PBS’s excellent 4-hour documentary – Latin Music USA – did a wonderful job of pointing out just how little I knew about Latin American music and its history. Thanks to Will Hermes and his sweeping new history of the NYC music scene during a crucial 5-year period, 1973-1977, I have an even better appreciation for how the city’s rich fusion of Latin cultures – Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican and Colombian – created an exciting new popular dance music, salsa (on August 26, 1971 at NYC’s Cheetah Club, to be precise).
My recent purchase of Ronco hits LP, Sound Explosion — magically and coincidentally enough — yielded Ray Barretto‘s “Guarare” from his 1975 Fania LP, Barretto:
Ray Barretto (1975)
The presence on a Ronco collection of an artist from Fania (“the Motown of Latin music”) seemed to signal an interest in the “new” salsa sound that threatened to go mainstream.
Check out the sloppy typo on the cover:
Billboard‘s November 12, 1977 issue included a special section of coverage devoted to salsa – “the hot Latin dance music” – that included this assessment of Ray Barretto as a bandleader:
Brooklyn-born Barretto was nicknamed ‘Hard Hands’ as a tribute to his powerful conga-playing skill. While having offered some of the most outstanding straight up salsa works of any bandleader (with his distinguished Fania LP titled Barretto as his climactic achievement), Barretto is known also for his liberal experimentation with jazz and R&B forms. He recorded a Latin-jazz album, “The Other Road,” years before the current crossover rage heated up. Unlike [Eddie] Palmieri, however, Barretto’s non-salsa dabblings have alienated a good portion of his hardcore salsa followers. Nevertheless, his rich and extensive salsa catalog (in both “charanga” and conjunto styles) stands as a major contribution.
Thanks to Discogs for pointing out the “novelty” LP cover that features “fold-out” conga drums!
Originally credited as D.R., Guarare’s composer is Roberto Baute Sagarra. A year before, it was recorded by Van Van and wrongfully credited to Pedro Speck. Due the success of both versions, a Cuban court decision (Tribunal Provincial de Guantánamo) ruled in 1976 the legitimacy to Baute. Actually, Pastora was NOT a fictional character; her name was Pastora Yuani Sayú from the mentioned province.
Fania Records, to no one’s surprise, has more to the story —
The year was 1975. Approaching bankruptcy and reeking of political corruption, New York City was kept alive by the explosive sounds of Afro-Caribbean music. Fania Records had established itself as a powerhouse in the music industry by catering to a niche audience of fans who loved to mambo and now called this music salsa. Local bandleaders became international superstars. One of these bandleaders was Brooklyn born and Bronx bred Nuyorican Ray Barretto, who had developed a reputation as a superb conguero in the world of jazz, and as a sideman with artists like José Curbelo and Tito Puente.
It was through his recordings for the Fania label, however, that Barretto would achieve the kind of status that few would have thought possible in the South Bronx neighborhood where he grew up. “At Fania, we were treated like rock stars,” said Barretto. “Jerry Masucci approached the promotion of his recordings the way major mainstream companies promoted rock and pop.” One of the conguero’s finest albums, Barretto showcased the talent of a young singer and composer from Panama, Rubén Blades. The band had been reconstructed, because most of Barretto’s musicians had abandoned him following the release of Que Viva La Musica. He reacted by forming a new band and recording the jazz album The Other Road. With the help of trumpet player Papy Román, Barretto would produce the triumphant Indestructible album, reconfirming his popularity with the dance crowd.
Barretto is the follow-up album to Indestructible, showcasing Ray as a bandleader who made music that was swinging and hip at the same time. Penned by Pedro Speck, the opening track “Guararé” was originally an uptempo changüí tune from the Guantanamo region of Eastern Cuba. Barretto chose to slow down the tempo, retaining the humorous lyrical content and flavor of a guaracha. The arrangement by pianist Gil López (an old Barretto bandmate from his Tito Puente days) transformed “Guararé” from an obscure tune of Cuban folklore into a salsa mega-hit. It also made Puerto Rican singer Tito Gómez synonymous with son.
LP Musician & Production Credits
Ray Barretto – Congas & Drums
Adalberto Santiago – Coro
Tito Gomez – Coro
Gil Lopez – Piano
Roberto Rodriguez – Trumpet
Rubén Blades – Vocals
Tito Allen – Vocals
Arrangers – Eddie Martinez, Gil Lopez, Jose Madrid, Louie Cruz, Ray Barretto & Sonny Bravo
Producer – Ray Barretto
Executive Producer – Jerry Masucci
First Latin Crossover Pop Song?
In 1961 Ray Barretto recorded “El Watusi” – a Top 20 hit and the first Latin song (according to thousands of web pages, although I find this hard to believe) to enter the Billboard charts. You can find this tune on Barretto’s 1962 Tico album, Charanga Moderna.
LINK to Pop-Up Album Covers
LINK to Latin-American Sounds