by Christian Mártir
“The Return of Mr. Nice Guy”
Much is rightly celebrated about the rich legacy of the Bronx, El Barrio, and the LES and their contributions to salsa and Latin music in general. But often overlooked is the contribution of Brooklyn, New York City’s most populous borough. While Fania was blowing up worldwide with its master catalogue of salsa and boogaloo, back in Brooklyn a number of independent labels and acts were putting out some of the heaviest sounds salsa music ever heard. Fania managed to swipe up some of BK’s greats such as the Lebron Brothers, Richie Ray, and Ray Barretto.
Yet in the streets and clubs throughout Nueva York other groups such as Orquesta Dee Jay, the Brooklyn Sounds, and the Orchestra Soledad were holding it down for the Planet of Brooklyn. Another of Brooklyn’s finest that emerged from the golden era was the Dax Pacem Orchestra. Their 1969 release on Amaral Records has become one of the holy grails of Latin records and a perfect example of the trombone and percussion madness of true NYC Salsa. I was able to sit down with Benny Vargas of Dax Pacem (the band’s name means Give Us Peace in Latin) aka Mr. Nice Guy aka the Underground King of Salsa to talk, bochinchar, and smoke cigars on a snowy Sunday at his home in Flatbush.