There are records you hear about in record digging circles. These records you never see out in the field at all. Maybe one of your old time record dealers tells wive’s tales about it. Then there are records that even group members don’t have a copy of. The record I’m speaking on is Ghetto Brothers Power Fuerza from 1972. Truth & Soul are giving the South Bronx street-gang-turned-music-group the deluxe vinyl reissue treatment this coming November. For now, Brooklyn’s own DJ Akalepse has released a sampler mix of the record which you can hear at the end of the feature.
The Ghetto Brothers from the South Bronx, were formed from the Melendez family, who got to New York in the 1950’s from Puerto Rico. Always a bit different from the next man, who even though had their run in with street violence and crime, were adamant about uplifting and taking care of their community. Although they were a street gang, the Ghetto Brothers just didn’t crack skulls all day. When they would gather for their daily meetings at their home base on East 162nd Street during the 70’s, they also brought much more than street justice to the table. They brought a love and dedication to music as well. Three Melendez brothers were previously in a Beatles tribute band called Los Junior Beatles. Mix in a recipe of influences like Santana and Tito Puente and you have a sound for the streets in the South Bronx during the early 1970’s. This music brought together many types of people, and even other gang members were included in their fan base. The group garnished attention from a local record store proprietor Ismael Maisonave (Mary Lou Records / Salsa Records) and put together an 8 track record in 1972 at Manhattan’s Fine Tone Studios on 42nd Street. It was produced and engineered by Bobby Marin, a Latin studio notable. Released on the Maisonave’s Salsa label, it raised some eyebrows locally, but never caught on throughout the nation. The record, like many others released around the country, faded into obscurity. If you want an original minty copy of this release, be prepared to shell out some cheddar (somewhere in the neighborhood of high 3 digits).
“ Once we started playing music, [people] didn’t see the colors. They were just there to feel the vibe. To hear what you were saying… your voice and your guitar. It was only when you stopped the music that everything came back.” -guitarist Robert Melendez
Group leader and vocalist Benjy Melendez explains what Power Fuerza is: “We were doing rock n’ roll but we added a little soul for our black brothers, Latin for those who like Latin, rock n’ roll for those who like rock n’ roll. So that’s why the Ghetto Brothers were an amalgamation of all these styles. If you were black you heard something there. If you was white you heard something here. If you was Latino you heard the congas and timbales. So we added all this flavor and that’s what people liked about us. What they really liked was the message.”
Not only is this an important record for all of NYC and for vinyl record culture throughout the world, it’s virtual a time capsule that has captured the sound and feel of what it was like to be there in the South Bronx at this particular time. Through different players the Ghetto Brothers have kept things going for over four decades, adding sons and family members to the group to keep it a family affair. The inscription on the back of the record from 1972 reads:
“If the Ghetto Brothers’ dream comes true, the world will learn that the ‘little people’ wish to be acknowledged, wish to be properly educated in order for them to pass on their knowledge to their children, and proudly inform them about their heritage and culture, and be a functioning part of the dream of America. If the Ghetto Brothers’ dream comes true, the ‘little people’ will be ‘little people’ no more, and make their own mark in this world. Listen to the Ghetto Brothers… and take heed.”
The Ghetto Brothers message that music transcends all boundaries and colors is as loud and clear as it was in 1972.
DJ Akalepse Power Fuerza Sampler Mix
Ghetto Brothers on Truth & Soul Records: Pre-Order
Check out Ghetto Brothers on Facebook.