New York-based Cuban pianist/composer Elio Villafranca will tour Australia in September. After selling-out his debut Sydney performances earlier this year, the Grammy-nominated artist returns to launch his new album Cinque with concerts scheduled for Sydney, Adelaide and Devonport. Hitting the Nexus Arts stage on Friday 7 September, it promises to an energetic and dazzeling performance.
Villafranca’s most ambitious album to date, garnering 4.5 stars from Downbeat Magazine, Cinque showcases the diversity of Congolese heritage in the five Caribbean islands; Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, The Dominican Republic, and Jamaica who were unified via the forced migration of Africans to the Americas.
The Congolese were amongst the largest cultural group brought to Cuba during the slave trade. Their impact on Cuban culture, and more specifically its music, was immense. On travelling to Haiti for research in 2015, Villafranca was exposed to the similarities between Cuban and Haitian culture. “I could see the connection not only in music but in the way we eat, the way we talk, move and dance. This album is a celebration of the shared tradition of the Congolese, and I hope Cinque brings listeners closer to Afro-Caribbean culture.”
For his debut Australian performances last April, Villafranca teamed up with Sydney-based ensemble Artquesta and Cuban dancer Adrian Medina. Medina will be joining him once again on this tour to demonstrate the intrinsic relationship between Cuban music and dance. “For Cubans everything is about rhythm. We use clave, or rhythmic keys to organise music and dance through time-based patterns”.
Classically trained in percussion and composition at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana before relocating to New York in 1995, Villafranca was raised in Western province of Pinar Del Rio. “I grew up listening to a very rare form of Afro-Cuban drumming derived from the Congolese called Tambor Yuka. It only exists now in the area which I am from. When I began studying, my teacher asked me to give up percussion. I resisted. To me this was like giving up who I was, my background, my life! Percussion makes up an important part of my composition, although most people today know me as a pianist”.
Villafranca’s latest offering, Cinque, places him at the forefront of the latest generation of remarkable Cuban composers making major creative contributions to the international development of Cuban jazz. Recently named as Downbeat’s 2018 Critics Poll Rising Star (keyboard), Villafranca’s trajectory began when his debut album Incantations/Encantaciones ranked amongst the Top 50 Albums of the Year (JazzTimes). Since then, the 2010 Grammy-nominated artist has received a multitude of accolades including; Jazz Corner’s Pianist of the Year (2008), BMI Jazz Guaranty Award (2008), NFA/Heineken Green Ribbon Master Artist Music Grant (2008) and Jazz at the Lincoln Centre’s Swing Award (2014).
Based in New York, Villafranca performs extensively nationally and internationally. He is currently a faculty member at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music and resident professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Elio Villafranca’s Cinque, Friday 7 September, 8:30pm.Â Nexus Arts Venue, Lion Arts Centre. Cnr North Terrace and Morphett Street, City. TICKETS $30 – $35