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After taking part in the recent Omara Portuondo tour -which also brought him to our country last summer-, Havana jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca returns with his ninth solo album entitled “Yesun”.

From an early age, Fonseca was surrounded by music: his father was drum player Roberto Fonseca, Sr, his mother, Mercedes Cortes Alfaro, a professional singer, and his two older half-brothers from his mother’s previous marriage to the pianist and musician Jesús “Chucho” Valdés are Emilio Valdés (drums) and Jesús “Chuchito” Valdés Jr. (piano).

In 2001, Fonseca took part in a legendary Buena Vista Social Club tour and collaborated with their great singers and musicians: Rubén González, Ibrahim Ferrer, Cachaito, Guajiro Mirabal, Manuel Galbán and, of course, with Omara Portuondo with whom he collaborated again in 2010, 2016 and 2019 as a musical director and support act for her respective tours. In 2013, his album “Yo” received his first nomination at the Grammy Awards, followed by many more tours and collaborations with his country’s biggest names.

With the release of his 10th album, we spoke with Roberto Fonseca to find out more about this disco-graphical achievement and about himself. How much did his musical background help him to shape him as an artist? How were his experiences after his collaborations with Buena Vista Social Club and Omara Portuondo and what role does religion play in the creation of his music?

Read everything in the interview he gave to!

Hi Roberto and welcome to! You just released your new album “Yesun”! What should the listeners expect from this release?

Yesun is really different from my previous albums. This is the first time that I don’t have an excuse to make an album. It’s just the impulse to make fresh music, different music, on the same time I was in total shock, because the strongest sound was at the same time really soft, it has been an amazing production and I am very happy with the results so far, I invite everyone to listen and share their opinions with me.

Your first single from this album, is “AGGUA”! What is the story behind it? What inspired you to write this song?

AGGUA is an open invitation to join in, have fun, be free, a wealth of other sounds from Cuba were added to the mix. We have a little mambo and rumba, some reggaeton and hip-hop. I’m combining all these elements to make something tender but also powerful and spiritual. This song is calling people to a party so nice it will fill your soul completely.

 Is there any other song on “Yesun” that holds a special place in your heart and why?

Each of them has a story I composed from my own emotions but I cannot choose a favorite all are.

How much of an influence has Santeria rituals been to your music? What else could be a perfect motivation to you to start writing a song?

I motivate from many sources but yes the spiritual side is one of the most revealing. Santeria is my religion the album is called YESUN that comes from Yemaya and Osun both deities from Santeria directly related to the water (the sea and the river)

You come from an artistic family. Your parents and your half-brothers are musicians and I suppose that your commitment to music was born by all these people! Please tell us a few more things about your musical background and how did your journey in music begin.

My first memory is being with my Mum in the kitchen when she used to sing very beautiful melodies, one of them used to be the title from Franco Zeffirelli Romeo & Juliet. 

At home there was always a very musical ambient. I lived in a neighborhood called San Miguel in Havana, where I learnt many things that made me grow as a musicians. 

At the age of 14 I knew I wanted to be a musicians, this is when I felt that I wanted to express my self thought music. To be totally honest I never imagine myself doing anything else. I really focus and put all my heart and energy on being a musician. 

I learnt piano at school (classical music school in Havana). We are blessed for having one of the best educational methods in the word. Having learnt European classical music it can turned you on a complete musician and when you get that point from there onwards is all passion. I can not describe the kind of passion because it all comes to emotions. 

In 2013 you were nominated for a Grammy Award for your album “Yo”! Do you believe that your career would have been any different if you had won that award back then? Can such an honor really help the career of an artist in anyway?

Not at all, my career is the same, indeed I am very grateful because it’s an amazing recognition but you cannot expect that anything will change without keeping up the hard work!

What is more important to you; an award or a sold-out concert and why?

I guess at the end both are a recognition but I like to be close to the audience so sold out concerts are really a very pleasant feeling.

What/how do you recall your experience with the Buena Vista Social Club? Is there any untold story about these Cuban legends that you could share with us?

Many but to be short, every time I played with them was magic and a huge learning, I had that immense honor to share the stage with huge musicians and this is what I will keep forever with me.

With which artist would you like to collaborate with in the future?

The list is long but I am totally open for suggestions!

Recently you collaborated with the legendary Omara Portuondo for her latest tour “Last Kiss”! How was this collaboration for you? What did you learn from Omara?

Yes I play with her and I was her musical director, I know Omara for many years and I always learnt of her, she is huge but very humble and wants everyone around her to be happy. She is one of a kind

Among your live performances during that tour, was Athens as well! Was that the first time you visited our country? What did you enjoy the most here and what made you a great impression about our country?

I am really looking forward to playing in Athens and present YESUN to the audience, I can guarantee a show full of passion, energy and Cuban warmth, music made by Cubans but with a modern sonority

What are your next professional plans for the near future?

To keep touring YESUN, orchestra projects, sound systems, many surprises to come soon!

What is your motto in life?


Roberto thank you so much for your time! We wish you all the best for the future!

Thank you very much!

Interview: Thodoris Kolliopoulos

Photos: Carles Roig

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