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Roberto Fonseca, Barbican, London

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Tuesday March 27, 2012

From: The Financial Times

The pianist continued his mission to rescue Cuban music from its post-Buena Vista doldrums with this African-flavoured show
By: David Honigmann

All the omens for Roberto Fonseca’s London performance looked good. “The sun of Cuba has arrived in London town,” announced Gilles Peterson, doubling as compère and weatherman. The support act, jazz cellist Ayanna, played an inventive set, singing Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman” speech as a gospel call to arms, and navigating the line in The Police’s “Roxanne” about not sharing the heroine “with another guy” with only the faintest flicker of a smile.

Fonseca is on a one-man mission to rescue Cuban music from its post-Buena Vista arthritic doldrums (although he himself has played piano for the veterans). As a child, the first record he used to listen to was Salif Keita’s Soro, with its combination of lacquered Parisian keyboards and Keita’s imperious voice, and his new album Yo injects that west African force into Cuban jazz.

He was joined, on stage as on record, by the Malian percussionist Baba Sissoko, switching effortlessly from ngoni to talking drum, and by the Guinean kora player Sekou Kouyaté, in his day job the id to Ba Cissoko’s super-ego.

Fonseca constantly threw in stylistic variations. A long piece that could have been a Brubeck Latin fantasia suddenly dropped into a piano passacagalia and then a flute bourée. “JMF” pitched savagely distorted kora against pounding electric organ. “7 Rayos”, a nod to Fonseca’s Santería patron, the divinity of war, music and justice, had fragments of maternal song and political speeches mixed in with the metallic ngoni scrape and frenetic piano triplets. “Asi Es La Vida” began as a quiet piano meditation and ended with vocodered vocals tumbling up and down the scale. “Chabani” included samples of the Algerian singer Faudel. On “Quien Soy Yo”, Jorge Chicoy’s tiny cavaquinho yapped around the heels of the talking drum, until Javier Zalba knitted it all together with a dreamy clarinet solo.

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