Cuba’s Chucho Valdes Plans Historic Irakere Reunion Concert

Daniel Benitez (Cafe Fuerte)

Chucho Valdés durante una presentación reciente en Miami.  Foto: Daniel Benítez
Chucho Valdés durante una presentación reciente en Miami. Foto: Daniel Benítez

HAVANA TIMES — Renowned Cuban pianist and composer Chucho Valdes wants to bring together the founding members of Cuba’s popular band Irakere for a concert that would make music history.

During a brief interview in Miami, Chucho declared that a reunion concert with the original members of Irakere would be a call for unity and an affirmation that music is above all differences.

“I think this would be a rewarding experience for everyone, a kind of gathering, of reuniting,” said the founder of the legendary, now-dissolved band.

The 71-year-old jazz artist did not specify a place or date for the “Irakere reunion”, adding that it is only an idea at the moment.

Valdes, however, believes it is not an unreachable goal.

Should the concert come to fruition, it would be a dream-come-true for many music-lovers who have fond memories of this Afro-Cuban jazz band founded in 1973.

A Musical Milestone

Cuban musicians such as saxophonist Paquito D’Rivero and trumpet player Arturo Sandoval chose the path of exile and have since maintained a critical posture towards the Cuban regime and have never returned to the island. Chucho resides in Havana, where he is the organizer an annual international jazz festival.

Founded by members of the Cuban Modern Music Orchestra, Irakere marked a turning point in Cuban music history, combining jazz, rock and traditional Afro-Cuban music with classical and popular numbers such as Bacalao con Pan (“Bread and Codfish”), Misa Negra (“Black Mass”) and Shaka Zulu. The band gathered a number of virtuoso musicians and earned a Grammy for best Latin record in 1980.

Chucho made a brief stopover in Miami en route to Spain, after a series of full-house concerts at the University of Stanford, California and in Houston.

Singing with Natalie Cole

During his tour in the United States, Chucho accompanied Natalie Cole on the the popular number “Perhaps”. The two, who performed at the Hollywood Bowl before more than 18 thousand people, paid tribute to their renowned fathers, Nat King Cole and Bebo Valdes, who had also worked together in the 1950s.

Bebo Valdes passed away in Stockholm in March this year. Three years ago, Chucho decided to move to Spain to be closer to his father who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

“[Bebo Valdes] left a big hole in our hearts and it hurts. In this period we did a lot of things together, many concerts and records,” said the pianist, who lived away from his father for many years, said.

Bebo left Cuba in 1960 and vowed never to return as long as the current government was still in power. His son stayed in Cuba and reunited with his father only recently. By the time of their reunion, Chucho was a celebrated jazz musician and Bebo had re-emerged as a music legend, having been forgotten for years.

It was a former member of Irakere, Paquito D’Rivera, who paved the way to Bebo’s rediscovery with an album titled “Bebo Rides Again”, launched in 1994 and recorded when the artist was already 76.