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LIVE: Roberto Fonseca – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 19/04/2022

And yet again the Howard Assembly Room further enhances its reputation for bringing some of the world’s finest musicians to this very select corner of the Northern Quarter in Leeds. Tonight, this wonderful venue plays host to the Havana-born pianist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, conductor, and Artistic Director for Cuba’s Jazz Plaza Santiago Festival, Roberto Fonseca who is joined on stage by his regular bandmates, drummer Ruly Herrera and bassist Yandy Rodriguez. Together the three men produce a quite stunning, virtuoso performance that elevates the capacity crowd far beyond the boundaries of jazz and immerses them deep into the very roots of Cuban music.

Roberto Fonseca has moved in some pretty illustrious musical company. He toured extensively with the legendary Buena Vista Social Club, has shared the stage with Herbie Hancock, and served as musical director for Gilles Peterson’s Havana Cultura project. And over a recording career that now stretches back for almost half a century, he has released nine albums in his own right, the last of which Yesun he describes as “presenting a Cuba without borders”.

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Yesun lends its name to the title of Roberto Fonseca’s current tour, and this is the opening night of six dates he will play in England before the three musicians then head over to France and Belgium en route to the USA. Released in 2019 these dates afford English audiences the first real opportunity to experience in concert the songs from that record. And on this evidence alone it has been something well worth waiting for.

The three men play with a freedom of expression which readily translates into Roberto Fonseca’s stated desire “to make music to share with people”. The sound that they create is fluid, accessible, and traverses many musical frontiers as it ranges effortlessly from jazz, classical, and Afro-Cuban roots to funk, R&B, tango, and mambo. Polychromatic by design it moves far beyond simple categorisation.

The huge variations in scope and style are reflected in Fonseca at one point incorporating into one piece an excerpt from Winston Churchill’s famous 1942 Masters of our Fate speech. At another, he further reflects his versatility as he moves easily from the Steinway to the Korg keyboard and Moog to conjure up a psychedelic rhythm that, almost improbably, seems to splice shades of Stevie Wonder with the American soul group Rotary Connection‘s ‘I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun’.

Fonseca, Herrera and Rodriguez combine to often dizzying effect throughout the evening, both collectively and individually, conjuring up an inclusive party atmosphere as they do so. Roberto Fonseca encourages several call-and-responses in Spanish – despite there being only one person in the audience who admits to being familiar with that language – and by the concert’s end, many are dancing with such glorious abandon in the Howard Assembly Room aisles.

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Photos: Simon Godley

More photos from this concert are HERE

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.