Chuchu Valdes brings Afro-Cuban rhythms to Annenberg

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Rita Charleston, Tribune Correspondent, Philadelphia Tribune – Apr 10, 2018

The legendary and multi-Grammy Award winner, Cuban pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader Chucho Valdes, will perform at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, located at the University of Pennsylvania, on Friday.

Known the world over as a musical giant, the Afro-Cuban musician combines his fascinating blend of African, South American, Cuban and Spanish musical traditions to rate a category all his own.

Born in Cuba in 1941, Jesus “Chucho” Valdes Rodiguez was born into a musical family. “As a child, I wanted to be a musician, make music and compose,” he said. “My father was a great influence on me as I watched him compose and play the piano.”

Valdes’ father, Bebo, was a giant in the world of music himself when Valdes was growing up.

With his father as his first teacher, by the age of three the young boy was already playing melodies he heard on the radio. By the age of five, he continued his formal musical education at the Havana Conservatory of Music from which he graduated when he was just 14.

“I had classical training,” he explained, “and in my opinion that training is very important for technical and interpretive development for all types of music.”

But for all his training, Cuban musicians were outlawed from playing in the United States for many years. However, in 1977 fate stepped in when Dizzy Gillespie, who happened to be visiting Havana, discovered Valdes and the rest is history.

Today, with relations between Cuba and the U.S. a bit more relaxed, everyone will hopefully enjoy an expanded appreciation of music.

“Good relations between the countries are always positive, especially Cuban and North American music, which have common roots. It will create an approach and exchange that is healthy for culture.”

Admitting he enjoys all kinds of music, by the ‘70s Valdes started to play a distinctly Afro-Cuban sound. He said, “Afro-Cuban music is my root, my identity. We try to do a job where we enrich that concept, mixing the African rhythms with the electronic. Many barriers were broken in regard to that genre.”

Audiences at the Annenberg concert will hear the new concept of Jazz Bata based on Afro-Cuban and jazziest rituals. “My last album was done in 2015. It won the Grammy for the Best Latin Jazz Album category. I am currently working on a new project that you will witness with Jazz Bata.”

And his next project will be the development of “Symphonic Chucho, which is different from anything else I’ve ever done,” he concluded.

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