Thankfully, the record has been rescued from obscurity and lovingly restored, remastered from the original tapes, fully licensed, with its original Pyraphon artwork intact, preserving and presenting the legacy of this great music for today’s generation of global salsa dura fans everywhere.
“Ra! Rai!”, released in 1969, was the fourth and final album of Venezuelan piano player, composer, arranger and vocalist Ray “Rai” Pérez’s original configuration of Los Kenya (the band name was revived for an LP in 1981). The oddly titled record is undeservedly obscure except to the most avid collectors and historians of Venezuelan salsa. In fact, it’s actually a crucial milestone in Pérez’s long and storied career because it marks the end of the second period where the upstart pianist was making his mark on the scene and restlessly searching for a formula that would hopefully lead to both creative satisfaction and commercial success.
For some context, it should be noted that the late 1960s was a very busy time when Pérez was juggling several different studio bands: Los Dementes, Los Calvos and Los Kenya. The singer Dimas Pedroza, who had left rival orchestra Federico Y Su Combo Latino to join Ray Pérez in early 1969, did not stay long with Los Kenya, due to some personal differences with the band leader. With a co-lead singer missing to support Carlín Rodríguez in Los Kenya, the band’s new conga player, Julián Orta, recommended a young, non-professional friend of his, 22-year-old Edmundo Vega Francia.
Pérez treats us to a rather eclectic and slightly odd mix of genres, influences and arrangements, making this one of his more eccentric and interesting efforts. 1960s California “sunshine pop” rock (often referred to as ‘surf’ on Los Kenya records), calypso, soul and jazz are all added to the pot of salsa cooked up by “El Loco Ray” and his band on “Ra! Rai!”. Throughout the record the dual trumpet section keeps things bright and jumpy, in the style of La Sonora Matancera and Ricardo Ray. Pérez utilized this approach to differentiate from the heavier trombone sound of Los Dementes. Always searching for different sounds on the keyboard, Pérez brings in classical and blues-inflected piano licks as well as traditional Cuban guajeos, much like his two major influences on the instrument, Eddie Palmieri and Ricardo Ray.
Luckily for salsa fanatics, the record contains some fabulous dance-floor bangers in that genre, with ‘San Juan Guaricongo’, ‘Pilar’, ‘Me voy a reír’, and ‘Chocolate’ being some of the best in Ray Pérez’s prolific output of the 1960s. In addition, the highly syncopated track ‘Mi sonsito’ brings in the Cuban son montuno, dedicated to the salseros of Francia’s barrio and performed in a rapid tempo that can be danced as a boogaloo. Overall, from the pop numbers to the salsa tunes, the sound is similar to that of the Colombia-based Venezuelan expatriates Nelson Y Sus Estrellas.
While it may not be one of his most well-known albums, “Ra! Rai!” deserves to be, not only for its strong salsa dura anthems but also for its brave, quirky eclecticism and youthful, rebellious spirit, all of which are reflections of Ray Pérez’s unique genius. Thankfully, the album has been rescued from obscurity and lovingly restored, remastered from the original tapes, fully licensed from the maestro himself, with its original Pyraphon artwork intact, preserving and presenting the legacy of this great Venezuelan music for today’s generation of global salsa dura fans.