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Roberto Fonseca
Roberto Fonseca
Roberto Fonseca

Roberto Fonseca
@ the Royal Festival Hall
14 November 2009

Click an image to enlarge.


Born in 1975 (Havana) into a musical family, Roberto Fonseca started studying piano at the age of 8, though his initial passion was percussion. This interest from such an early age would clearly influence his trademark “percussive” piano-playing style. His first “job” was as the drummer for a band doing covers of Beatles songs.

“We used to listen to Beatles music on the radio, with my mother, and it was something that marked me. I played the drums as though I were one of them, I loved it”.

At the age of 14, he created his first compositions, drawing inspiration from the Afro-Cuban genre, “At school we used to regard American jazz as a point of reference; I felt that my music would be a fusion of both genres … I liked lots of jazz musicians, such as Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett, but also old American funk and soul classics”.

His appearance as a pianist, aged just 15, was a revelation at Havana’s “Jazz Plaza” International Festival; he completed his academic training as both pianist and teacher. After this, his desire to improve and learn further led him to take a degree in Musical Composition at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA).

At the age of 21, guided by the need to fuse his music with other styles, he embarked on a tour across Italy with singer Augusto Enriquez, which included performances on the state TV channel, RAI, “it was musically different, and made me realise even more that I always needed to search for my own path”

And his path would cross, one year later, with saxophonist Javier Zalba (Irakere, Cubanismo), with whom he formed the group “Temperamento”. This was the beginning of a 9-year journey that would culminate in the work he is now releasing, called “Zamazu”.

In a year of intense creativity, he recorded and produced his first album “En el Comienzo”, which won the award for best Jazz album at the Cubadisco 99 festival; he co-produced, arranged and played on Augusto Enriquez’s album, “Cuando Yo Sea Grande”, and recorded his first solo album “Tiene Que Ver” which he released in 1999, receiving an award in the popular Cuban music category of the Trimalca competition, organised by Unesco.

His second solo work was quick to be released, and in 2000 he presented “No Limit”, recorded and produced by Roberto for Japanese record label JVC. The same year he composed the soundtrack for the film “Black”, by French director P. Maraval, and produced the record “Un montón de cosas” for the Hip-Hop group Obsesión.

“Those two years were really intense; I needed to express all the creativity that was inside me; I didn’t really know where it was all driving me to, because each idea I had led to a thousand others”.

Fonseca’s life changed with the start of the 21st Century, not only because he released his third album, “Elengo”, but also because his career took an unexpected turn;

“I went to the Egrem studios to record Angá Díaz’s album, invited by him, and when I got there I saw many people who were legends to me …, Rubén González, Cachaíto López, Guajiro Mirabal…… in two months my whole life changed”

Shortly afterwards, he was invited to be support pianist to the great maestro Rubén González, as part of the renowned Orquesta de Ibrahim Ferrer and that same year he joined the management company Montuno.

“My God, sharing the stage every night with Rubén González was a real dream; I’d just stay there, staring at him play for hours”.

A dream that toured all over the world, with over 400 concerts, promoting Ibrahim Ferrer’s records next to great legends such as Cachaíto López, Guajiro Mirabal and Manuel Galbán, among others. Playing at the most prestigious venues, such as Frankfurt Alter Oper (Frankfurt), Palais des Congrès (Paris), Albert Hall (London), Beacon Theatre (New York), Sydney Opera House (Australia), etc. Not a single review of Ibrahim’s concerts, from South America to Asia, would fail to mention Fonseca’s talent and his magnetic stage presence.

Omara Portuondo, passionate about his style, invited him to take part in her tours, among them the Tokyo Jazz Festival in 2002, where he shared the stage with Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker and Wayne Shorter: “I couldn’t believe it, when Herbie Hancock himself called me to play with him, I did not even sleep that night!!”

In mid 2004 Ibrahim Ferrer decided to carry out a project that would be the climax of his artistic career, a record and a tour of his treasured boleros, which would celebrate the singer’s love for the genre. His close relationship with Fonseca and the trust he placed in his musical abilities led to Fonseca taking part in the first recordings. He arranged and co-produced the work in the Egrem studios in November of that same year, producing over 10 songs in January 2005, as well as assuming the role of director of the world tour “Mi sueño: A bolero Songbook tour 2005”. Ibrahim Ferrer used to say, “This “muchacho”, despite having a jazz background, gets me and respects my music, and - boy, can the kid play…!

After two exciting tours with this project, August 2005 was a time of great pain for Roberto Fonseca, with the loss of Ibrahim Ferrer. This became the driving force behind the desire to finish his own album “Zamazu”, and he did so in 6 months. He invited in Alê Siqueira, one of Brazil’s major music producers, creator of great projects such as Tribalistas, Flor de Amor (Omara Portuondo), Infinito Particular (Marisa Monte), etc. He travelled to Bahia for the pre-production stage at Carlinhos Brown’s studio, and added the finishing touches to all the collaborations on the album, including Brazilian percussion.

In 2006 Fonseca produced the Japanese singer Asa Feeston’s album and collaborated as a musician on other albums, such as Timbalada’s latest. Together with Nick Gold from the World Circuit record label, he put the last touches to co-producing what would have been Ibrahim Ferrer next album, one that he recorded just before passing away. It was released in 2007 under the name of “Mi Sueño”. This album was nominated at the Latin Grammy Awards 07 for Best Traditional Tropical Album.

In the month of July, during the summer festivals in Europe, Fonseca shared the stage with Bebo and Chucho Valdés at Jazz in Marciac and composed the song “Latin in Marciac” which the Festival used for the opening and closing of its main concerts.

2008 was a year full of work and experiences that have inspired Fonseca’s new compositions, one being Columbia Pictures choosing the track “Llego Cachaito” from the “Zamazu” album for the Will Smith film “Hancock”.

Roberto Fonseca

Roberto Fonseca

Roberto Fonseca

Roberto Fonseca

Roberto Fonseca

Roberto Fonseca

Roberto Fonseca



Akokan Zamazu

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