Our January article for Being Latino focuses on Elio Villafranca, a Grammy-nominated Afro-Cuban Jazz pianist.
To say that Elio Villafranca is a jazz pianist doesn’t quite capture the enormity of what the piano represents to him. For Elio, playing the piano is the embodiment of his soul. It lies at the core of who he is.
In his words, “It’s a liberation, piano is like my other half. It’s true, it’s not a cliché. When I get to play the piano, I feel one half already full, but if I do my things (daily routine) and I haven’t played the piano, I feel completely half empty, unbalanced.”
Elio is quite centered, disciplined and gracious. With years of classical piano training in his homeland, Cuba, and a daily practice routine of at least four hours, Elio Villafranca has earned the distinction of being at the vanguard of the current generation of Cuban pianists and musicians developing an international modern jazz sound.
His most recent album, Dos y Mas, is a piano and percussion collaboration with fellow Cuban musician Arturo Stable. Released last year to great critical acclaim, Dos y Mas honors the musical heritages of Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Spain and Cuba. Read more
During a recent telephone conversation with my dad, he asked me, “What style music does Alex Cuba play?” I was stumped and had a really difficult time defining the sound. I stumbled around trying to answer the question, but really had no answer. Finally, he said, “That’s ok, I’ll look him up.”
Fast forward a few weeks and I’ve learned that Alex Cuba really doesn’t want to be defined by one particular sound or genre. So, when I asked him last week during our interview, “Who is Alex Cuba?” His answer made perfect sense, “Alex Cuba is the inventor but that’s a really big word, but I want to say that Alex Cuba is a genre bending artist who is really hard to pinpoint and box.”
As a singer/songwriter from Cuba, it’s hard to imagine Alex Cuba as anything other than an Afro-Cuban jazz or salsa singer due to the island’s rich musical history. But he’s not. He actually credits his style, which is a concoction of a variety of musical genres (rock, salsa, Latin pop, samba etc), in great extent to his father, Valentin Puentes, and his diverse musical interests and desire for his son to live completely free of limitations.
Cuba says his father has classic taste in music, loved old school Trova music and Cuban standout performers like pianist Compay Segundo, Conjunto Matamoros and the incomparable Beny Moré. Contrast these Cuban musical powerhouses with Puentes’ enjoyment of singing the Beatles in Spanish, listening to Elvis Presley and a year spent teaching music in Angola and it’s easy to understand how Alex Cuba would be so inspired to move freely between musical styles, feeling very at home and comfortable being quite unconventional. Read more
By Kim Haas
As Yesenia Fernandez opened the door to her apartment, I was greeted instantly and affectionately by her mother, Mercedes Crespo. Mercedes was welcoming, warm and friendly. I liked her immediately. She has that inviting, infectious personality that puts you at ease. Mercedes radiates a certain warmth and hospitality that often characterizes Cubans.
Although she calls this apartment in West New York home, she’s only been living here for a couple of weeks. Originally from Havana, Cuba, she was reunited with her daughter Yesenia, and Yesenia’s triplets (los trillizos) at the end of April, a day shy of her 57 birthday. Read more
The day I met Jorge Peña in Habana Vieja, he promised to introduce me to one of the city’s up and coming young painters, Renier Usatorres Valdes. So, when Jorge and I met again in Habana Vieja a few days later, he escorted me on a 15 minute walk to one of the surrounding neighborhoods to meet Renier. Read more
Kim Haas sat down with Cuban musician Alejandro Mayor to talk about Cuban music, the African connection and his new CD “La Fusión” Read more