Ernesto Lecuona died 50 years ago today!

Ernesto Lecuona died 50 years ago after a long and very successful career as a composer:

“Ernesto Lecuona was the most important musician in Cuban musical life during the first half of the 20th century.

Born in Guanabacoa, a suburb of Havana, in 1895, Lecuona first established himself as an outstanding pianist, graduating from the National Conservatory with the Gold Medal in performance at the age of seventeen.

He went to New York City to concertize and there, in 1916, made his first public appearance outside of Havana. International success as a pianist occurred seven years later, once more in New York but, thanks to the huge success of pieces like Malaguena and Siboney, composition superceded pianism as Lecuona’s primary activity.

Still, Lecuona continued to actively tour and perform widely as pianist and conductor for most of his life

Among Lecuona’s many achievements were the founding of the Havana Symphony (with Gonzalo Roig), the Lecuona Cuban Boys Band, and La Orquesta de La Habana. Lecuona, also, wrote a great deal of film music in the ’30s and ’40s for such major studios as MGM, 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers; in 1942, he was nominated for an Academy Award.”

His songs were recorded by Trio Los Panchos, Beny More, Placido Domingo and many others.

He died in 1963 and is buried in New York.

Lecuona was the best!

“Que paciencia tiene la novia”: 80 years and a couple sing “Quiereme siempre” by Orquesta Aragon

This is a story that Fausta Wertz brought to our attention last week:

“An elderly Paraguayan couple have got married in a religious ceremony after living together for 80 years.

From his wheelchair, Jose Manuel Riella, 103, promised his eternal love to Martina Lopez, his 99-year-old bride, who wore a long white dress.

The wedding was held in the couple’s garden, where an altar had been set up.

The ceremony was attended by many of their eight children, 50 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren and 20 great-great-grandchildren.

The priest said they were the oldest newlyweds he had ever known.”

I guess that some guys just have a hard time asking for the lady’s hand.

Let’s wish Jose and Martina another 80 years of love and happiness.  Maybe they will “populate” another village!

At the same time, this is probably not what the authors of  “Quiereme siempre” had in mind:

“Siempre, (siempre), quiéreme siempre,
(quiéreme siempre) , tanto, (tanto)
como yo a ti (como yo a ti)
Nunca, nuca me olvides, dime, dime que si
Cuando, (cuando), beso tu boca, (beso tu boca),
nada (nada ), nada es mejor (nada es mejor)
Dame, dame tu vida, quiéreme siempre, dame tu amor,

Siempre, quiéreme siempre, tanto, como yo a ti
Nunca, nuca me olvides, dime, dime que si
Cuando, beso tu boca, nada, nada es mejor
Dame, dame tu vida, quiéreme siempre, dame tu amor, …Amor…”




Pres Obama: “Se te cayo el tabaco”

From time to time, we have to go to that philosopher of philosophers, the inimitable Beny More of Santa Isabel de la Lajas., a town near Cienfuegos and the likely inspiration for “El Santo de Tia Juliana”.

I think that Beny would be singing this about the collapsing political fortunes of President Obama:  “Se te cayo el tabaco, mi hermano, se te cayo!”.

Obama’s second term agenda has slowed to a crawl.   As we know, second term presidents have a short window to do something before they go “lame duck”.

How do you say “lame duck” in cubano?  The answer is “Se te cayo el tabaco”!

The real story is that the Obama agenda has gone off track and there are no signs that it will start moving again.

Senate Democrats killed gun control.  Climate change is not happening because there are too many Democrats who would rather keep jobs in their states than subscribe to theories that may or may not be true.

Immigration reform will be tough to get through Congress.  Foreign policy is as unpredictable as always.

And let’s not forget about the “roll-out problems” of ObamaCare.

Did anybody in this administration test the system?  Who got this huge contract and gave us this disaster of a roll-out?

To be fair, technical problems can be overcome if fixed quickly.

“Premium shock” in the Affordable Health Care Act will not be forgotten!

It looks more and more that the Affordable Health Care Act lowered premiums by increasing deductibles .  Most people will see through that, sign off and not come back!

What exactly is the Obama team looking forward to in the second of this term? Frankly, they don’t have much to cheer about.

We are likely to be in another fight in a couple of months, as Peter Baker reminded us.  After all, we just kicked the can a couple of months forward with the last deal.  We didn’t fix a single problem!

We are not going to have another “shutdown” but we will see a lot of that 2006 video of Senator Obama saying that raising the debt ceiling is a failure of leadership.

More importantly, can he lead? govern? get anything done?

I think that there is a growing sense in the land that President Obama is not capable of bringing people together or accomplishing things.

I smell a Carter and that’s an awful odor for any White House!

Ron Fourneir has a message for President Obama, and I hope that he reads the column:

“Okay, we get it: Obama is a winning politician. What’s in serious doubt is whether he will be remembered as a successful president.”

Well, he does not look like a very successful president!

Yes, Beny is right:  “Obama se te cayo el tabaco”!

Something about Syria that has nothing to do with bombs!

What a week for Syria.  We’ve gone from “ready to bomb” to a “congressional pause” to a “plan ruso” that no one understands.

It has also been a good two weeks to remember Barbarito Diez, the legendary Cuban singer who recorded so many of those “danzones” that our parents loved.

I bet that your parents fell in love dancing “danzon”.  I can say that mine did!

They spent a lot of Saturday nights dancing “danzon” at Parque Marti in Ciego de Avila.  (I mean “Ciego” when it was a town rather than a province)

In fact, it is very likely that my creation was inspired by one of those danzones in Ciego de Avila, Sagua la Grande or somewhere in between.  Very good chance of that!

Yes, I’ve been spending a little time listening to “La Mora”, the song about that “mora” in Syria who stole one guy’s heart.

Want to think of Syria without thinking about bombs, cruise missiles or President Obama?

Put Barbarito on the turntable or your CD player and enjoy “La mora”:

“Allá en la Siria hay una mora que tiene los ojos más lindos

que un lucero encantador¡

Ay Mora! Acábame de querer
no me martirices másque mi corazón está que se devora

por quererte tanto mora por quererte tanto mora

¿Cuándo volverá? la noche buena
¿cuándo volverá? el lechoncito
¿cuándo volverá? bien asadito
¿cuándo volverá? los rabanitos
¿cuándo volverá? las lechuguitas
¿cuándo volverá? ay los traguitos……”

Respecting or disrespecting historical fugures



Paying homage requires a synchronization of the organization presenting the award with the work of the person being honored. To do otherwise would be the selfish utilization of the achievements of historical figures for causes that they fought against or disagreed with while they were alive.

For example, it would be disingenuous for the United States Government to grant a posthumous award to Guerilla Leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara or to former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The hatred that both men had for the United States is well known and is well documented. Lamenting the outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Che indicated that “if the missiles had remained, we would have used them against the very heart of America including New York. We must never establish peaceful coexistence. In this struggle to the death between two systems we must gain the ultimate victory. We must walk the path of liberation even if it costs millions of atomic victims.” Similarly, Khrushchev told western diplomats in 1956, “Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you!” Americans who honor these two leaders ignore their own history, and what these men stood for.

2013 is a year that deserves paying homage to many historical figures. Let’s analyze whether the people receiving these recognitions or awards would be grateful to receive them if they were still alive.

January 28th marks the 160th anniversary of the birth of Cuban national hero José Martí. Through his writings and political activity, he became a symbol for Cuba’s bid for independence against Spain in the 19th century, and is referred to as the “Apostle of Cuban Independence.” Cuban officials have held multiple marches, parades, and concerts to honor Martí’s legacy in 2013. But, if Martí were alive today, he would be leading a revolution against the current Cuban Government which has oppressed the Cuban people for the last 54 years. Martí proclaimed once that “Like bones to the human body, the axle to the wheel, the wing to the bird, and the air to the wing, so is liberty the essence of life. Whatever is done without it is imperfect.” These honors would besmirch the legacy that Martí gave his life for.

April marks the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de León’s landing on Florida’s East Coast, and the first major landing by Europeans on the shores of what would become the continental United States. To honor and celebrate Florida’s rich Hispanic heritage, there will be many celebrations to honor this famous Spaniard. While recognizing that Florida’s cultural history goes back more than 12,000 years to the Native American groups that were its first discoverers, Spain’s claim to La Florida in 1513 marked an important milestone that began a new chapter in Florida’s unique history. Indeed, Ponce de León would be appreciative of all these recognitions.

And then we come to arguably the most important musician in Cuban history – Ernesto Lecuona. His compositions like “Malagueña” and “Siboney” have received worldwide recognition. In addition to more than 400 songs, he also created 176 piano pieces, 53 theater works (zarzuelas, operettas, theatrical revues and an opera), 31 orchestral scores, 6 pieces for piano and orchestra, 3 violin works, a trio, 5 ballets, 11 film scores and many incidental arrangements. Lecuona left his homeland in 1960, shortly after Fidel Castro rose to power in 1959. He made a vow in 1960 never to play piano again until Cuba was a free nation, and his will indicated that his remains be repatriated to Cuba only after the communist regime had run its course. This explains why he is buried in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York – after suffering a heart attack while visiting Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

It is precisely his will that explains why so many people have questioned the musical tribute that the Cuban musical group “Compay Segundo” has paid Lecuona’s music in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria during the first week of January 2013. Lecuona, like José Martí, wanted his homeland to be free. Cuba is no more free in 2013 than in 1959. On the 50th anniversary of his death, this Cuban ensemble disrepects the wishes of Lecuona.

Olga Diaz Plays Perpetual Motion by Rene Touzet

This is my first Mother’s Day without my Mom. What a surprise when I get this message in my email today from Ruth Ann Galatas who apparently had been working on a project with Rene Touzet before he died which featured his works including one played by my mom, Olga Diaz. So today on Mother’s Day, I got to hear her voice and her piano again. This also features an introduction my mom made on Touzet and on this particular piece. It’s not easy as you can imagine, and tomorrow, being my birthday, will be the first one in my life, that she did not sing my happy birthday first thing in the morning. So this email was very special to me today.

As an FYI, (and I’ll post more information in the next few days), there will be a Tribute Concert for my Mother on May 30, 2009 at 3:00pm at the Roca Theater (located in Belen School) with all proceeds to go to Regis House, which was one of my mom’s favorite charities. She was supposed to do a benefit for them this February, but sadly she had to leave us in December. So myself with pianist Robert Lozano have assembled a panoply of Cuban talent to stage a hell of a show playing all the works that my mom used to play and at the same time benefiting a great charity. I’ll post more on this, but keep that date open. I’d love to see everyone there. Very rarely will you get so much talent under one roof. It should not be missed.

To all the moms out there, have a great mother’s day. For those that still have their moms, enjoy them while you still have them.

Screw Cinco de Mayo. Ocho de Mayo is where it’s at.


Get a good dose of Rock + Roll with Cuban Soul on Friday, May 8th, 11 PM with Delexilio, at Crash Mansion, in SoHo/Lower East Side, 199 Bowery @ Spring.

$5 cover with RSVP to New York Underbelly, $10 without RSVP
(arrive before 11pm, FREE with RSVP, $5 without)

Visit the bands website:  Cuba Companioni did a great Blog Talk Radio show with Delexilio frontman Dave Sandoval.  Click here to listen.

Singing Of Cuba Without Ever Seeing it

Music is a great uniter. It requires no wealth to make, and is loved by rich and poor alike. It cracks class barriers and makes all races beautiful. In the most oppressed slave societies, music is all they have.
It unites because even if you don’t understand the language, can’t pronounce the name of the singer, wouldn’t know the instrument played, never heard the style … you can still fall utterly in love with it as your own.
That’s one reason why castro’s separation of Cuba from the world is so sad. While Cubans can never leave the island and its indigenous musicians get persecuted and silenced, there’s still enough in Cuba’s music to somehow spreads the earth and unite people like none other.
I first heard the beautiful voice of Celia Cruz from an crumbling old 19th century colonial balcony in … Hanoi, Vietnam. I was so enchanted with that voice, not knowing anything about it other than what I had heard that I had to find out who she was, and write it down and hope I never forgot it. I didn’t. Celia united people all over the world with her heavenly talent, even in farflung communist regimes on the other side of the world.
With her beautiful voice spreading the oceans, it’s significant that her voice was nevertheless banned in her own country, the one she passionately wanted to see free. castro shut Cuba from the world and he tried to shut Celia’s beautiful voice from Cuba.
But in Cuba, her death a couple years ago didn’t go unnoticed – she was mourned there too. Cubans knew who she was despite castro’s best efforts because the spread of music is as uncontrolled as the sea.
Just as Cuba’s music spread the world from Havana, something else happened too. The locals in other countries started singing like Cubans too. It didn’t start with castro’s troops invading Africa, as is the legend. It started way, way before. If you have ever heard Benin’s Gnonnas Pedro, the rich evocative deep resonant and pure voice of the Afro-Cubana, you know what I mean. He first found his voice in the early 1960s, and formed popular Afro-Cubano bands. He changed his last name from Pierre to Pedro in honor of Cuba’s Spanish language, which he sang songs in, because he loved Cuba.
He sang Benny More’s Yiri Yiri Boum with a deep passion, you don’t even know that the song is about wanting a girl, all you can tell is that it’s about a longing as vast as the world. Recently I listened to his mesmerizing ‘Yo Prefeid El Son and thought a bit about the lyrics – he sings of being in cities like Santiago and Havana, passionately loving being there.
I wondered if he’d ever been there. I looked it up as many places as I could find. He never was that rich or successful in his life and died of cancer in 2004. All I cound find was that he had a few trips to France, and proudly represented his region at a Canadian music festival in Quebec. There is no evidence he ever set foot in Cuba. He simply adopted Cuban music as his own and it’s beautiful, no nation, no nationality, entirely universal. Only Cuban music seems to be able to do this. What a sad thing, though, that like Celia, he too died before he could see a free Cuba. His music was just his own soul imagining Cuba.

This guy is hot

In SoCal, a big record chain went bankrupt, so all the records there were fire-saled. I bought a bunch of Cuban CDs at random, and all weekend listened away. Among them, was one real gem, a guy named Raul Paz, a French-Cuban musician of the Nuevo Latino style of traditional Cuban music, which combines in hip-hop, electronica and other elements. But don’t let that latter stuff scare you – they all may sound horrible by themselves but combined with Cuban sounds, it’s a whole different sound. Gorgeous!

The guy is a native of Pinar del Rio, and moved to Paris with his parents, who, from what I can tell, were probably castro’s nomenklatura because normal Cubans can’t just up and move to Paris when they like. However, I googled around on him and I don’t see any edge of politics on him. He’s never been seen in a che t-shirt or made a pro-castro statement. Even one of his his latest albums, Revolution, is inoffensive, it doesn’t sound like castro’s so-called ‘revolution’ he is talking about. It sounds like he keeps politics out of things, but he does travel back and forth from Paris to Cuba, signalling that he’s on some kind of good terms with the vile regime.

Still, he’s inoffensive and has done nothing for castro. All he’s done is spread the beauty of Cuban music to all over Europe and the U.S. – which makes him ok in my book. He didn’t pick his parents after all. What do you think?

He got a classical violin background there in Paris, because France is one of the few places on earth where classical music is valued, and iit’s one of the least-likely-to-get-you-in-trouble art forms if you have ties to a commie regime – commie regimes love classical music. But communist or no, this is the best kind of background for any musician of any kind to have, and the violin is the most demanding of all instruments. To be able to play a violin well, even though one now plays traditional Cuban music like the skill of good modern artists who have classical training and can actually draw if asked, no matter what their art form. He has that kind of high-grade musicianship.

His style is smooth and sexy. Here are some clips, here, here. My favorite is Mulata, here.

Anti-castro rap

Some of us like rap music, and if you’re one of them, you might like this new rap music, by Somos Cubanos and another rapper in Canada, directed at the slimey beast of Havana.

For once, we all agree with that rappers get it righ about Da Man who’s oppressing them.

Stefania’s found two links to these rap videos, which she highly recommends, in this post here.

Music Copyrights and Cuban Musicians (UPDATED)

An interesting legal case regarding music copyrights is being heard in Cuba.

It seems that Peer Music, owner of many copyrighted songs written by Cuban musicians still on the island, is claiming that the Editora Musica de Cuba (EMC), the “national” music publisher of Cuba, is laying a claim to the songs. Peer, rightfully, is suing for its rights. The EMC claims that Peer illegally copped the rights for a few bucks and a “drink of rum” way back before the glorious revolution.

Sounds like a typical music copyright case in the US with 1950s era R&B singers, right? Absolutely not. The key difference is that in the US, the aggrieved parties had standing to bring the case and, in many cases, prevailed against the big names in the record business (Atlantic Records being one). This case involves a defendant (Cuba) who has obtained EVERYTHING it owns through the nationalization of assets that did not belong to them. In other words: theft.

While I feel badly for the musicians on the island, I hope Peer prevails in the case if only to send the message to the thieving Beast on the island that private property means something to people. Property is not just something for him to take at will.

Latin music case reopens in Cuba
By Stephen Gibbs
BBC News, Havana

A High Court judge hearing a case over vintage Latin music has travelled to Cuba to hear evidence from witnesses.

The elegant marble floors of one of the grandest villas in all of Havana have begun echoing to the footsteps of British lawyers.

Villa Lita, in the heart of the capital’s Vedado district, has been chosen as the setting for an unprecedented legal examination.

The English High Court has come to Havana to hear witnesses in a case which asks who owns the UK publishing rights to some of Cuba’s best-loved songs.

Examining the evidence is Mr Justice Lindsay.

Last May, mid-way through a case in London, the British judge made the decision that justice would be best served if he came to Cuba, after an attempt to hear from several Cuban witnesses via video link failed, due to technical problems.

He is presiding over a case which has been brought by the US-based Peer Music.

In the 1930s, 40s and 50s, in the midst of a vogue for Cuban music in the United States, Peer signed up hundreds of Cuban musicians.

Artist rights

Then, in 1959, came the Cuban revolution, and shortly afterwards the US trade embargo on the island.

When it became impossible to send royalties to Cuba from the United States, Peer says accounts were set up, holding the money for the musicians or their rightful heirs.

By the 1990s, some of their songs had almost been forgotten outside Cuba.

But the release of the Buena Vista Social Club album in 1997, followed by the film of the same name, changed all that.

Millions of people around the world heard for the first time the smooth sounds of Cuban traditional music, and loved what they heard.

Now Cuban music has considerable value. Its ownership is worth fighting over in court.

Peer Music says that its legitimate copyright has been unlawfully taken over by the Cuban state-owned Editora Musica de Cuba (EMC).

Musical veterans

For its part, EMC says that the original pre-revolutionary contracts which Peer signed with poor, uneducated musicians were “unconscionable bargains”, signed for “at most a few pesos and maybe a drink of rum”.

Preparing for the hearings in Havana, Graham Shear, the British solicitor defending EMC, said that his Cuban clients care deeply about the outcome of the case, which they believe is about more than money.

“They see it as about their cultural heritage,” he said

In the coming three days, 12 witnesses, some of whom are elderly musicians, will be cross-examined by barristers from both sides.

The hearing began with the judge’s clerk formally calling on witnesses to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Quite what the 12 Cuban witnesses will make of the whole procedure is not clear.

The first to take the stand was the 83-year-old composer of the famous hit “Cha Cha Cha.”

Under cross-examination he was asked to recall the details of the various contracts he signed with Peer Music in the 1950s.

If you closed your eyes it was possible, momentarily, to forget that this was all taking place a long way from London.

For the Cuban witnesses, it will no doubt be a novel experience to be cross-examined by a highly-paid British barrister.

But they will not see one of the more esoteric features of English law.

Given the tropical heat, all the lawyers have been given special permission by Mr Justice Lindsay not to wear their traditional outfit of wigs and gowns.

In that spirit he opened the proceedings sporting a cream linen jacket instead of his usual thick robes.

The battle is over copyright to 14 songs, whose composers have all died.

But it is being seen as a test case, which may determine who has the rights, across the world, to thousands of songs.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/09/26 18:50:19 GMT


UPDATE 5:55 PM: Juan Paxety has an excellent take on this BBC article. He comes to pretty much the same conclusion as I do:

It’s tough to tell who’s right and wrong here. Music publishers have certainly cheated plenty of songwriters in the past – and maybe Peer cheated the Cubans. But we know that fidel castro has cheated everyone in Cuba – cheated them out of their freedom and their hopes and dreams. And unfortunately, it would appear that despite the press reports trying to put a human spin on the story, this is a fight between a music publisher and fidel. If you were a songwriter, which one do you think would be most likely to pay your royalties?