Chucho Valdes Presents New Band


Ritual for the new band Akokan Ire

Ritual for the new band Akokan Ire

HAVANA TIMES, February 14 – Chucho Valdes’ opening night concert of Jazz Plaza 2009 was a sell out not long after tickets went on sale earlier in the week. By the time the show began a couple hundred more lucky people were able to squeeze into the Mella Theater to fill the aisles. The important thing was being there even if it was standing room only or sitting on the floor.

Chucho, with his charismatic stage presence, brought us his latest project, a new band called Akokan Ire, made up of a constellation of younger jazz talents, with a bass, drums, conga, chequere, four-piece brass section, timbales and the band leader on piano.

It was an exciting show where the good energy allowed the music to connect with the audience as if it was an act of magic. Maybe it had to do with the white powder used at the beginning of the band’s first ever performance, to purify the environment, the piano and Chucho himself. Even though we already knew he needs nothing to get his fans dreaming.

A highlight of the new group was the vigorous conga interpretations by Yaroldi Abreu that shook the theater more than once. At some points in the concert, Akonkan Ire reminded us of the sound of Irakere, the legendary group also led by Chucho, to which this festival is dedicated.

The songs included El planeta de Mingus (a tribute to Charles Mingus); a new version of Estela va a estallar; A hundred years of youth, a danzon featuring a solo by Alexander Abreu that drew a big applause, two lovely pieces, La margarita (a tribute to Jorge Varona, of Irakere) played by German Velasco on sax and Una noche en Cocosolo with the smooth trumpeting of Maikel Gonzalez.

Maikel Gonzalez with Akokan Ire

Maikel Gonzalez with Akokan Ire

There is no doubt that the climax came with the three female voices that took the stage: Mayra Caridad Valdes, Beatriz Marquez and Omara Portuondo, each with their very different personal style that thoroughly delighted an audience that gave them a long standing ovation.

Audience at Akokan Ire Premiere

Audience at Akokan Ire Premiere

Omara brought to mind her sister Haydee Portuondo, Moraima Secada, and the great Elena Burke, with her formidable interpretation of Summertime, playing with the styles of the singers “who are no longer physically here, but are still with us.”

Omara Portuondo at Jazz Plaza 2009

Omara Portuondo at Jazz Plaza 2009

It was a night of African chequeres, drums, magic voices, Yoruba chants, brass that floated in the air, a piano that vibrated even the most insensitive hearts and proof that Chucho isn’t lying when he says: “music is life.”

Mella Theater Jazz Plaza Opening Night

Mella Theater Jazz Plaza Opening Night

The Jazz Plaza 2009 festival continues through Sunday February 15. If you are in Cuba or just want to see who’s playing the full program can be seen at:

The Cuban Music Chucho Valdés at the VI Panama Festival Jazz 2009

The sixth edition of the Panama Jazz Festival 2009 was opened last 12th of January in installations belonging to the Panama Canal.

About 20 halls of the Ascanio Arosemena Auditorium and Training Centre are at disposal for this event that will receive students and teachers who take part in different musical institutions, indicated.

The participation of several international musicians, such as the Cuban Chucho Valdés, the US Wayne Shorter and the Panamian Danilo Pérez, considered all of them legends of jazz, are expected to take part in the Festival.

The installations of the inter ocean way will also receive the famous quintet of the Puerto Rican saxophonist Marco Pignataro as well as a recital of the US pianist Edna Golandsky.

The Ascanio Arosemena centre, as well as school for students, will be the stage of concerts and workshops given by the musicians who take part in this international event.

The sixth edition of the Panama Jazz festival 2009 will be held for six days, from the 12 until the 17 of January. These events started in 2003 and since that moment on it has consolidated as one of the most important cultural events of the hemisphere.

The festival also has concerts in the historic centre of the Panama capital and at the Anayansi theatre of the Atlapa Conventions Centre, located next to the shore of the Panama Bay.

The organisers expect to have over 16,000 spectators, which is the number of public who attended last year edition.


Jazz for the 50th Anniversary

HAVANA TIMES, December 23.- A special concert at the Amadeo Roldan Theater by pianists Aldo Lopez-Gavilán and Harold Lopez-Nussa brought rave reviews over the weekend as one of several cultural events taking place in Havana to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution of January 1, 1959.

Jazz piano is an institution in Cuba, and Aldo and Harold showed the standing room only audience that the tradition will be around for many years to come. Among those attending was Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel Prize for Literature and Cuban diva Omara Portuondo.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Omara Portuondo

Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Omara Portuondo – photo by Caridad

Gabo, as he is called in the Spanish speaking world, has been in the Cuban capital for weeks, first attending the Havana Film Festival and giving a workshop to young Cuban moviemakers.

Aldo, Harold and drummer Luis Adrian

Aldo, Harold, drummer Ruiz Adrian – photo by Caridad

The careers of both Aldo Lopez-Gavilan and Harold Lopez Nussa are on a steady rise and they played their own original themes to a captive audience.

Another jazz concert this coming Saturday, sure to be a sell-out, will feature pianist Roberto Fonseca at the Fine Arts Museum. Performances of all genres of music are taking place in the capital these days as part of the anniversary celebration, which will have its climax on January 1 in Santiago de Cuba.

JoJazz Festival Nov. 27-30 in Havana

HAVANA TIMES, November 11.— JoJazz 2008, a magnet for young jazz musicians and composers as well as audiences of all ages, takes place in Havana from November 27-30.

The event is an international contest for young talent between 16 and 30, in two categories of competition: composition and interpretation. JoJazz began in 1998 and has become one of Cuba’s most popular musical happenings, as well as the breaking ground for many future big name musicians.

The main venue of JoJazz is the Amadeo Roldan Theater in the Vedado district of the capital. Opening night features Jazz Band led by Joaquin Betancourt which won the JoJazz 2007 award. Betancourt is also the head of this year’s jury for best composition.

Jazz Musician Yasek Manzano

Jazz Musician Yasek Manzano

The incorporation this year of small groups in the competition increases the attraction of the music “duels” in the interpretation category.

Havana Times recommends keeping up on the times and side venues of JoJazz 2008 and to arrive early at the concert halls since the events are well attended and the seating limited.

The winning songs and musicians will join other top contenders to be recorded in an album on the Colibri label. The disc will become part of the El Joven Espiritu del Jazz Cubano collection.

JoJazz 2008 is dedicated to Cuban musician Bobby Carcasses, a local jazz celebrity who has dedicated much effort to promoting jazz in Cuba.

Carcasses has been on the jury of past JoJazz festivals and is also a founder and promoter of Havana’s Jazz Plaza Festival.