Roberto Fonseca

World Music Foundation Podcast | Season 1, Episode 14

Yesun, the name of the album, is a word I made up.”

About this Episode

Self-proclaimed “crazy, romantic musician”, Roberto Fonseca, speaks with John about his recently released 9th solo album, Yesun, along with the life experiences and musical training that have brought him to this point in his musical journey. Roberto is a GRAMMY nominated, Cuban pianist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer and bandleader, and on this album he experiments with a wide range of musical forms, from jazz and classical music to rap, funk, reggaeton and electronic music. Roberto also talks about his tenure with the Buena Vista Social Club and how traveling the world with these masters of traditional Cuban music forever changed his approach to music making.

(Intro Music Begins):

John Gardner: The World Music Foundation podcast is produced by the World Music Foundation. Our nonprofit mission is pretty simple: to open minds through music. We hope to bring cultures together through spotlighting great artists, like we are today. Roberto Fonseca is on the same mission. He’s representing Afro-Cuban music tradition around the world and he’s also, in several of his albums, traced back where this music originated from. He’s collaborated across cultures and across genres. His latest album, Yesun, is his ninth solo album. In this interview we primarily focus on that album as it of course represents Afro-Cuban music but as well Jazz, Classical music and Rap. But to understand this album, it’s important to understand what brought him to this point. 

Roberto’s life and musical training have brought him up to this point where he can make an album such as Yesun. We talk about the personal and musical impact that he felt touring the world with the wildly popular band, Buena Vista Social Club. We dive back to early memories on what set him on this course to become such an open-minded, unconventional musician. And, we dive into the back stories and compositions and musical elements of specific tracks in this album. 

I really enjoyed the album, I really enjoyed our conversation and hope you will as well. Let’s get into it now. 

(Interview Begins)

John Gardner: Hello, hello, and welcome again to the World Music Foundation Podcast. I’m your host, John Gardner, and today we speak with GRAMMY-nominated, Cuban pianist, composer, and bandleader, Roberto Fonseca.

Thank you so much for being with us today Roberto.

Roberto Fonseca: Well thank you. It’s my pleasure to be here.

John Gardner: So, we have listeners from all over the world. Clearly, you’re known all over the world, but for those who might not know you, or even those who do, how would you describe in your own words, who is Roberto Fonseca?

Roberto Fonseca: Describe myself? It’s like a crazy, romantic piano player. Or no, better, crazy, romantic musician. Yeah, that’s how I describe myself. I chose piano player because I really like compose, I really like produce, I really like to arrange, to make arrangements, so that’s why I’m saying musician. A crazy and romantic too.

John Gardner: The crazy you’re very confident about. And the romantic as well, so we’ll, I’m sure we’ll get more into that. So this is kind of your musical identity now. And you, your definition is much broader than a lot of people might say. I noticed Cuban wasn’t in there. Obviously it’s a big part of who you are, but you didn’t restrain yourself to only Cuban music, and like you said, you didn’t restrain yourself just to the piano. You’re into a lot of music. You produce, you arrange, a lot of things. We want to kind of take it way back. If you don’t mind. We love to hear how someone gets to the level that you’ve reached. You tour all over the world, you’ve collaborated with artists from many different genres and cultures, but how did it start with you? How did you get involved with music to begin with?

Roberto Fonseca: Well, first of all I have to say thanks to my family because they were the one who educated me and they was the one that put me to different type of music. When they put me through traditional Cuban music, afro-cuban music. My brothers they put me to a lot of soul, funky music, rock music, so I grow up with all of this with me. Then I started to study on the classical music school. So all of these elements, it was really important for me to understand and to know that many different type of music. And at the same time my family, the way that we was the musical ambiance that we had in the family. Who are really, we are really close family. My family take care about everything. So that was very important to, you know because when you have support, when you loved that’s important on life, you know? And then I grow up, I start to grow up and then I started to be interested in my own different type of music, and then to compose, and my family support me all the time. I was really lucky to, to play with good musicians. I was really lucky to play with good friends, and that’s create me the person I am now. For me, one of the most important thing is when you play with someone. First, have a good connection and the person away. You know? And then if you, or the guys want to musicians, that’s beautiful. Then who I am when I’ve started to compose, I don’t want to be a copy of someone else. I want to be original. I want to create my own song, and then I want to put the two worlds, the classical music and the european music passing through the afro-cuban and latin and cuban music. But never ever trying to copy. Of course, I have a lot of influence. I have influence of ChuChu Valdez, I have influence of Chick Corea, I have influence of Keith Jarrett. I have influence of Herbie Hancock like piano players. I have influence of Stevie Wonder. I have influence of Tupac or, you know? But all the time I’ve stayed on my way to be original, and trying to say something with my music, you know? And then trying to express myself with my music.

John Gardner: Yeah, that makes sense, and, and that must be kind of difficult in that respect because you, you’re striving to be, you want to be expressive in your individual way, but you’re coming from a very traditional music and your father himself was a, was a famous musician right? He was a drummer.

Roberto Fonseca: Yeah, my father was a drummer, but he give up because he wanted to, to take care about his family. My, my mom she’s still singing, and she was a dancer. I have two brothers, one’s called Jesus, who’s, he’s a piano player, and the other one is called, his name’s Emilio, he’s a drummer. To have all of these influences, it became a little difficult to where I will go. You know?

John Gardner: Yeah. I can imagine.

Roberto Fonseca: Or I will go to latin jazz, I will go into a latin jazz or are we going into a traditional cuban music, or are we going to a classical music, you know? But one day I decide, you know what? Why don’t I go to all the places. That’s why I’m saying that I’m crazy.

John Gardner: Yes, that’s quite an undertaking, and you have spanned many places, many genres. With that kind of a musical family, do you remember, what is your earliest memory of music?

Roberto Fonseca: Well, my earliest memory of music, I have bunches, but my favorite was that I was trying to create a drum with a, I don’t know how to say, the thing you put on the cars? The..

John Gardner: Which on the car?

Roberto Fonseca: The thing that you put on the car that roll? Like the (?) I don’t know. How can I call it.

John Gardner: Tires, right?

Roberto Fonseca: Yeah that’s it.

John Gardner: Ok, so the tires.

Roberto Fonseca: I was trying to make a, a drum for my brother of those things. The other one was when I was little, like in my first performance was horrible because I was supposed to sing with my Uncle. He was playing the guitar, but I didn’t want to sing it, you know? In front of my friends in the school. And there was crying. There was, yeah, it was a happy song. I was crying the whole song. And I spend the whole song crying, and crying and crying, but I never stopped the singing. I did the whole song, but crying/

John Gardner: Oh wow. It was a crying solo.

Roberto Fonseca: No, well, yeah that’s it. It was a crying solo. And then the first time that I was playing drums, was in my, in the school because that was the first band that I joined was playing drums. I was playing Beatles songs. I was like a Ringo Starr thing.

John Gardner: Do you still get afraid to play in front of crowds

Roberto Fonseca: No, no no.

John Gardner: Now it’s just natural for you. You came a long was since that first time.

Roberto Fonseca: Just, sometimes just a little, like a five second just ride before the concert. That’s normal, but then once I am be on the stage it’s done. It’s my thing.

John Gardner: Wow. That’s great. You mention that in your first band you were playing drums and you were playing Beatles songs. That might be the answer to, to my next question. I wanted to ask, do you remember the earliest memories of music from outside of your culture?

Roberto Fonseca: Yeah, I mean that was thanks to my brother. They pull me into a lot of different type of music outside of my culture because we are really near to the States. You know? We have the F.M. Through the F.M. I heard beautiful things and many different things. That’s why I want to be a universal musician. Because for me, it’s so fascinating to have all those colors of music, all those style, I mean. That’s, that’s, that’s like a new whole world, you know?

John Gardner: Because Cuba’s ninety miles off the coast of Florida you were able to pick up the F.M. radio stations?

Roberto Fonseca: Yeah, yeah we was lucky.

John Gardner: So, your latest album, Yesun?

Roberto Fonseca: Yes, yeah that’s right.

John Gardner: I know that you, again, collaborated with artists from different cultures, different genres, but there was another album that came before this. There was an album in, of course there’s been many this is your ninth album, but, but the one that I’m thinking of in 2013 that was nominated for a Grammy. It seemed to be an exploration of your cultural roots. It was called Yo. Meaning, well actually tell us what that means. Tell us what, what that album was about.

Roberto Fonseca: Ok. In that album I have this excuse today to make the album was on my previous album to that one, people were feeling the influence I have of african music. Because you know the way that I’m playing or composing or this kind of thing but not obvious. But then we decided to make an album to put more obvious of my african influence. That’s why we went to, we put like song in our song. A song that sounds really , like it really speak to you in Cuba and Africa. And that was beautiful for me. That was beautiful. It was so minimal, but at the same time it was powerful.

John Gardner: And, and then that album, was that the first time you worked with Fatoumata Diawara?

Roberto Fonseca: Yeah, we were almost finishing the album, we were thinking about something that’s missing, and then we both realized the female voice was missing. Then we say, okay. Now we need to find a unique, original, authentic, powerful and at the same time sensitive voice. And then our friends call and they say, you know what, this musician, she’s unique you will love her. And that’s it, we were just started to record and then we did (?) and it was beautiful and so powerful. Everything there. And from there we decided to talk again and to try and make collaboration, you know like a (?), to make a bridge between Cuba and Africa. And she agree, and then the interesting thing, on this project was that we create songs together. You know, and then it was 50/50 Cuban African band. There was musician from Africa. There was musician from Cuba. It was beautiful. It was beautiful. For me it was a beautiful experience. I learned a lot. I know that she learned a lot too. I mean, we had, we had a really good time with this. And the people was crazy with this project.

John Gardner: Yeah, oh I know. Musically I love what you came up with. I love that, that fusion, and it sounds 50/50 when you hear the music as well, so. Beautiful project.

Roberto Fonseca: Thank you.

John Gardner: So you toured for over a month, and then it culminated in “At Home” right? That’s the album you’re speaking of?

Roberto Fonseca: Yeah, yeah was the beginning of the album because the point is to say that any play, anything that we was playing would feel like home, you know? Even if she was playing cuban music or type of cuban music, she was feeling like at home. Or the same like me. I was playing like African, African music, you know? I was, I was feeling like home. Because something interesting happened was the Mali and Cuba that we have similar things. About rhythms, about melodies, and sometimes when we was playing some rhythm they say to us, that’s from Mali. And we say, no, no, no that’s from Cuba. And that’s the same happened to us. They were playing something from Mali, we say, but wait. That’s from Cuba. And they said, no, no, no that’s from Mali. So that’s why we call the project “At Home.”

John Gardner: Roberto, do you think, obviously you learned a lot about the music of Mali. Do you think you learned anything about the people of Mali? About the culture of Mali through the music? Or does it just stay on the…

Roberto Fonseca: No. No. I mean music has a big percent, but to really understand people you need to, to go there. You know? Because music is so open and is so personal, but human beings are really different, you know. So I’m lucky that I found, I will play with these beautiful persons, but I, to understand more Mali or the people of Mali you need to go there. And to spend like a, I don’t know how much time, but you need to spend time there. To hang out with them, to go out with them, to eat with them. That’s the best way. It’s the same with Cuba people, you know? Sometimes you need to go to the places to see how people are really.

John Gardner: That makes sense, yeah. And the same way with Cuba. A lot of people’s first introduction to Cuba, through music, was a project that- that you were involved with later on was the Buena Vista Social Club.

Roberto Fonseca: Yep.

John Gardner: Even yourself as a trained musician, what did you learn from being a part of Buena Vista Social Club?

Roberto Fonseca: That project, for me, was beautiful. Amazing. Incredible. The first time that I joined them, I was recording one of my albums, in the same studio, right?

John Gardner: Okay.

Roberto Fonseca: Then a friend of mine, he- he was playing with me to score, Javier Zalba, the saxophone player.

John Gardner: Hm.

Roberto Fonseca: He said to me, you know what? The Buena Vista needs a piano player for song record sessions.

John Gardner: Oh, wow.

Roberto Fonseca: And there I said to him, okay give me the paper and then I will- tomorrow we’ll go there. He said to me “No, no, no, no. Let me give you the paper there, because that’s the way that we record”. So normally, we would record a live session so they give you the paper right on the moment when we gonna- we gonna record, right? So, okay. Next day, record time I went there.

John Gardner: Mhm.

Roberto Fonseca: Then I opened the door. When I opened the door, I realized that it was Ibrahim Ferrer, there was “Cachaito” López. Now I can’t say a bad word because we’re on the radio-

John Gardner: Thank you

Roberto Fonseca: But I said I’m in trouble now. I became to be nervous, because for them that is normal, but I didn’t have that strength of the feeling of traditional Cuban music. I knew traditional Cuban music, but I didn’t have the spirit to play traditional Cuban music as much as they know to play.

John Gardner: Yeah, of course.

Roberto Fonseca: And then I was… pretending that I was like- uh- the brave one, you know? Who pretended like- oh hey I know this is my thing, you know?

John Gardner: Yeah.

Roberto Fonseca: And then they were starting to- to play one song that we were supposed to record. It was a song from- from Arsenio Rodrigues. It’s called “No Me Llores Mas”, where they have an incredible, amazing, crazy piano solo-

John Gardner: Oh. Wow.

Roberto Fonseca: -from Lili Martinez. The most incredible pianist of cuba.

John Gardner: Wow.

Roberto Fonseca: Okay, we never heard that piano solo. I was- um, we are in trouble. Um we were in real trouble and then I was starting to pray, and I say “Okay, God you are listening to me, don’t make it that they pull me that piano solo. Please. Don’t pull that piano solo to me because I’d- be horrible.

John Gardner: (Laughs) Yeah.

Roberto Fonseca: God listen to me. They need to pull the piano solo. (Laughs) They need to pull the piano solo. Okay, as soon as we finish the session I asked for all the cd’s to listen to them, and then I spend the whole night. The whole night just starting the style, you know? The next day I was in a bit- I was in a bit of- yeah, a condition, you know?

John Gardner: Yeah, yeah.

Roberto Fonseca: But then, I’m lucky because with them I learned how to play the real tradition of Cuban music. Sometimes some musicians played this type of music. And for business. And to make money, you know? But that was with them. I was leaving the tradition of Cuban Music. I was so lucky to be in the last school of traditional Cuban music. You know, sharing the stage, sharing the hotels, airplanes. Dinner, lunch, everything, them. It gives you like a sense of how they were living back on the period for when traditional Cuban music was so popular.

John Gardner: Yeah.

Roberto Fonseca: So that’s why I understood why they play like that. And at some point, Ibrahim Ferrer, the way he was singing, he was so pure, so simple, so transparent. And then he was like that out of the stage too.

John Gardner: Oh wow.
Roberto Fonseca: (?) so powerful, and then you know what? I want my music to sound like his singing. I want my music to sound like he’s in it. The same way with all of these artists. It was amazing. These guys, they are beautiful. I mean- I’m- I was so lucky. And I was the one who took the place of Ruben Gonzalez. But I’m- I’m not saying that I replaced him. Because his place, no one will replace him, you know? But I learned a lot watching him playing, all this for me was incredible. That’s an experience unique- a unique experience. And then I feel like I am the- the one who took all this energy, the one who learned everything and- that was me. Because I- I was the last piano player for Ibrahim Ferrer. I was the piano player who was playing after Ruben Gonzalez. I was the last piano player who was playing with Cachaito Lopez

John Gardner: It sounds like it and like you say, learning onstage and offstage from these legends that- that it’s priceless. You- you talk about traditional Cuban music and from people listening around the world, so many times with all cultural- with all music, we have what we think is Cuban music, or what we think is mariachi, or what we think is… some people just say even African Music. They just lump the entire continent into one music. What would you say is traditional Cuban music? Is it- When you say that are you thinking of Son Montuno? Or are you thinking-

Roberto Fonseca: Yes, when I’m saying that, I’m saying son montuno. And I’m saying danzon, and danzonete, and the same time it’s afrocuban music, but it’s traditional to the rumba thing. All this stuff, they are traditional cuban music because it’s all tradition.

John Gardner: How would you describe traditional cuban music to someone who’s never heard it before?

Roberto Fonseca: Okay. Traditional cuban music. In terms of music, or in terms of psychology?

John Gardner: You know, both. There’s so…

Roberto Fonseca: Wow. I’m in trouble now.

John Gardner: Just wrap up the entire history and psychology all in a couple minutes. No pressure. No pressure.

Roberto Fonseca: Okay, I’ll start with my psychology first. Okay. No pressure. Okay cool. Psychology way, it’s something that we start to listen, you don’t know how come, you will start to move your feet. Then you will not realize that you started to move your body to the son montuno. That’s in case you don’t understand the lyrics. In that case, at one point you will watch yourself, you will see yourself dancing like crazy with a lot of emotion inside of you. That’s what happens to you psychology way, you know? You will feel, like alive. You will feel like you’re born again. You will feel a lot of emotion. You will feel happy depend on the song. You will feel like crying, you’ll feel, mean. There’s many things in the psychology way, you know? Because this is something really unique. Who has the son montuno, for example, you know? Did you play a rumba or hambone, these kind of things you will feel the same thing. At one point you will feel like crazy dancing without knowing where that’s come from. Doesn’t matter if you cannot sing this. Doesn’t matter if you cannot sing it, doesn’t matter if you cannot dance, you will start to dance. You will start to move your body. That’s for sure. That’s the psychology way. Okay, and the musical way is so simple, but at the same time it’s so difficult. Because son montuno there are not many notes, but at the same time, the half the notes, the right notes. And how did you get to the right notes? That’s the most difficult part, you know? When Ibrahim Ferrer was singing, he wasn’t a great dancer, but the way he was moving on the stage was beautiful and people became crazy. I’m telling you, he was like a Michael Jackson on the stage. People became crazy. I’ve never ever ever before experienced so big of, I mean, reaction of audience like that.

John Gardner: Oh wow. Yeah.

Roberto Fonseca: Yeah, you know. And he was singing so simple. So sensitive, but at the same time so powerful. That, that’s happened not too many chords, not too many chords. The rhythm, the rhythm is very simple, but that’s the complicity of, that’s the difficult thing of the son montuno and the rumba thing.

John Gardner: Wow. Correct me if I’m wrong, I think there’s another component about the, the rhythms, which you say might be simple to you, but are very complicated to, to many. Clave, and that’s actually the title of you, the last track of your, your new album. What is clave?

Roberto Fonseca: Clave’s a pattern. Like a, the walking line of the bass on the blues or swing. The thing is very important for us or the rhythm for the swing or on the drums. It’s the same for us on percussion, the claves, you know? It’s like the beat, or the tempo of the song. That for us really simple because that’s, that’s like the way that you walk. The speed of the clave, that’s the way you walk, and the percussion rhythms, that’s the beat of your heart. And, and the bassline and the harmony that’s your spirit. You know, that’s the way you’re feeling your body. So this the harmony and the melody. The ambience that you have in your body. The health in your body. The percussion is the beat of your heart, and the clave is the, the way, the tempo that you’re walking.

John Gardner: What were you trying to express when you made that track in particular? A lot of your music, you’re communicating through the, the rhythms. A lot fo times there’s, there’s not vocals. Obviously you have a lot of tracks that have, that have vocals, but predominantly instrumental. Do you have in mind a sentiment, a message that you want to get across, or is it more of just a general, general concept for the composition?

Roberto Fonseca: No, just a message, you know. That music doesn’t have boundaries. And somethings sometimes somethings look really opposite, can be really connected, you know? That’s why I use the first part is a rumba thing, but then I put like a funky or hop-hop groove there, you know? And yeah, sounds really, for me, I know it’s my album, but for me it sounds really perfect. I was really happy about the connection between the two rhythms. When I started to play the funky or hip hop part of a rhythm, I continue to make the rumba or the hambone. Because hambone was the rhythm that I used there. So that, that makes perfect, you know? So that’s why I’m saying that, that music doesn’t have boundaries. And it’s a really simple song.

John Gardner: That’s, thank you for that explanation. That’s, and I know our audience will, will go out and listen to this album. Everybody should. It’s fantastic, but even things like that it’s such an insight for me because on that album I’m seeing the titles of each track, and I see Clave coming up and I’m, I’m thinking, “oh, this is going to be a very clear example of what clave is and very traditional, and then I hear these other concepts in there, and I hear the different styles of music. And now I see. Now it makes perfect sense, the connectivity between those different

Roberto Fonseca: Now, to everyone who’s asking you, now you can tell them.

John Gardner: Yeah. Like, oh yeah I know what I’m talking about, but (laughs)- I just got it directly from the creator. Another thing that- speaking of the titles of some of the tracks, we- we started this conversation by talking about who you are and we talked about Yo, which kind of explored the roots of that. We talked about your time with these- with these legends through Buena Vista Social Club. Your family, all these things that make who you are. But then, the track- second to last track on the album, is called No Soy de Esos. “I’m not of that”. What are you not of? What What did- what were you trying to communicate by that track?

Roberto Fonseca: Making the songs is easy, so for me I’m lucky. The melodies coming to my mind. Maybe that’s why- maybe that’s because I’ve been listening to a lot of music- different types of music when I was a child.

John Gardner: Mhm.

Roberto Fonseca: So, uh, maybe that’s why. But for me, the most difficult thing is to put a name to the song. Because when I’m doing something, for me it’s like a little film, this album because I want to say something. I’m of classical music school. I know how I can play piano.

John Gardner: Yeah.

Roberto Fonseca: I know that I can be fast on piano. I can be whatever I want on piano. Because I’m uh- I’m, right?

John Gardner: Mhm.

Roberto Fonseca: But for me, the music is to spread myself, so all my songs I want to do like a little movie. And that particular song, um-not one of those, it means that I- I went through a difficult situation. The one person I spoke to- that I would be only one way, you know? I was so shook. I was feeling so bad, because that person was really (?). And then I said, you know what, I am not one of those. So, I’m sorry, but I am not one of those, you know?

John Gardner: Wow.

Roberto Fonseca: Uh- at the same time, and music. The same scene. People expecting that we’re Cuban people. We’re Cuban musicians all the time we play, you know?

John Gardner: Yeah, yeah.

Roberto Fonseca: And the same time, I’m saying I am not one of those. I’m trying to- to- to be (?) while keeping original, you know?

John Gardner: Mhm.

Roberto Fonseca: That’s why I am saying I am not one of those.

John Gardner: That- That makes sense. Another- another song, you say the music flows through you, you come out with these ideas, and it could be just a name you- you put on the music after it came out. But I wonder, the fourth track on your latest album, (32:00)Yesun, is called Por Ti. Was that track for someone specifically?

Roberto Fonseca: Yeah, yeah. Por Ti does mean to assume that I would do for you all that I can. As long or how much I can do for you, I would do it. That was a song made for- for a person who is passing through a really difficult moment, but I was far away because I was touring. But at the same time, I was trying to- to support- I was trying to help that person. And the only thing that I can- That I can say, you know, is for you I would do everything you want. I would do everything that I can do to help you to feel better. You know, that’s why the song is minimal, is really simple. A small melody, but I think is really powerful.

John Gardner: Yes it is. It’s uh- it’s a heavy, heavy powerful feeling, and towards the end I feel a little bit though, of optimism.

Roberto Fonseca: Yeah. Cool.

John Gardner: Of this- this can work out, so…

Roberto Fonseca: Cool. Thank you.

John Gardner: That was just beautiful.

Roberto Fonseca: Good to hear that.

John Gardner: We’re talking now about- about your compositions, they’re- they’re so much a part of you, they’re so personal. The music flows through you. The comp- the arrangements a lot of times, it’s of you. What is it like on a track like Cadenas. The third track on the album. Where you have someone else come in, you have Danay Suarez comes in and she’s rapping. She’s putting lyrics to your composition. What is that like? Do you feel out of control that- what if this isn’t represented in a certain way, do you have input on what’s said? What does it feel like to have words put to your composition?

Roberto Fonseca: Sometimes words can go farther than melodies, you know? Sometimes poetry goes farther, and on this particular song, (?) really crosses the message that I’m saying. That only you, you are the one who can break the chains, you know?

John Gardner: Yeah.

Roberto Fonseca: of destiny, or you are the one who can change your life. So that’s why he’s very powerful in this song. At the same time, I realized that that he put. And I realized that- and I saw that the way he composed, the way she spread herself through music. And we are like brother and sister, too. So, that’s why I want to- I want to have her on this track, and you know what? This track- I made this track almost last minute on the recording session.

John Gardner: Oh, wow. Really?

Roberto Fonseca: Yeah, it was like the last really- the last one. I kept the last- last song. Because I want to say these things too. Then I talked to her- then I explained to her the track. And I know her, I know that she’s really good to making lyrics.

John Gardner: Mhm.

Roberto Fonseca: And it was really beautiful. You know, watching it was amazing, I’m really happy about this track. Actually, this is one of the tracks that we are playing on the promo because it is- First, it is the first time that I’m singing, on a recorded session like with lyrics. Second, it’s real different from my previous songs.

John Gardner: Mhm.

Roberto Fonseca: And the vibe- I mean the ambience is great- and- and I haven’t done either, yeah.

John Gardner: That’s a great one. It’s a great- great introduction to- to how this album is- it definitely seems- seems like it’s a next step in your music. It sounds like you’re- almost as if things have been leading up to this album, so it’s exciting.

Roberto Fonseca: Thank you. Yeah, for me it’s- it’s different. I’m saying this is a different album. I don’t know- I’ve been really happy about this album. I’m looking forward for the concerts, I’m looking forward for- for people- I hope that all everybody will enjoy this album.

John Gardner: That’s great. Is there anything about the album that you’d, you’d want us to talk about, you’d want our audience to know in particular that we haven’t spoken about?

Roberto Fonseca: I would tell what is the meaning of the Yesun word? So, Yesun is a mix of two words. That is an invented word that I made. They are two gods of water. (?) is the god of the sea. And (?) is the god of the river. That’s why I put these two words together, and that’s why the album is called yessun. Why? Because the water- without water we cannot exist. And me, without music, cannot exist. So, it’s as simple as that. I want to be like a- I want my music to be like a- like water, you know? That can go to every places.

John Gardner: Wow. That’s great, and I know with your album titles, sometimes I don’t know if it’s my limited spanish or if there’s- I remember looking at Abuuca and thinking what- what does this mean? Or ABUC.

Roberto Fonseca: Yeah.

John Gardner: Yeah, that one. I was looking at ABUC and like What does this mean? It was Cuba backwards, right?

Roberto Fonseca: (Laughs) Yeah, It’s Cuba backwards.

John Gardner: So, this album- that was great, my faulty spanish, I can’t figure this out- Same thing, I’m looking at Yessun. What does this mean? What is this word?

Roberto Fonseca: Yeah. You are not the only one, man. I’m telling you- a lot of people tell me- oh, this means- backwards too?. No,no,no, this is completely different. But this is very good, this is going to be really good.

John Gardner: So, where did this album name come from? I know- I know now, so it’s- that’s great thank you so much for explaining. Is there anything across your career that- maybe collaborations or different works that you’ve done that you think we should talk about? That the audience should know?

Roberto Fonseca: Um, no. I hope that we talk again. Soon, I mean, so next time we can talk about whatever you want.

John Gardner: Fantastic. Well then. I appreciate your time so much Roberto. What I want to do, if you don’t mind, we’ll end up here with just a lightning round. We’ll ask very simple questions, not much time for follow-up. So, we’ll start off nice and easy. What’s your favorite food?

Roberto Fonseca: Fries- French fries.

John Gardner: French fries! Great! Uh- what’s been on your mind lately?

Roberto Fonseca: Composing new songs.

John Gardner: Already! This one’s just come out and you’re already- you’re in the shed on the next one, huh?

Roberto Fonseca: Yeah, yeah, yeah. All the time that’s happening to me, you know? While the problem that I have- While the problem that I have. While I record an album, I have too many melodies, too many songs. They’re not difficult things to decide which songs I am gonna put inside the record.

John Gardner: That’s a good problem to have.

Roberto Fonseca: Yeah, big one.

John Gardner: Alright, so- so outside of music, do you have any hobbies? What do you do outside of music?

Roberto Fonseca: I like to walk. Yeah, I like fresh air because a lot of the time we are on the planes and the studios. I would choose to go out and see people. Have the fresh air. Yeah.

John Gardner: Okay, great. And last question. If you could ask the universe just one question and know the complete answer, you could ask one question and know the complete truth to the answer, what would be your one question to the universe?

Roberto Fonseca: Wow. That’s quite a difficult one. Are we human beings going to be saved? That’s my question.

John Gardner: That’s a big one. Wow. Fantastic. Thank you again- so much for your time. It’s really been a pleasure speaking and- and likewise I do hope it’s not the last time we speak.

Roberto Fonseca: Yeah. I hope it’s not the last time, yeah.

(Outro Music Plays):

John Gardner: I like that, that was fun getting to go deep on specific tracks. Highly recommend Yesun, it’s out now as of just a handful of weeks ago. It’s out on Mack Avenue records, you can get it of course anywhere. Wherever you get your music, you can listen to it streaming, of course Amazon. Any place you get physical records as well. If you enjoyed this episode, or any of our episodes, or actually if you hate them as well, love to hear from you! Our website is This episode can be found at, check it out, drop us a line. Until next time, remember to listen widely. Open ears equals open minds. We’ll catch you next time.

For The Extra Curious


Combining jazz sensibility and deep roots in the Afro-Cuban tradition, Yesun is the Havana-born artist’s ninth solo album. The record delves into the music of Fonseca’s homeland of Cuba while keeping its sights set firmly on the future, weaving in electronic beats, spoken word, retro-modern keyboards, Fonseca’s vocals and more.

“Yesun is the album I’ve always wanted to make,” says Fonseca of a record that combines everything from jazz and classical music to rap, funk, reggaeton and electronic music. “All my influences are here. All the sounds and vibes that make me who I am.”

Yesun is a trio album that finds Fonseca performing alongside longtime drummer Raúl Herrera & double bassist Yandy Martínez Rodriguez. Guests include Grammy-winning American saxophonist Joe Lovano, lauded French-Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, Grammy-nominated Cuban rapper/singer Danay Suárez, famed Cuban bolero diva Mercedes Cortés & a capella group Gema 4.       GET THE ALBUM HERE

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