“If you’re doing something like creating music, it’s impossible to be caged or music will die.” – We chat to piano virtuoso Alfredo Rodriguez

Alfredo Rodriguez is a piano virtuoso from Cuba who seamlessly marries his homeland flavours with his classical training and the influences of the people and places he’s visited across the globe.

This month Rodriguez will head to our fine land for the first time. His mission: to sample our culture and music, while blessing us all with his musical gift.
Championed by the man himself: Quincy Jones, it’s hard to imagine that the guy’s not 100% legit. He lives and breathes music and cannot remember a time when he didn’t. “I think it was something that I had in me, what I remember and what my parents have told me is that every time there was music in my home, I used to imitate whatever was happening or dance.
“At first I wanted to be a drummer, not a pianist. I remember imitating drums all the time. When I was listening to music, I would get pencils and pillows and anything I had close to myself and try to imitate the rhythms that I was hearing.” The piano finally winning him over as his parents could see his budding potential. “I think they thought that I had a talent for that, so they brought me to the classical school of music in Havana.
“Since seven years old I started playing classical music; Johan Sabastian Bach, Mozart and you name it – all the classical composers and that was a little bit how it started. At the school I’d always been involved with music but rigorously I started playing classical music at seven-years-old.”
While he was busy with the classics – laying the solid foundation for the musical masterpieces he now imparts on his audience – a change was coming. Little did he know that a CD randomly acquired from his uncle would change everything he thought about music and its possibilities. “When I was 13 years old my uncle was moving to a new apartment, it was completely empty but there was one CD.
“That CD was the Köln concert from Keith Jarrett, he gave it to me and said ‘I know you are into music and piano and someone left this in my new apartment, it was the only thing that they left.’ That CD changed my life. I didn’t know much about piano improvisation in that way until then.”
 Since then Rodriguez has traversed the globe in search of inspiration – which he has found a-plenty – and continues to hone his skills. “Since that moment I’ve been discovering improvisation every day and the beautiful thing is that it’s an endless process because we all improvise in order to keep living. We have to be inventive and creative and we have to follow our intuition.  That is basically what I do with my music, I play what I live.” he says.
His album Tocororo is named after Cuba’s national bird. The bird has an interesting story and one that Rodriguez can relate to. “I feel very connected to the bird because if it’s caged it dies, and I feel music and my story is related to that way of thinking. “If you’re doing something like creating music, it’s impossible to be caged or music will die.”
This sentiment he explains as being a catalyst for his migration to the United States from Mexico in 2009, alongside the difficult plight of being a young musician in Cuba. Interested in incorporating as many international flavours into the album, he explains being particularly drawn to each.
“I have had the honour to collaborate with many artists in many parts of the world. We are many birds in this album, they also have something in common with my story as well. Living in different countries and expressing themselves with music. To do what we have to do, crossing borders and trying not to put boundaries in our stories.
 “We’re human beings even though we might be from different countries and don’t know each other. I feel like stories like mine happen every day in a lot of different places. People following their dreams and fighting what they feel is right. Which in my music and my opinion is a peaceful message and a message of union – of being positive in life and trying to find happiness. In my situation I found it through music.”
By Asha Collins

Alfredo Rodriguez will perform at Bird’s Basement from Tuesday March 14 until Thursday March 16.