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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Cover Story - Roberto Fon­seca

ques­tions about so­cial­ism and gov­ern­ment’s now 55-year-rule.

‘‘ I can tell you that some Cubans hate Cuba and want the Amer­i­can dream, and that other Cubans are crazy about the place. For me it’s about mu­sic and fam­ily.’’ Fon­seca re­cently mar­ried his long-time girl­friend; both live with his mother, a singer and for­mer dancer, in the mod­est three-bed­room home he grew up in.

‘‘ My mum al­ways told me that mu­sic must be stud­ied con­tin­u­ously, end­lessly. It is like an eter­nal bride for a mu­si­cian.’’ A smile. ‘‘ My wife is very un­der­stand­ing.’’

Fon­seca’s mu­si­cal lean­ings were nur­tured early; his fa­ther played the drums. His mother was pre­vi­ously mar­ried to Chu­cho Valdes — the great Cuban pian­ist, band­leader, founder of su­per­group Irakere and, ar­guably, of the Latin jazz genre (‘‘He’s the guy that re­ally put Cuba on the mu­si­cal map’’).

His two elder half-brothers are a drum­mer


Cas­tro and a pian­ist now based in the US and Mex­ico. ‘‘ My brothers used to play a lot of funk and soul and my mother would be singing bolero and son (the pre­cur­sor to salsa) all day long. I started off play­ing drums, and my first job was as a drum­mer in a Bea­tles cover band. But what I re­ally loved was heavy rock.’’ He beat­boxes a riff. ‘‘ Iron Maiden. Quiet Riot. AC/ DC. I loved the en­ergy, the bass lines.’’

So it was that the adolescent Fon­seca got about af­ter school in tas­sels, tight jeans, a stud­ded Cuban army belt and, quite pos­si­bly, his mother’s eye­liner.

‘‘ Then one weekend I was in the kitchen hav­ing lunch and lis­ten­ing to heavy metal, re­ally loud,’’ he says, ‘‘ when sud­denly the cas­sette clicked off and I felt this peace. I was like, ‘ Whoa, what was I just lis­ten­ing to?’ And then my tastes changed; I dis­cov­ered the pi­ano, and Keith Jar­rett, and jazz.’’

And while at present he’s lis­ten­ing to a lot of elec­tron­ica and dub­step (‘‘I’m try­ing to com­pose some acous­tic dub­step; it’s a risk’’), he’d still like to make a big stompy rock al­bum one day: ‘‘ An Emerson, Lake & Palmer kind of thing, but don’t tell any­one.’’ Just as he wouldn’t mind get­ting into movie act­ing; there have been sev­eral of­fers, but he says he is bid­ing his time.

‘‘ I want to be the guy who saves the world with a cou­ple of words and a look,’’ he jokes, arch­ing an eye­brow. ‘‘ The quiet guy who re­solves ev­ery­thing, and doesn’t talk too much.’’

I sug­gest he is more po­lit­i­cal than he’d have us think, what with tracks such as 7 Rayos pay­ing ho­mage to the Palo May­ombe re­li­gion of the Yoruba peo­ple, who were taken from Africa to Cuba in the slave trade — and fea­tur­ing some sonorous spo­ken words by the proudly Afro-Cuban poet Ni­co­las Guillen.

Fon­seca nods, smiles. ‘‘ I love the poetry of Guillen, but not only be­cause it is po­lit­i­cal. I love it be­cause it is rhyth­mic; it has a won­der­ful ca­dence.

‘‘ 7 Rayos is the most im­por­tant song I have ever done in my life,’’ he says, ‘‘ be­cause it is the song where I change the way I com­pose.’’

He fishes his smart­phone from his jeans pocket, searches for the song and presses play. ‘‘ I was feel­ing the melody and the im­pulse and the vibe and try­ing to cre­ate a bridge be­tween African tra­di­tion and elec­tron­ica,’’ he says as mu­sic — his own mu­sic — blares around him.

‘‘ So I added African in­stru­ments like the ngoni (lute) and kora (harp) along­side per­cus­sion from Cuba; I used some of the clas­si­cal influences I have, and the voice of Guillen. I put all th­ese things in one track. Now ev­ery time I hear the song, I think, ‘ This is where I moved for­ward.’ ’’ He pauses, smiles. ‘‘ Do you like it?’’ I love it, I say. ‘‘ Si,’’ he says with a grin. what I do.’’

‘‘ So do I. I love

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