[Photograph by The New Centrist. La Zorra y El Cuervo, Havana, Cuba. Click thumbnail for larger version.]
Oscar Valdés is the vocalist, Afro-Cuban percussionist, composer and mastermind behind Jazz combo Diákara. In additional to original compositions, Valdés draws on an impressive body of work from his over twenty years with Afro-Jazz masters Irakere. Irakere was formed in the 1970s by members of the Cuban Orchestra of Modern Music. Their most famous player, the pianist Chucho Valdés, has received international acclaim and spends much of his time touring. Other important players who have since left the band (and Cuba) include saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Here is a video of Irakere on TV Peru (1986) performing a Latin Jazz version of Stella by Starlight, Estela va Estallar ( part 1, part 2).
Oscar Valdés remains on the Island and performs regularly at Havana’s La Zorra y El Cuervo, a small jazz club in La Rampa that is often compared to NYC’s Village Vanguard. Entering through an old British telephone booth you walk downstairs into a small, dimly lit room with a bar and a short stage. Shows start around 11:00 and go well into the morning. The mojitos go down a bit too smoothly.
[La Zorra y El Cuervo, Havana, Cuba]
Diákara plays, in the words of Oscar Valdes, “Afro-Jazz! Cuba-Jazz! Son-Jazz!” It’s simply fantastic music. After hearing them play I went back to the club again and again. Unfortunately I was an idiot and did not purchase their CD when I had an opportunity. It is not available in the U.S. and I can’t find it online. Here is a YouTube video recorded at the Jazz Café in Havana. The music is great, the lighting not so good.
Here is another Irakere video from TV Peru, El Duque, dedicated to Duke Ellington. No Oscar Valdés in this one but a nice sample of Chucho’s skills. Similar versions of this song and Estela va Estallar are available on Irakere’s “The Legendary Irakere in London,” recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club.
[Photograph by The New Centrist. La Zorra y El Cuervo, Havana, Cuba.]