celebration of Latino music, said Dudley, and the researchers worked hard to strike the right balance between academic and pure musical fun. "We've all brainstormed a lot about, what are the big issues here? And what can this exhibit achieve in terms of opening people's eyes?" They even brought in scholars from across the county to help decide what the exhibit would include, and how.

Dudley said three major themes guided the curators as they worked:

* that these "irrepressibly exuberant" musical movements were born of the youth culture. Then as now, young people use music to find and express their place in the world.
* second, that the political issues of immigration and migration are "part and parcel of how this music took the shape it did," and that such issues remain in the headlines today, and
* third, that this wonderful music is how Latinos expressed their American experience, and still do.
American Sabor takes up 5,000 square feet of space at the EMP, which is about twice the space originally planned, said Jasen Emmons, EMP curator. Emmons (whom the curators credit with much help and having "great ears") said the EMP partners with the UW, radio station KEXP and with a group called the Seattle Partnership for American Music, and had been looking for a new project. He said the museum took down its Jimi Hendrix area to make room for the American Sabor exhibits.
The UW guest curators said they could not have done their work without an original seed grant and ongoing support from the UW's Simpson Center. They are proud, too, that Spanish-speaking UW undergraduate students will get service learning credits for acting as Spanish language docents for the exhibit -- making it the first bilingual exhibit hosted by EMP.
Marisol Berríos-Miranda knows that the historic ignoring of the Latino influence in American pop music is part of "a larger challenge -- we have to recognize the contributions of Latinos not only in music but in life, too, as well as in academia.
"We're trying to correct that," she said, "in a humble way."
Stop by the EMP to see American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music and learn more about what you've been hearing all these years on the radio.
If you don't -- sing it with me now, just as Question Mark said -- you're gonna cry!
Cry cry cry!

Joe Santiago, Salsa/Latin bass, percussion

Joe Santiago (courtesy U Washington)

When Joe was playing trombone in Willie Colon's orchestra, c. 1968

Joe Santiago was born in 1950 in Naranjito, Puerto Rico. He grew up in the Bronx, New York. His first musical instrument was the viola, assigned to him by his junior high school music teacher because of the size of his hands. Santiago was more interested in the trumpet, though, and shined shoes on the street corner until he earned enough money to buy one. Not long afterwards he met an ambitious classmate named Willie Colón and switched to the trombone so he could play in Colón’s band. Playing for dances at clubs and community centers, these teenagers’ brash trombone-heavy sound (soon to be labeled “salsa”) earned them an enthusiastic following in the Bronx and attracted attention from record producer Al Santiago of Alegre Records. Santiago went on to play trombone on Colón’s first two albums for the new FANIA label, “El Malo” (1966) and “The Hustler” (1967), before switching to the instrument he was to play for the rest of his career, the bass.
Santiago supplemented his catch-as-catch-can learning in the Bronx with formal training at the New York School of Music, the Manhattan School of Music, and the Berklee School of Music. By the 1970s he had become one of the most sought-after bass players in the burgeoning salsa scene. He stands today at the top of his profession, with a portfolio that includes recordings and performances with some of the great names in Latin music, including Machito, Mario Bauzá, Mongo Santamaria, Carlos “Patato” Valdez, La Sonora Ponceña, Johnny Pacheco, Celia Cruz, and Tito Puente, to name just a few.  Since the mid-1990s he has played and recorded with pianist Eddie Palmieri, from whom he earned the nickname “Timba” (a word that refers to the sound of a drum) for the powerful rhythm of his bass playing. 

Willie Torres dancing at a gig in the Catskills, late 50s early 60s (thanks Johan K.)

Joe Cuba Sextet

Johnny Pacheco

Ray Barretto

Ritchie Valens

Lalo Guerrero (Mark's dad)

Mark Guerrero's band, Tango

San Antonio legend, Flaco Jimenez

Celia Cruz album cover in show from Henry Medina, Jr. (thanks for all your help Henry!!!!)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cooking With Gas - Stories Behind Latin Album Cover Art

This article appeared in a slightly different form in Wax Poetics Magazine, issue 12, Spring 2005

I can still remember the first time going down into the funky Times Square subway station in Manhattan in the mid 70s as a kid and being blown away by Jesse Moskowitz's Record Mart, a crammed joint selling both the latest and classic Latin music. The sinuous sounds coming from that urban oasis echoed down the tiled halls empty of commuters. There was a display in the window of album covers, and being a young artist, I was immediately drawn to the titillating illustrations and photographs, depicting for this virgin novice swirling worlds of the conga and trombone, sexy smiling mulatas and swaggering bandleaders strutting their stuff. The vibrant colors, obvious joy and exuberance of the musicians, as well as more troubling images of urban decay, outlaw criminality and Surrealist fantasy, grabbed me, wouldn’t let go. Because I wanted to know the story behind each cover, I wanted to hear the sounds seductively packaged within. The art set me up, suckered me into paying cash I didn’t have. Down in the subterranean record stacks I was reminded of my father’s wild tales of Cuba, an exotic place I had never been. His treasure trove of abused old records served as crucial visual aids to a lost world that was otherwise hard to imagine. As I grew older I realized that the LP jacket is far from being the mass-produced pulp of ephemeral unreality our quickie throw-away culture wants us to believe. Rather, it serves as a sacred talisman and Rosetta stone that unlocks the mysteries of identity and history, and artist/designers like Izzy Sanabria, Ely Besalel, Charlie and Yogi Rosario, Ron Levine, Chico Alvarez, Dominique, and in Brazil, Rogério Duarte and Hélio Oiticica, are the poet-seers of the vinyl realm, guiding us along the path to self knowledge. It is with this in mind that I share with the reader a little taste of the richness that lies behind the classic covers on the following pages.

Mongo Santamaria’s "Feelin’ Alright" LP was Izzy Sanabria’s first airbrush job. The year was 1970. The gleaming tool was fresh out of the box when disaster struck. Charlie Rosario, Sanabria’s assistant at the time, recalls that the pressure was really on due to a looming deadline when, during a routine cleaning operation at the kitchen sink, one of the precious intricate parts of the airbrush popped off and fell into the wash basin, disappearing seemingly forever down the drain. Izzy “freaked out because there was very little time to complete the art” relates Rosario. This job was not for a regular familiar client like Fania, but for a relatively new customer, Atlantic Records, and Izzy did not want to disappoint. A lot of desperate fishing about in the drain for the errant piece of equipment resulted in absolutely nothing but a finger-full of old food and gloppy hair. Yelling something like “We gotta get this damn thing if it kills us!,” Izzy rushed down stairs at break-neck speed to the basement of the building, Charlie in hot pursuit, where they found the super and excitedly explained their dilemma. After many anxious minutes of waiting, the designer and his assistant saw the super return with a huge wrench, with which he helped open up the building’s extensive plumbing, and by some miracle of the gods of graphic art, there was the wayward airbrush piece, shining dimly in the gook of a dismantled elbow joint, more precious than a diamond nestled in the deepest mine pit! The job was finished on time to the relief of all, and Izzy, always a flamboyant dresser, rushed out the door, portfolio nestled under his arm, draped in his special bullfighter jacket, and proceeded downtown, showing up at the offices of Atlantic no doubt looking like a pimped-out cross between Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol. The cover hit the printer’s on time, but not before Atlantic’s art director “ruined” the cover with “corny lettering,” according to Sanabria. He still has the original art to this day among his most cherished archival possessions. Though others may differ with Izzy’s opinion of how the layout finally ended up, and the music on the LP seems a bit dated, one thing’s for sure: it was well worth it to go to the ends of the earth to find that pesky little airbrush piece!

Willie Colón’s early Fania album covers (1967-1975) trace a cinematic trajectory of the Latino as criminalized outlaw (with a dash of humor), starting with the tough street kid (El malo), and petty pool shark ("The Hustler"), graduating to thievery and organized crime ("Guisando/Doing A Job," "Cosa Nuestra"), leading to the inevitable incarceration and escape ("La Gran Fuga/The Big Break") and trial ("El juicio"), and ending as a hostage taking terrorist ("Lo mato"). Sanabria, who conceived this identity for Colón, explains how he hit on the unprecedented use of a mug shot for "La Gran Fuga": “I was always bumping heads at Fania, Jerry Masucci wanted complete control most of the time, but occasionally I was able to turn things around and be completely accepted. Typical was 'La Gran Fuga.' Willie’s whole bad-ass image was kind of a goof, though these kids really did hang in the street, some had been to prison, and I seriously wanted to play up on the whole gangster image to subvert it. The concept was ahead of its time, look at all those rappers’ album covers following in Willie’s footsteps! They handed me a photograph, which was the guys in prison outfits, escaping over the fence of a prison in PR. A funny half an idea, but it needed a story. I used that photograph, turned it into a black and white to make it look like a newspaper, and made a replica of the New York Daily News on the back. In the 60’s I had seen these posters of Black Panthers who were wanted by the FBI. Hippies were selling copies of the posters to dramatize oppression, and that was my inspriartion. The irony is, those mug shots are the cheapest damn photographs ever taken for an album cover! I went to the corner where there was one of these arcades. Four for a quarter. I wanted that bad quality! The prison numbers are his previous LP catalogue numbers. The fingerprints were taken from a post office Wanted poster. I pasted them into position, my friend Vinny Alonso and I wrote the copy ‘Wanted for exciting riots with his trombone,’ and the FBI was the ‘Freaks Bureau of Investigation.’ What made that album cover so controversial was that the FBI stopped the thing in its tracks because there was also a poster on the inside of the album, which was pasted around the city, and in Puerto Rico, advertising it, which asked people to turn Colón in to the FBI. Plus I did these tie-in radio ads. So Willie’s grandmother was hysterical, they were telling her ‘Ay, they want your grandson!’ Soon the Feds became aware of it, and what we found out was that it’s illegal to put anything on the market that will in any way give the impression that the FBI is behind this. You can’t do this kind of parody, you see. Whereas the posters these hippies were putting out were exact replicas, and were just helping the FBI’s propaganda. What they had them do was turn the album covers around for display in the stores, so you were looking at the back of the LP, and all subsequent printings could only say ‘Wanted’ without the FBI part. The albums that have the ‘Wanted by the FBI’ with the poster inside are the collectors’ items!”

Producer and jazz musician Joe Cain was at the helm at Tico records for many funky Joe Cuba albums, and two of them stand out cover-wise: "Bustin’ Out" (1972) and "Cocinando la salsa" (1976). The principal parties involved discuss their unique qualities below. Ely Besalel on "Bustin’ Out": “We went around the corner from my studio to 53rd Street where there were some unoccupied brownstones, it was one of the worst times for real estate in New York, even mid-town looked like the ghetto. The band went to the stoop, grabbed trash cans, and started banging away, playing their congas and singing, and I’m in the middle of the street shooting pictures, dodging traffic! I looked around at other covers and said why isn’t this kind of thing [documentary social-realism] being done for a major Latin artist? I mean black and white for the Joe Cuba Sextet in the age of affordable four color printing? Unheard of!” Ely used graffiti lettering, a technique previously employed by Sanabria. Graffiti brought street credibility with youth appeal and also signified a gritty authenticity opposed to the glitz of the Palladium days. “I hated the graffiti on the walls everywhere,” Izzy says of his early Ray Barretto cover "Acid," “but it was a fact of city life; it might have looked like I did it slap-dash, but I labored over it!” With "Bustin’ Out," Besalel created a documentary-style barrio street rumba scene in sepia, burned around the edges like the image had survived rioting or been saved from the garbage. Cuba: “Headbands and bellbottoms were in. That was the first time we posed in our street clothes. Earlier we used to be all flash, Palladium style. We made a racket! My t-shirt said Young Devils, my stick-ball team. I didn’t know it was going to be black and white at first, but it showed our new hard style of music.” Cuba’s "Cocinando la salsa" documents another side of the bandleader, that of host and cook. Ron Levine comments: “Yeah, that’s Joe’s cooking, very tasty. I guess it’s like a salsa album, right? Name like that, pretty obvious it’s capitalizing on the term salsa. "Sofrito" [a stone funk fusion album by Mongo Santamaria, designed by Levine] is a nice cooking album too! Mongo made the skillet of food you see on the cover himself, we shot it at Jerry’s place.” Cuba on "Cocinando la salsa": “I love to cook, experimental dishes especially. This picture shows me cookin’ all the good Puerto Rican stuff at La Asia No.1 Restaurant, a Cuban-Chinese joint on the West Side where we used to hang out.” Food is culture, and congueros like Cuba, Barretto, and Santamaria cook with their hands, be it drum or frying pan.

While most Latin covers never strayed too far, another more radical body of work was forming in the apartment studio of a unique thinker and fine artist, Brooklyn’s Charlie Rosario. Charlie was consistently the most outrageous designer of the 70s in Latin music. Indeed, his daring puts him on par with the best of any LP genre, at any time. There is a story behind every Rosario cover, and Charlie remembers it all: “It was ‘Hey man, let’s break the monotony!’ because Izzy was doin’ just about everything. He was basically an illustrator with great ideas, I followed all his covers from when I was a kid and I was amazed by his creativity, but I said ‘What am I waiting for?’ I can sculpt, I can photograph, I can paint. So I just broke away and did my thing. I was the first to do sculpture graphics! Orchestra Harlow’s "Live In Quad" was weird, totally spontaneous, I just engraved this copper by hand, we had to photograph that in black light, long exposure, so it would really shine. Had to make it a gatefold, my stuff never fit their requirements. The metal kept puffing up so I had to beat it back down with my fist. Felt funny to be hittin’ Larry in the nose like that! For Charlie Palmieri’s "Electro duro," the two hands are made of Colt 45 beer cans. And I drank like ten of them and said lemme start hammering away, two hundred nails, man! I only stopped when I banged my fingernail! The silver in the back is a printing plate, and the gold part is one of them cracker cans. The cover really blew people’s heads apart man, they weren’t ready for that. I showed the sculpture to Charlie Palmieri at a dance, and he said ‘This is my next cover!’ because it was all electric organ tunes! I came up with the title, ‘duro’ means hard like metal but also like ‘strong.’ Now the "Kako" cover [on TR Records], Kako Bastor’s an outta sight percussionist that made mystical music. I made a sculpture of a tribal guy playing a drum, he’s missing an arm. The concept is music is as primitive as the first heartbeat or when the sun showed up for the first time. As time goes by [everything man made] breaks apart, made of materials from the earth, like the pyramids in Giza, so that’s why he looks like he’s made of sand, sittin’ on top of a pyramid with the sun on his shoulder. I made this imitation beach at 3 a.m. in my apartment with sand from the boiler room. Poured it on the living room floor! I had back projections of Puerto Rico, the sky and waves right on the wall behind. But it was too limited in the photo angle, too dinky lookin’! So I was gettin’ tired and silly and my brother said why don’t we pour alcohol over the figure, set it on fire like he’s playin’ so hot. Well that was the worst thing we could do! The damn paper caught on fire, the whole beach went up in smoke, we started panicking, sand all over the rug, alarm went off, my sister yellin.’ So then I went to a real beach, Coney Island. I had bought this giant lizard, a gila monster, from the pet store, and some potted cactus plants, to make the picture more prehistoric. I built this giant pyramid, dug out a trench and photographed it looking up so this 7 inch clay sculpture looked huge, monumental. Thing was, the lizard ran away down the beach so the shoot ended with me chasin’ him all down along the boadwalk! Back in the studio, I took this aerial photo of Puerto Rico that I had, with sun streaks through the clouds, turned it upside down, did a double exposure, and it looked like the drum was exploding with light! I used to go from one extreme to another, brakin’ all the rules, making history, it kept me from being bored. The Tipica ‘73 cover ['La Candela'] is the only Latin tapestry on a record jacket! I wove that thing from wool in fire colors, but it caused a fight at Inca Records, they didn’t want spend for a gatefold on it, and it didn’t fit in the regular confinement of the square. That project took forever, I was freaking out, time was runnin’ out, so I got my family and friends on it, we’d have a party, get them all high so they’d really get into the work, and it was like ‘Everybody’s gonna sew here till our eyeballs fall out, man!’”

The Covers

Discography (left to right, top to bottom)

Page 1

Desi Arnaz
RCA Victor P 198, c. 1940s

Beny Moré
Canciones de las Antillas
RCA Victor MLK 3085, c. 1950s

Afro-Cuban Jazz; The Music of Chico O’ Farrill,
Supervised by Norman Granz
Cleff MG C-689, 1950
Design: David Stone Martin

Cal Tjader Quintet
Cal Tjader Quintet
Fantasy 3232, 1956
Design and illustration:
Betty Brader

Joe Loco and his Quintet
Viva Mambo
Tico LP 1013, 1954
Art and design: Sandoval,
Lee Myles Assoc.

Orquesta Aragon
Cha Cha Cha
RCA Victor MLK 3070, c. 1950s

Pacheco y Su Charanga
Pacheco y su charanga
con Elliot Romero
Alegre LPA 801, c. 1961
Art and design: Izzy Sanabria

Fajardo, Chapotin, Orefiche, Conjunto Casino
Cuban Dance Festival; 4 Bands !!
Toreador T-539, c. 1965
Art & Design: Ely Besalel

Sabu Martinez
Sabu’s Jazz Espagnol
Alegre, 1961
Design and illustration:
Izzy Sanabria

The Alegre All-Stars
The Alegre All-Stars In
“Lost and found” Vol. 3
Alegre SLPA 8430, 1966
Design, concept, art:
Izzy Sanabria

Arsenio Rodriguez y su conjunto
Sabroso y caliente
Antilla MLP-586, c. 1950s

Cachao y Su Ritmo Caliente
Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature: “Descargas”
Panart 2092, 1957

Joe Cuba
Joe Cuba
Embajador E6003, c. 1960s

Various Artists
Charlie Palmieri: Lo Ultimo
con La Playa Sextet, Emilio Reyes
Embajador E 6001, c. 1960s

Cal Tjader
Mambo with Tjader!
Fantasy 3326
Illustration and design: Wanek

Forbidden Cuba in the 80’s:
Grupo Afrocuba Smooth Jazz Moods
RMM RMD82235, 1998
Design and photo imaging: Pablo Yglesias
Photo: Jorge Garcia Torres
Art director: Carlo Angelo Moralishvili

Mongo Santamaria
Mongo Santamaria’s Afro-Cuban Drums
SMC LP 592, 1952

Various, incl. Ignacio Piñero y los Roncos
Festival In Havana
Riverside RLP 4005, 1955
Design: Gene Gogerty

World Pacific Presents The Music of Cuba:
Various Artists
El jazz cubano
World Pacific/Capitol/Blue Note CDP 0777 7 80599 2 9, 1993
Design: Patrick Roques
Painting: Pablo Yglesias

Luis Gasca
Fantasy F-9504, 1976
Art direction: Phil Carroll
Art: Jamie Putnam

Page 2

Ray Rodriguez and his Orchestra
Alegre LPA-869, 1969
Design, photography, illustration: Ely Besalel

Orchestra Harlow
Heavy Smokin’
Fania 331, 1966
Photo: Lee Kraft
Art director: Izzy Sanabria

Joe Bataan
Subway Joe
Fania SLP 345, 1968
Art director: Izzy Sanabria
Photo: Marty Topp

Willie Bobo
Uno dos tres/1•2•3
Verve V/V6-8648, 1966
Design: Acy R. Lehman
Photo: Charles Stewart

Johnny Zamot
Tell It Like It Is
Decca DL 74945

T’n’T Boys
Sex Symbols/Simbolos Sexuales
Cotique CS-1038
Art director: Izzy Sanabria
Photo: Bradley Olman

Tito Puente and his Orchestra
El Rey Tito Puente/The King
Tito Puente
Tico SLP-1172, 1968
Art and concept: Charlie Rosario

Eddie Bastian and his Orchestra
Hippies Boogaloo
Hopes 885

Ray Barretto
Fania SLP 346, 1967
Design: Izzy Sanabria
Photography: Marty Topp

The Latin Souls
Tiger Boo-Ga-Loo
Kapp KS 3553

Mongo Santamaria
Feelin' Alright
Atlantic 1567, 1970
Illustration: Izzy Sanabria
Design: Haig Adishian

Monguito “El Único” y
su conjunto
De todo un poco
Fania LP 386
Art and design: Izzy Sanabria

Eddie Palmieri
Tico SLP-1194, 1970
Art and design: Ely Besalel
La Lupe
La Lupe es la reina/La Lupe - The Queen
Tico LP 1192, 1969
Design: Ely Besalel
Photo: Warren Flagler

The LeBron Brothers
I Believe
Cotique CS-1022
Design: John Murello
Photo: Charles Stewart

Cal Tjader
Soul Sauce
Verve V-8614, 1964
Design: Acy Lehman
Photo: Murray Laden

Tom Zé
Tom Zé
Rozenblit LP 50.010, 1968
Design and Photo: Officina Programacao Visual-SP
Art: Satoru

Gilberto Gil
Gilberto Gil
Philips R 765.087 L, 1969
Art and design: Rogério Duarte and Antonio Dias
Photo: David Drew Zingg

Jorge Ben
Jorge Ben
Philips F. 765.100L, 1969
Photo: Johnny Salles
Design: Lincoln
Illustration: Albery

Tom Zé
Todos os olhos
Continental SLP 10121
Concept: Décio Pignatari
Photo: Reinaldo de Moraes
Design: M. Pedro Ferreira
and F. Eduardo de Andrade

Page 3

Silvestre, El Rey del Canto Afro Cubano y Su Orquesta
Oriza: Afro-Cuban Rhythms
Seeco CELP 4260, 1958
Design and art: L. Pearl

Mongo Santamaria
Up from The Roots
Atlantic SD 1621, 1972
Concept: Izzy Sanabria
Art direction and design: Richard Mantell

Emilio Barreto
Santisimo en ritual
Luz Productions LUZ 0002, 2001
Design and digital imaging: Pablo Ellicott Yglesias

Los Pleneros de la 21/Conjunto Melodia Tropical
Puerto Rico, Ruerto Rico:
Mi tierra natal
Shanachie 65001, 1989
Art: Manny Vega

Jaime de Jesus y su cuarteto ‘Alma Alegre’
El Plenero
Ninfa NLP 03 1083
Art and Photo: R. Oliva
Model: Deda Hunt
Design: Hispanoamerica Advertising Agency

Daniel Ponce
New York Now
Celluloid/OAO CELL 5005, 1983
Design: Felipe Orrego
Type setting: Elliott Dunderdale
Layout production: Thi-Linh Le

Harlem River Drive
Harlem River Drive Featuring Eddie Palmieri and
Jimmy Norman
Roulette SR 3004, 1971
Design: Ruby Mazur’s Art Dept.
Art: based on a photo by Leonard Freed

The Jimmy Castor Bunch
It’s Just Begun
RCA LSP 4640, 1972
Design: Frank Mulvey
Artist: Corrigan
Art Director: Acy Lehman

Harvey Averne Barrio Band
The Harvey Averne Barrio Band
Heavy Duty SLP 101, 1971
Concept: Harvey Averne
Front cover art: Ludovico de Luigi/Galleria d’Arte Moderna Ravagnan, Veneto, Italia
Back cover photo: Bob Gruen
Design: Izzy Sanabria

Joe Cuba Sextet
Bustin’ Out
Tico CLP 1300, 1972
Design and photography:
Ely Besalel

Cortijo and his Time Machine/Cortijo y
su máquina de tiempo
Coco CLP 108, 1974
Photo, art, design, and concept : Ely Besalel

El Chicano
Kapp KS 3640, 1971
Art direction: John C. LeProvost
Design: Virginia Clark
Photography: Eddie Caballero

Mongo Santamaria
Vaya XVS-38, 1975
Art and design: Ron Levine

Warner Brothers BS 2584, 1972
Illustration: Jesús Helguera and
Galas de Mexico, S.A.
Design: John and Barbara Casado
Art direction: Chris Whorf

Pyramid of the Moon
Columbia KC 32451, 1973
Design and photography: Bruce Steinberg

Love Is...
Fania XSLP 00478, 1974
Concept: Bill Garretson
Illustration: Izzy Sanabria
Design: Izzy Sanabria

Thousand Finger Man
Solid Sate SS 18066, 1969
Art direction: Frank Gauna
Photography: Chuck Stewart

Coco CLP 106, 1975
Art direction: Izzy Sanabria
Design: Chico Alvarez
Illustration: Walter Velez

Santana’s Greatest Hits
Columbia PC 33050, 1974
Photograph: Joel Baldwin
Design: John Berg

Page 4

Willie Colón
La gran fuga/The Big Break
Fania SLP 394, 1971
Concept and design:
Izzy Sanabria

Willie Colón
El Juicio
Fania (S)LP 00424, 1972
Design: Izzy Sanabria
Illustration: Aggie Whelane

Ray Barretto
Fania SLP 00456, 1973
Design and shirt: Walter Velez/WE-2 Graphis, Inc.
Photography: Roberto Schneider

Hector Rivera con Tony Molina
Lo máximo
Tico CLP 1324, 1974
Art, design, photography:
WE-2 Design, Izzy Sanabria, Yogi Rosario
Illustration: Walter Velez

Azuquita y su Orquesta Melao
Pura salsa
Vaya VS-34, 1975
Art direction and design:
Izzy Sanabria

Ralphy Santi y su conjunto
Ralphy Santi y su conjunto
TR 132X, 1977
Design: “The Big Red”
Design Studio

Eddie Palmieri
The Sun of Latin Music
Coco CLP 109XX, 1974
Painting and graphic design: Charlie Rosario
Photo: Gary Mason

Francisco “Kako” Bastor
TR, 1970s
Art, photography, design: Charlie Rosario

Charlie Palmieri
Coco CLP-111, 1974
Art and design (“sculpture graphics”): Charlie Rosario
Photography: Gary Mason,
Yogi Rosario

Orchestra Harlow/Larry Harlow
Fania QXSLP# 00472, 1974
Art and design (“metalgraphics”): Charlie Rosario
Photography: Gary Mason

Conjunto Melao
Conjunto Melao
TR 1976
Concept, art, photo and design: Charlie Rosario

Tipica ‘73
La candela
Inca XSLP 1043, 1975
Art design and concept:
Charlie Rosario

Hector Lavoe
Fania JM 0052, 1978
Photography: Yoshi Ohara
Layout and design: Michael Ginsburg/Gazebo Group
Art director: Alberta Dering

Ray Barretto
Fania SLP 552, 1979
Art: Jorge Vargas
Concept and art direction and design: Izzy Sanabria,
Latino Communications, Inc.

Joe Cuba
Cocinando la Salsa (Cookin’ The Sauce)
Tico JMTS-1405, Series 0698, 1976
Photography: Lee Marshall
Design: Ron Levine

Ismael Rivera y sus cachimbos
Esto fue lo que trajo el barco
Tico CLP 1305, 1972
Design and illistration: Ely Besalel

Sonora Ponceña
Sonora Ponceña
Inca SLP 1033, 1972
Art design: WE-2 Design
Art direction: Izzy Sanabria
Illustration: Walter Velez

Sonora Ponceña
Inca JMIS-1072, 1979
Concept, illustration and design: Ron Levine

Eddie Palmieri
Lucumi, Macumba, Voodoo
Epic 35523, 1978
Photo: Jim Houghton
Design: Paula Scher

Fania All Stars
Live in Japan, 1976
Fania No. 116, 1976
Art, concept, and title lettering: Ron Levine

The designers:

Photo of Jorge Vargas courtesy of Jorge Vargas

"Here is my photo...25 or 30 years ago...(my hair is almost white now). This was my studio in Long Island (IT IS ALWAYS ON MY MIND...). By the way, you can see in the backgroud some album covers I did on the wall and...of course, no computers. Those where the days my friend. Great memories, with Izzy and the latin world. The music, the culture; it's our roots...and, 30 years later, people are taking about it again." - Jorge Vargas

Photo of Steve Quintana III courtesy Steve Quintana III

"The Joe Bataan "Salsoul" cover was interesting - I put a lot of jokes in thre, a lot of details of New York in that painting, the board I did it on was really big, and when I was finished I took it to show the guys at Mericana and one of them said - where is Joe? Put Joe's face on there somewhere, we want to see him on there! Man, I was not happy about that - it was finished and I wanted to get paid and move on to the next thing, you know? So, at the last minute, I had to air brush in there a portrait of him. I still don't think it goes, but they loved it over there. Anyway they say it's a classic album, maybe but I liked the first version better - the original painting was destroyed in a fire." - Steve Quintana III

Photo of Charlie and Yogui Rosario building sets at Carnegie Hall for the Tico-Alegre All Stars show, May 24, 1974; courtesy Charlie Rosario; photo by Dominique; cover designed by Angelo Velazquez, interior by Yogui Rosario

Photo of Rogério Duarte: By Milla Petrilho/Courtesy Rogério Duarte and Ana de Oliveira

“To me, Tropicalismo represented the synthesis between spirituality and Marxism, the people’s naive creativity and political militancy. The designer is committed to anonymity, like the artisans who are recognized by their work and not by their names. I have changed the visual arts in Brazil and I am acknowledged for it now to a certain extent, but not popularly because my work is more erudite. Our album covers represent Brazil itself: all it’s conflicts and joys, all it’s milk and cocoa, all it’s naked girls and starving children in the streets, all it’s richness and misery! Latin America: the 3RD world wailing in front of the gates of the first world!”
—Rogério Duarte

Photo of Ron Levine: Courtesy Ron Levine

“I look back at the 70s, it was the heyday for salsa, it was really fun, wild, and the friendships that I made were great. There was always a party. Jerry Masucci at Fania was a wonderful friend and mentor to me, we treated each other with respect. Tito Puente was a gentleman, Celia Cruz was a sweetheart. A year before he died, Masucci called me up to do another fantasy painting for a Ponceña cover, and he said ‘I miss you man, I love you,’ and he didn’t just talk out through the mouth to me, he was usually a very closed off kind of guy. I was sad when Jerry passed.”—Ron Levine

Photo of Izzy Sanabria and Walter Velez: Courtesy Izzy Sanabria Archives

“Before I started to design Latin album covers, they were usually put together by the printers. They'd get a photo and then put down the type/titles with their eyes closed. The album covers did not have much importance to anyone, it was just some small market. I gave up my job at an advertising agency to devote myself to improving the image of Latinos by combining Music and Art. Just as great works of art reflect social, religious and political views at different periods of world history, these covers should also reflect the same things in relation to our music and culture throughout 50 years. Am I flattered and thrilled about ‘Cocinando’? Damn right I am. Am I proud? Damn right I am. And to those Latinos picking up this book, I hope you will share my pride. If you're a non-Latino, I hope and expect that this book will help shed some light on this small part of our visual and commercial Pop culture.” —Izzy Sanabria

“[Our] aesthetic forces you to deal with being simultaneously enlightened and offended. [It] display[s]a keen sensitivity to universal fears, fantasies, frustrations, and stupidities. In essence, Raunch and Taste. Taste that can only be achieved through craftsmanship, dedication to the truth (though somewhat stretched), and polish.”
—Walter Velez

Photo of Yogi Rosario: Courtesy Charlie Rosario

" I loved working on the album covers - it did not pay well, but Latin music is in my blood and I would never trade those years for anything. I love making collages, and I used to have a whole stack of magazine pictures and photos and books just for doing collages. The carving I did for the 'Pacheco Greatest Hits' was a funny story - they ended up putting a sticker over the flute because Joe Cain was afraid it would look like Pachecko was sucking a you know what. I didn't see it that way at all, but in the last minute they slapped that ugly black sticker on there covering it up. I was mad about that, but at the same time I didn't want people getting the wrong idea." - Yogui Rosario

Photo of Angelo Velazquez courtesy of Angelo Velazquez

"Pablo, we may have created these album covers, but that was a long time ago, and you're the one that's making sure that people know who we are and what we've accomplished. At one point last night Charlie told me 'Angelo, I just feel so damn proud, because I thought all the work we did was forgotten. I never thought anyone would care enough to do this, or that we would ever get any recognition.' God bless you, brother. - Angelo Velazquez in a personal communication

Photo of Charlie Rosario: Courtesy Charlie Rosario

“I was continually trying to challenge myself with these covers, to go beyond. I didn’t care really about the ‘market’ or the buyer or whatever. I loved the music, knew a lot of the musicians. I wanted to take this stuff as far out as it could get!” —Charlie Rosario

Photo of Chico Alvarez: Chico Alvarez

“You can say that I gave up the business because the art of the album cover was "lost" when the CD was invented. There is just no way that I can appreciate art that is supposed to be bigger than life, when it is in such a small format. Album cover art was crucial to the selling of the record, and the artists who mastered it were the “chosen few.” Today, anyone with a computer can design a cover. Like Frank Gauna and Walter Velez, there were a lot of guys (and ladies too I imagine) who worked on the album covers simply because it was their gig, but who would have preferred designing in another field, unlike Izzy and myself, who dedicated ourselves almost exclusively to that particular genre, a specialized field you might say, to the (almost) exclusion of everything else. I've never taken a lesson in either fine or commercial art in my life. The only courses I took where night classes at School of Visual Arts in airbrush techniques and a very good course in the layout and preparation of art for offset printing. In those days that was the equivalent of taking a course in computer graphics. Yes I did have an art teacher in High School, as well as an art teacher in grade school in Cuba, but I can't remember anything about them. I think that I either developed my skills through instinct or they came to me through geneolgy - my mother was an artist.” —Chico Alvarez

Photo of Ely Besalel: Courtesy Ely Besalel

“I know production very well, so I could control the design and printing processes even though I couldn’t translate my ideas instantaneously the way you can now with computers. Sometimes an idea never made it off the sketch pad! It was like pulling teeth with these people to get your name in the credits. Morris Levy of Roulette Records screamed and threw me out of his office once because I told him his idea for a cover was in poor taste.”
—Ely Besalel

Photo of Hélio Oiticica: Courtesy Editora Abril and Ana de Oliveira

“Before anything else it is necessary to clarify my interest for dance, for rhythm, in my particular case it came from a vital necessity for a disintellectualisation [...]. It was therefore, an experience of greater vitality, indispensable, particularly in the demolition of preconceived ideas and stereotypification, etc....[my] environmental much more than macaws and banana trees: it is the consciousness of a non-conditioning to the established structures, therefore, highly revolutionary as a whole. Any conformism, being it intellectual, social or existential, is out of its main idea." - Helio Oiticica (conceptual artist and designer of the cover for Gal Costa's "Legal" album, 1970)

Photo of Izzy Sanabria at Latin NY Magazine: By Charles J. Gonzalez, Courtesy Izzy Sanabria Archives

"Just as the great works of art reflect social, religious and political views at different periods of world history, these covers ...also reflect the same things in relation to our music and culture throughout 50 years." - Izzy Sanabria