Gilles Peterson x Roberto Fonseca’s Havana Cultura @BarbicanCentre, London | Live Review

One of the few DJs on mainstream UK radio whose name is synonymous with unmitigated credibility, Gilles Peterson has deservedly earned his reputation as a tastemaker of some serious mettle. Having brought to wider attention hidden musical gems from Brazil and Africa, two years ago Peterson set his sights on Cuba having been invited to sample some of the exciting sounds courtesy of the island’s gifted young things.

The Havana Cultura project was born and what was at first meant to solely generate another compilation CD turned into something of a movement; this generation’s Buena Vista Social Club, perhaps.

Gilles brought a cross section of some of his ‘discoveries’ to the packed out Barbican Hall last Tuesday with virtuoso Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca [pictured below], in turn backed by a superlative band. Initially the venue appeared too formal and subdued for the kind of hip-swinging fayre manifest on stage. Nevertheless, thanks to the boundless energy of the artists and a very responsive crowd, the Barbican was to be set ablaze with Fonseca and co’s heady mix of the Tango, various other Afro-Latin rhythms, Jazz, Hip Hop and Funk.

The night was presented by Peterson, unassuming as ever behind his decks, making sure the focus was on the incredible talent that graced the stage. Gilles seems to be a rare example of a celebrated DJ not suffering from egomania.

Fonseca – looking dishy in his crisp white shirt and black trilby – displayed his immense skills with a gusto that had him frequently jumping up from his stool, thrashing away with abandon (Roberto started out as a drummer which might explain his especially percussive piano technique on occasion). Other times he sat more calmly, lost in an ecstatic musical daze, his nimble fingers flying over the keys as if they had a life of their own.

With the ability to transfix, Fonseca proves that it never gets old watching someone excel at their craft. The fantastic quality of all the musicians present, however, ensured that they were not left behind by Roberto. Their breathtaking stamina – particularly that of the percussionists – was put to full use on some of the more frenzied tracks.

Lead vocals were provided by newcomer Danay Suarez [pictured below]. It quickly became clear why Gilles was so excited about crossing paths with this Chica Bonita on his Cuban travels; Miss Suarez is quite a find. She possesses amazing vocal control, effortlessly singing lengthy phrases that would collapse the lungs of lesser singers. Yet she is no machine, completely losing herself to the mood of each song. Her comfortable stage presence also makes her riveting to watch.

Rap duo Ulises and Edrey aka Ogguere had us on our feet shaking our culos the way the beat demanded; demonstrating that Roberto, Gilles and the gang had sufficiently loosened us up as the night progressed. As it goes, the Cultura team give several nods of recognition to the international Hip Hop scene. Danay impressed us further with some quickfire Hispanophone raps and during the course of the evening, Fonseca and Peterson squeezed in a segment dedicated to J Dilla which opened teasingly with a brief interpretation of Slum Village’s ‘Fall in Love’.

The Cultura crew returned for a very generous encore, that commenced with a mysterious lachrymose number on which Danay’s heart-rending delivery made it the most mellow not to mention moving moment of the show. The ensemble then picked up the pace again ending the night on a sweet, danceable high. Very much an ideal way to spend a mid-summer evening.

Performers and Band members:
Gilles Peterson – DJ & vocals
Roberto Fonseca – Piano & Keyboard and vocals
Joel Hierrezuelo – Congas & vocals
Javier Zalba – Clarinet, flute & saxophone
Ramsés Rodríguez – Drums & timbales
Omar González – Double bass
Vince Vella – Percussion
Danay Suarez – Vocals
Jay Phelps – trumpet
Ogguere (Ulises and Edrey) – Rap/Vocals

Privacy Preference Center