Ray Barretto died last Friday, and I feel punched in the heart because of it. I just happen to read an obscure news ticker today announcing the news which disappointed and saddened me considering his contributions to jazz and salsa. Considering his contributions to me.
I listened to this Indestructible album a million times, over and over again, during a time I felt especially lonely; an adult-lost lonely not the wise-child kind I had known well. I was about twenty-two and I was sinking. I was losing ground. I felt I had reached a breaking point to which I could keep my own self afloat without support or help or want or love. It was beginning to seem pointless to think so hard and feel so much. Purpose escaped me and my strength receded. When Barretto made this album, he had gone through a spiritual transformation. Most every song he recorded on this record was about radical bravery rooted in faith in oneself and in a sense of power bigger than oneself. A power to which we are connected and contributing. Because of it, we are indestructible. We are able to beat back the negative, beat down the odds, come out more than ok; come out empowered. A million times I listened to this and I cried and I fucking felt sorry for myself that I had to beat down some more odds, and I stopped sinking.
I was able to see Ray Barretto perform once. This was after his album had helped saved me, and a live performance was only icing. Seeing him live was more about me paying respects to him. He was headlining a megabill for a salsa festival at the Hollywood Palladium. The festival started early, around 7pm, and by 1am Barretto had not gone on yet. Only a small crowd of die-hard musicians, jazz buffs and dancers was left in the audience. And when he finally came on stage, we all huddled just under him and cheered. He was positioned in the middle of the stage, behind a semi circle of four congas, in the center of his impressive and devoted band. "!Vaya Las Manos Duras!" someone yelled, and Barretto lifted his huge hands to finesse the drums for us lucky few.
Thank you, Ray Barretto. I will play your album for my little girls tomorrow. I'll play it loudly and explain a lot of the words before the memory of the great latin pioneers completely fizzles out on a one-line news ticker.