Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra with guests recording at the Casa de la Cultura at Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, in May 2018. Courtesy Arturo O’Farrill.
There is a rich tradition of political and social activism in jazz, and in recent months it has taken on a distinct accent. Confronted by an administration that has attempted to sabotage the recently restored relations with Cuba; implemented brutal border enforcement tactics, and offered a callous response to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, several Latin artists have taken it upon themselves to push back, speaking out from the stage, but also through their recorded work.
None perhaps has been longer at it or has been more outspoken and ambitious in his proposals than pianist, composer, bandleader, and educator Arturo O’Farrill.
Recorded in Tijuana, San Diego, and New York City, O’Farrill’s latest work, the two-CD set Fandango at the Wall (Resilience Music) brings together musicians representing several countries and music traditions and is a moving and powerful statement on border walls — both the physical as well as the ideological.
“The irony of the situation is that the wall actually brought us together,” says O’Farrill who was actually born in Mexico of a Mexican mother, Guadalupe Valero, and a Cuban father, the Cuban arranger, composer, and bandleader Chico O’Farrill. He was five when the family relocated to New York City, where he has been living since. “So in point of fact, through his hatred and stupidity, this president is uniting the very people that he wants to divide.”