Irakere is a Cuban band founded in Havana, 1973 by Armando de Sequeira Romeu, musical director and composer and Chucho Valdes, a pianist. The group uses a wide array of percussion instruments like Bata, Abacua and Arara. They combine the power of Cuban rhythms with a free-flowing expression of American jazz; they created a force that changed the course of Cuban popular music. Many of the top Cuban jazz musicians have played in Irakere during the past several decades, including altoist Paquito D'Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval (before both individually defected). Pianist Chucho Valdes has been the orchestra's longtime leader; its music ranges from Latin jazz and bop to Cuban folk melodies, with an emphasis on infectious rhythms and advanced improvisations. Several of Irakere's records have been made available domestically (including sets for Columbia and Jazz House,) however the exciting band was not able to visit the United States until 1996, thanks to a strained relationship between the governments of Cuba and the United States. Irakere were allowed to appear at the Newport Jazz Festival in the summer of 1978 where the group really made an impact on the audience. This appearance was to be followed by another crowd pleasing performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. One result of the fantastic performances was a recording contract with Columbia Records who released both ‘Irakere’ and ‘Irakere 2’ which both won awards at The Latin Grammy’s in 1979 and 1980. Unfortunately, Columbia Records later dropped Irakere from their label. However, the two performances they got to do did excel the bands popularity massively keeping them held in high esteem by their fans.
Irakere were extremely important to the rise of Cuban music. Prior to the explosion of Buena Vista Social Club they were the leading and best loved Cuban band on the international stage. The band has a cult following around the world obsessed with the genius musicianship and song-writing of these Cuban legends. Chucho Valdes is regarded as the greatest jazz pianist in Cuba and Arturo Sandoval is arguably the most prodigious trumpeter of his generation, both going on to great individual fame in the United States. The only change from the early recordings sees Paquito D’ Rivera replaced by the brilliant German Velazco Vrdeliz on sax, with many of the best Cuban musicians of the period remaining to deliver stunning performances for this fascinating session.
In 1980 Irakere recorded ‘Cuba Libre’ in Japan; it was composed, arranged and produced by the remarkable Japanese musician Chikara Ueda. Almost the entire original line up was in place including Chucho Valdes, Arturo Sandoval and Jorge Alfonso. It was released exclusively to Japan as a vinyl LP. However, in 2010 we re-issued the rare recordings describing it as a “vital 45 minutes in the history of Cuban music”. It is the last recording from the band and is extremely important also for that reason.