At 71, Chucho Valdés is today’s most important ambassador for Afro-Cuban jazz. Throughout his long and illustrious career, he has immersed himself in Latin jazz as well as traditional Cuban folk music, building on the rich musical legacy of his island nation and recasting Afro-Cuban jazz for a contemporary audience. Valdés is musical royalty; his father, Bebo, was a legendary pianist in his own right and in the 1950s was orchestra director at Havana's famed Tropicana nightclub. Chucho himself came to fame as a leader of the legendary Latin jazz group Irakere.
This group was at the vanguard of a new wave of Cuban bands in the 1970s
and '80s that mixed jazz, Afro-Cuban folkloric music, Cuban dance
music, funk, and classical music to create something completely new and
fresh. Since leaving Irakere in the 1990s, Valdés has pursued a successful career as a solo performer and with Afro-Cuban Messengers and his quintet.
As an introduction to this Cuban legend are performances with Irakere, as well as a discussion of Irakere’s famous appearance at Carnegie Hall in 1978—the recording of which won a Grammy Award.
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Featuring interviews and archival performance footage, this excerpt from Ilena Rodriguez's Irakere: Latin Jazz Founders reveals the role that Chucho Valdés and his band Irakere played in the creation and development of Afro-Cuban jazz.
Gino Francesconi, director of Carnegie Hall's Archives and Rose Museum, includes Irakere's surprise 1978 appearance as part of the Newport Jazz Festival (New York) in his account of the history of Latin American music and artists at Carnegie Hall.
Although the video and audio are slightly out of sync in this archival footage, this performance by Irakere of "Aguanile Bonco" captures the disparate rhythms, roots, virtuosity, and excitement generated during the band's live appearances.
In a more recent project—Chucho Valdés and the Afro-Cuban Messengers—the Cuban pianist incorporated the batá drum once more as he wanted "to play them outside of their usual context, to make the music more poly-rhythmic and more complex."
Irakere's deep integration of the batá drums, sekere, and African rhythms is clearly on display, with the entire first minute of this "Juana 1600" footage featuring only drums before the first notes of the electric bass enter.
Central to Chucho Valdés's career—from his early days as a piano player in the hotels of Havana in the 1950s, through Irakere and his solo work, to the Afro-Cuban Messengers—has been his sheer virtuosity as a pianist and improviser.
Music from different stages—Irakere, solo, and with his quartet—of the Cuban piano-legend's career.
Enjoy the music of two of Cuba's rising piano stars.