Ray Barretto - The Soul Drummers
Greetings to all, and my apologies for a late start this week. I was greatly saddened this past weekend when I learned of the passing of one of the all time great congueros, Ray Barretto. Back in the day, when my man Haim was hipping me to all kinds of soul, jazz and funk on the reg, he also made sure that I heard a bunch of interesting Latin soul. I was always a fan of the Latin sound, but had no idea of the wealth of Latin soul, funk and boogaloo discs that were laid down in the late 60’s. Hearing so many great records that blended clave with soul, funk and R&B blew my mind over and over again, and the sounds of Ray Barretto were at the top of that list. In my lifelong musical search, I’ve always found myself gravitating toward artists and performers whose music is marked above all by “commitment”. Turn on your radio any time of day, and it’s likely that a large portion of what you hear will bear the mark of assembly line manufacture, i.e. music that is by and large boring, bland and struggling mightily to sound exactly like everything else on the charts. I can hardly remember the last time I heard something new that struck me as the work of someone that was really intent on filling the grooves (as they are in this digital age) with their heart and soul. I grew up during the FM rock years of the 1970’s, and I got used to hearing “major” artists treading water – as it were – and cranking out endless rivers of uninspired crud, which in spite of what seemed to me to be obvious substandard quality got played on the radio in an effort to maintain the status quo (the death knell of the 60’s?). When the sounds of punk and new wave began to find my ears, I began to notice a return to “commitment”, i.e. the fact that the artists in question seemed to going for broke, intent on creating works of quality and power. As the years wore on, and I started to encounter older, more obscure music, that mark of commitment became something of a hallmark that I sought out. If the music in question didn’t seem to have a certain level of energy or raw emotion, then it was time to move on to the next record. The vast majority of the records that I’ve collected over the last 25 or so years all bear that mark in some way. Whether it be soul, funk, R&B, garage punk, Latin, jazz or whatever subsection of the musical world I’m drilling down to on any given day, it better move me – or in turn as I post it up here on the Funky16Corners blog – or you or it’s just a waste of time. That mark of commitment is something that I have always heard in the records of Ray Barretto. “The Soul Drummers” originally appeared on Barretto’s landmark 1968 LP ‘Acid’. Perhaps the finest synthesis of raw Latin sounds with contemporary soul (and even rock a little bit), ‘Acid’ featured a grip of amazing cuts, including ‘A Deeper Shade of Soul’, “Mercy Mercy Baby’ and “Teacher of Love”. Having already crossed over into non-Latin markets with 1962’s ‘El Watusi’ (on the Tico label), and made his mark not only as a bandleader but a prolific session player (on countless jazz LPs), ‘Acid’ solidified Barretto’s place as the man to watch in the world of Latin soul. “The Soul Drummers”, while not a big chart hit was issued in several countries, as well as becoming a favorite dance party number on the always eclectic Pittsburgh music scene. It remains today a huge favorite among soul and funk DJs. Opening with Barretto’s congas and the timbales of Orestes Vilato, the tune soon opens up into a melodic, rolling Latin soul groove. Vocalist Adalberto Santiago (who also appears on Barretto’s outstanding ‘Barretto-Power’ LP) drops right in, rapping about the soul drummers.
Have you heard them cooking? The soul drummers Oh they play so cool The soul drummers So hard to resist The soul drummers With the African Twist The soul drummers Oh you know they can swing The soul drummers That African thing The soul drummers When they play that beat The soul drummers Got to move my feet Sock it to me!! It’s one of those records that as soon as the needle hits the wax you absolutely must get up out of your seat and start to groove in the manner to which you have become accustomed (or at least sit on your lazy ass, clapping your hands and tapping your feet). The band is hot as hell (just wait til those trumpets come in) and as the song goes on Barretto hits the skins ever harder and Santiago raves all the wilder. When he screams “Give the drummer some!” you can imagine him with his eyes closed, waving his hands in the air. If you’re spinning it, you’d better have something good in the follow-up slot because ‘The Soul Drummers’ will have the dancers oiled up but good. “The Soul Drummers” is more than just a song, it’s a call to arms. It contains within it’s three minutes and fifty one seconds all the power of the street, the grease and groove of the barrio and the sweat of the dancefloor blended together into a uniquely powerful mixture to which no man or woman is (or at least should be) invincible. If you are able to resist it’s power then you need to check your pulse brother. Adios, Ray.