If the young standard-bearer of Cuban music Roberto Fonseca was once recognised chiefly for his performances with the Buena Vista Social Club, it’s surely now his work as a composer and bandleader that earns him his considerable reputation. A rhythmically-charged and beguiling set that displays Fonseca’s remarkable musicianship and myriad influences, Akokan, picks up where Fonseca left off with debut album Zamazu
Simple, pared-down melodies or complex riffs are the starting points from which Fonseca builds his compositions. ‘Lo Que Me Hace Vivir’ has a yearning melody that gives way to an unstoppable riff and Fonseca’s dazzling improvisations, while the Latin carnival of ‘El Ritmo De Tus Hombros’ links together two simple phrases and would fill any dance floor.
Not all of the tracks shine as brightly though and the sheer range of styles can be a bit overwhelming (a nod to Eastern European folk on ‘Bulgarian’ sits alongside r&b romps and Afro-Cuban rhythms). For all the changes of style however, Fonseca’s new songs have an all-round muscularity that was perhaps missing previously. If the playing on Zamazu sounded slightly careful at times, right through Akokan, Fonseca and the band seem to be straining at the leash, as on the furious groove of ‘Lento y Despacio’.
And what a band it is. Drummer Rams?©s Rodriguez, who almost matches Fonseca for virtuosity if you see the band live, provides a firm rhythmic base while reeds-man Javier Zalba supports Fonseca’s own memorable soloing.
Fonseca also invites guests to record with the band, as he did on Zamazu. ‘Siete Potencias’ features Mayra Andrade in a lovely, lilting melody for which the Cape Verdean singer penned the lyrics (and serves as a clear a reminder that Fonseca cut his teeth accompanying great singers). Less successful however, is Venezuelan singer and guitarist Raul Mid??n’s crooning on ‘Everybody Deserves a Second Chance’.
Perhaps it is telling that Fonseca’s guests on Akokan are young world music stars when Buena Vista stalwarts like Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo contributed to Zamazu. While there is no doubt where Fonseca’s heritage lies, the man stands in nobody’s shadow.