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24 Aug 2016

Ghetto Brothers “Power-Fuerza” 1971 US NY latin funk soul psych,Hip Hop

Ghetto Brothers “Power-Fuerza” 1971 US NY amazing..! killer mega rare Highly collectable from Bronx latin funk soul psych rock,Hip Hop a forgotten masterpiece….highly…recommended..! 

full with excellent sound

“This album contains a message; a message to the world, from the Ghetto Brothers. The Ghetto Brothers, a community organization dedicated to bridging the ever-increasing gap that exists between society and minority groups, believe music to be the common language of the world. Through music, they are able to inform society of the plight of the ‘little people’ in their quest for recognition. Therefore, the music of the Ghetto Brothers serves as a way of communication. 

“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 growth 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.”….by Waxidermy…. 

Benjy Melendez and his brother Robert still get together every Friday in their Bronx studio, practicing songs they wrote together more than 40 years ago. These days, it’s a low-key affair. Back then, however, it felt like life and death. 

Their band, the Ghetto Brothers, were also the leaders of a Bronx street gang of the same name. When Benjy Melendez helped broker a historic gang truce, he asked neighboring warlords to bring their members onto the Ghetto Brothers’ turf every Friday, where the group would use music to break down barriers. 

“‘There’ll be no restrictions,’” Melendez, 60, remembers telling his onetime rivals. “'We want you to have a good time.’ And from that day on, forget it – it was like a carnival.” 

The Ghetto Brothers came to be known for their role in creating the Bronx street-party scene that would give rise to hip-hop. However, their own band was something else entirely – a boyish, bilingual, Beatles-crazed vocal group that created their own style of Latin rock before they ever heard about Santana. Around the time of the peace treaty, the band jumped at a local label owner’s invitation to record an album. Long out of print and highly prized by record collectors, Power Fuerza has just been reissued by the Brooklyn label Truth and Soul. 

Before they’d even hit their teen years, the Melendez brothers (a third, Victor, died over a decade ago) were singing from the balcony of their project apartment. As Los Junior Beatles, they once opened for salsa legend Tito Puente at the Embassy Ballroom in the South Bronx. When the Melendez boys were invited to attend the Third Street Music School in the Sixties – having added electric guitars, congas and timbales to their sound – they quickly became faculty favorites. “We were charming,” Benjy Melendez tells Rolling Stone. “In spite of the fact that we had leather jackets, our pants were torn and we had chains and knives sticking out, we were really good guys.” 

As a street gang, the Ghetto Brothers grew to include divisions across all five boroughs and as far afield as Chicago. After the murder of an associate known as “Black Benjie” (Melendez was called “Yellow Benjy”), the brothers convinced their fellow leaders to lay down their arms. 

“We lived in a very dangerous time,” recalls Melendez. “The buildings were burning – it was like Germany after the war. We were the police in the area… I didn’t want to do what the other gangs were doing. We had all these members – why not do something constructive?” 

Modeling themselves in part on the Black Panthers’ community efforts in Oakland and elsewhere – without the guns, Melendez says – the Ghetto Brothers took it upon themselves to drive out the pimps and drug dealers, distribute food and clothes to those who needed them and help local kids with their schoolwork. As detailed in Jeff Chang’s definitive hip-hop history, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, the group’s goodwill efforts and rowdy street parties inspired young DJs, including Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc, as well as the breakdancers who helped create hip-hop culture. 

“I saw guys spinning in circles,” says Melendez, “and I told my brother, 'Look, the church is in the street!’” It felt like a passing of the torch; he eventually stepped aside as the leader of the Ghetto Brothers and became a social worker. Over the years, he often spoke to student groups. One kid would inevitably ask whether Melendez had ever killed anyone, he says. “And I’d say you don’t have to kill someone physically to kill them with words… I always told them a peaceful mind is a creative mind.” 

When Power Fuerza first came out in 1972, Melendez was so excited he gave away all his copies of the album. “I regret it big time, man,” he says now. A few years ago, he found a copy of the record on an eight-track tape in a thrift shop. “I sold it to a guy named Johan,” he says, for $200. 

Now, after 40 years, he’ll have his own copy of the record. It’s a small token of the much broader fuerza he helped unleash…by Roliing Stone…. 

Think of street gangs in the ’70s South Bronx and you’re likely to shudder. The Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan have a better reputation for safety. Yet, even one of the most infamous eras and zip codes in our city’s history didn’t offer only danger and strife. The remarkable story of the Ghetto Brothers proves it. 

While some of its members no doubt had their shady dealings, together they aimed to bridge the gap between gang life and community activism. They brokered peace deals between rival gangs, chased out junkies, and promoted Puerto Rican pride. They even made music — sweet, sweet music, it turns out. 

During the course of one hot summer day in 1971, various Ghetto Brothers recorded a down-and-dirty disc — the only recording ever made by guys who continued performing live for decades. The eight, primitively-recorded songs they cut never got radio play beyond the Bronx but, later, the disc earned a reputation as one of the great “lost” albums of all time. The local label Truth and Soul Records just decided to “find” it and so should you. 

In contrast to any image we have of street gang thugs, the Ghetto Brothers’ music could barely be more romantic. They sing of love, young fatherhood and politics with soft, close harmonies that tip off the guys’ earliest obsession. 

The band’s core trio — literal siblings Benjy, Victor and Robert Melendez — grew up worshiping The Beatles. You can hear that in the disc’s Mersey Beat vocal braids and melodic flourishes. They live up to that legacy with a true command of tunes and harmonics. But they didn’t just imitate their Brit role models. They matched that influence to Latin beats, heard in rattling timbales and concussive congas, as well as in Robert Melendez’s blistering rhythm guitar. To this, they added psychedelic seasoning, via David Silva’s fuzz-toned six string, as well as in chords warm enough to come from the Summer of Love. 

The disc’s opening track, “The Girl From the Mountain,” has all of that. There’s a folk-rock chord progression the Jefferson Airplane could have devised, a Latin soul undercurrent Santana would admire, and vocal harmonies that would make Gerry and the Pacemakers beam. 

The group only sings two full songs in Spanish, and it’s remarkable the difference in character when they do. In English, they sound more boyish, in Spanish, more bold. The guys show their political side in “Viva Puerto Rico Libre,” though it’s telling that they sing the chorus as a mournful wish, not a strident demand. In “Power,” they prove their chops as a crowd-pleasing performance band, mimicking Sly Stone’s “Higher.” In some songs, the members talk to each other casually instead of singing, giving the listener a you-are-there intimacy. In doing so, “Power-Fuerza” lets us time-travel back to a fraught era, with music that speaks to any….by Daily News….. 

The Story Of The Ghetto Brothers By Phillip Mlynar on November 20, 2012 

The South Bronx in the 60s and 70s was a racially diverse and occasionally tense place. But even its toughest residents couldn’t resist The Beatles-led British Invasion. Phillip Mlynar reveals the true story of The Ghetto Brothers, the street gang turned community leaders turned band – whose out-of-print album, today reissued by Truth & Soul, occasionally fetched sums in the four figures. 

Benjy Melendez bounds down a staircase at the entrance to the Prospect Avenue elevated subway station in the South Bronx, looks around at the buildings dotting the intersection and sweeps his left arm for emphasis as he declares, “This used to be paradise for The Ghetto Brothers!” 
These days, the 60-year-old Melendez lives in Harlem, but as the 60s rolled over into the 70s, the South Bronx area he’s revisiting became the setting for a drama that saw a member of Melendez’s gang, The Ghetto Brothers, brutally bludgeoned and then stabbed to death – a loss that kick-started a peace-treaty between Bronx gangs and reinforced Melendez’s conviction to reposition his crew as a force for local good, shunting drug dealers out of the area and organising food and clothing drives. This broad redemption story also happened to play out against a curious musical backdrop of intermingling local Latin rhythms and the British Invasion of 60s rock music. Somewhere out of all this tumult, the Melendez-fronted Ghetto Brothers also managed to tease out an eight-song album that was inspired by an adoration for The Beatles. 

That record, Power-Fuerza, has been out of print since its 1972 release on Salsa Records. Melendez no longer owns a copy of the album himself; it’s become a cherished item on the collectors’ scene with copies having sold for over $1000, according to Leon Michels, a co-owner in the Brooklyn-based Truth & Soul label that is reissuing it this month. Power-Fuerza’s scarcity is attributed to the album becoming a local hit that failed to travel out of its immediate environment due to what Melendez calls “a total lack of a good public relations guy.” Listening to Power-Fuerza 40 years later, with Melendez fleshing out the social, political and musical context to the record, its joyful verve, harmonious lyrics and funk-propelled grooves make it seem like a precious ray of positivity seeping out from the top floor of a tenement window, sound-tracking one of New York City’s most unruly eras with an enthused lilt. 
As Melendez, dressed in a navy blue “NY” baseball cap and utility jacket, strides out across the intersection underneath the subway tracks, he begins to sketch in the character of his old neighbourhood. There were three thriving cinemas along Prospect Avenue itself; the ornate shell of one still remains, although whatever business last possessed the spot has fled. Melendez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, moved to the area with his family during the 50s and added to the colour of the constituency. “There were pockets of Eastern Europeans who still lived here,” he says. “You had the Germans down here, the Jews up here, the Italians in certain places.” Then he reminisces over a bakery run by elderly German ladies whose formula for cakes has him salivating to this day. When The Beatles first came out they used to sell wigs there. The black kids in the community used to buy Beatles wigs there! 
Benjy Melendez . 

Walking through his former playground, two subjects come to define Melendez’s patter: music and gangs. Local landmarks prompt memories and he maps out his old musical beat with glee. Along Prospect Avenue he points to a store that he recalls was once a Woolworths. With a gleam on his face he says, “See that right here? When The Beatles first came out they used to sell wigs there. The black kids in the community used to buy Beatles wigs there! When the British Invasion came, it was a big thing around here.” He takes a pause, adding, “My father didn’t mind us singing Beatles songs, he just didn’t want us to have the long hair.” 
Along the next block, Melendez stops abruptly and gestures to the top floor of a three-story house. “We used to play Beatles songs up there,” he explains. “People would look up and be like, “Yo, Junior Beatles, sing me that song “This Boy”! So, we started to sing on the roof and this kid, Theo, was crying ’cause it reminded him of his girlfriend.” People lined up to shout-out requests, with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, “She Loves You” and “Not A Second Time” demanded most often. 
Melendez and his brothers embraced the idea of styling themselves as The Junior Beatles. They began as self-taught musicians and singers who studied vocal techniques from records by The Chipmunks and The Four Seasons, until they came across The Beatles – at which point they unlearned everything they knew and dedicated themselves to interpreting the music of Lennon and McCartney. At first Melendez’s older brother Raymond was dismissive of the mop-topped lads from Liverpool when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964: “He walked in, saw them and said, ‘There’s a new group coming from England and they’re a bunch of faggots.’” But after hearing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” played on the jukebox at a nearby restaurant, they became smitten. 

With a snazzy ability to underscore Beatles melodies with Latin percussion, The Junior Beatles jaunt hit a high point when they snagged a spot opening for Latin maestro Tito Puente at the Embassy Club in 1964 (Melendez was 11 years old at the time). Their ability to channel the music of The Beatles was apparently uncanny: Melendez says local girls would often tell him they went out and bought a Beatles record thinking they were buying a recording of him and his brothers; Michels testifies to this talent, saying, “To this day, Benjy can play on guitar and sing just about any Beatles song you ask him to.” Melendez recalls these days with an animated glee and often breaks out into song mid-sentence. But as the 60s drew to an end, his neighbourhood memories began to take on a bleaker hue. Taking a sharp right turn down 162nd Street, Melendez says bluntly, “When the 70s rolled around, I saw the destruction of the South Bronx.” 
This part of the Bronx’s history is a well-told tale: the local economy collapsed, buildings burned and the presence of gangs became a defining part of the fabric of daily life. Joining a gang was almost mandatory, says Melendez. So, with an interest in the Marxist-tinged principles of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party and the radicalism of the Black Panthers, Melendez decided it was preferable to start his own gang rather than sign up to someone else’s regime of violence. This way his movement could embrace something of a political outlook, despite still having ties to the trappings of street life. He formed The Ghetto Brothers with his brothers Robert and Victor. 

Halfway along a sloping stretch of 162nd Street, Melendez stops and motions towards a disbanded lot ruled by raggedy grass and bordered by a concrete wall at its highest perimeter that’s sloshed with fading graffiti. “This is where The Ghetto Brothers used to have their headquarters,” he explains. He then recounts the pivotal moment in the gang’s fable. 
He was walking towards them saying, “Peace, brothers.” Then a guy goes boom and hits him with an iron. 
Cornell Benjamin was a member of The Ghetto Brothers who went by the street name of ‘Black Benjy’. (Melendez was known as ‘Yellow Benjy’, named so because his girlfriend and future wife was Chinese.) One day in 1971, Melendez says he was told by a scout that three gangs from the nearby Hunts Point area – The Mongols, The Black Spades and The Seven Immortals – were congregating towards The Ghetto Brothers’ clubhouse. He sent Black Benjy out to intercept them and plead for peace. “He never made it,” Melendez says. “They murdered him.” 
Melendez re-traces the steps Black Benjy would have taken, pointing out where each of the rival gangs marched in from. As he walks down a couple of small flights of concrete steps, he points out the corner where Black Benjy’s life ended: “He was walking towards them saying, ‘Peace, brothers.’ Then a guy goes ‘boom’ and hits him with an iron. They beat the hell out of him. When he got to hospital his head was broken four ways and there were stab marks multiple times.” Black Benjy was 25 years old. 
Without our peace treaty, a lot of the guys that started hip hop wouldn’t have even been alive by then.At the time, Melendez recalls he had made ‘Karate Charlie’ Suarez the president of The Ghetto Brothers. Suarez’s first reaction to the murder was cold-blooded revenge. “He was on his way to 158th Street [where there was a division of the gang] to mobilise the rest of The Ghetto Brothers. But I told him, ‘I sent Black Benjy out for peace, so if we start a war it would make everything I believed to be in vain.’” Instead, Melendez successfully brokered a peace treaty between South Bronx gangs at the 174th Street Madison Square Boy’s Club. (It’s known colloquially as the Hoe Avenue Boys Club meeting.) Among those present that day was Afrika Bambaataa, a member of The Black Spades gang, who would pull off a similar peace treaty five years later in a move widely credited with helping to instigate hip hop culture in the South Bronx. (“Without our peace treaty, a lot of the guys that started hip hop wouldn’t have even been alive by then,” reasons Melendez.)The death of Black Benjy reinvigorated Melendez’s political principles, not least the conviction that you should literally pick up the trash on your doorstep. So, clad in jackets displaying a logo based around three trash cans, he and his Ghetto Brothers began to instigate change in the first-hand world around them. “I’d walk up to big-time drug pushers and I’d have at least 20 Ghetto Brothers with me,” Melendez recalls. “I’d tell them with diplomacy that we don’t want no drug-pushers in our neighbourhood. They knew it made sense to get out.” Prostitutes were encouraged to decamp to Hunts Points – “The Ghetto Brothers used to buy them hot chocolate in the winter and tell the pimps to take care of their ladies,” he says – while the no-drugs policy of the gang saw members being forced to go cold turkey until they’d kicked their habit. Food and clothing drives were also put into effect.I sent Black Benjy out for peace, so if we start a war it would make everything I believed to be in vain.The photographer Joe Conzo, who snapped the first wave of hip hop artists and whose lens is behind the Born In The Bronxexhibition and book, grew up nearby. His grandmother owned a social services organisation; she soon invited Melendez to work there after noticing the way he was able to speak to the young people in his community. “The Ghetto Brothers were one of the more activist organisations in the community,” remembers Conzo.Melendez’s political streak thrived during this era: He was invited to the United Nations to sit down with the ambassador to Cuba and the president of the Puerto Rican Socialist Society to discuss issues relating to Puerto Rico’s independence, and he recalls the day when two FBI agents turned up at his house, ransacked through his books, then warned him to be on the look-out. “They gave me a sign when they left,” he says as he makes a cross with two fingers. “They meant it as the sign of a cross-hair.” Beyond the politics of the time though, music still pulsed through Melendez’s life and his band The Ghetto Brothers gained an impressive reputation in the community as they cultivated an infectious sound through fervent jam sessions at the clubhouse.News of The Ghetto Brothers band made its way to Ismael Maisonave, a local record store and label owner. He offered them $500 to cut an album, and The Ghetto Brothers were given a scant one day’s access to Fine Tone Studios in Manhattan. Unprepared but talented, Melendez says they recorded the songs “on the spot,” improvising riffs and rhythms into full-blown songs, and paying homage to their continuing obsession with The Beatles. Melendez himself carried lead vocal duties; his brothers Robert and Victor laid down rhythm guitar and bass respectively; the rest of the ensemble took in David Silva (lead guitar), Luis Bristo (drums) and Chiqui Conception, Franky Valentin and Angelo Garcia all on percussion. They emerged later that day with an eight-song album they titled Power-Fuerza. 

The vibe of Power-Fuerza gives credence to the idea that The Ghetto Brothers successfully transplanted the fun and energy of a jam session into a studio set-up. Having completed his tour of The Ghetto Brothers’ former precinct, Melendez settles down in a diner on Southern Boulevard and nurses a cup of coffee as he recounts stories about the project. He says the song “Got This Happy Feeling”, which he wrote, was not supposed to be on the album. But having recorded seven songs, they were informed they needed another to balance out the first side of vinyl. “I didn’t have any words!”, he says with a laugh. “Bristo looked at me and told me to say anything. So, if you hear the record, it’s more like a joke but some people like it.” With a good-natured disbelief he says, “I don’t understand why!” 

This merriment turned into pranksterism on at least one occasion: “Mastica Chupa Y Jala” resembles a freestyled chant over a chugging funk groove. It was written by Victor Melendez. Asked about the lyrics – which involve the words “suck” and “pull” – Benjy Melendez admits he used to get asked that all the time. “I finally found out from Victor what he meant by that and it was smoke,” he says, motioning to puff on a joint. “I wasn’t into that at all and I didn’t write that ’cause I never took drugs in my life.” 

Ghetto Brothers - Viva Puerto Rico Libre 

Power-Fuerza was created against the backdrop of a dilapidated community, an atmosphere of fatal street violence and extreme politics. The album’s intrigue comes from this context. Michels says, “The back-story is so interesting and such an important slice of New York history that the record becomes something so much more than just another rare funk LP.” It charms as a beacon of hope, as testament to the lure of music in spite of a neighbourhood in turmoil. The project dips into political waters on occasion – “Viva Puerto Rico Libre” sounds like Melendez was writing a perky anthem for a Puerto Rican Socialist Society rally – but the abiding spirit of the record is a joyful one, promising fun times ahead if people bandy together. Tellingly, the back cover of the original pressing contains an inscription that’s phrased as “a message to the world, from The Ghetto Brothers.” It talks about the “gap that exists between society and minority groups” and claims music as “the common language of the world.” Melendez wrote those words back in 1972. 40 years later, The Ghetto Brothers’ music will ensure that his sentiment lives on………. 

Ghetto Brothers were a street gang before they were a band. Benjamin “Yellow Benjy” Melendez and his brothers Robert and Victor were from a Puerto Rican family who came to New York in the 1950s, and the boys got swept up in gang life in the tumultuous ‘60s in New York City. They did not escape the violence and crime completely, but they were a group committed to say, driving drug dealers from their neighborhood or cleaning up parks. They were, like so many gangs, targeted and harassed by the police, but for what seems now like the wrong reasons. Still, as harassment escalated, Benjy Melendez and his brothers—who had played music for a while, as a tribute band called Los Junior Beatles—turned from the street to music. 

So yes, the Ghetto Brothers were a gang-turned-music-group, but it may not be quite the radical shift it’s made out to be in music lore. Their one record, Power Fuerza, recorded in a single session, is the only full-length document we have from the band. Released in 1972, it’s been a collector’s rarity for years, but now Truth & Soul has reissued the album in a deluxe edition, and given a wider audience a chance to dig into these sweet tunes. 

And, for those with only a passing knowledge of the band’s back story, Power Fuerza will surprise because it isn’t about, necessarily, street-tough, revolution tunes. Instead, these are sweet songs, often love songs, steeped as much in early Beatles and ‘60s-pop as in Latin and soul influences. Aided by a band of crack players, Ghetto Brothers create lean yet lush pop tunes on Power Fuerza, a document that is brief (just over 30 minutes) but has a surprising breadth of sound. 

The melodies here are pretty simple, but the effect less so. “Girl From the Mountain” starts with a simple note rundown that leads into a jangling chord progression that, were it not for the Latin shuffle of percussion behind him, could certainly be an early Lennon-McCartney tune. Benjy’s bass runs up and down over those chords, though, and sweet backing vocals build a basic pop song into something soaring. “There is Something In My Heart” is a more romping pop tune, a basic rock ‘n roll song tinged with the group vocals of, say, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (albeit in a lower register). “Mastica Chupa Y Jala” is a brilliant Latin dance number, a lean, fiery piece that makes Santana’s “Oye Como Va” sound downright bloated. 

There are moments of political power, like the band’s dance number cum declaration of individual freedom “Ghetto Brothers Power” (which nicely borrows from James Brown) or the album’s longest song “Viva Puerto Rico Libre” (another songs that makes political the physical movement of dancing), but for the most part this is an album of lovelorn pop songs made by impressionable young music fans and talented players and songwriters in their own right. The deluxe edition, with extensive pictures and interviews and liner notes, gives us more insight and context into the creators of this album and the sounds that inform these songs. Still, it is as much back story and rarity that have made Power Fuerza the collector’s prize it is today, and in this reissue listeners are bound to realize that not only is this brief pop record unable to hold up all the history that’s been piled on it, it doesn’t need to. This is a sweet pop album by some altruistic, endlessly optimistic yet rebellious youths. In the tumultuous time and place they came from, that alone was a powerful and benevolent force. That power comes out in each note of this album, and that’s what’s worth focusing on here. Not where Ghetto Brothers came from, but where they wanted to go……by pop matters……. 

The early 1970s Bronx was not a pleasant place to be, it was a time when joining a gang was almost mandatory, the local economy collapsed due to gang violence, and buildings burned. All-round good guys, the Ghetto Brothers had an ethos not of vengeance and violence, but peace, believing that “music is the common language of the world” (their own words from the sleeve notes of Power-Fuerza). This message became all the more significant when brother Black Benjy was murdered after offering a peace sign. This made their message more important, an ending to the regime of violence in the Bronx was urgent. Inspired by the socialism of their native Puerto Rico, and the work of the Black Panthers, the Ghetto Brothers’ gang grew to be one of the biggest in New York—all founded on leader Benjy Melendez’s determination.Change really did start to happen. They ensured that the female members of the gang were treated respectfully—contrary to the treatment of women in other gangs. The gang would take hot chocolate to prostitutes in the winter and keep their pimps in line. Drug pushers were pushed out of the neighbourhood, in an interview with Red Bull Music Academy, Melendez recalls. “I’d tell them with diplomacy that we don’t want no drug-pushers in our neighbourhood. They knew it made sense to get out.” This culminated in December 1971, when 20 gangs gathered to agree on a borough-wide peace treaty. While the treaty didn’t last very long, its legend did. But, what has all this got to do with music? In Melendez’s words “without our peace treaty, a lot of the guys that started hip-hop wouldn’t have even been alive [by the time hip hop became popular].” Second, Ghetto Brothers were more than a gang, they were a group of talented musicians. In the 1960s, the Bronx was much more pleasant. Melendez and his brothers had been dubbed “Los Junior Beatles” by the locals—no prizes for guessing, the boys would jam out Beatles hits, and they did it quite convincingly. “People would look up and be like, 'Yo, Junior Beatles, sing me that song “This Boy”!’ So, we started to sing on the roof and this kid, Theo, was crying ’cause it reminded him of his girlfriend.” The girls on the block actually thought they were buying Melendez and his brothers’ records and not the real Beatles.The gang wars and violence of the 1970s brought a different backdrop. Against a setting of burning buildings and violence, Melendez and his brothers continued to jam out in their clubhouse and perform at community gigs. They played Beatles-inspired melodies, with a funky latin beat, and the neighbourhood adored it. Whether the music gained them the respect required to tackle the neighbourhood issues is not clear, but the Ghetto Brothers believed it did. A local record store and label owner offered the boys $500 to record an album. With only one day’s access to the studio, the boys were under-prepared and many of the songs were recorded on the spot, improvising riffs and latin beats under a Beatles-style melody. The result is a little lo-fi, but it’s a treasure trove of happy pop songs with a funky vibe. The album itself went out of print, becoming mythical, and a highly sought after record. Fortunately, it was reissued in 2008 by Truth & Soul records. Although the album may not be well produced, it comes with such a fascinating history, incredibly charming songs, and an important message of peace. “This album contains a message; a message to the world, from the Ghetto Brothers."The Ghetto Brothers, a community orginaization dedicated to bridging the ever-increasing gap that exists between society and minority groups, believe music to be the common language of the world. Through music they are able to inform society of the plight of the 'little people’ in their quest for recognition. Therefore, the music of the Ghetto Brothers serves as a way of communication."It 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 growth 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." …….. 

It happened a little over 41 years ago, in the middle of a South Bronx park—a moment that would change Beny Meléndez, his street gang and rock band the Ghetto Brothers, and music history forever. When you hear him tell it, he sounds like it was only yesterday. 

"My brothers came in the afternoon and we started playing music. 'I’m Your Captain,’ by Grand Funk Railroad’,” said Meléndez, vocalist for the Ghetto Brothers. “Then they told me some other gangs were looking for the Roman Kings and they’re beating up people on the way here. I looked at Black Benjy and said, 'Take seven or eight Ghetto Brothers, no weapons, get me the leaders and bring them to me.’ About half an hour later a guy comes running in, saying, 'They’re beating up Benjy!’ I said 'Move it, let’s go!’ We walked up 163rd Street to Stebbins Avenue, down Horseshoe Park. When I got to the bottom of the stairwell I saw his blood - oh God!” 

Lying dead in the park that day was Cornell Benjamin, a.k.a Black Benjy, who had become Meléndez’s (a.k.a Yellow Benjy) trusted lieutenant. But instead of lashing out with violence in revenge, Meléndez instead called for a peace summit with other gang leaders, and the Ghetto Brothers were transformed from roughneck turf-protectors to political organizers who helped set the stage for the dawn of hip-hop. 

At first glance, Benjy Meléndez’s story seems familiar and uncomplicated. Having been one of the major leaders of Bronx street gangs such as the Savage Nomads, Savage Skulls, and the Ghetto Brothers, Benjy and his banda of brothers (Robert and Victor Meléndez, who has since passed away, along with Chiqui Concepción, Luis Bristo, David Silva, Franky Valentin, and Angelo Garcia) eventually gave up the gang life to focus on music. The original line-up back then was Benjy on lead vocals, Benjy’s brother Robert on rhythm guitar, Benjy’s cousin Victor on bass, Chiqui Concepción on congas, David Silva on lead guitar, Angelo Garcia on bongos, and Franky Valentin on timbales. 

But their music, seminal Latin rock, was recorded independently, got lost in the shuffle, and now, 40 years later, the only album they ever recorded, Power Fuerza, has been re-released by Truth and Soul Records for a new generations of listeners. 

It’s another Sixto Rodriguez story, this time about Puerto Rican rockers in New York, not a Chicano from Detroit. While Rodriguez, the subject of this year’s acclaimed documentary Searching For Sugar Man, was more in the Bob Dylan cantautor (singer/songwriter) mode, the Ghetto Brothers were a collective ensemble whose music was driven by staccato rhythm guitars, Afro-Cuban percussion, '60s funk, and doowop-style vocals. They were a jam band ( that at times evoked bands like Sly and the Family Stone, the original Mothers of Invention, pop psychedelia like Vanilla Fudge, and of course, the Beatles. While their signature track “Ghetto Brothers Power” blatantly borrows from Sly’s “Wanna Take You Higher,” it is an individual statement from the streets of an urban ground zero that was literally burning to the ground from almost daily arson fires. 

There is plenty of sentiment here, from the bugaloo doowop “I Saw a Tear,” to Brit-pop cha-cha-cha of “There Is Something in My Heart.” But the recording’s strength lies in the band’s freewheeling jams like “Got This Happy Feeling” which somehow seems like a precursor to both Fela’s Afrobeat and the suburban post-punk of the Feelies. 

According to Meléndez, the song was the result of a happy accident. “The recording engineer said 'mira, you got one more song, you gotta do it.’ ” So I said “we don’t have any more songs,” and my brother said, “listen, you got this 'Happy Feeling,’ and I said, 'but I never finished the song.’ So he said, 'man, just say anything.’ So when you hear that I start laughing because I just said anything.” It was this spontaneous spirit of improvisation that allowed Meléndez and the Ghetto Brothers to shift gears when confronted with the death of Cornell Benjamin. In this excerpt from the '90s documentary Flying Cut Sleeves, by Henry Chalfant and Rita Felcher, Melendez explains how and why he called for a peace summit between warring gang members. Jeff Chang’s 2005 book Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation further documents that one of those present in the South Bronx Boy’s Club that day was Afrika Bambaata, who was inspired to throw the parties in his neck of the borough that most historians agree was the basis for the birth of hip-hop. 

Interestingly enough, the Benjy Meléndez connection reveals an unexpected truth about hip-hop, that although it has evolved into a genre that seems disconnected from rock and mainstream American culture, its roots were at least partially affected by a New York Puerto Rican rocker who was also Jewish. 

“My family were descendants of marranos from Spain,” said Meléndez, referring to the derogatory word used to describe hidden Jews in Spain and Latin America. “My father would draw the curtains and read from the scriptures, then he would send us to the streets to play on Saturday, so no one would get the impression that we were Jews.” 

In the 1980s Meléndez became active in a synagogue in the South Bronx. “A woman in the synagogue asked my name and I said 'Meléndez’ and she said, 'that’s not Jewish, that’s Spanish.’ And I said 'what’s your name?’ and she said 'Epstein,’ and I said, 'that’s not Jewish, that’s German.’ She came up to me and apologized later.” 

Meléndez’s fascination with California motorcycle gangs induced him to set a new trend for wearing colors that set the standard for inner city youth gangs of the '70s. 

“One day I saw a film with some friends of mine called Hells Angels on Wheels. When I saw the Hell’s Angels [rockers gang on the movie] and I saw their colors, I said I can do that!” said Meléndez. “I went to the fabric store and bought some felt. I cut out rockers. I went to Harry’s on Southern Boulevard, bought the letters, ironed them on to the rockers and then painted a logo on the felt and then everything was sewed onto the jacket. From then on, a lot of groups started to do the same thing.” A lot of the old guys had leather jackets. They had the colors but they were on leather. So since I wasn’t riding motorcycles, I said let’s put them on Lee jacket.“ The phrase "Flying Cut Sleeves” Meléndez attributes to Black Benjy, who was referring to the act of wearing denim jackets with the sleeves cut off, sporting the colors of your gang.But Meléndez’s affection for the Hells Angels dissipated when he went to their headquarters in New York’s East Village to try to join. “I found out later that they don’t accept black members. When they told me that I was shocked and I just left."Soon after the gang peace summit, Meléndez was visited by a Black Panther organizer named Joseph Mpa. "He told me, why don’t you take all this energy and do something constructive in the community—brothers can’t be killing brothers,” said Meléndez. “I had a meeting with the presidents, vice-presidents, warlords of all my divisions and I said 'I’m going to change the platform, brothers.’ We’re going to take off our colors, we’re going to start wearing berets, and we’re going to start cleaning our community, taking out the drug pushers, start giving out free food…"Meléndez then began a long association with United Bronx Parents, a social service organization run by local hero Evelyn Anotinetty, and also made a commitment with activists for Puerto Rican independence. If you listen to "Viva Puerto Rico Libre,” from the re-release, you can hear that Meléndez, unlike prototypical Nuyoricans, has a strong command of Spanish, giving this impromptu anthem a feel of authenticity that anticipated the political edge of much of '70s salsa.But although Meléndez was a central force in creating the street collectivity and party atmosphere that inspired hip-hop, he did not have a strong connection or understanding of the phenomenon. “The Ghetto Brothers used to play every Friday night after the peace treaty, after the death of Black Benjy,” said Meléndez. “Afrika Bambaata saw this and took it to the next level. When I saw it for the first time, guys dancing, I looked at my brother, and said, 'they look like the Pentecostals because I saw them turning in circles, that’s the way I saw them in church.’ So my brother said, 'no Benjy, that’s called hip-hop!’ They looked at me and said 'what is wrong with you?’!"The rock legacy of hip-hop is carefully hidden, but in some ways obvious. You can hear it in one of hip-hop’s first classics, Bambaata’s "Planet Rock,” which samples the visionary German band Kraftwerk, The Treacherous Three’s “Body Rock,” or The Strikers’ lesser-known “Body Music,” which urges you to “rock, rock to the punk rock.” But that little snippet, as well asNuyoricans’ crucial role in contributing to graffiti-writing, break dancing, and DJing, have become an afterthought.In the early '80s, as hip-hop began to hit its stride, the Ghetto Brothers had reinvented themselves as the short-lived Beatles imitators Street the Beat. “We once opened up for Tito Puente as the Junior Beatles,” said Meléndez, who started singing with the band at age 11, and has played consistently with them since. Street the Beat played Beatles covers on Greenwich Village street corners and according to Meléndez, played private parties for the Rolling Stones, the Police, and Hollywood celebrities. “Diana Ross walked up to me when I was playing and put $100 in my pocket!” he recalled.Since then, it’s been a struggle for Benjy, who, at 60, suffers from kidney failure and has been on dialysis. Though he worked as a counselor at United Bronx Parents for 30 years, he had to stop working last year due to this health. Around the time he started working as a counselor, he met and married his second wife, Wanda, with whom he has six kids - and two more from his first marriage.Despite his health concerns, Meléndez is very enthused about the sudden rebirth in interest in the Ghetto Brothers - the result of an accumulation of things. Chang’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stopbook, an appearance by the Ghetto Brothers at the Experience Music Project conference in Seattle in 2004, and Meléndez appearing with Afrika Bambaataa at various speaking engagements throughout the last decade. But the band - currently comprised of Benjy on vocals, Benjy’s brother Robert on rhythm guitar, Benjy’s son Joshua on lead guitar and bass, and Robert’s son Hiram on drums - is about more than just nostalgia these days. “We have a totally different sound now, we practice in the studio constantly,” said Meléndez. “We’re hoping we can go on tour soon and record a new album."He’s just happy for that day in 1971, when he decided to take off his colors for peace. "I dropped the Savage Nomads and somebody else took over, and I dropped the Savage Skulls, because if I wore the jacket that said Savage I had to back it up. So I was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As soon as I put on those denims I had to act out that name,” said Yellow Benjy. “So I just stayed with the Ghetto Brothers.” ……by abc news….. 

A&R – Danny Akalepse, Leon Michels, Romon Kimin Yang* 
Bass – Victor Melendez 
Bongos – Angelo Garcia 
Congas – Chiqui Concepcion 
Design – Angelo Velazquez 
Drums – Luis Bristo 
Executive-Producer – Danny Akalepse, Jeff Silverman Leon Michels 
Illustration – Jose Parla 
Layout, Design – Gina Sposto 
Lead Guitar – David Silva 
Lead Vocals – Benny Melendez 
Photography By – Beatrice Bring 
Photography By [Cover] – Atsushi Nishijima 
Producer – Bobby Marin 
Remastered By – Gene Paul 
Rhythm Guitar – Robert Melendez 
Timbales – Franky Valentin 

1 Girl From The Mountain 
Written-By – Fellix Tollinci* 
2 There Is Something In My Heart 
Written-By – Benny Melendez 
3 Got This Happy Feeling 
Written-By – Benny Melendez 
4 Mastica Chupa Y Jala 
Written-By – Victor Melendez (2) 
5 You Say You Are My Friend 
Written-By – Benny Melendez 
6 Viva Puerto Rico Libre 
Written-By – Benny Melendez 
7 I Saw A Tear 
Written-By – Victor Melendez (2) 
8 Ghetto Brothers Power 
Written-By – Victor Melendez (2) 

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