Available in U.S. Stores on February 16
“Music is my life and life is my music; they are both intertwined, enriching the other.“- Roberto FonsecaThe world knows well the incomparable musical resources cultivated and harbored in Cuba. But with the release of Akokan, many jazz and Latin music lovers will receive enlightenment on one of the most distinctive contemporary artists to emerge from that vibrant creative community.
Roberto Fonseca has already visited the United States on several occasions, as pianist with the Buena Vista Social Club™ and the Grammy-winning group’s legendary lead singer, the late Ibrahim Ferrer. Now, recording with the quartet he has led for the past dozen years, he asserts his own voice as a pianist, composer and facilitator of emotionally deep, intellectually stimulating performance.
Taking its name from the Yoruba word for “from the heart,” Akokan blends Afro-Cuban genres, jazz and sounds too elusive to categorize. Perhaps the most immediate impression is that this music communicates powerfully through the connections of the musicians and the elegance of their restraint – an approach that differs from the more common practice among young artists of through blazing fireworks and technical display.
While there are many moments on Akokan that demonstrate Fonseca’s command of his instrument, these occur sparingly and appropriately; the fact that the album opens and closes with brief unaccompanied vocals, simple yet hypnotic, makes the point that spirit is what this music is about.
“This album is a step forward for my musical career,” Fonseca says. “If everyone who listens to it can be transported towards a more spiritual world, then that is a great step for me.”
Born in Havana, Fonseca was nourished through classical lessons, a diverse listening regimen and gigs on drums with a Beatles cover band. At age 21 he was touring in Italy with singer Augusto Enriquez; by 1999, four years later, he had recorded and produced his first album, the award-winning En el Comienzo. Since then, through work with Ferrer, Rubén González, Cachaíto López, Omara Portuondo and other giants of Cuban music, and through concerts and recordings with his own group, he was embraced by audiences and critics throughout Japan, Europe, Canada and beyond.
For all that he has accomplished, Akokan promises to be the pivotal album of his career to date, primarily in the paradox of its diversity and unity. The unusual Balkan elements in the timbres and complex rhythms of “Bulgarian,” the vibrancy drawn into “El Ritmo De Dus Hombros” from memories of music in the streets of Fonseca’s Havana neighborhood, the subtle props given to hip-hop in the room he gives for bassist Omar González to stretch out, his collaboration with American guitarist and singer Raul Midon on the son montuño feel of “Everyone Deserves a Second Chance,” and the astonishingly complete statement he makes in 40 seconds of solo piano on “Pequeños Viajes” – each track opens its own door and yet all lead to an eloquent resolution.
His method for Akokan was to write and record an abundance of material and then whittle it down to those that joined best into a single conception. “Once I chose the songs, putting them in sequence was like making up a story or a film,” he explains. “There are different ones for different moods, but what is most important is that each one transmits something different.”
Focused on that goal, Fonseca kept Akokan free of anything that would inhibit its ability to touch those who hear it. “I am not interested in showing off any kind of giftedness,” he says. “With what I have learned, I want to enjoy and transmit the essence of the music.”
This is the second milestone represented to Akokan, in that for the first time Fonseca will present that gift directly to American listeners. “That is very important,” he insists. “The U.S. is a very important place in the history of art, and at the same time for me it is a new place where I have this opportunity to express my experiences through music and share this with the audience.”
For the first time in nearly half a century, there seems reason to hope that this communication between Cuban artists and the American public will finally happen without impediment. Fonseca, of course, is among those who share that hope.
“Cuban artists and American artists have always been very connected,” he says. “From studying each country’s music, really amazing things have appeared, and this helped us and our cultures. We would like that these cultural relations were normalized and that music was left alone, because music is the best remedy for the soul and the spirit. All of this helps to get us a little closer to a place where there aren’t any differences between countries because, as we all know, music doesn’t have any boundaries.”
Nor do the future of Roberto Fonseca and his music know any limits. That much is clear, in the mystery and illumination of Akokan.
“A fabulously gifted pianist, composer and band leader… a gift for melody that outshines more celebrated peers…one of a new breed who can transcend musical boundaries through sheer quality” –The Guardian
“A genre-busting tour de force.. the lyricism of his playing recalls Herbie Hancock but he can animate the courtly dramas of Cuban tradition… a joyous poignant offering” –The Observer
“The man has soul” – The Sunday Times
Upcoming U.S. Appearances:
February 23: Keswick Theater, Glenside, PA
February 24: Lisner Auditorium @ George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
February 26: Sanders Theater @ Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
February 27: Town Hall, New York, NY
March 3: Filmore Miami Beach @ The Jackie Gleason Theater, Miami Beach, FL
U.S. Tour Dates in Support of Cuban Legend Omara Portuondo
..:: Source: DL Media ::..