The Ghetto Brothers
The South Bronx’s Ghetto Brothers, originally formed from the Melendez family unit (Benjy, Robert and Victor) who came to New York in the 1950s from Puerto Rico. They had their share of incidents with violence and crime, but Benjy also pushed his crew into uplift-the-community territory.
As Jeff “Chairman” Mao notes, By the early 70s Benjy’s social conscience was on the rise the result of which had the Ghetto Brothers eradicating junkies and pushers from their neighborhood, cleaning up parks and garbage-strewn empty lots, and participating in clothing drives and breakfast programs:
“Catalyzed by the tragic death of their “Peace Counselor,” Cornell “Black Benjy” Benjamin … the Ghetto Brothers, by forsaking revenge, became the initiators of a landmark gang peace treaty that represented the important first step towards quelling a culture of violence threatening to consume the Bronx.”
In the early 70s, they brought another aspect to their legacy: musicianship. They quickly cooked up a potent, NYC-flavored musical stew that gained the attention of local record store and record label owner Ismael Maisonave (Mary Lou Records / Salsa Records). After agreeing to his invitation to put their music on tape, the group rehearsed furiously and gathered material. In the summer of 1972, they were ready.
The album’s eight tracks were recorded in one day at Manhattan’s Fine Tone Studios, produced and engineered by Latin studio maven Bobby Marin. Seven of the eight are originals written by Benjy and/or Victor Melendez. The result: a beautiful, absolutely innocent audio snapshot by three brothers, their friends and a powerful gang of musical energy.
The original unit featured on Power Fuerza stopped performing together in the mid-’70s, yet an energized incarnation of the Ghetto Brothers remains a steady-gigging unit to this day. Still a family affair, the current lineup features Benjy and Robert Melendez (brother Victor passed away in 1995) as well as Benjy’s son Joshua on bass and Robert’s son Hiram on drums.
As guitarist Robert Melendez says “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.”