Irakere Biography

This pioneering Cuban jazz band, which began recording on an ad hoc basis in the late 60s, has been home to some of the country’s leading musicians. Irakere, which literally means ‘forest’, was the name of a drummer in Yoruba legend. The title was adopted by the band as a homage to the great drummer, and to reflect the percussive, Afro-Cuban emphasis of their music. Irakere was founded by several veterans of the groundbreaking Orquestra De Música Moderna. The original line-up included pianist/musical director Chuco Valdés, saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, percussionist Oscar Valdés, guitarist Carlos Emilio Morales, trumpeter Jorge Varona, and drummer Enrique Plá. This immensely talented group of musicians quickly established themselves as their country’s leading attraction, fusing contemporary jazz, traditional Cuban son music, and African rhythms into an exciting new style of music typified by their 1974 hit, ‘Bacalo Con Pan’. In 1978, following a breakthrough performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, they became the first modern Cuban group to sign a US recording contract. Sandoval and D’Rivera left in the 80s, but the indefatigable Valdés and new stars such as flautist José Luis ‘Chico’ Cortés continued to guide the band on acclaimed tours of the USA and Europe, despite constant wrangles with the Cuban authorities. They have recorded for major labels such as Blue Note Records and Rounder Records, reaping several Grammy Awards along the way.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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