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  • Subway Salsa: The Montuno Records Story (3LP)-1 Subway Salsa: The Montuno Records Story (3LP)-2 Subway Salsa: The Montuno Records Story (3LP)-3 Subway Salsa: The Montuno Records Story (3LP)-4
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  • Subway Salsa: The Montuno Records Story (mp3)-1 Subway Salsa: The Montuno Records Story (mp3)-2 Subway Salsa: The Montuno Records Story (mp3)-3 Subway Salsa: The Montuno Records Story (mp3)-4
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  • Subway Salsa: The Montuno Records Story (2CD)-1 Subway Salsa: The Montuno Records Story (2CD)-2 Subway Salsa: The Montuno Records Story (2CD)-3 Subway Salsa: The Montuno Records Story (2CD)-4
    2CD VAMPI CD 128
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Record Mart, an unassuming music store down in the sprawling complex of the Times Square subway station in Manhattan, should be considered one of Latin New York’s most important historic musical landmarks. It its heyday it was not only a place where occult knowledge and cultural legacies were exchanged and passed on from one person to another, but the shop also served as the home base for Montuno Records, a small but important independent label started by proprietor Jesse Moskowitz in the 1970s. The shop and label are inextricably intertwined and constitute a New York Latin institution of sorts. Thankfully, the two entities and its proprietor are alive and well today, keeping the spirit of Subway Salsa alive for old fans and future generations alike.

I call this compilation an homage because I want to pay tribute to a label that stands out as a plucky cultural beacon from a time when Fania reigned supreme, a little bit of Gotham “gumpshun” that has inspired me (and many others) in various ways over the years. I vividly remember as a young visitor to La Gran Manzana (The Big Apple) going down into the subway, paying my fare, and taking a voyage of discovery not on the metro line itself, but rather in the brightly lit, somewhat grimy confines of Jesse’s cramped store, soaking up the sights of Latin album cover art, the tropical sounds blasting over the speakers, and eavesdropping on conversations among the diminutive shop’s knowledgeable staff and customers. The sights and smells, music and voices would mingle and create an almost overwhelming collage for the senses, as I would attempt to focus my excited eyes and ears on the retail displays, while the rushing crowds flew by in a blur of color and the screeching, rumbling din of the trains below competed for my attention. Just as the New York metropolitan transit system is a crossroads and a means of exchange and travel, so too is its sole surviving cultural tenant Record Mart, an underground urban grotto oasis that despite a period of closure and a dwindling market, seems to hold on as tenaciously as many veteran salsa musicians from the 70s still do to this day in the city.

This collection samples the recordings from Montuno’s catalog that exemplify danceable Afro-Antillean music, from Nuyorican salsa to Haitian compas, Latin jazz to traditional Cuban genres (including the all-percussion rumba, the flute and violin-flavored charanga, and guitar/trumpet-dominated son), as well as several interesting hybrids incorporating funk, doo wop and Brazilian sounds.

Over the years I have had several opportunities to chat with Jesse, his son Lou, who runs the shop now, as well as various store staff members. In addition I have spoken to a couple of musicians whose records were put out by Montuno, and producer/historian René López, a key figure in the Montuno story, who brought several very important recordings to Jesse’s attention. Finally, I have researched material on the legendary producer, label head, and music store owner Al Santiago, an eccentric visionary who helped Jesse start Montuno and whose musical savvy and taste was an essential component in the formation and evolution of modern Latin music, especially its New York branch.

Pablo Yglesias aka DJ Bongohead

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