CD Review: Roberto Fonseca: Yesun “The album I always wanted to make”


The first track on Roberto Fonseca’s 2001 breakthrough album ‘No Limit’ was dedicated to Yemaya, the Afro-Cuban saint of the deep ocean. Both the track and album were pointers to a musical journey combining a dedication to his roots alongside an unceasing quest to break down barriers through his music.

Fonseca, a Havana based Cuban jazz pianist, composer and bandleader, is a prodigious musician whose development through the superb music colleges in Cuba aided him in achieving great success across the world for his inspiring playing.

He has a string of albums to his name, which by turns have explored Brazilian, North African and European classical styles, as well as celebrating the US jazz of John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner. Alongside this, Fonseca always has his finger on the pulse of the greatest Cuban music. It is often forgotten , given his great success as a solo artist, that Fonseca took over the piano chair on the Buena Vista Social Club tour in 2001, and was chosen to tour and record with classic Cuban singers Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo as a young player.

This combination has resulted in music that is truly Cuban: his previous album ‘YO’, (‘Me’) was especially generous, open and inclusive, encouraging us as listeners to participate in his journey and ask the same questions of ourselves as he asks of himself.

Fonseca’s new album ‘Yesun’ (a word invented by Fonseca as a blend of the two African deities Yemaya and Ochun) delves deep into the world of the Afro-Cuban life force. Nowhere is this better epitomised than in the gripping track ‘Aggua’ which marries classical playing with the deeply flowing rhythms of Cuban rumba and son.

The opening track ‘La Llamada’ (‘The Call’) is a deceptively simple small ensemble piece giving ample room for Fonseca to demonstrate his confident playing around a ghostly female vocal.

The album also travels via funky jazz (‘Vivo’), Mambo (‘Mambo Pa’ la Nina’), soul and hip hop (‘Cadenas’ which features the Cuban rapper Danay Suarez) and even the old tango style that was unique to Cuba (‘Kachuka’), which features superb trumpet playing by Lebanese artist Ibrahim Maalouf.

Fonseca claims that Yesun is “the album I’ve always wanted to make – all my influences are here. All the sounds and vibes that make me who I am”. Yesun is a fantastic testament to his talent and a wonderful addition to any Cuban music fan’s collection.

Dave Willetts for CubaSi magazine Winter 19/20

Buy the CD Roberto Fonseca: Yesun here >

Watch the video of the track ‘Aggua’ here