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    The Cuban Fusion of X Alfonso

    By: Rik van Boeckel
    Dec 18, 2006


    X Alfonso Live at WOMEX

    By mixing Cuban music with hip-hop, rock and jazz, the Cuban singer and guitarist X Alfonso has created his own particular style of music. Live and on DVD, he adds to his songs video images directed by himself. He finds his inspiration in the music of Benny Moré, Pink Floyd and Thelonious Monk.

    X Alfonso was born in Havana in 1972. He grew up in the barrio Luyanó, close to the harbour of the Cuban capital. At the age of 7, he started to study piano. In 1990, he received his degree at the Escuela Superior de la Habana.

    I saw him perform at the WOMEX (World Music Expo) in Sevilla, Spain, at the end of October. During the song Havana, it's like the spectators can drive with him thru the streets of Havana. He achieves this by projecting a video of Havana at a big screen. The band consists of a female singer, drummer, bass player and a percussionist who also raps during the performance. X Alfonso himself plays guitar, keyboard and percussion.

    Benny Moré

    Equis (X) Alfonso performs at WOMEX songs of his last CD, Civilización (2005) and of X Moré (2001). X Moré is an homage to Benny Moré, the Cuban legend who was famous in the fifties as singer of boleros and sones. At X Moré he mixes songs of Benny Moré and the big band sound of the fifties with hip-hop and rock. He performed X Moré in New York and the album was nominated in 2002 for the Latin Grammy.

    "Moré was a revolutionary of Cuban music. He introduced the big band sound of the USA into Cuban music. That was unique for his time. In this way, he is very inspiring for me," X Alfonso tells me some hours before the concert. "When I was a kid, I heard his music in the house of my grandfather. My father listened to jazz and my uncles liked Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd." During one of the songs of X Moré, old movie images of Benny Moré while singing or conducting the big band are projected on the screen. It's like Moré sings together with X Alfonso.


    X Alfonso Live at WOMEX

    Sintesis

    Some music critics already compare X Alfonso with Prince, Brian Eno and David Byrne. Maybe this goes too far, because his music is quite different but in another way he has the same musical creativity. He has grown up with music. His father Carlos Alfonso is the bandleader of Sintesis, one of the best Cuban rock & roll bands. They are fusing rock & roll with Afro-Cuban rhythms and melodies of the santeria. In this Afro-Cuban religion the orishas, gods of the Yoruba, are combined with catholic saints.

    X Alfonso: "Sintesis was the most important music school for me. It's the backbone of my work as a musician. I played 17 years in Sintesis. Thanks to the group, I learned to combine traditional Cuban rhythms with contemporary music like rock and jazz. Thelonious Monk is my inspiration in jazz. Considering Cuban music, I am inspired by Los Van Van, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas and Charanga Habanera; and by the energy of timba, the last revolution in salsa. When I look to European music, there are two groups who are important for me: Genesis and Pink Floyd."

    When I asked him if it's not difficult to assimilate the influences of Pink Floyd into Cuban music, he answered: "Not for me. The music of every country has a certain energy that comes from inside. In that respect, Pink Floyd is not different from Cuban music, although the music is quite different. The same counts for African music and flamenco for example."

    Rock and Hip Hop

    In 2003, X Alfonso composed the music for a movie about the Cuban rock scene: Habana Blues. "The story of this movie takes place in the nineties when there were about 600 rock groups in Cuba: from punk and alternative rock to heavy and death metal." In Habana Blues are not only performing musicians from the Cuban rock scene but also members of the hip hop scene of Havana, like Free Hole Negro and Telmary Diaz. When possible, the rappers of Free Hole Negro perform together with X Alfonso.

    "In the nineties the hip hop movement started in Cuba. Nowadays, it's very big" X Alfonso tells me. "I worked with Free Hole Negro and with Orishas, the most famous hip hop crew from Cuba. Rhythm and voice are the most important elements of hip hop. I combine those with Afro-Cuban percussion. With the energy of hip hop, I create new compositions."


    X Alfonso Live at WOMEX

    Music and Video

    Hip hop is alive in Cuba! In the video for the song Civilización, X Alfonso shows a talented nine year old rapper from barrio Luyanó. X Alfonso: "I think every talent has the right to express himself, that is the right of every human being. There are living so many people with talent for music in Luyanó, and I don't mean only rappers because that's nowadays the voice of the youth." He also shows a 19 year old cello player and mixes his music with rap. The video is in black and white and not in color like most movies about Cuba. Because life on Cuba is not always colorful.

    Not many musicians can direct and produce their own videos. X Alfonso learned it by himself. "It's important for me to combine music and video," he says. "I want to translate the message of the lyrics into film. When I write a text, I see the image already."

    On another video, X Alfonso shows a recording of a concert of him in Cuba. "I did that because the people outside Cuba can see how the atmosphere is during a concert in Cuba. And that's a very vivid atmosphere, as you can imagine. In the USA and Europe, the view of Cuban music is too much defined by the Buena Vista Social Club. But Cuban youth listen to other music... to hip hop and rock. The percussion in the movie is not Cuban, but Brazilian. That adds something new to my music."

    X Alfonso wants to show in this way to Western audiences that Cuban music is in a process of change and that there are no limits. It's not only son or salsa anymore and it's interesting to see what comes out of the fusion with non-Cuban music styles. X Alfonso is not the only one. There is a whole new generation of Cuban musicians who want to change Cuban music: Yusa, Telmary Diaz and Free Hole Negro in Cuba; Descemer Bueno (Yerba Buena) in New York; Orishas and Raul Paz in Paris.

    Openness

    "At the moment there is a big openness to other music styles," X Alfonso says. "Not only in Cuba. Mexico, for example, counts many rock bands, and not just Maña. In Spain, flamenco mixes with hip hop and pop. Everywhere you see crossovers of traditional with modern music. You can see that very well here at WOMEX. In Cuba, there are many new groups who are good but do not get the change yet to perform at WOMEX. But that will be different in four years."

    "I have my very own style," he adds. "It's Cuban music of a whole new generation. I really want to show it to the audiences in the USA, Europe... everywhere. I believe that the people outside Cuba love the new music that is made nowadays in Cuba."


    X Alfonso Live at WOMEX


    X Alfonso Live at WOMEX


    X Alfonso Live at WOMEX


    X Alfonso Live at WOMEX

    X Alfonso Live at WOMEX Photos by Guido Rottmann (www.guidorottmann.de)

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