The 60s and 70s in the Bronx generally bring two things quickly too mind, crime and creativity. They are both connected, particularly by both being greatly inspired by poverty. The residents struggled to cope with and navigate through the existence of the rampant world of drugs, robberies and violence, as well as avoid the traps that could all to easily transform them from victim to culprit. One specific group often targeted as the key perpetrators of such crimes are the street gangs. That road takes us right back to the beginning, the street gangs were often a meeting point for crime and artistic creativity. The Ghetto Brothers exemplify how powerful and beautiful it can be when those two properly intermingle.
Truth & Soul Records just reissued the very rare Ghetto Brothers album “Power Fuerza” on CD and LP. It comes with a 72-page book that details the story of the group, as well as that era in the South Bronx and is also filled with some amazing timepiece photos that further tell the story. Beyond the history of the group, you will also learn what influential part the Ghetto Brothers and their efforts to promote gang peace treaties had on the birth of Hip Hop. Hip Hop connections lead to Afrika Bambaataa, The Cold Crush Brothers and photographer, Joe Conzo.
While that may be interesting tidbits, the real amazing stories go deeper than that. Reading about the Ghetto Brothers transition from a notorious street gang to an inspirational community group is fascinating. There are endlessly engaging tales of would-be-assassins, struggles with a inner-organization drug free rule, tragedy and much more, all of which are the things that fueled the direction of the music.
Another piece of interesting information is that this entire album was recorded in one session circa ‘71/’72. All of the music invokes that Latin touch and feel, but mixes it with other ingredients for varying points of excitement. Some tracks have a Pop Rock feel that speak to their influence from the Beatles. Other songs tap into the Funk movement and provide some high energy moments that can satisfy any serious dancers, including, perhaps especially, the B-Boys and B-Girls. “I Saw A Tear” reminds me of mixture of Soul and Rock ballad, both from the 60s era. The liner notes mention “Got This Happy Feeling” as a last minute song they recorded in the session just so they could have 8 tracks for the album. The lyrics were incomplete and Benjy, the vocalist/writer was instructed, “Just say anything!” That is not at all the feeling I got when I listened to the song. In fact, it was one of the songs that I initially gravitated to.
The transformation of the Ghetto Brothers from a life of poverty, to a notorious street gang, to Bronx peace keepers, community activists and accomplished musicians is a compelling story and it’s immaculately captured on this “Power Fuerza” reissue. Get a piece of history…
Written By Kevin Beacham