@ 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
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
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
“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
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
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
“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”.