1968 was a wondrous year of creativity and reinvention for Latin music in New York. Fania Records was at the epicenter of this musical revolution, releasing debut albums by Willie Colón, the Fania All Stars and Ismael Miranda’s initial outing with Larry Harlow’s Orchestra Harlow. As if that wasn’t enough, 1968 was also the year when Nuyorican conguero, bandleader and songwriter Ray Barretto began his collaboration with Fania, releasing the first of many classic LPs that would forever change the sound of salsa and Latin Soul. Produced by Harvey Averne – a successful Fania artist in his own right - Acid was Barretto’s much heralded debut for the label, a fully formed manifesto of creative freedom and tropical frenzy.
At the time, the Afro-Caribbean genre was in a wonderful state of flux. On the one hand, established bandleaders continued favoring the trusted tenets of mambo, son montuno and cha cha chá. At the same time, a new generation of rebellious youngsters – most of them born in the U.S. to Latino parents - launched the boogaloo sound, an insanely flavorful fusion of R&B, Soul and Latin rhythms.
Barretto turned 39 in 1968. An eclectic musician – he had already recorded jazz sessions with Herbie Mann and Tito Puente, his own charanga albums and a funky LP of 007 movie themes – he struck an inspired balance between tradition and futurism on Acid, blending salsa with boogaloo, Latin jazz and a dash of psychedelia.
Even though he would quickly leave boogaloo behind and embrace the hardcore salsa explosion of the ‘70s, Acid defined both the stylistic approach and core group of collaborators that would accompany Barretto during the artistic peak of his career. With the effusive vocalizing of Pete Bonet taking care of the English tracks, future salsa star Adalberto Santiago lends his authentic boricua flavor to the numbers sung in Spanish. Orestes Vilató unleashes his trademark percussive attack on the timbales, whereas Barretto himself is the rare exception of a conga player who could steal the spotlight if he so wanted but chooses to stay on top of the groove, never engaging in frivolous soloing.
Throughout the ‘70s, Barretto released one masterpiece after the other. Acid finds him at the beginning of his Fania journey – a record seeped in innocence and fever.
Latin music expert Aurora Flores wrote these insightful liner notes to the definitive Barretto compilation.
A lovely interview with Barretto offering his thoughts on a variety of musicians and genres.
A story about discovering Fania Records and falling deeply in love with the music.
DEEP CUTS WE LOVE…
“Sola Te Dejaré” – Ignore the typically misogynistic lyrics and focus instead on the incredibly tight groove that Barretto generates on this timeless salsa scorcher.
“Mercy, Mercy Baby” – The hypnotic bass line, the funky piano, the frantic vocalizing. Barretto generated Soul magic like no other bandleader.
“Espíritu Libre” – After dazzling his audience with seven brief dance tracks, Barretto leads Acid into a majestic finale with this eight-minute instrumental descarga filled with conga accents and dissonant brass riffs.
DID YOU KNOW?
- While innovating one of the most beloved genres in Latin music history, NYC salsa musicians were also busy trying to make ends meet. Cuban trumpet player Roberto Rodríguez worked as the manager of an auto shop, yet never missed a gig or rehearsal with Barretto.
- Even though he gigged and recorded albums at a breakneck pace, Barretto also found the time to play congas with his label’s mega-orchestra, the Fania All Stars.
- Barretto loved salsa but never forgot his lifelong love of jazz. In 1973, he shocked fans by releasing The Other Road – a then misunderstood session of jazz-rock in the mode of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever.
Listen to Acid in its entirety on your preferred streaming platform below.
Words: Ernesto Lechner