Here’s a sample:
LJC: You guys put together Irakere with members of the Orquesta; how did the idea for Irakere come about?
PDR: It was Chucho, Emilio, Carlos, and Oscar Valdes, the singer/percussionist – they wanted to put a group together to travel. It was very simple! We didn’t know that we were going to have such an impact in jazz and Latin music around the world. We were just working to do something good. The first group was Jorge Varona on the trumpet and me playing the baritone and my curved soprano.
The first piece that we recorded was “Bacalao Con Pan,” and that was an instant success. We didn’t really expect it to be such a success. Oscar had never been a singer before; he had a very good voice, but he was never a singer. So Chucho encouraged him to sing, and it was a success.
LJC: I’ve heard that there was an effort to hide jazz in Cuban music through Irakere; was there that intention to make it a jazz group?
PDR: The idea was to hide the word jazz as much as possible, which is not an easy task, especially when all the players are jazz musicians. The idea was to hide it, like, don’t mention the word jazz here – don’t tell and don’t ask! We discovered this before the American government – don’t tell, don’t ask!
LJC: Was there a lot of government intervention?
PDR: From some people. Some people in the government would say, “They are jazz players! They want to play the role like they’re not jazz players, but they are.” It was an accusation! For them, it was kind of like saying, “They are cocaine dealers!” Chucho denied it; he would say, “We are not playing jazz, we are playing contemporary Afro-Cuban music.”