Stellar Improvisational singer and band leader
Ángel Canales' love of music was sparked, as a youngster, when he heard the singing of Ismael Rivera with Rafael Cortijo's Combo. A timbale player for a series of bands led by guitarist Luis Torres, he made his singing debut with the Ray Jay Orchestra. Canales recorded for the first time, in 1971, as lead singer of Sabor, a group led by ex-Willie Colón pianist Mark "Markolino" Dimond. The album, initially released as Brujería in 1971, was reissued as Más Sabor under Canales' name in 1977. With Dimond's departure from the band in 1975, Canales assumed leadership of the group.
So, any comprehensive discussion of the salsa legend known as El Diferente, Angel Canales, has to begin with Mark Dimond’s album, Brujería.
Mark Dimond was multi-talented: a pianist, arranger and composer. His debut album as a band leader, Brujería, was initially released in 1971 on the Vaya Records label (one of the many subsidiaries of Fania Records). An accomplished pianist, Mark had been a piano player for Willie Colón's orchestra in the late '60s. He also wrote songs for Willie Colón’s albums, The Hustler and Guisando (Doing A Job). In 1975, Mark performed an astonishing piano solo on the song, Rompe Saragüey, on Héctor Lavoe's 1975 album, La Voz. The salsa industry during that time certainly knew of, and very much respected, Mark Dimond!
Just how talented was Mark Dimond? For the album Brujería, Mark Dimond wrote all the music, lyrics and arrangements. Wouldn't you say that he was extremely talented! In every way imaginable, the album was all about Mark Dimond! The lead singer for Mark’s band was the soon to become legendary sonero, Angel Canales. Other members of the band were: Ricardo "Richie" Montañez (trombone), John "Fudgy" Torres (trombone), Antonio Tapia (conga), Louie Rivera (bongo), Danny Reyes (trumpet), Eddie "Gua Gua" Rivera (bass), Andy González (bass), Ismael Quintana (chorus) and Justo Betancourt (chorus). Larry Harlow and Johnny Pacheco partnered as the co-producers and co-recording directors. Harvey Averne was the executive producer.
In 1975, Mark Dimond walked away from his band. Some say that he had to do this because, as with too many artists, drug problems were affecting his performances and he had begun to show up late or even not at all for some shows and rehearsals. If Mark had not left on his own, it is widely believed that his musicians would have left him anyway. After Mark’s departure, Angel Canales took over the band and named it Sabor.
Mark only released two more of his own albums, both in 1975: Beethoven's V (highly regarded by critics); with singers Frankie Dante and Chivirico Dávila and a very sad rock / R&B album called The Alexander Review. Soon after the failure of The Alexander Review, Mark simply vanished from the music scene and only resurfaced briefly in 1988 to perform on Andy and Larry Harlow's 1988 album, Salsa Brothers: The Miami Sessions. About six months later the sad news that Mark had died of a stroke devastated many of his close friends and fellow musicians.
With the above said, let's return to Ángel Canales. Canales has been on the cutting edge of Latin music for more than three decades. A native of Puerto Rico who grew up in Brooklyn, NY, from the age of ten, Canales has consistently added an explosive punch to his music. With his gutsy vocals accompanied by such top Latin musicians as trombonists John Torres and Ricardo Martinez, conga player Antonio Tapia, and bongo player Louie Rivera, After becoming the leader of Sabor, he released that year what most critics consider to be his finest work; the 1975 album, Sabor (see a full review at the end of this biography). Including Angel Canales, five of Mark's original musicians would later become integral members of Sabor: Ricardo "Richie" Montañez (trombone), John "Fudgy" Torres (trombone), Antonio Tapia (conga) and Louie Rivera (bongo).
Canales and his newly acquired band, Sabor con Angel Canales, delivered some of the hardest-edged Latin jazz in New York during the 1970s and '80s. One reviewer described their music as "heavy metal Latin Bronx style."
In 1976, Ángel released the album, El San Juan; which also did well commercially for him.
In 1977, realizing that Angel Canales’ popularity was on the rise and understandably looking to maximize profits, the decision makers of the Fania Records label moved to cash in on the stunning popularity that Angel Canales was enjoying following the success of his last two albums. So, they re-released Mark Dimond's album, Brujería, under Ángel Canales' name; with a new title: Más Sabor; the perfect title for a follow-up to the great Sabor album! This album was re-released under the Alegre Records label that Fania Records had acquired two years earlier, in 1975. The true debut album of Canales, El Sentimento del Latino en Nueva York, was released in 1979.
As one might imagine, many of the industry's professional critics asserted that the re-release of Más Sabor was disrespectful to both Mark and, to a lesser extent, Angel. Although the re-released album did properly credit Mark as being the composer of all seven songs, it did not include a listing of the personnel, nor did it include any liner notes.
Nevertheless, just as Mark’s career was declining, Angel’s career was ascending with a flurry of successful albums: Sabor (1975), El San Juan (1976), Live at Roseland (1978 ),Sentimiento del Latino en Nueva York (1979), El Diferente (1981), El Diferente – Greatest Hits Live (1982), Different Shades of Thought (1982) and Ya Es Tiempo (It’s Time) (1985).
However, in the mid ‘80s, due to the growing popularity of salsa romántica, Angel’s more grassroots style of salsa began to lose much of its appeal. The very nature of his success; a distinctive sound and stage presence, was now working against him. Hence, his 1985 album,Ya Es Tiempo (It’s Time) did not fare very well commercially. Also, he was no longer in such demand for live performances.
Truthfully, Canales has had a love-hate relationship with the music industry. Frustrated by a lack of radio airplay, and struggling against the romántica trend that dominated salsa in the 1980s, he disbanded his group in 1990, and tossed the arrangements of his music into the ocean. Moving to Miami, he opened a successful diamond-cutting business. However, not surprisingly, he couldn't keep away from music for very long. Reuniting with his former timbale player, Victor Pérez, in 1993, he resumed touring two years later.
In 2002, Ángel returned with a live album that did relatively well for him: Angel Canales y su Salsa En Vivo. Later that same year (2002), the news that Angel was suffering from Parkinson's disease was made known to his fans. All future albums would be mere compilations.
The latest credible report is that Angel has lost approximately 80% of his memory due to Alzheimer's disease of which he also suffers.
So, let’s go back to 1977 and ask why Fania Records re-released Mark Dimond's album, Brujería, under Angel Canales' name and with a new title? The answer, as I have mentioned above, was the soaring success of Ángel's 1975 album, Sabor.
In this author’s opinion, Sabor was in fact Angel Canales' finest work! The following is a review that I wrote a few years ago about that album:
Originally Released: 1975
Alegre Records/Fania Records
I absolutely love this entire album! My favorite song on the album has changed from time to time, but began with the song Hace tiempo. I remember that the first time that I listened to that song, I played it several times; at least 10, but probably more! "Damn," I thought, "that song is one bad mother... shut yo' mouth!" The song made such an impression that even as I re-write this review for the third or fourth time, I can hear the chorus of the song echoing in the back of my mind: "Ay, ay, ay, no me hagas padecer así" (don't make me suffer like this). What a tremendous track for the salsa dancer! I could hardly wait to play it in a club to a salsa crowd and when I did so, the dance floor was steaming! The dancers absolutely loved it!
The fact is that the entire CD está que arde! The first track, yet another track for the salsa dancer, Sabor los rumberos nuevos, penned by Ángel Canales and opens with the rákata of Aldemaro Luis Rivera's bongós, is essentially a descarga; in which Ángel introduces the group. From the beginning of this first track, you realize that Ángel Canales is very much a sonero like no other! Although this seems a bit cliché, it is absolutely true. His, is a voice that many inveterate salsa lovers would fall in love with and yearn to hear again and again! With his nasal, yet captivating voice, Angel manages masterfully to extend certain notes of the brass. This is really a fantastic feat that you have to hear to appreciate. There are many, many great soneros, but only a select few warrant the moniker of being truly "unique" or simply "different." Ángel Canales, however, certainly deserves such a moniker!
Perhaps, the most memorable track on this album among los boricuas (Puerto Ricans), is Lejos de ti, also penned by Ángel Canales; in which he croons nostalgic verses and improvisations about his beloved Boriquen (term for the island of Puerto Rico; originally used by its indigenous Taíno Indians). In this guaguancó for the salsa dancer, Ángel conjures up the imagery of the towns Loíza Aldea, El Viejo San Juan and Villa Palmeras, golden-brown cuchifritos on the grill, and a rich bomba and plena heritage. There is no wonder that this is a favorite of many who have experienced the very rich and alluring Puerto Rican culture!
As most people know, at contemporary salsa dance venues, cha-cha-chá is the preferred music for changing the pace and adding variety to the venue. So, dancers and DJs alike will love the fact that track two, Sol de mi vida, also penned by Canales, is a great cha-cha-chá tune. It boasts of a swinging piano solo by José Madrid, a remarkable saxophone solo by Emérito Benítez and also a very nice flute solo by Emérito. I could hardly wait to play this track for a dance crowd. When I did, they absolutely loved it as well!
There are two more exceptional tracks on this CD for the salsa dancer: Perico Macoñá, penned by Ángel Canales and about an out of control reefer smoker, and El cantante y la orquesta. Both these songs never fail to fill the dance floor!
The album Sabor was Ángel's second recording. His first recording was as vocalist with acclaimed pianist, Mark "Markolino" Dimond, on the album Brujería, although Ángel did not share the credit on the album's cover.
Well, to sum it all up, Sabor contains seven tracks that are sure to move the dance floor: Sabor los rumberos nuevos, Lejos de ti, Sol de mi vida, Perico Macoñá, Hace tiempo, and El cantante y la orquesta. So, a remarkable 7 out of 8 tracks are for the dancer! Dancers and DJs alike simply cannot go wrong with this CD!
It is with the utmost sincerity that I very highly recommend this CD. Click here to buy it now: BUY SABOR.
Ángel Canales - band leader, lead singer
Juan Torres - trombone
Ricardo Montañez - trombone
Tom Malone - trompet
Emérito Benítez - baritone saxophone, flute
José Madrid - piano
Eddie Testo - bass
Gadier Quiñones - timbales
Aldemaro Luis Rivera - bongos
Locutor y DJ de Salsa Oficial de Fania Records
El Caobo &