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Roberto Fonseca, Barbican: Cuban Pianist Explores his African Roots & Gets Funky

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Tuesday March 27, 2012

From: The Arts Desk

Roberto Fonseca, Barbican: Cuban pianist explores his African roots and gets funky
By: Peter Culshaw

The dazzling Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca delighted a packed Barbican last night – but part of the fun was seeing him negotiate the balance between more soulful, minimal playing and sheer technically brilliant extravagance. Is he more an heir to Chucho Valdez, the consummate sophisticated Havana Jazzer, or to Ruben Gonzalez, the more lyrical pianist of the Buena Vista Social Club, into whose shoes he had the tricky task of stepping for their live tours?

The set lifted off with the driving beat of the self-penned “80s”, also the opening track of his new album Yo. It enabled the charismatic Fonseca to show both his rooted, more funky and rhythmical side, as well as his sinuous improv chops. The rest of the evening saw him on a trip not just through Cuban music, but taking side tours to Africa, and even Bulgaria and Morocco.

You could argue that the real dialectic (we’re talking about Cuba, so forgive the Marxist terminology) in Cuban music is between the east and the west of the island. Raw styles from the east like son and danzon tend to be polished up by the sophisticates in the capital, Havana. Ruben Gonzalez, incidentally, was from Cienfuegos, half way between the two. Havana-born Fonseca has made an excellent stab of blending the two, at the same time developing his own style, updating the music with other elements and modernist dashes of electronics.

The sense was that Fonseca has music hard-wired into every cell, pouring out of his body and soul
The other main ingredient is that Fonseca has been exploring the African connections of Cuban music with the highly rated singer he described as the “queen of the night” Fatoumata Diawara, as an impressive guest on “Bibisa,” a composition by Baba Sissoko, which saw Fonseca’s tinkling piano conversing with Diawara’s voice, and a duo of African strings performed by Baba Sissoko (n’goni) and Sekou Kouyate on kora.

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