Roberto Fonseca, One of Cuba’s Great Pianists

A recent AFP article, “Pianista Roberto Fonseca se consolida como nuevo grande de la música cubana,” highlights the trajectory of 36 year old musician Roberto Fonseca from being “the promise of Cuban music” to consolidating his position as one of Cuba’s greats.

Fonseca says, “As a musician, I feel that I have not reached the top yet, because I have many things to learn and still much to achieve. To reach the top would mean that with two notes people would know it is me.” In July, the Cuban pianist opened with saxophonist Javier Zalba (former member of well-known Cuban jazz group Irakere) France the demanding Festival de Jazz de Marciac, where Fonseca was selected for the third album of the record collection “Live in Marciac.”

In 15 years, Fonseca recorded 10 CDs with his compositions and arrangements, collaborated on more than 15, and produced four others. In the same time period, he was a pianist for five years with the “Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer,” with whom he established a great friendship. According to the article, Ferrer (1927-2005) used to exclaim, “This kid really plays!” to other consecrated members of the project, such as El Guajiro Mirabal, Rubén González, Orlando “Cachaíto” López, and Manuel Galbán.

Fonseca refuses his music to be pigeonholed as Afro-Cuban jazz or Latin jazz. “My music is open,” he explains, pointing out influences of rock, soul, classical music (to which he is devoted), pop, rap, traditional Cuban country music, and Afro-Cuban music. “I do not think of myself as a jazz player but rather a romantic musician, who expresses what he feels through the piano,” he says.

Fonseca has played in major theaters in Paris, New York, Sydney, London, and Frankfurt, but is considered “a neighborhood guy” and has never thought of emigrating, despite a barrage of proposals. “Everything I do is heard outside of Cuba, and if I leave, it will not be the same,” he says, because “the fact of living in Cuba, with its pros and cons, has made me the musician I am and I like how I am now. I believe in what I’m doing, in my friends, and in the musicians that accompany me.”

On stage, dressed in exclusive wardrobes designed by French designer Agnès B., he has played with famous musicians such as Bebo and Chucho Valdés, Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker and Wayne Shorter. His theme “Llegó Cachaíto” was chosen by the producers of Columbia for the soundtrack of the film Hancock (with Will Smith). If he regrets anything, however, it is not having been able to play with Miles Davis (1926-1991), because [Davis] “experimented and completely revolutionized jazz,” he explains.

In each of their albums, Fonseca is grateful to the orishas and his ancestors and he includes a piece sung by his mother, Mercedes Cortés, as well as other performers such as Omara Portuondo, the Buena Vista diva. “I believe in the orishas, the ancestors and faith. I always thank them,” he says, as he touches a bracelet of red and white beads on his wrist, dedicated to two deities of the Yoruba pantheon.

When asked about the future of Cuban music, he comments, “It is a ‘sensitive topic’ because one can become ‘intoxicated’ with shallowness and the market. We must maintain its essence,” he says. This musician, who at age 10 played drums and dreamed of being Ringo Starr, and at 15 was a revelation as a pianist at the Festival Jazz Plaza in Cuba, now aspires to produce music that “is not commercial, but rather, that people can make their own.”

[Many thanks to Abdoulaye Gaye for bringing this item to our attention.]

For original article (in Spanish), see

Also see the artist’s page at

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