Irakere was formed as such in 1967 but had begun to work much earlier; in that year precisely they went to a selection called in Havana to organize with the best musicians of that time the Cuban Orchestra of Modern Music; already in 1972 they were approaching to what they currently produce deciding in 1973 to call it Irakere, which in Yoruba language means Vegetation and that is how, starting from its name, they work based on the Afro-Cuban musical roots.
In this way, through the combination, mixture and interrelation of classical, impressionism, jazz, rock and various compositional techniques they managed to walk through all styles such as dance music, concert, traditional and popular Cuban music.
Thanks to the impulse of pianist Chucho Valdés, the Cuban group Irakere took off in 1973, nourished by Thelonious Monk’s bop.
Grupo Irakere: It was founded in Havana in 1973, by:
Jesús Valdés(Chucho) composer, director and pianist;
Paquito D’Rivera (Paquito), alto and tenor saxophone, flute and clarinet;
Carlos Averhoff, tenor saxophone, soprano, flute and bass clarinet;
Jorge Varona, trumpet, trombone and percussion;
Carlos del Puerto, bass, bass guitar and tuba;
Carlos Emilio Morales, guitar;
Bernardo García, drums and batá drums;
Jorge Alfonso, batá drums;
Enrique Plá, drums;
Carlos Barbón, güiro, chekeré and tambourine; and
Oscar Valdés, singer, tumbadora (conga), batá drums and bongo.
On the founding of Irakere, Chucho Valdés expressed:
“For us the group always existed, it was present at all times; it was like something pending. At the beginning it had no name, it was just an idea we were working on: to use Cuban folkloric percussion in dance music, and to look for different timbres with a common characteristic: “ours”.
Then Oscar Valdés came up with the idea of combining the not easy and little known batá drum with the tumbadora, güiro and cowbell and so, step by step we arrived at the current group…”.
About Irakere’s first stage, the musicologist Leonardo Acosta points out: “one of the successes of Irakere had been not to try to invent and identify itself with a “new rhythm”, according to the old guidelines of advertising so much used from the forties to the sixties.
The slogan about the “new rhythm” was until recently the “open sesame” on which the musicians counted to become famous overnight, and by that way sometimes quite commercial results were achieved.
Apart from the fact that no “new rhythm” is so new, they all come from the alteration or amalgamation of pre-existing rhythms.
Irakere’s only alchemy comes from the spontaneous creativity of its members. Since there is no commercial endeavor, laboratory practices are unnecessary, and the group can perform a contradanza, a danzón, a son montuno or a cha cha chá without fear of seeming “old-fashioned”, since they are in fact playing something else at the same time. And without setting themselves the goal, nor having to invent a “pega” name, almost by an imperative of the material they are working on, new rhythmic combinations are emerging, to the point that Irakere’s rhythm is unmistakable among Cuban listeners or dancers.
Certainly, and in spite of their triumphs in international jazz festivals, Irakere is not a jazz group. But these successes are not gratuitous either, because as we have seen, they have formidable musicians with great experience in the jazz field, especially in the aspect of improvisation, the great discovery of jazz and perhaps its greatest contribution to the music of the 20th century.
“Paquito D’Rivera: Irakere was born against the will of the Cuban authorities”.
When talking about Cuban music, the name of one of the most emblematic groups in the country’s musical history comes to mind, Irakere, which in Yoruba language means vegetation, jungle.
Irakere became the seed that would germinate a lush forest of rhythms and sounds, a school through which many of the great stars of Cuban music have paraded.
Founded more than four decades ago, this legendary band has been a pioneer of Afro-Cuban jazz and the initiator of the musical revolution in the seventies.
Irakere emerged at a time when, due to political demands on the island, music and culture were treated as an instrument of revolutionary identification and jazz was branded as imperialist music.
It was at this time, in the late sixties and early seventies, that a group of great musicians founded a band whose main goal was to enrich Cuban popular dance music with Latin jazz as essential elements.
Under the direction of the outstanding pianist Jesús “Chucho” Valdés, excellent musicians came together in search of a different sonority, based on the use of Afro-Cuban folkloric percussion together with the renewed timbres of the popular rhythms of the time that fused jazz, rock, funk and popular Cuban rhythms such as son, mambo or cha cha chá, together with classical or concert music.
“Irakere was the Musical Generation of change”.