Ray Barretto (29 April 29 1929—17 February 2006) was an influential Puerto Rican percussionist and bandleader from New York City. Among his early musical influences were jazz legends like Duke Ellington and Count Bassie—Barretto’s exposure to jazz would provide the bedrock for future musical explorations, leading to one of his most prestigious recognitions: the Jazz Masters Award which was conferred upon him by the National Endowment for the Arts.
While stationed in Germany in 1946, as a soldier, he heard Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca”, a song he later attributed to his calling as a musician: percussion. Upon his return to the United States in 1949, Barretto became a frequenter of New York City’s night clubs, performing as a side man to support himself and his craft. It is during this period that he perfected his conga-playing, a skill which would later provide him with stability as a working musician (playing with the likes of The Rolling Stones and the Bee Gees at one point). At the time, Barretto’s skill with the congas secured him performance gigs with the likes of Charlie Parker, José Curbelo, and Tito Puente—musicians with large followings who exposed Barretto’s skill to a wider audience. This era of performance proved to be rewarding for Barretto as well as his community—his skill with the congas is credited with paving the way for Latin percussionists to enter jazz ensembles in the late 1950s.
In the 1960s, after Barretto became a house musician for notable recording houses such as Prestige, Blue Note, and Riverside, pachanga was en vogue. Forming Charanga La Moderna, his first group, he recorded “El Watusi” which would became his first successful song.
In 1965, as boogaloo—a merging of rhythm and blues with Latin music—took its turn at the top of the charts, Barretto recorded his first album: El Ray Criollo, an ambitious exploration of charango and iconjuto. This mixture of genres would later become known as salsa.
After he joined Fania Records, one of the most popular recording labels for Latin American music, in 1967, Barretto’s signature sound was perfected. Acid, his 1968 album is recognised as a quintessential boogaloo composition, sought after by vinyl collectors, and still popular on dance floors around the world. From start to end, Acid is Barretto at his best: traversing the world of Latin American dance and jazz. “Deeper Shade of Soul” and “Acid”—two recordings from the album—are Barretto’s most well-known songs. Once heard, they are never forgotten. (“Acid” appeared in Chef, a film starring Jon Favreau, and also featured in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, a popular video game.)
Barretto, like his contemporaries, was prolific in output and tireless with his energy. Recording late into his life, he produced numerous albums and maintained a packed touring calendar. His other notable recordings are Que Viva La Musica, Indestructible, Barretto (which secured him his first Grammy nomination), and Ritmo En El Corazón which, in 1990, won him a Grammy Award.
Ray Barretto’s body of work is extensive—but it is Acid, his quintessential recording, that provides a pleasure for curation. With songs like “El Nuevo”, “Acid”, Solare Te Dejare”, “Guarare”, and “Eras” providing the casual and consummate listener with varying moods and tempos, this playlist pays homage to the Boogaloo Maestro.
Sola Te Dejare