By Esther Animalu
Queens College alumnus and award-winning musical composer Arturo O’Farrill was awarded with his fourth Grammy at the 60th awards in January at Madison Square Garden.
O’Farrill won Best Instrumental Composition for his original work “Three Revolutions.” His album features a dynamic collaboration with Chucho Valdes, an Afro-Cuban Jazz musician.
“My fourth American Grammy made me very proud to win it for my mother. She had died a month before,” O’Farrill said in an interview with TimesLedger Newspapers. “I really wanted to win it for her. So many of my past fears have revolved around her aging and health. I really wanted to hold it up in the air and say, ‘This is for you, Mom.’”
“Three Revolutions” hones in on Cuba’s fight for freedom throughout the span of its existence. The biggest island in the Caribbean, Cuba’s historic battle toward freedom dates back to its colonization and imperialism under Spaniard rule, which ended in 1898.
O’Farrill aimed to grasp the resiliency of Cuba’s history through each progression of his album and shed light on the vitality behind his Cuban heritage.
“I was in Havana the day Fidel Castro died. It was heartbreaking because he was seen as a hero to all,” O’Farrill said about Nov. 25, 2016. “It felt like the death of a revolution. He greatly cultivated the progress of Cuba’s history.”
O’Farrill, a Mexican-born, Cuban-American musician, is known for incorporating his Latin roots into the many frameworks of his musical compositions. His Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra is his primary musical project. Every album it has released has been nominated or won a Grammy. He credits one of his Queens College professors, Sir Roland Hanna, for his success. He studied under Hanna at the Aaron Copland School of Music.
“He had very strong ideas about music and life lessons. I am eternally grateful to have worked with him,” O’Farrill said. “I still practice the techniques that he taught me and I owe Queens College gratitude towards my success.”
O’Farrill is the son of renowned Cuban Jazz composer Chico O’Farrill and Mexican singer Lupe Valero. Arturo was born in Mexico City in 1960 and moved to New York years later. With his early exposure to storied Jazz and Latin music, he became widely introduced to the diverse atmosphere of musical works, layout and rhythm.
“I fell in love with a record by Miles Davis, in particular. The improvisation by the pianist fueled my love for being a jazz musician,” he said. “I quickly became infatuated with playing music. It brought a lot of enjoyment into my heart and still continues to do so.”
O’Farrill is currently based in New York and engages in a variety of musical outreach programs and performances within the community.
“Arturo’s achievement serves as an enduring source of inspiration for past, present, and future students at Queens College, and further illustrates that the mentorship and training our students receive prepares them for the very highest level of success,” Queens College President Félix V. Matos Rodríguez said.
O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra perform weekly on Sunday nights at Birdland in Hell’s Kitchen. He routinely strives to showcase his musical talents while also combining Afro-Latin culture. O’Farrill and his compositions have helped revolutionized the music industry, so he’s often asked for advice on how to make it in the business..
“My message to upcoming young musicians is to love your craft,” he said. “Perfection takes time and diligence. In order to make it in this industry you must be passionate about your creative pieces. Loving your craft will help you to contribute to yourself as well as the world.”
Reach reporter Esther Animalu by e-mail at eanim