Roberto Fonseca is a Cuban pianist, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer and bandleader. Havana-born and based, he has released nine solo albums, collaborated across genres, been nominated for a Grammy Award and toured the world several times over. Along the way he has achieved the aim with which he began his professional career in the early 1990s: “Wherever people are, I want them to hear my music and say, ‘This is Roberto Fonseca’.”
Born in Havana in 1975, the son of a drummer father and dancer/singer mother, Fonseca started playing drums aged four and the piano aged eight. His tastes were always eclectic: hard rock. American jazz. Funk and soul. Music made in Africa and Brazil. Classical music. Reggaeton, electronica, hip-hop. The music of Cuba: Fonseca’s deep AfroCuban roots underpin a sound that builds bridges between the ancient and modern and takes Cuban music – all music – forward.
Fonseca was 15-years-old when he made his live solo debut at the Jazz Plaza Festival in Havana. He graduated from the Institute Superior del Arte and joined award-winning jazz outfit Temperamento, his collaborators for 15 years.
Fonseca’s 1999 solo debut, Tiene Que Ver was followed by 2000’s No Limit: AfroCuban Jazz, and Elengó (2001). He composed the soundtrack for Black, a film by French director P. Maraval, and produced an album for hip-hop act Obsesión. Fonseca first came to international prominence when he replaced Ruben Gonzalez (1919 – 2003) as pianist in Buena Vista Social Club® then touring with singer Ibrahim Ferrer (1927 – 2005) then with evergreen diva Omara Portuondo.
After co-producing and playing on Ferrer’s posthumously released Mi Sueño: A Bolero Songbook (2006), Fonseca unleashed his 2007 jazz-roots solo album Zamazu, a landmark work involving 20 guest collaborators. 2009’s Akokan featured Cape Verdean vocalist Maya Andrade and American guitarist Raul Midon. 2010’s Live in Marciac was recorded at the eponymous festival town in southwest France.
Tastemakers eyed him: iconic French designer Agnes B began kitting Fonseca out in sharp suits and his trademark leather Byblos hats in 2006. British-based impresario Gilles Peterson asked him to arrange and co-produce the groundbreaking 2010 Havana Cultura project. Fonseca’s music has graced several upmarket advertising campaigns.
In 2012 came his Grammy-nominated masterwork Yo, a turbocharged album aided by 15 musicians from Cuba, the US and Africa. Among them, Malian singer-songwriter and guitarist Fatoumata Diawara, with whom Fonseca embarked on an acclaimed live collaboration that resulted in 2015’s At Home, also recorded live at the Jazz in Marciac festival.
2016’s ABUC told the story of Cuban music past, present and future with a sprawling cast of over 30 guests, and was released in the same year that Fonseca became Artistic Director of the Inaugural Jazz Plaza Festival in Santiago de Cuba.
Fonseca’s headline live appearances have ranged from the world’s most prestigious concert halls to his twice-weekly residency at Havana jazz club Zorro y el Cuervo (Fox and the Crow). There Fonseca and his trio – drummer Raúl Herrera and double bass player Yandy Martínez Rodriguez – develop and explore new compositions, so shaping much of Fonseca’s new album Yesun.
Released on Wagram on 18 October 2019, Yesun features guests including Grammy-winning saxophonist Joe Lovano, lauded French-Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf and rising star Cuban rapper Danay Suarez alongside retro-modern keyboards, electronic beats and AfroCuban rhythms. Having long proved himself exceptional (in June 2019 he was awarded the distinguished Ordre des Arts Letters from the French Ministry of Culture), Roberto Fonseca is making the music he has always wanted to make.