Freedom, creativity, experimentation, versatility are some of the words one can use to describe X Alfonso, for many, one of the most prominent contemporary Cuban artists, who defines his own musical work simply as “a translation of what I experience on a daily basis.”
An overview of his artistic career show his transition as a composer through alternative rock and the influence of electronic sounds, passing through ballads with elements of hip hop and pop with Afro-Cuban roots. Beyond songs and successful concerts, his creative universe is very wideranging, in areas such as film, theatre, contemporary dance and audiovisual production.
His initiative as a cultural promoter has also been important, resulting in the creation of the Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC), an institution that brings together the most diverse genres of today’s national culture. He has also received the title of Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) for his work with children.
Pianist, bassist, singer, arranger, composer and visual artist, the professional experience of X Alfonso (Havana, 1972), a graduate of the National School of Art, began in 1990 in the now legendary group Síntesis, a pioneer in an authentic fusion of Afro-Cuban ritual music with contemporary trends. It was founded and led by his parents, Carlos Alfonso and Ele Valdés, for which it is worth remembering the old saying “the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
Shortly afterwards, without leaving Síntesis, he went his own way, founding the rock and pop-rock group Havana, which left its mark on the alternative music scene of the 1990s, and from 2004 onwards he devoted himself to his personal projects.
With his work, X Alfonso wants to convey to people “all my thoughts, all the conclusions I reach, my messages and practically everything I live,” he tells CubaPLUS Magazine, and stresses that love is what inspires him most.
Among his albums, he has no favourites: “They are all children of different periods of my life and I love them all equally. There are periods of more youth or more maturity; less or more conscious, but they were all where they had to be.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, which put so many things on hold in the world, did not, however, slow down this artist’s creativity. After almost 10 years without releasing a record, he has released two very significant products: the double album Inside and Ancestros Sinfónico.
“In addition to having more time for the family, which is very important, in that period of tranquillity, when you are not running everywhere, you are more inspired, you compose more. It’s thanks to this that the two albums came out, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to make them.”
Inside, the first volume of which was included in the list of the 50 best albums of 2020 by National Public Radio in the United States, mixes electronic and Afro-Cuban influences, it experiments, soars.
“As the title says, it reflects everything I had inside, everything I wanted to say; the things I was missing. It is a very free album, in sound, style, mix... .”
Ancestros Sinfónico recreates an signature 1987 Síntesis record, using for the current version his parents and his sister Eme Alfonso, also a musician.
In the record notes, the National Music Prize winner Leo Brouwer, who collaborated on the work, expresses: “X brings us a musical-cultural interweaving (African chants, symphonic sonority, gospel choirs, batá drums, current compositional language) leading to a postmodern aesthetic. The result? Unsurpassable!.”
On his most recent project, the artist specifies: “This album is a gift for my parents, it is a tribute to their work, and a way of taking Afro-Cuban music to another level, to the symphony orchestra, which had never been done before.
It is a contribution to the repertoire of Afro-Cuban music written for large orchestra format.”
X Alfonso sees himself “a person who knows how to channel feelings into music.” His work has been recognised with various awards, but he prefers not to talk about it because he doesn’t work for that, he says.
“I’m not much one for enjoying awards, in fact they embarrass me, but there have been several important ones that have helped a little to open up the path in this difficult world, the world of art.”
Among the numerous awards he has received are nominations for Best rap/hip hop album, Best producer of the year and Best recording at the 2002 Latin Grammy Awards for his album X Moré, homenaje; the 2005 Cubadisco Grand Prize for Civilización; the 2006 Spanish Music Award in the Latin Revelation category; the 2008 Cubadisco Award for Best fusion album and Best video clip for Revoluxion.
His compositions for other artistic genres have won awards such as Best Soundtrack at the New Latin American Film Festival in Havana in 1990, written with Carlos Alfonso for the film María Antonia; the 2003 Cubadisco Award for Best Soundtrack for a Dance Work, for Delirium Tremens, and, in Spain, the 2005 Goya Award for Best Original Music for the film Habana Blues, which also received the Medal for Best Music from the Círculo de Escritores Cinematográficos (Film Writers’ Circle).
Among X Alfonso’s projects for the rest of the year is to bring Ancestros... to the stage and a great Inside concert, a multimedia show, very interactive, reflecting all the energy of this album through music, dance performance... a superb and unique show.