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Wednesday March 07, 2012

From:The Sydney Morning Herald

An encounter with the masters of Cuban music marked a turning point for this former child prodigy
By: Gabriel Wilder

CUBA is famous for many things – cigars, salsa and, in recent years, the sprightliness of its elderly. Ever since the Buena Vista Social Club – a group of musicians who had all seen out their first half-century and some of whom were closing in on a ton – became a spectacular international success, Cuban music has become synonymous with old coves in hats.

But inside Cuba it’s a different story. It begins with the child prodigies – itself not an uncommon phenomenon there, thanks to a system that identifies talented youngsters at an early age and streams them into performing arts schools. By the time they are teenagers they have a proficiency that would make musicians from most other cultures green with envy.

Roberto Fonseca, about to play Sydney with his quintet, was one such prodigy. The 33-year-old pianist, whose father, mother and brothers are all musicians, played drums from the age of four, before settling on piano at the age of eight, because “it’s a more complete instrument”. When he was 15 he played solo at Havana’s Jazz Plaza International Festival, before beginning a degree in musical composition.

He and his fellow students were obsessed with American jazz but at the age of 21, the ambitious Fonseca embarked on a year-long tour of Italy with Augusto Enriquez, a former singer with Cuban pop-rock group Moncada.

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