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Exposure to different cultures is an essential asset to living life well. Pianist/Songwriter Alfredo Rodriguez is proving how vital and entertaining mixing cultures is with his latest incredible jazzy, funky, Latin based album CORAL WAY which was just released August 18, 2023. Making his mark in the music industry starting in 2012 with his first album SOUNDS OF SPACE, this extraordinarily talented musician not only created four more albums and performed numerous shows, but he also captured the attention of several other world renown artists, in addition to gaining well deserved, world-wide recognition. Now, Florida fans will be able to experience his incredible shows on October 4th in Boca Raton at the Boca Black Box Center for the Arts, October 5th in Cocoa Beach at Heidi’s Jazz Club, October 6th in Largo at the Central Park Performing Arts Center, and October 7th in Miami at the Dennis C. Moss Cultural Arts Center.

Catching up with Rodriguez prior to his U.S. stretch of the tour, he revealed some details about his new album, a couple of newly released singles, the show, his past experiences and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: Your album Coral Way was released in August and it’s amazing! What would you say inspired this album? Was there a theme?
Alfredo Rodriguez: Many things, but one of the most important things, it was that I made a move from Los Angeles to Miami. I’m living right now in Miami closer to my family which I was for almost fifteen years living in Los Angeles. The second thing was that I came here in a very rough moment because right away it was the COVID situation, so I was like everyone else, almost like one year and six months no playing, no going on tour, no on the stage. So, that was the second thing that inspired me also, and then I became a dad. So, I have a daughter of almost four years old. All of those things were kind of the inspiration, like the creating process of the album. I named the album Coral Way because I live on a street that is called Coral Way and that was where I exactly created all of this music. I composed all this music walking the streets of Coral Way. Walking the streets of Miami in this very rough moment and as you can hear, the music has a very positive vibe. Like a festive vibe. I always find myself even in tough moment, just looking for hope. Looking for a light. Even like sometimes we have rough moments and the light might not seem that close, but I always find myself going in the positive side instead of negative. This music, I composed it thinking of this moment right now that I was going to be going on tour again, seeing faces from all over the world and exchanges cultures. To embrace cultures and diversities in a moment that it was very rough. I couldn’t also see even my family and friends or anyone all over the world, which is what I’m used to. As you know, as an active musician, usually what we do is just traveling everywhere and playing our music. So, that was kind of like the inspiration behind the album.

SFL Music: What would you say inspired the latest single “El Llamado” and your collaboration with Cimafunk? How did that come about?
Rodriguez: Well, Cimafunk is making a lot of new waves of some music when it comes to Cuba in general. He’s one of the main acts right now. My opinion, he’s a really good musician to be a leader in our culture right now. I think he has a very good mix of Cuban traditional sounds, but with a very new approach, kind of like in a fresh and new way that no one from our country has done before. Obviously, he has incorporated elements like funk, and those things are not something that usually are music in Cuba. Here in the States, it’s something different because it’s not the same. We are an Island first of all, and we are isolated. So, when someone like Cimafunk started mixing our music with something like funk and all of that in a very positive and good way, and also everything that I hear of him, I like it. So, I was writing “El Llamado”. I was writing this song with a very funky vibe, and the first person that I thought about was Cimafunk. Then I didn’t know if he was gonna say yes or no, but I composed this song actually thinking about him. Then when I finished the song I said, you know what? I’m just gonna do it this way thinking that Cimafunk is gonna just jump in and do a collaboration. If he doesn’t do it, I will put it out. I will find a way, but I reached out and I said, I love your music, and he said he has been a follower for so many years. Definitely he wanted to be part of the collaboration, so it was very easy to be honest. We just did it (he laughed) and that’s it. As I said before, I wrote this song thinking about him, so I knew that I wanted to incorporate elements like funk mixed with traditional elements from Cuba like cha-cha-cha or danzón because usually, right now when it comes to Latin music, you hear a little more of reggaeton and things like that, but in our country, also reggaeton is very powerful. So, these types of sounds that are more related to something like Buena Vista Social Club when it comes to cha-cha-cha or danzón or bolero. Those are kind of like genres that have been in the shadows for so long now, and that’s why he’s doing really good, and that’s what I wanted to do with this song is like mix a very fresh sound, what is happening in the world, but also just keeping the roots alive and just have those elements as well in our song.

SFL Music: You definitely can hear that, and what about your collaboration with Alana Sinkëy on “Fidju di Lua”?
Rodriguez: Alana, I met her in Europe. Alana lives in Europe. She’s from Bissau, but she’s based in Madrid in Spain. So, I’ve heard of her music and I fell in love with the sound of her voice and I said, I need to do a collaboration with Alana. I need to figure it out. When I did “Fidju di Lua” like an instrumental demo, I didn’t even know if that was going to be a song that was going to have lyrics, to be honest. Then we just went and recorded. For some reason, I felt that Alana could just jump in and just do something there. I sent the demo to her and she said, “you know what? I can write lyrics for this song in Portuguese and also in Creole, my own traditional language.” I said, you know what? Let’s just do it and we went to the studio, that’s what she was doing, and that was also a continuous and easy collaboration. I think that’s what this is all about. At least that’s the way that I want to think about the world in general. I think we should be as I said in the beginning, embracing cultures. The whole album has been kind of like a continuation because I have collaborated with musicians from many countries. Bulgaria, France, Lebanon, obviously, United States. Many great musicians from India. Many great musicians from all over the world. Alana has that Portuguese, African vibe that I want. I’ve always liked my music. I come from a country that we have a very, very strong tradition from African music. So, for some reason, I feel very attached always to musicians who have that African vibe in a way, and Alana has that. Cimafunk has it like more in a Cuban way, but also, he has it. So again, it was very easy to collaborate. These two collaborations were spectacular for myself. I’ve been learning so much from them and that’s why I get so excited about recording a new album or going to the studio, is because I’m going to be able to meet new people like them and learn as much as I can from their culture, their experiences and we become friends. We keep going, collaborating, and that is something that is priceless.

SFL Music: You also did the Montreux Jazz Festival where you met Quincy Jones and he invited you to work with him in the United States. How would you say he influenced you and your music?
Rodriguez: I met Quincy when I was twenty-one. No, maybe even younger like twenty or something like that, and now I’m thirty-seven. I’ve been working with Quincy for more than fifteen years. For a young musician like myself, being able not only to call Quincy as a mentor and as a producer of my previous five albums. This is my sixth album and this one I just said, you know what? I just want to do it alone. I’m gonna be the producer for the first time. The other ones always have been done by Quincy. I don’t even know what words that I can find in order to stress my gratitude and how thankful I am, not only with Quincy, with life that put me in this position that I could spend more than fifteen years of my life with the biggest producer. One of the legacies of music of all time, in my humble opinion. Quincy’s someone who has discovered so many new young musicians, talents and he’s someone who has been touring in the music business so much. I mean, he is someone who, you know the collaborations with Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, and then Michael Jackson. He has done everything. When it comes to movies, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, everything he has done. “We Are the World” (he laughed). What can I say? Quincy’s everything because in the music business, in my opinion, he has changed music so many times. I don’t even know what to say. It’s like Quincy is definitely my biggest influence and when he said to me, “I’ll work with you. I want people to know you and I want people to know you in the whole world, and just want to be your mentor and producer.” That’s gonna stay with me forever. Those moments are the ones who really stay with us as human beings and that’s the most important to me. Not even like the other things that come when you are with someone like Quincy, that it opened so many doors and that’s so important for a musician because we need to be heard in order for people to get to us, and we need truth. Definitely being close to someone like Quincy is such a big tool that we can use in order for me to get to people, but still, that’s not the most important for me at all. For me, the most important was those intimate moments that I really know what they are. You know, just being with Quincy at the studio at four in the morning, almost every day. When I got to the States for example. I can tell you something. When I got to the States, I was more than one year just almost seeing Quincy every day because we had the office and the studio at Quincy’s house, and I used to go to Quincy’s every day. Every day just to collaborate. Just to record. Just to do a new project. You name it. So again, it’s like a grandfather for me. Quincy is my family. So, again I’ve been talking all about Quincy, but it’s true is what I’m saying. It’s something more personal than only like a producer/artist situation. Definitely more.

SFL Music: I love the story about when you were young and you painted the keys of a piano on your parent’s table because you didn’t have a piano.
Rodriguez: Yeah.

SFL Music: What influenced you to be a pianist? A musician?
Rodriguez: Well first of all, my dad is a very, extremely famous singer from Cuba. He didn’t make a big career outside of Cuba, but he was to be honest with you, he’s someone like Elvis Presley in Cuba. Very, extremely famous. You talk to anyone; everyone knows my dad when it comes to music. Very, very different than my music though. It’s like very pop and very, I don’t how to say it. A rockstar in Cuba. My dad is that. So, I grew up with that even though he wasn’t like a trained musician. He didn’t go to school. My grandparents didn’t have money before revolution. My dad couldn’t go to like a school of music even though he wanted to do it, but he became very famous because he put songs out, people started singing, he made so many hits. So, I grew up with my dad, his musicians in a musical environment even though we don’t have anyone else in the family who’s a musician or even an artist, but my dad was my influence when it comes to this, and I remember something. My family always tell me, every time I went to the rehearsals with my dad, I was always trying to imitate the drums. I wanted to be a drummer at first, actually. So, the musicians told my dad, “Hey Alfredo has some interest in drums. He’s always next to the drummer. Just bring him to the Classical School of Music Havana. That was what my dad and my mom did. They brought me to the School of Music Havana. Then I started, I was seven years old playing piano. I had to choose piano because in order to start with drums, you had to be ten years old. So, I went early to school and I said to my dad, I’m just going to start with piano and then I’m gonna change when I am ten years old, but it never happened. I’d fallen in love with the sound of the piano and I didn’t want to change anymore when I was ten. So, here I am just playing the piano, trying to be a percussionist while I play the piano (he laughed).

SFL Music: Well, you have a Grammy Nomination for “Guantanamera” (from The Invasion Parade LP released in 2014) and you collaborated on the English version of the theme song for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. What would you recommend to a new musician?
Rodriguez: For me, music is like a necessity. Let’s put it this way. Music is like water for me. It’s something that I need in order to be alive. I know that as a matter of fact. I’ve been in many situations that are not related to work. You know, like ups and downs, and I know that I always go back to the piano. Me and the piano, we only know that relationship. This is something that no one knows about. People know the Alfredo Rodriguez career. Alfredo Rodriguez who is a musician and also part of the music business, but no one really knows the intimate situation between the piano and myself. How we have been carrying on each other for so many years no matter what. So, what I’m saying with this is that I do music not because I want to become famous. Not because I want to make money. Obviously, this is a business. We live in a society and I have a family. I obviously want to get better and I try to do it as best as I can for my business as well, but that being said, I don’t do music because I only want to have money or something like that. That’s not the situation. I have done the same for one person, for myself, for people listening to me, and it’s the same all the time. I do it because it’s a passion. It’s something that as I said from the beginning, it’s something that I have to have every day in my life in order to keep living because I know if I don’t have it, I would die. That being said, not everyone is the same. Not everyone has the same passion for it. Even though I feel that music is something that everyone should try at some point in their life. It gives you so much beautifulness. I know that isn’t the word, but it gives you, I don’t know. Quincy always said that music would be the last thing to last in the world. He might be right. It’s something that really cured the soul of people and I feel that everyone should try it. Now, if you are asking me about professional musicians, then I would have to say something similar to what I am saying. You really have to love this career. You really have to be completely sure that this is what you want to do because, I’m being brutely honest with you because this career is very difficult. It’s something that sometimes is not that comfortable when it comes to the business. When it comes to people coming to you and telling you that they changed their life, and they’re crying or they’re laughing or they are dancing. That’s the best moment that a musician can have is that you changed the life of people. People get inspired and motivated by you, but the business side, isn’t that easy side because if you are a doctor and you go to surgery situation and you do it wrong, usually you are not going to have opportunity again, or they might give you opportunity, but only couple of times. If you are a basketball player or a soccer player and they put you on the field and you don’t do it right. You don’t know how to run, you don’t know how to score, they might put you on the bench. They might give you an opportunity, but you don’t have many opportunities, but now we talk about music. We talk about art. I feel that the main artists that are the leaders of music in the whole world are usually, usually people who don’t really love music in this way. They are people who usually think about money or marketing. So, that’s why I’m only saying I would recommend that if you want to be a professional musician, music should be something that is really your passion. Not only because you want to just copy or something like that. You are completely confused. You might not get there and you might be frustrated and you are going to be suffering a lot. So, I’m being brutally honest. I’m sorry, but I have to be myself. I have to send the actual message. I know, like all of these lies that we always tell each other in interviews and all of that. Music is so beautiful, It’s the most beautiful thing in the world, and the music business isn’t like that to be honest. So, again, it is what it is, and for me, I will keep doing it for the specific reason that I mentioned before. I’m so excited about so many musicians that I admire so much, in all genres by the way. Pop, or reggaeton or hip hop. I love those. What I feel is, like sometimes in the music business, everyone that gets the promotion, everyone that gets the marketing, everyone that gets the money behind, usually are not the real artists that really in my opinion, put the effort for something that it will last forever. It’s usually what is trending right now and that’s supposed to be the cool. For me to be cool, it’s not just to be trending today and just to dress in a certain way. No for me, there are so many things that are more important to call someone cool. We name cool people in the music business because so many things, but not because music today, and I’m very upset about that when it comes to music business.

SFL Music: Are there any new videos coming out?
Rodriguez: People can follow me on my social media. That’s something that I always do on my social media. I’m very active on social media. I just created these small clips, very fast, that I do at sound checks or at home. Very fortunately for me, many of my videos, they become viral. I have like millions of views in many of my videos. I will say, I have like ten videos that have become viral with millions of views with me playing at soundcheck and things like that. So, social media has been something very important in my career because it has given me the independent situation that I can promote shows myself and I can reach out to others myself, not only waiting for someone to help you. So, it’s something important for me also. When you were asking for what should I say to a young musician or something. Well, I would say something like this. I have many friends, young musicians that they didn’t have a record label behind. They didn’t have a booking agent or something like that, and they started making their career only sharing videos on social media. They get the attention, and then those other companies and people come to you because the attention that you are already creating for yourself as an independent entrepreneur artist. So, that would be something that I would encourage all young musicians if they want to do it because it’s the only way that you can do it really right now in this world of music that has changed so much. It’s the only way that you can really get support from people.

SFL Music: That’s good advice. What can fans look forward to with the new show?
Rodriguez: Touring has always been like a family situation for me. There are first of all, many Cubans here in Florida and obviously many Latinos also in Florida. Every time that I have played a show here, it has been a very love situation with me when it comes to tickets and everything. Florida has always been good. I cannot wait to see people in Florida again. The show in Miami, it sold out, but we will have more shows in Miami coming soon. We still have that show in Largo Florida and also in Cocoa Beach. I cannot wait to see everyone and not only in Florida. The States is a country that have welcomed me. I came here in 2009 as an immigrant asking for political asylum, and I feel very honored today to say that I am a Cuban and also, I am an American. I feel very honored of being part of this country which is still that we have so many things to change and to work on which I definitely agree, but from what I have lived in my life. I come from a country that we have a dictatorship in my country. We have been isolated in so many ways for example, I haven’t been able to play in my own country only because I defected. Just so you know the situation of the country that I come from. I have to apply for a visa in order to go to my own country. I left Cuba in 2009, and since then as I mentioned before, I haven’t been able to play. They actually, it’s like a ban that they put on people sometimes like me, which I am completely free to do anything, to say I like this or that, but I’m not even like one of those people who are always talking about politics or saying things really bad about Cuba. In this country, we are free to say, I am a democrat; I am a republican. I can say anything I want here. It’s a freedom of speech. We don’t even have freedom to speech in Cuba. Going back to the first part of the answer, in the States we have many problems. I’ve been able to also travel more than eighty countries playing my own music, so I know a little bit also of what the world is when it comes to these types of things. I still feel that the States, if it’s not the first one, it’s one of the best countries in order to live, even though we have so many difficulties. It’s for me, the best one. So, go back my situation, I’m so proud to be an American and also a Cuban and I cannot wait to play in this beautiful country my next album, since the States have given me new opportunity in my life to be free that I didn’t have in my own country.

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