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Roberto Fonseca: A Life in the Spirit

By Published: March 10, 2010
AAJ: The great South African musician, Abdullah Ibrahim
Abdullah Ibrahim
Abdullah Ibrahim
said recently that every time he makes a record, there is always something there that points in the direction of his next venture... So his solo record Senzo (Sunnyside, 2008) led to his big band venture that followed, called Bombella (Sunnyside, 2009)... Does this kind of thing happen in your creative process too? Is there something in Zamazu that points to Akokan?

RF: Albums are the same as sons. You have to take care of them, and help them grow up. It is in the process that some anecdotes and small and large life stories take place. All this makes up their lives... gives them the character that shapes their lives. In the same way, every album is born of the experiences we have. For me making a record is like re-living a part of my life... many aspects and mysteries of my life are also explained there [in my records].

AAJ: You have said that Akokan is a different... very spiritual and moving experience for you... Normally we would play the record at this point and let it soak in, but because I can't, why don't you try to relive the experience of making the record?

RF:The experience was very interesting and also very complicated because I was composing a lot. In fact for this album Akokan I had written enough music for perhaps even two whole albums. It was so difficult when we were finishing the production because I had to edit the track list... Every track I had to leave out from the selection was like abandoning a son.

But the experience was very intense and beautiful. We recorded in EGREM Studios in Havana. [This is a historic venue in Cuba; even Nat "King" Cole
Nat "King" Cole
1919 - 1965
recorded there too]. Most of Cuba's great musicians—past and present—like my old friend Ibrahim Ferrer—have recorded there. While I was in the studio I could feel all these strong vibrations. It felt like some strange magic, being surrounded by wood and soaking in the spirituality from that place. Then there was the feeling of how your friends helped color the music... The atmosphere was familiar throughout and perfect for creating a record. That was for me like touching Heaven through music.

AAJ: Again, it is your mother who opens the record... And also the beautiful vocals of Mayra Andrade... They are truly beautiful. How did you find her and are you going to be doing more with her vocals in the future?

RF: I heard of Mayra through her albums, and I was immediately floored by the natural way she expresses her feelings and how she touches people in her live shows. That's the reason I thought that we would do something else together—so I reached out to her.

AAJ: What prompted you to have a song with English vocals on Akokan? Did Raul Midon
Raul Midon
Raul Midon

come up with the idea... Did he compose "Everyone Deserves a Second Chance" especially for the project?

RF: Not really, I think that Raul Midon had already written the song. It is just that I have wanted to do something with him always and here it seems that everything was in the right place at the right time.

The fact that it is in English is deliberate. I believe that the English language is a very melodic language, and at the same time the music that I try to do is melodic too. It seemed like a perfect fit here too.

Learning about Raul's music was very important, and I found very interesting that he composed this song, with this title, because all of us deserve a second chance in our lives.

AAJ: So is there something here that points to the next record? Can you say when that will be and if you know what you have in mind, and when will that be out?

RF: I am still thinking about the shape of it, but this I can say: The next album will have more vocals in it. Maybe I will sing some tracks, we are still working on that. It also looks like the direction we will go is deeper into the mysterious and surprising world of my Afro-Cuban culture. Of course, I am always close to those actual sonorities and the next one will be no exception. The rest is a surprise.

AAJ: Tell me something about your experience with the Buena Vista Social Club
Buena Vista Social Club
Buena Vista Social Club

and Ibrahim Ferrer. Something that is not in Wim Wenders' and Ry Cooder's film, Paris, Texas (1984).

RF: Ah! My dear friend Ibrahim... he gave me so much of himself. He taught me to give freely of myself. You know, Ibrahim Ferrer, on stage and off stage as well, was someone unique. He always felt compelled to satisfy all his beloved friends. He always had to make people happy. He constantly gave of himself and the way he treated and cared for me and taught me about connecting with people was important. I will never forget that. He never thought of himself as a superstar, and that's one of the reasons his name became so huge. He was like this on the stage too. He was really simple in his real life. God blesses him.

AAJ: Describe the influence that Omara Portuondo
Omara Portuondo
Omara Portuondo
has had on your career and what that means to you.

Omara is one of the biggest Cuban singers. Not only did she take me under her wing like a mother, she also inspired me through the way she made me feel secure. Musically she is beautiful. The way she plays with melody will always be a source of inspiration for me. There are not so many singers in the world that can do that.

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