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OriginIrakere_header_cell_0_1_0 Havana, CubaIrakere_cell_0_1_1
GenresIrakere_header_cell_0_2_0 Songo, Latin jazz, jazz fusion, Afro-Cuban jazzIrakere_cell_0_2_1
Years activeIrakere_header_cell_0_3_0 1973 (1973)–presentIrakere_cell_0_3_1
LabelsIrakere_header_cell_0_4_0 Areito, Bembe, Columbia, Milestone, Blue Note, Far OutIrakere_cell_0_4_1
Associated actsIrakere_header_cell_0_5_0 La 440, Ivan Lins, Los Van Van, NG La Banda, Orquesta Revé, Habana Ensemble, Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Silvio Rodríguez, DiákaraIrakere_cell_0_5_1
MembersIrakere_header_cell_0_7_0 Jorge Luis Valdés Chicoy

Irving Michel Acao Basilio Márquez Julio Padrón Adel González Maikel AnteIrakere_cell_0_7_1

Past membersIrakere_header_cell_0_9_0 Chucho Valdés

Arturo Sandoval Paquito D'Rivera Anga Díaz Carlos Emilio Morales Carlos Averhoff Carlos del Puerto Oscar Valdés Jorge Varona José Luis Cortés "El Tosco" Bernardo Garcia Enrique Plá Jorge Alfonso "El Niño" Armando Cuervo Carlos Barbón Germán Velazco Juan Munguía José Miguel Crego "El Greco" César López Orlando Valle "Maraca" Adalberto Lara Mayra Caridad Valdés Jorge Reyes Román Filiú Lázaro Alfonso "El Tato" Chuchito Valdés José Miguel Fran Padilla Mario Hernanadez "El Indio"Irakere_cell_0_9_1

Irakere (faux-Yoruba for 'forest') is a Cuban band founded by pianist Chucho Valdés (son of Bebo Valdés) in 1973. Irakere_sentence_0

They won the Grammy Award for Best Latin Recording in 1980 with their album Irakere. Irakere_sentence_1

Irakere was a seminal musical laboratory, where historic innovations in both Afro-Cuban jazz and Cuban popular dance music were created. Irakere_sentence_2

The group used a wide array of percussion instruments like batá, abakuá and arará drums, chequerés, erikundis, maracas, claves, cencerros, bongó, tumbadoras (congas), and güiro. Irakere_sentence_3

History Irakere_section_0

"Jazz bands" began forming in Cuba as early as the 1920s. Irakere_sentence_4

These bands often included both Cuban popular music and popular North American jazz, and show tunes in their repertoires. Irakere_sentence_5

Despite this musical versatility, the movement of blending Afro-Cuban rhythms with jazz was not strong in Cuba itself for decades. Irakere_sentence_6

As Leonardo Acosta observes: "Afro-Cuban jazz developed simultaneously in New York and Havana, with the difference that in Cuba it was a silent and almost natural process, practically imperceptible" (2003: 59). Irakere_sentence_7

Cuba's significant contribution to the genre came relatively late. Irakere_sentence_8

However, when it did come, the Cubans exhibited a level of Cuban-jazz integration that went far beyond most of what had come before. Irakere_sentence_9

The first Cuban band of this new wave was Irakere. Irakere_sentence_10

Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna Irakere_section_1

Irakere, which was founded by members of the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, has always been an eclectic band. Irakere_sentence_11

From the beginning, the group showcased the scope of their uniquely Cuban music education: Afro-Cuban folkloric music, Cuban popular dance music, funk, jazz, and even classical music. Irakere_sentence_12

The early years saw a lot of experimenting, with the mixing these different genres in original ways. Irakere_sentence_13

From the vantage point of today, some of Irakere's early experiments sound awkward and don't mesh. Irakere_sentence_14

On the other hand, some early experiments by the group were musical landmarks, that began entirely new traditions. Irakere_sentence_15

"Cubanized" bebop-flavored horn lines Irakere_section_2

"Chékere-son" (1976) for example, introduced a style of "Cubanized" bebop-flavored lines, that departed from the more "angular" guajeo-based lines typical of Cuban popular music. Irakere_sentence_16

The horn line style introduced in "Chékere-son" is heard today in Afro-Cuban jazz, and the contemporary popular dance genre known as timba. Irakere_sentence_17

Afro-Cuban folkloric/jazz fusion Irakere_section_3

Another important Irakere contribution is their use of batá and other Afro-Cuban folkloric drums. Irakere_sentence_18

"Bacalao con pan" is the first song recorded by Irakere to use batá. Irakere_sentence_19

The tune combines the folkloric drums, jazzy dance music, and distorted electric guitar with wah-wah pedal. Irakere_sentence_20

According to UC Irvine musicologist and Irakere expert Raúl A. Fernández, the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna members would not have been allowed by the orquesta to record the unconventional song. Irakere_sentence_21

The musicians travelled to Santiago to record it. Irakere_sentence_22

"somehow the tune made it from Santiago to radio stations in Havana where it became a hit; Irakere was formally organized a little bit later" (2011: web). Irakere_sentence_23

Ironically, several of the founding members did not always appreciate Irakere's fusion of jazz and Afro-Cuban elements. Irakere_sentence_24

They saw the Cuban folk elements as a type of nationalistic "fig leaf," cover for their true love—jazz. Irakere_sentence_25

They were obsessed with jazz. Irakere_sentence_26

The fusing of Afro-Cuban elements with jazz in Irakere is a direct consequence of the poor relations between the Cuban and United States governments. Irakere_sentence_27

Cuba's Ministry of Culture is said to have viewed jazz as the music of "imperialist America." Irakere_sentence_28

Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval states: "We wanted to play bebop, but we were told that our drummer couldn’t even use cymbals, because they sounded 'too jazzy.' Irakere_sentence_29

We eventually used congas and cowbells instead, and in the end, it helped us to come up with something new and creative" (2007: web). Irakere_sentence_30

Pablo Menéndez, founder of Mezcla, recalls: "Irakere were jazz musicians who played stuff like 'Bacalao con pan' with a bit of a tongue in cheek attitude—'for the masses.' Irakere_sentence_31

I remember Paquito d'Rivera thought it was pretty funny stuff (as opposed to 'serious' stuff)" (2011: web). Irakere_sentence_32

In spite of the ambivalence by some members towards Irakere's Afro-Cuban folkloric/jazz fusion, their experiments forever changed Cuban popular music, Latin jazz, and salsa. Irakere_sentence_33

As D'Rivera states: "We didn’t know that we were going to have such an impact in jazz and Latin music around the world. Irakere_sentence_34

We were just working to do something good" (2011: web). Irakere_sentence_35

International acclaim Irakere_section_4

In 1977 Irakere performed at two jazz festivals held in the "Eastern Bloc"—the Belgrade Jazz Festival and the Warsaw Jazz Jamboree. Irakere_sentence_36

The group had the opportunity to play along with jazz artists Betty Carter, Mel Lewis and Thad Jones. Irakere_sentence_37

That same year several jazz legends including Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, and Earl Hines travelled to Cuba on a "jazz cruise." Irakere_sentence_38

This was the first time since the break in relations between Cuba and the United States that a group of jazz musicians from each country were able to play together. Irakere_sentence_39

In Havana, members of Irakere had the good fortune to jam with Gillespie and Getz. Irakere_sentence_40

Gillespie later told the press that he had fulfilled a long-standing wish to visit the island, homeland of his close friend and partner Chano Pozo. Irakere_sentence_41

In 1980 Irakere appeared at both the Newport Jazz Festival in New York City and the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Irakere_sentence_42

Columbia Records edited an album of five tracks recorded at the two festivals. Irakere_sentence_43

The LP was titled Irakere, and was released by both CBS Records (JC-35655) and EGREM (Areíto LD-3769). Irakere_sentence_44

The album had two sets of liner notes, one by the North American John Storm Roberts and the other by Cuban Leonardo Acosta. Irakere_sentence_45

Irakere won a Grammy in 1979 for the best "Latin" music recording in the United States. Irakere_sentence_46

Following this success, the band participated in the most important international jazz festivals. Irakere_sentence_47

At the 1995 Afrocubanismo Festival at the Banff Center in Alberta, Canada, Irakere performed their piece "Xiomara" live on stage with Los Muñequitos de Matanzas and Changuito (!Afrocubanismo Live! Irakere_sentence_48

). Irakere_sentence_49

Innovations in popular dance music Irakere_section_5

In the 1980s Irakere recorded dance music, rhythmically akin to the contemporaneous style known as songo. Irakere_sentence_50

This body of material can be seen as a type of bridge, connecting the songo era with the timba era which began in the early 1990s. Irakere_sentence_51

One of the more popular Irakere dance tunes is "Rucu rucu a Santa Clara" (1985), written by José Luis Cortés "El Tosco," who would later found NG La Banda, and launch the timba movement. Irakere_sentence_52

Trumpeter José Crego "El Greco," and saxophonists Carlos Averhoff and Germán Velazco, are heard playing the bop-like horn lines in this dance music. Irakere_sentence_53

The three wind players would later go on to become part of NG La Banda's "metales de terror" horn section, the basic template for timba horns. Irakere_sentence_54

Irakere continued recording dance pieces into the 1990s. Irakere_sentence_55

With Babalú Ayé (1997), the band fully embraced timba, the new genre which had directly resulted in part, from Irakere's innovations two decades earlier. Irakere_sentence_56

The CD, which was nominated for a Grammy, features singer and timbales player José Miguel. Irakere_sentence_57

In contrast to the impeccably executed dance music on the CD, Babalú Ayé also contains a long "bonus track"—"Babalú Ayé'," a loose folkloric/jazz experiment featuring the legendary lead vocalist Lazaro Ros. Irakere_sentence_58

In 1997 Chucho Valdés left the group, and Chucho's son Chuchito took over the piano chair and the role of director between 1997 and 1999. Irakere_sentence_59

Irakere's jazz legacy Irakere_section_6

Paquito D'Rivera defected to the United States in 1980. Irakere_sentence_60

Arturo Sandoval left the group a year later, and then defected to the United States in 1990. Irakere_sentence_61

Both musicians have commented on the joy they felt, at being able to finally pursue jazz careers in the United States, and the honor of playing alongside their jazz heroes. Irakere_sentence_62

As time went on, D'Rivera began looking back, and gained a deeper appreciation for the music of his first home. Irakere_sentence_63

In 1994 he stated that he fell in love with Cuban music again on the shores of the Hudson River. Irakere_sentence_64

Since he left Cuba, D'Rivera has recorded several albums with Cuban themes, including La Habana-Rio Conexión (1992), 40 Years of Cuban Jam Session (1994), Habanera Absolute Ensemble (1999), and Tropicana Nights (1999). Irakere_sentence_65

Sandoval, who was once threatened with imprisonment by the Cuban government for listening to American jazz on the radio, has recorded albums of both straight-ahead jazz, and jazz with a strong Cuban influence. Irakere_sentence_66

Chucho Valdés has also pursued a successful jazz career, recording for the prestigious Blue Note jazz label. Irakere_sentence_67

Discography Irakere_section_7


  • 1974: Teatro Amadeo Roldán – Recital. Areíto LD-3420Irakere_item_0_0
  • 1976: Grupo Irakere. Areíto LD-3660 (issued as Chekere in Finland; CULP-7)Irakere_item_0_1
  • 1978: Musica cubana contemporanea. Areíto LD-3726Irakere_item_0_2
  • 1978: Leo Brouwer / Irakere. Areíto LD-3769Irakere_item_0_3
  • 1979: Grupo Irakere. Areíto LD-3926Irakere_item_0_4
  • 1979: Irakere. Columbia/CBS JC-35655. Areíto LD-3769Irakere_item_0_5
  • 1979: Chekere-son. LD-3660Irakere_item_0_6
  • 1979: The Best of Irakere. Columbia/Legacy CD 57719Irakere_item_0_7
  • 1980: Irakere II Columbia/CBS JC-36107. Areito/Integra EG-13047Irakere_item_0_8
  • 1980: El CocoIrakere_item_0_9
  • 1980: Cuba Libre (2010 CD reissue on Far Out Recordings)Irakere_item_0_10
  • 1981: Live in SwedenIrakere_item_0_11
  • 1981: Para bailar son.Irakere_item_0_12
  • 1982: Volume VI. Areíto LD-4018Irakere_item_0_13
  • 1983: Calzada Del Cerro. Areíto LD-4053Irakere_item_0_14
  • 1983: Orquesta sinfónica nacional; La colección v. VIII. Areíto LD-4139Irakere_item_0_15
  • 1985: Bailando así ;La colección Volume IX. Areíto LD-4186Irakere_item_0_16
  • 1985: Tierra En Trance; La colección v. X. Areíto LD-4224Irakere_item_0_17
  • 1985: Quince minutos; La colección v. XI. Areíto LD-4267Irakere_item_0_18
  • 1986: CatalinaIrakere_item_0_19
  • 1987: Live at Ronnie Scott's; The Legendary Irakere in LondonIrakere_item_0_20
  • 1987: Misa Negra. Messidor CDIrakere_item_0_21
  • 1989: Homenaje a Beny MoréIrakere_item_0_22
  • 1991: Great MomentsIrakere_item_0_23
  • 1991: FelicidadIrakere_item_0_24
  • 1995: Bailando AsíIrakere_item_0_25
  • 1996: !Afrocubanismo Live! Chucho Valdés and Irakere. Bembe CD 2012-2Irakere_item_0_26
  • 1997: Babalú Ayé. Bembe CD 2020-2Irakere_item_0_27
  • 1998: From Havana With Love West Wind CD 2223 (Recorded live in Belgrade 1978)Irakere_item_0_28
  • 1999: IndestructibleIrakere_item_0_29
  • 1999: Yemayá. Blue Note CDIrakere_item_0_30
  • 2001: Pare CocheroIrakere_item_0_31

Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: