Ismael Miranda, of the Fania All Stars, says the future of salsa is bright

Salsa singer Ismael Miranda (Courtesy Ismael Miranda)

Salsa singer Ismael Miranda (Courtesy Ismael Miranda)

Ismael Miranda used to be the one of the youngest members of the iconic 70′s salsa band, Fania All Stars. Now he’s one of the few left, with the passing of Celia Cruz and Hector Lavoe, but at 63, he’s still going strong. Starting his own rock and roll band at age 11, in New York City, he says he thinks he was born singing instead of crying.

“I am a soloist — I travel all over the world with different bands,” says Miranda, sounding as young and energetic as ever. “I perform all over the world.”

He says he recently started an international tour, celebrating his 45-year musical career until January. This weekend, he will be flying to Los Angeles from his home in Puerto Rico to join thousands of salsa lovers at the 15th Annual International LA Salsa Congress, featuring classic band members from Grupo Niche, El Gran Combo, and the band he joined more than four decades ago — Fania All Stars.

“I’ll be performing with Oscar Hernandez’ band on Saturday,” says Miranda, explaining that only he, Larry Harlow and Adalberto Santiago will be performing from the legendary All Stars. “It’s been a while since I’ve performed with Larry.”

He says Harlow now has his own band as well, but their history goes way back.

“When I started working with Larry, that’s when I started composing,” says Miranda, who was 19 when he joined Fania Records.

“We were together for about four years, and we did nine or eight albums. I was really grateful for that. He was a very important part of my career.”

He says it was because of Harlow discovering him that he was ever a part of Fania All Stars and of the 1972 film, “Our Latin Thing,” and got the role of Hector Lavoe’s father in “El Cantante” (2006).

He often recalls the memories of their international trips to Africa and Europe.

“We went all over the world,” says Miranda. “Fania is the most important band in the history of salsa music. Salsa is never going to stop. It’s been around all of our lives.”

Despite what others might think, he is adamant that the salsa genre is still as popular as ever.

“With the Salsa Congress, all the young people are dancing salsa in Europe, Asia, and in Central and South America,” says Miranda. “Everybody is dancing salsa in the United States. We are traveling all over the world, and there are millions of young people dancing — I think it’s on the upside — it’s one of the rhythms that’s most called for in the world.”

Jimmy Bosch, a younger trombonist who participated in several Fania sessions, and who will be performing with the band this Saturday, agrees.

“It’s hard to put a finger on what it was that made seventies salsa so special,” Jimmy Bosch, a younger trombonist who participated in several Fania sessions and will be performing with the band this Saturday, told Rolling Stone. “It was the times, too – everything that was going on socially and politically. People like me, who discovered that music then, we’ve never steered away from it.”

Miranda says there’s a lot of young performers to look out for such as, Victor Manuelle and Frankie Negron.

“Right now there’s like about 10 bands in South America,” he adds. “The music is not going to stop. There’s a lot of young guys, and they all do a good job.”

This is his third time performing at the Salsa Congress, and he says he’s excited to see his old friends and sing his favorite tunes, including “Maria Luisa,” “Asi se compone un son” and “No me diga que es muy tarde ya.”

And although, he’s nearing retirement age, he says he’s working more now than ever before.

“I started my own recording company,” says Miranda about IM Records. “I do my own booking in my own offices. I do my own albums and everything. I don’t have to retire — I’m still having a nice time.”

RELATED: LA Salsa Congress: From gang member to international salsa star

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La India, the Princess of Salsa: “My first love is rock and roll”

The Princess of Salsa, La India (Photo/Uriel Santana)

The Princess of Salsa, La India (Photo/Uriel Santana)

Linda Caballero, better known as La India, has been giving a powerful voice to women in genres traditionally dominated by men — first with freestyle, then salsa — since she was 14. Three decades later, she’s still singing and  joining reggaeton star Ivy Queen on a one-night-only concert in Chicago this Saturday.

She’s also in the midst of recording a new album, which is written and produced by Mexican singer-composer superstar Juan Gabriel.

“He’s a dear friend,” says Caballero in a deep, slightly raspy speaking voice. “He’s always been someone I wanted to work with. Two years ago, I did a romantic mariachi ballad with Juan Gabriel. It was amazing working with him…He loves music so much.”

She also loves music — as much as the air she breathes, it seems. She goes back in time in an instant, remembering how it all started in the Bronx, NY, and where music producer “Little Louie” Vega discovered her through a friend.

“He gave me a microphone while he spun his music, and I would improvise — he saw talent in me,” says Caballero. “I was 14, and I was having a great time. I loved the 80’s…rock, dance music…We were just happy with having fun and aspiring towards where we wanted to go.”

Under the guidance of Vega, she released her first single, “Dancing on Fire,” and later “Lover that Rocks,” which made it to the Top 5 singles spot under the dance genre. This led to her first freestyle album in 1989, “Breaking Night.”

“I wasn’t shy,” she says. “That’s what they loved about me — I wasn’t afraid, and my ability to improvise.”

In her 20′s, Caballero says she started feeling like the industry was viewing her as the “Latin Madonna” and urged her to “be more white.”

“Everything was sounding the same…not growing,” says Caballero, reminiscing about her freestyle peers Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam and Lisette Menendez. “It started going under in pace and quality, and I decided to walk away. I told Louie we need to do more current stuff.”

She ended up marrying Vega, the man who discovered her, although they divorced years ago.

“He trusted my vision, and we decided to walk away,” says Caballero, who started collaborating with Tito Puente. “It was the beginning of where I was going with Latin music.”

Composer and pianist Eddie Palmieri, however, gave her the strongest nudge into the Latin music arena with the opportunity to record her first album in Spanish, “Llegó La India vía Eddie Palmieri”/”Here Comes La India via Eddie Palmieri.”

“My first love [though] is rock and roll,” Caballero makes sure to add. “Not a lot of people know about it, except my boyfriend…Janis Joplin was my idol…She shelves it out. I’m like Joplin — when I’m live, I have a lot of range in my voice, and I have the heart and I have the grit — the rock and roll feeling…”

But even though Caballero thoroughly enjoys listening to everything from hip hop to country music, she is not one to forget her Latina roots. She even returned to live in her native Puerto Rico for the past 13 years. She used to live in New Jersey, where she was honored with a star on the Walk of Fame at Union City’s Celia Cruz Park.

Celia Cruz, she was my girl!” says Caballero, who did many collaborations with the Queen of Salsa before her death. “She would say say, ‘If you keep it up, you’re going to make it — be true to yourself.’ She would always hold my hand before a concert.”

She says everything Celia did, she did with a lot of love.

“She taught me not to be afraid to love,” says Caballero. “She would say, ‘Let’s love each other and have a great time, there’s no time for hate.’ At the end of the day, it’s all about love.”

That’s also what she appreciates so much about the late Pop King, Michael Jackson.

“Michael Jackson was putting out the message of love, and people used to say he was crazy, but I would say no,” says Caballero.

Last year, she was one of a few Latino musicians chosen by music producer Tony Succar to be a part of his upcoming album and documentary, entitled “Unity: The Latin Tribute to Michael Jackson” – expected to be completed in June, in time for the anniversary of the pop star’s death.

“This is when all Latinos come together for the love he’s given throughout the years,” says Caballero about the Jackson tribute arranged by Succar. “It was really magical…”

Succar calls La India “the most important woman salsa singer icon after Celia Cruz” — one of the reasons he chose her to participate in his project, besides the fact that she understands Michael Jackson. She grew up listening to him.

“The way La India can connect with songs, her artistic feel and passion for music — this is what allows her to give you goose bumps as soon as she sings one word,” he says. “She actually lives the lyrics, she lives what she’s saying…”

Caballero says after all these years, she still believes in her music, as well as herself.

“That’s how you make it happen,” she says is what she tells her fans. “I feel that I made my dream come true — that’s what I feel when I sing salsa.”

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