Chucho Valdés is an imposing man: tall, large, with big hands. If you also know his musical stature and the global impact of his work, it’s natural to be overwhelmed by his presence. Fortunately, the only thing between the first impression and a sense of ease is his smile. Chucho has a warm smile and is quick to laugh, and, at 78, he retains the curiosity of a child.
We’re in the studio of Osbel Concepción, for the photo shoot. With some trepidation, I spoke with Lorena Salcedo, his wife and representative: we were waiting for them with Cuban bread and cod fish — we wanted to use these two elements for the cover shot and I didn’t know what they’d make of the idea. Our proposal was a nod to “Bacalao con pan” (“Cod with Bread”), one of the earliest and most popular songs by Irakere1, and the first one where the group includes batá drums, an important contribution of Chucho and his jazz musicians. A year before founding Irakere, Chucho had experimented with Oscar Valdés on Afro-Cuban percussion and Carlos del Puerto on bass, in the already transcendental Jazz Batá album, where he used the Afro-Cuban drums for the first time.
To my surprise, Lorena and Chucho were enthusiastic, responding: “Sure! What a good idea! How do we do it?”
That simple, friendly man with a refined, Cuban sense of humor, is one of the most recognized jazz musicians in the world. He has just won his fourth Latin Grammy, for a total of ten Grammys overall. The album that garnered this recent accolade is Jazz Batá-2, which the outstanding Cuban musicologist Rosa Marquetti tells us about in the exclusive OnCuba interview in this issue.
Through Chucho Valdés, we dedicate this issue to music —the best ambassador of a culture—, and especially to jazz, an exceptional bridge between Cuban and American cultures. Long is the list of musicians from both countries whose reciprocal influences have given us sublime musical masterpieces.
OnCuba celebrates that exchange and is grateful for its beauty.
- The almost mythical musical group Chucho founded in 1973. Irakere means ‘vegetation’ in the Yoruba language.