It’s a multi-generational tribute led by Arturo O´Farrill and Chucho Valdés – their sons, major figures in their own right – but also featuring the next generation, including pianist Leyanis Valdés, drummer Jessie Valdés, trumpeter Adam O´Farrill and drummer Zack O´Farrill.
In keeping with the theme of Familia, sitarist Anoushka Shankar, daughter of the great Ravi Shankar, is featured playing “Raja Ram,” a piece by executive and artistic producer Kabir Sehgal, inspired by memories of his father.
Scheduled for September 15 release on Motéma Music, the 12-tracks presented in two discs, one featuring the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, the other the Third Generation Ensemble, are a mix of classics by Bebo (“Ecuación” and “Con Poco Coco,”) and Chico (“Pura Emoción” and “Pianitis”) as well as originals by their sons and grandsons. The project was recorded in the studio immediately following sold-out live performances of the material as part of O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Alliance performance series at New York’s Symphony Space in January 2017.
“I love that the name of the record is Familia and that the cover features pictures of everybody, like a family album,” said Valdés. “I love it because beyond the musical considerations, this is a very emotional project.”
While recording this album, “there were at least two instances in which I literally had to hide in the bathroom to cry,” recalled Valdés. “The first one was when I heard the orchestra playing my dad’s “Ecuación” [originally written for Dizzy Gillespie in 1982 and orchestrated in 2004 for his “Suite Cubana”]; I remember he wrote that suite in pencil and copied all the parts by hand. And when Arturo’s orchestra started playing, the sound put me back at the Tropicana, when I was a kid and Bebo used to take me to the rehearsals – and I had to hide and cry because the emotion was overwhelming. I felt my dad in the room.” The other especially emotional moment happened when recording “Tema de Bebo,” a piece he included as “Bebo” in his 2013 album Border-Free.
“The recording session had a pinch-me feeling, watching two maestros make music at the highest level. This collaboration is a watershed moment not just for the music but for education in our country: how different generations can work, learn, and imagine with each other. The workplace is increasingly intergenerational, and this album shows us how to thrive,” said Sehgal, who also wrote the liner notes.
For O’Farrill, Familia suggests a deeply personal follow up to his latest album, Cuba: The Conversation Continues, which won “Best Instrumental Composition” GRAMMY® for the track “The Afro Latin Jazz Suite,” as well as winning a Latin GRAMMY® for “Best Latin Jazz Album.” It’s a conversation between Chico and Bebo, old friends and colleagues in Cuba, who once shared music and a profound mutual admiration, continued and expanded by other, familiar voices.
But Familia is also something else, he noted: It´s a celebration of the creative spirit.
“It’s important to me that Familia is not just a nostalgia project,” said O’Farrill. “It cannot be. Bebo and Chico were both forward-looking creators so, for us, it was important not just to recreate the music they left us, but to capture the zeal and vision they had for progress. They were innovators. They wrote music that was radical for their times.”
As a tribute to that spirit, consider O’Farrill’s own “Three Revolutions,” celebrating change and progress well beyond the mere political, or Zack O’Farrill’s adventurous “Gonki Gonki.”
Reflecting on the recent political climate as it relates to Familia, O’Farrill says, “It’s sad to see progress made by a family-oriented President be dismantled by a business-oriented one. Business teaches that it’s okay to lie, divide, manipulate and do whatever it takes to succeed. Familia stands as a challenge to those people who think mounds of glitter are what life is all about. We support the progress the United States has made with Cuba. Our restored diplomatic relations are a sign of recognition that familial obligations are more important than ideological or business obligations, and that the first order of business is to see those families as global.”
As for the recording sessions, “there were many unbelievable moments for me,” he said. “I have a photograph of Bebo and Chico standing together and looking very happy so when we first started the session I taped this photo on a very high boom stand. So Chucho and I had our backs to each other, and high up, between us, we had Bebo and Chico watching over the music.”
He recalled the recording of “Fathers, Mothers, Sons, Daughters,” for which, at one point, “We had everyone in the studio, Leyanis, Jessie, Zack, Adam, a group of young trumpet players from Cuba, the entire band and me and Chucho,” said Arturo. “I just took a moment to look at the assembled crowd and I had this overwhelming sense of accomplishment, and thinking of Chico and Bebo.”
Arturo “Chico” O´Farrill (October 28, 1921 – June 27, 2001) and Dionisio Ramón Emilio “Bebo” Valdés Amaro (October 9, 1918 – March 22, 2013) first worked together in Cuba at the fabled Tropicana Club. O´Farrill wrote arrangements for the house orchestra and Valdés was the house pianist. From there, their paths diverged widely. O´Farrill moved to New York in the late 40s, lived in Mexico City from 1955 to 1965, when he returned to Manhattan. Valdés left Cuba in self-exile in 1960, first to Mexico and then Europe, settling eventually in Stockholm. Both lived most of their lives as exiles and both unexpectedly found success again, performing and recording, in their winter days, but their paths did not cross again many times.
“A beautiful moment I recall with them was while touring in Spain with Chico in 1995,” said O’Farrill. “I believe we were in Madrid and Bebo came to see the band. And when they saw each other there were a lot of hugs and tears. It was very emotional, very powerful. There was a lot of love and respect between them. It was a beautiful thing to witness.”
As for the next generation, O’Farrill has played and recorded with his sons Zack and Adam from an early age, but for Valdés, this was the first time in the studio with Leyanis and Jessie.
“They already have recorded their first album, and theirs is a very different music. It has nothing to do with me or Bebo,” said Valdés, sounding like a proud dad. Meanwhile O´Farrill, spoke of how moved he was with the way the young guys carried themselves.
“Zack, Adam, Leyanis and Jessie are incredible musicians, and I keep thinking of how their music comes from their humanity,” he said. “We have pieces like the ones by Zack and Jessie and you can hear how the vision and spirit of our forefathers has been carried on by the generations that followed. I think Chico and Bebo would’ve been proud.”