“There is a picture of Candido Camero in 1933, he’s 92 years old now and still playing like a kid, with a conga, a hi-hat and a pedal with a cowbell. And then came Walfredo de los Reyes Sr. the first one to integrate the congas and the drum kit. He played the congas with one hand and the drums with the other.”
Few in modern Cuban music advanced these ideas further than Enrique Plá, drummer for the fabled Afro-Cuban jazz-rock group Irakere.
“Enrique was my biggest influence,” Hernández says. “My father was very good friends with him, with all the musicians of Irakere actually, and I practically grew up backstage with Irakere. I was there since I was 3 years old. And I wanted to be Enrique Plá. When I saw him I knew that what I wanted to do. I never took any lessons with him, but I took every lesson I could by watching and listening.”
Hernández put those lessons to good use, catching the ear of many in the jazz world with Rubalcaba’s Proyecto, a high-energy fusion group. In 1990, while on a tour of Italy, Hernández asked for asylum. Denied a U.S. visa, he remained in Italy for three years. The day after finally arriving in the States, he flew to Miami to record the 40 Years of Cuban Jam Session with Paquito D’Rivera.
Italuba was born of a chance encounter on a return trip to Italy a few years later. He was expecting to do drumming workshops, but once there, he found announcements of a concert with his band — “except I didn’t have a band. I never ever had been a band leader.”
After a “disastrous” night jamming with local musicians, Hernández accepted an invitation to play in Turin. There, he met bassist Daniel Martinez, a fellow Cuban exile. “He’s almost 10 years younger than me and knew about me from my instructional videos,” Hernández says. “We talked, I told him about the problem of the commitments for a band that didn’t exist and he said he knew a great piano player and a trumpet player. He called them, we got together the next day and it was love at first sight.”
The group — with Amik Guerra on trumpet, Ivan Bridon on piano and Martinez on bass — went on to record two strong albums of Afro-Cuban jazz rock fusion. At the time they met, all but Hernández lived in Turin. These days only Martinez remains in Italy.
“The past two years we have all been very busy doing other projects. But we play every year in Europe,” Hernández says. “So this is going to be the rebirth of Italuba — in the United States, for the very first time.”