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“I do not think of myself as a jazz player but rather a romantic musician, who expresses what he feels through the piano,” he says. On stage, dressed in exclusive wardrobes designed by French designer Agnès B., he has played with famous musicians such as Bebo and Chucho Valdés, Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker and Wayne Shorter.
Roberto Fonseca is one of most brilliant jazz musicians to come out of Cuba. His talent runs through his blood: his father, Roberto Fonseca Sr., was a drummer and his mother, Mercedes Cortés Alfaro, is a singer. He has two older half-brothers, drummer Emilio Valdés and the pianist Jesús “Chuchito” Valdés Jr. from his mother’s previous marriage to none other than the legendary jazz pianist Chucho Valdés. At age four, Fonseca started out playing drums but eventually switched to piano and stuck with it. He was only 15 years old when he astonished the crowds at Havana’s “Jazz Plaza” Festival in 1991. A really bad student when he was younger, as Fonseca has admittedly said, he now holds a master’s degree in composition from the prestigious University of Arts.
In his new CD, Yo, the influence of electronic music is much more noticeable. He changed his usual jazz quintet and experimented with electronic, analog and African music. Hammond organs, congas, n’goni, kora and talking drums are combined in a synthesis of Afro Cuban groove and Griot tradition. A total of fifteen musician participated in the production of the album Yo, including musicians Baba Sissoko, Sekou Kouyate, Fatoumata Diawara, Étienne M’Bappé and Munir Hossn, as well as Ramsés Rodríguez and Joel Hierrezuelo, long-time collaborators of Fonseca’s. Additionally, singers Assane Mboup from Senegal and Faudel from Algeria, and renowned hip-hop artist Mike Ladd from Australia lent their voices to Fonseca’s latest project.
After a successful tour around Europe to promote his latest album, Yo, this past August, Roberto Fonseca and the band Temperamento presented the album in Cuba with a concert at the Mella Theater in Havana, where people crowded to see Fonseca reunited with Temperamento once again. The concert lived up to the audience’s expectations and drew standing ovations from an audience that demanded nothing but the best from the musicians-Fonseca’s virtuosity and natural magnetism; Javier Zalba’s mastery of the sax, the clarinet and whatever wind instrument you may think of; Chicoy’s and Ramsés ‘Dinamita’ Rodríguez’s stunning performances at the guitar and drums, respectively; and the talents of guest singer Pedro ‘El Nene’ Lugo and trumpet player Roberto García.
Additionally, this was the first concert in which Fonseca included a dance act. With a superb choreography by Eduardo Blanco, the piece chosen for the successful experiment was “Danza del Espíritu” (Dance of the Spirit). Also, a tribute was paid to the Cuban actress and singer Rita Montaner on her 113 anniversary when, radio in hand, Fonseca sat on the edge of the stage listening to Rita’s most well-known song: El manisero (The Peanut Vendor).
The concert was also the presentation in Cuba of the Tradicional Project, which is their view of Cuban traditional music. According to Fonseca, they want to present this music with new sounds, making their own versions, which include electronic instruments. They do not plan to be the second Buena Vista Social Club or a new Buena Vista generation.
Roberto Fonseca at the piano triggers strong and memorable emotions in his audiences. The piano becomes part of his body or he becomes part of the piano. Either way and luckily for us, Fonseca’s love affair with the piano is no secret and he lets us into this intimate part of his life.