For composer-pianist Chucho Valdés, his new suite, La Creación, represents a return to big-band sonorities, but “with the experience of the road traveled,” he says. “I felt I could return to this format now and with my own language, take it to a higher level than I had reached.” ’
The Latin jazz great calls La Creación (The Creation) the summation of his life work. “It represents the accumulation of all my experiences and everything I’ve learned in music,” says Valdés, who will perform the suite with his band in a Symphony Center Presents Jazz concert Oct. 18. “This is a moment of full maturity, personally and musically, and I feel prepared to do this work.”
Recently, Valdés sat down for an interview with grammy.com to discuss La Creación, which is an SCP co-commission and is being performed on a worldwide tour. Here is an excerpt:
Your new four-movement suite explores the story of the Creation, according to La Regla de Ocha, the Yoruba-based religion known as Santeria. Why was it important to you to explore this story?
I’ve been studying the roots of the Yoruban story for a long time, and the influence of it on the people of the Caribbean. First of all, it’s my roots. My family is of Yoruban descent, so it’s a part of our identity. I want to save the history and the instruments and the language of our culture.
Your Creation suite incorporates elements of ritual Santería music, West African music and the blues. What led you to combine those three specific elements?
African music and Latin music has so much to do with American music. All American music has an African influence, so I took all the elements of how this music was formed over time — especially the percussion, the melodies, and the singing. Music in the Caribbean and South America comes from the same roots, the African roots.
How is Santeria significant to you?
I am a Santero. It is my religion. In my family [there are] a lot of Santeros, so we know all the history and everything. It is a belief in the Yoruba gods.
Everyone who likes Santeria is not necessarily a Santero. A Santero receives the saints and does a ceremony to get in. Primarily, it teaches you that when you’re a good person and you help people out, it comes back to you and it makes you feel happy, and that’s what I feel.
In what ways does this suite differ from your previous works?
I wrote a suite a long time ago called The Black Mass, a Yoruba mass. It’s the story of an African ritual with singing, and bata [a double-headed drum] touches. Every saint has a bata touch. It’s the instrument you use to communicate with the saints, and all of the touches are different. Every touch tells a story.
The Creation explains how that music mixed with the Caribbean and how it evolved with the United States and the blues. In between The Black Mass and The Creation, there have been other pieces, like one called Juana 1600, about the first name the Spanish gave to Cuba, and the year that slaves got sent to Cuba. It’s significant because that’s where I find a lot of where I come from and my identity.
The Creation has an atmosphere in the style of Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew.” How so? What about that album inspired you?
I’m a huge fan of Miles Davis. I took the electronic elements of that album and put them in function of African rhythms to help it sound contemporary. This only happens in the first part, then it travels down different pathways. I just like the sonority, the sound that is achieved. It inspires me to make Afro-Cuban fusion.