Cuba’s Musical Revolution Continues Apace

Mario López-Goicoechea
3 min readNov 10, 2018

One of late 1990s musical landmarks was the album Heart of a Legend. A homage to the great Cuban-born composer, bandleader and trumpeter extraordinaire Arturo “Chico” O’ Farrill, this record boasted five-star contributions by the likes of Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D’ Rivera, in addition to both O’ Farrills, Snr and Jnr, very own input.

Never short of a catchy lick, Arturo O’ Farrill Jnr’s music manages to combine both a big orchestra-sound and a mellow, intimate one. Performing at the Barbican, as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, on Friday 23rd November, O’ Farrill will be joined by his band, including his sons Adam O’ Farrill on trumpet and Zack O’ Farrill on drums.

The show on Friday 23rd November is a triple bill, advertising itself as an opportunity to see Cuba’s fast-emerging and boundary-pushing new generation of jazz artists. Spearheading this movement, amongst others, are Omar Sosa and Yilian Cañizares, pianist and violinist respectively. Their recent collaboration, Aguas (Waters), is a beautiful and deeply lyrical album, looking to marry the points of view of two artists living outside Cuba in their own idiosyncratic ways. For evidence of the subtle, energy-driven and spiritual synergy the duo manages to harness on the record, look no further than the closing track, D2 de Africa.

Grammy-nominated Alfredo Rodríguez (the pianist, not the singer. His father, “Alfredito” Rodríguez, however, was a well-known Cuban crooner-style performer), is another up-and-coming young Cuban jazz star. Accolades do not come any bigger than Quincy Jones’s comments after meeting Rodríguez in Montreux in 2006. The jack of all trades (and master of all), musician, producer, film-maker and author of Stuff Like That said that “with the enormous skills that [Alfredo] already possesses, his potential is limitless”. In a crowded market — as the jazz one usually is — Alfredo has managed to carve out a niche for himself, with a style that references some of jazz luminaries such as Art Tatum and Thelonius Monk, whilst keeping his Cuban roots at the heart of his compositions. For proof of this, listen to Qbafrica, the opening track of his debut album, Sounds of Space. It does not just dazzle musically but also linguistically (Qbafrica is a pun on the words “Cuba” and “Africa” mixed together).

Cuba is chiefly associated with the Fidel-led revolution of the late 50s. A lesser-known, different type of revolution, however, was already taking place more than a decade before when the likes of Arsenio Rodríguez, Machito and Arturo “Chico” O’ Farrill went to the States and started collaborating with American musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. The offspring of this partnership work was a rich, multi-layered and rhythmic sound, the echoes of which are still being felt today and will be felt again on Friday 23rd November at the Barbican.