Words by Jane Cornwell
A visual and aural treat from Havana’s proudest son, who lays himself bare on YO (that’s ‘I’ in Spanish) with impressive and often breathtaking results. Over the years, innumerable musicians have set out to trace Cuba’s African roots; very few have done so with such skill and flair, such daring and imagination as Fonseca. The pianist has come a long way from the talented kid who stepped in for the late and brilliant Rubén González in the Buena Vista Social Club and went on to woo the world with his singular blend of classical, jazz and Afro-Cuban music. His clutch of solo albums – including 2008’s Zamazu – and scorching live shows hinted at a pending masterwork. YO is it. Fonseca’s decision to pose shirtless – and remarkably buff – on the album’s cover is a signifier of his musical rebirth, of his decision to move onto the next phase of his musical life. So we have the party-fied opener, a joyfully unhinged plunge into several genres at once, and a taster of YO’s 15-strong line-up of musicians and singers.
Singers such as Malian chanteuse-about-town Fatoumata Diawara, who lends her crystalline vocals to ‘Bibisa’, a track that features ngoni and kora and contrasts Cuban motifs (such as the clave) with African elements. This time Fonseca’s palette is large. Here is both electro and acoustic; the griot and Gnawa traditions; rock and funk; blues and jazz. The artist’s deep grounding in the Afro-Cuban Santéria religion is evident on ‘Mi Negra Ave Maria’, a Gilles Peterson-produced track originally composed by Fonseca and his mother but granted extra luminosity with a spoken-word ode by hip-hop MC Mike Ladd. Highlights like this are many. Phase two of Fonseca’s career, you feel, has only just begun.
Listen to a choice track from YO on the Top of the World CD included with the current issue (#84 June 2012).
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