Each recording by Cuban pianist and composer Alfredo Rodríguez tells a story. His albums are not collections of musical pieces but tales told in a distinctive voice, with a distinct point of view and purpose. His 2011 debut, Sounds of Space, served as an introduction, as a way of saying “here are the people, the places, and the sounds that have surrounded me and made me who I am,” he explained then. In The Invasion Parade, his 2014 follow-up, Rodríguez revisited various Cuban musical traditions, seen through the prism of time, distance, and his new personal and musical experiences.
Now, in Tocororo – his new album on Mack Avenue Records – Rodriguez’s story is represented by the national bird of Cuba. The Tocororo is a bird that if caged dies of sadness, reflecting not only the desire for liberty but the necessity of it. Beyond that, though, is the story of everything else the bird represents: freedom, travel, and cross-pollination. In Rodriguez’s case, it represents the cross pollination of his Cuban culture with all of the cultures he has experienced throughout his musical journey. “What I wanted to do in this recording was to open myself up to the world, while honoring my roots at the same time,” he says. Rodriguez did just that and assembled an international band, representing the unique cultures of Ibrahim Maalouf from Lebanon, the French-Cuban duo Ibeyi, Cameroonian vocalist and bassist, Richard Bona, flamenco style singer Antonio Lizana, and Indian vocalist Ganavya Doraiswamy.
It was in 2009 that Rodriguez made the move to Los Angeles from Cuba—taking just a suitcase filled with music, a sweater, and a pair of jeans—after performing privately for Quincy Jones at the home of the Montreux Jazz Festival’s founder and director, Claude Nobs. After hearing the young pianist play, Jones, who now produces and manages the pianist, helped him understand that like Cuba’s national bird, the Tocororo, he couldn’t be caged.
“It wasn’t that I would’ve given up on music if I stayed in Cuba—I definitely would’ve continued to do what I love, but it just wasn’t the right environment for my music to flourish. Just as the Tocororo needs room to fly, my music needed the platform and opportunity to be heard by more people than would otherwise have been touched if I stayed. Because of its many restrictions, Cuba was my cage and it didn’t allow me to spread my wings and do what I love on a larger scale.” – Alfredo Rodriguez