CUBA 50 - celebrating cuban culture

Join us on facebook Get Involved

Cuba50 Festival of Cuban Culture brochure
Download the Cuba50 Festival brochure (PDF file 5.2mb)

Cuba 50 is supported by the
Cuban Ministry of Culture, Cuban Embassy, ComoNo, Music Fund for Cuba, Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Unison, Unite, Thompsons Solicitors, Cuban Tourist Board and business, community and cultural organisations based in the UK and Cuba.

Click here to visit our supporters

Cuba50 logo thanks to Phill Pennington, image used in logo thanks to James Sparshatt

news item

Monday, 23 April 2018

Chucho Valdés looks back at 45 years of Irakere

by: La Jiribilla, Cuba/ cubadebate


Irakere celebrates 45 years of music this month. Although the group is no longer active, its director Chucho Valdés, like many of the band members, continues with the concept of how it began with the fusion of the Afro-Cuban rhythms with Latin jazz (Cuban) via the genius of Mario Bauza with Machito and Los Afrocubanos orchestra.

Cuban culture magazine, La Jiribilla talked to Chucho Valdés, in anticipation of this 45th birthday of Irakere, about some of the the key moments in its history and for Cuban music.

Chucho, let's talk about Irakere's debut ...
The debut, precisely, was on April 25, 1973, at the Santiago de Cuba stadium.

Let's talk about its members, was it an All Stars, an All Stars of the time?

Almost all the musicians came out of a previous project, the Cuban Orchestra of Modern Music (1967) organized and directed by Armando Romeu, intended to bring together the best musicians, as it was, in earlier times, the orchestra Bellamar and Casino de la Playa.

Let's talk about the players...
All the players, who have taken different paths, have shown that they are true colossi of music, some now internationally famous, others, for example José Luis Cortés, made their own project as NG La Banda, with the brass of Irakere, but with a more enriched music based on the son, the guaracha, the mambo, the rumba and the sonorities of his times (the 90s). As regards José Luis Cortés, I have already said that when we talk about Arsenio Rodríguez, Benny Moré or Ignacio Piñeiro, José Luis Cortés must be placed in that Hall of Fame. His work is there to study, like Irakere's.

The musical concept of Irakere?

We studied the drums, like the batá, arará, yuka. We went to see the original Yoruba masses (religious songs), inherited from slavery times and we incorporated them into popular dance music and jazz. The difference this made in the musical world was the Afro-Cuban power, an invincible music, a foundation.

Memorable moments of Irakere?

Irakere began to consolidate when we played the Black Mass at the Polish Jazz Festival in 1970, in front of one of my musical idols: Dave Brubeck (1920-2012) American, pianist and jazz composer, one of the main representatives of West Coast jazz and one of the most popular jazz musicians among professional players. He led the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the fifties, which achieved great success. He oscillated between the refined and the exuberant, reflecting influences of classical music and taking risks with improvisation.

Brubeck recognized the novelty that Irakere showed in its performances and made us understand that we were on the right track. He was responsible for promoting us in Los Angeles and that placed us in the international ranking among the top five, above Chick Corea. Then came the takeoff, we were invited to the "Premier League" of jazz music, the Newport Festival in 1978, Carnegie Hall, Montreux festival in Switzerland. CBS released an album of five of our songs: Juana 1600, Iya, Adagio by Mozart, Aguanile and the live version of Misa negra. Then came the Grammy Award, for Best Recording of Latin Music in the US, with the album Irakere (Columbia 35655 / CBSINC, New York).

Let's talk about the Black Mass

The Mass ... is like an anthem of Irakere, it was a mix of inspiration and deep study, that work opened the way to the so-called "fusion" of jazz with the African. I play the piano like a drum, rhythmic, with jazz and classic harmonies. In the world of jazz we talk about salsa and Latin jazz, ‘before' and ‘after' Irakere. However, many "wise ones" in music in Cuba did not understand us, they considered it too long (17.36 minutes), and did not understand that mixture of jazz with drums; but I was perfectly sure that we would succeed.

Let's remember another of Irakere's milestones, the concert with Leo Brouwer in 1978. I remember that Jorge Luis Prats wrote that "the concert was transcendental for its artistic achievement".

Leo Brouwer and I had worked together since 1963 in the Musical Theatre of Havana, with Mexican Alfonso Arau. We decided to do a concert billed as "Popular Culture", although everything popular is cultured; but what we did was combine the guitar of Leo Brouwer with Irakere's rhythm. We interpreted themes of The Beatles, the Adagio of Mozart with the fabulous clarinet of Paquito D'Rivera, Ernesto Lecuona (The comparsa), Abelardito Valdés (danzón Almendra) and my works, like the Black Mass, Aguanile, Bacalao con pan, Juana 1600. Leo Brouwer, performed a version of the Concierto de Aranjuez, by the Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo, in addition to the Preludes, of the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa Lobos. The event was recorded by (the Cuban film institute) ICAIC.

What do you owe your father Bebo Valdés?

My father was one of the greatest musicians in Cuba: pianist of the great Tropicana cabaret orchestra, conductor of the Sabor de Cuba orchestra, creator of the Batanga rhythm (1952) and also initiator of the first Cuban jam Con poco coco (1952), orchestrator of the GEMA Cuban record label. A musical genius of piano performance, composition, musical arrangement and orchestra conducting. He was the first to use the batá drums in the ‘jazz band' in Cuba. At the Tropicana, through my dad, I saw the best of afro folklore and of percussionists. I saw the great jazz players who came to Cuba in the 50s. All of that is part of my training, not to mention what each one brings inside.

Irakere's Grammy nominations and awards
Grammy Award Nominations:
Misa Negra (Black Mass), Best Latin Jazz Album, Chucho Valdés and Irakere, 1978;
Havana, Best Latin Jazz Album, Chucho Valdés and the Crucible Band, by Trumpeter Roy Hargrove, 1997;
Live at the Village Vanguard, Chucho Valdés, piano; Raúl Piñeda, drums; Roberto Vizcaíno, tumbadora and batá; Francisco Rubio, bass, and Mayra Caridad Valdés, voice, 2000
Grammy Awards:
Misa negra, Best Latin Jazz Album, Chucho Valdés and Irakere, 1978;
Havana, Best Latin Jazz Album, Chucho Valdés and the Crucible Band, by Trumpeter Roy Hargrove, 1997;
Live at the Village Vanguard, Chucho Valdés, piano; Raúl Piñeda, drums; Roberto Vizcaíno, tumbadora and batá; Francisco Rubio, bass, and Mayra Caridad Valdés, voice, 2000;
Chucho's Steps, Chucho Valdés and The Afro-Cuban Messengers, 2011.
Latin Grammy Award Nominations:
Irakere, Volume II, Best Latin Jazz Album, Chucho Valdés and Irakere, 1980;
Belebele in Havana, Chucho Valdés and his quartet Babalú Ayé, Best tropical music album, Chucho Valdés and Irakere, 1998;
Biriyumba palo congo, Best Latin jazz album, Chucho Valdés and his quartet; Cuban Caravan, Best Latin Jazz Album, Chucho Valdés and the international project of musicians Caravana, 1999;
Live in New York, Best jazz performance album, Chucho Valdés Unforgettable boleros, Best duet album or vocal group, Chucho Valdés and Irakere, 2001;
Unpublished songs, Chucho Valdés, Best pop music instrumental album; Calle 54, Best Latin Jazz Album, Chucho Valdés and a selection of musicians from various countries, 2002;
Latin Grammy Awards:
Havana, Best Latin Jazz Album, Chucho Valdés and Crisol's band by trumpeter Roy Hargrove, 1997; Live at the Village Vanguard, Best Latin Jazz Album, Chucho Valdés, piano; Raúl Pineda, drums; Roberto Vizcaíno, tumbadora and batá; Francisco Rubio, bass, and Mayra Caridad Valdés, voice, 2001;
Unpublished songs, Chucho Valdés, Best instrumental album, 2002.
The steps of Chucho, Chucho Valdés, Best Latin Jazz Album, 2011

Link to interview in spanish in

Translated by Google translate and Cuba50

| top | back | home |

Copyright © 2008 Cuba50
Cuba 50, c/o UNITE,33-37 Moreland Street, London EC1V 8BB, Great Britain | T +44 (0)20 7490 5715 | F +44 (0)20 7480 3556 | email |
This website uses Flash player and Adobe Reader | Download Flash | Download Adobe Reader :)