Monday, March 31, 2008

Cuba lifts ban on locals staying in hotels

Miami Herald
Posted on Mon, Mar. 31, 2008
Cuba lifts ban on locals staying in hotels
Cuba's so-called ''tourism apartheid'' -- which has long prohibited locals from staying at hotels -- ends midnight Monday, according to news agencies in Havana.

The move ends a ban that many Cubans had fixated on as a prime example of the inequities and hardships they faced under Fidel Castro's regime. The lifting comes five weeks after Fidel Castro's brother, Raúl, took over the nation's presidency, and just days after he ended the ban on Cubans owning personal mobile phones, computers and household appliances.

But the measure is largely symbolic: a night's stay at a luxury hotel in Cuba can cost more than $200 -- which is just about what the average Cuban earns in a year.

Cubans were prohibited from staying at hotels even if someone else paid the tab.

Reuters news agency reported Monday that now Cubans can also rent cars and go to beaches once restricted to tourists.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a fierce critic of the Castro government, called the lifting of the hotel restrictions ``pathetic.''

''There might be many superficial changes like this hotel maneuver and making DVD players and computers legal, but what the Cuban people want are true changes, like freedom and democracy,'' she said in an e-mail. ''Raúl may make these nominal rather than real changes because most Cubans can't afford hotel stays. ``What a dismal picture that legalizing microwaves and hotel stays are considered reforms,'' she said. ``It's pathetic.''

But those who are pushing for an easing of sanctions on Cuba had a different take on Raúl Castro's reforms. Many experts view Raúl Castro's early decisions as positive steps, even if they do not come with democratic elections and freedom of speech.

''This is a real reform, because it speaks to the desire of Cubans to have more autonomy over their own lives,'' said Sarah Stephens, the director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, an advocacy organization that takes lawmakers on trips to the island. ``It is part of a piece with cellphones and agrarian reforms, and when the Cuban government allows more private decisions, that is something our government should recognize and applaud. It doesn't, but it should.''

Carlos Saladrigas, the co-chairman of the moderate Cuba Study Group, said the lifting of the hotel restriction was ''a very positive move'' by Raúl Castro but noted that without more economic reforms ``the tourist apartheid will shift from a political apartheid to an economic apartheid.''

'None of these measures put food on Cubans' tables,'' he said. ``That's what's really needed.''

Reuters and the Associated Press news agencies interviewed hotel managers who said they were informed that any Cuban with a national ID card could check in starting Monday night.

Like other guests, they will be charged in convertible pesos worth 24 times the regular pesos earned by state employees, the AP reported.

There was no official announcement in state-controlled media on the lifting of the ban on hotel rooms and other tourist services, and word-of-mouth spread slowly through the Cuban capital.

Inside the world-renowned luxurious but somewhat run-down Hotel Nacional, it was business as usual, Havana news outlets reported. Receptionists at several other hotels reported no immediate spike in reservations, the AP said.

Other tourism employees said they had not yet been officially informed of the change.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cachao Article in Bass Player

Bass Player

By Rebecca Mauleón | March, 2008

The King of Mambo experiences a career revival—at age 89!

In the face of the music industry’s upheaval, one great innovator continues to flourish: bassist and composer Israel “Cachao” López, who at 89 is experiencing his latest career revival.

Throughout his eight-decade career, Cachao has been a driving force in the evolution of Cuban popular music, and he continues to treat audiences around the globe to its scintillating sounds.

Cachao approaches 90 with grace, wonderful memories, and a legacy of musical achievements. His pioneering efforts transformed Cuba’s national dance, known as the danzón, into one of the world’s most recognized forms—the mambo—and his seminal recordings of the Cuban jam sessions known as descargas paved the way for generations of artists who would be inspired to follow in his enormous footsteps. While he would wait until his mid 70s to receive the international acclaim he deserves (due in part to the efforts of actor/producer Andy García), his legacy as one of the world’s musical treasures is clear.

Born in 1918 in Havana, Israel “Cachao” López comes from a large musical family boasting over 30 bass players. He made his professional debut at age 13 with the Havana Symphony Orchestra before joining some of Cuba’s most popular dance orchestras, including that of flutist Antonio Arcaño in 1937. During the 30 years he worked as a musician in Cuba, Cachao played with some of the world’s most celebrated symphony orchestras, including the Philadelphia Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, and New York’s Metropolitan Opera. During his stint with Arcaño y Sus Maravillas, Cachao—along with brother Orestes, a noted cellist, bassist, pianist, and composer—began arranging and composing danzones for the group. This seminal orchestra preserved the tradition of performing for many of Cuba’s elite social clubs, including the now-infamous Buena Vista Social Club (popularized in the film of the same name). Cachao was commissioned to write Buena Vista’s trademark danzón in 1939, and he and his brother were commissioned to compose thousands of pieces for the numerous clubs throughout Havana and surrounding cities.

“Playing during those years was a very segregated experience,” Cachao remembers. “There were both black and white social clubs. But on the occasion when we would perform outdoors, there would be a rope in front of the stage to divide the street: one side for whites and the other for blacks. Imagine that! They were there all together, dancing to the same music!” Incidentally, the musicians in Arcaño’s band were integrated, but apparently the social clubs weren’t ready for that.
From Danzón To Mambo

The danzón, the descendant of European-derived court dances and Creole innovations, emerged in the late 19th century as a courtship dance for elite society. As a through-composed instrumental form in ritornello (or rondo) form, the danzón experienced a gradual transformation as it began to expand. But by the late 1930s Cachao and Orestes were convinced the form needed modernizing, and they began to add improvisational elements to the danzón, which later spawned the birth of the mambo. At first known as nuevo ritmo (new rhythm), the López brothers’ innovation introduced an additional section that contained repetitive elements at the heart of Cuba’s popular dance music, the son.

The crucial ostinato structure of the son allowed the musicians to open things up, providing a steady vamp at the end of the danzón for improvisation, usually over the dominant chord. The result not only led to a more musically dynamic style, it compelled dancers to react by changing their steps to match the new rhythm. “This was the era of the syncopated beat,” Cachao remembers. “We musicians began experimenting with that, and the dancers reacted instantly!” In time, we would know this new dance as the cha-cha-cha, but meanwhile, the future of the danzón was sealed, and the word “mambo” was born. The term would certainly undergo several transformations, including the jazz-band experimentations of Cuban pianist and bandleader Dámaso Pérez Prado, but the López brothers are its true founding fathers. “Prado always said he really didn’t know the meaning of ‘mambo,’ but he certainly used it a lot!” Cachao laughs. The word has roots in the Congolese Bantú language, still spoken within the Afro-Cuban spiritual and cultural communities today on the island. Its meaning implies the act of singing or storytelling, and Cachao notes that this was why the name was so significant in Afro-Cuban culture. Orestes’s 1938 danzón simply titled “Mambo” (with Cachao’s arrangement) would be the first popular and commercial use of the word for Cuban audiences. From that point onward, all Cuban danzones would be referred to with the term danzón-mambo to reflect the genre’s dramatic transformation.

At the heart of what Cachao represents as a bassist is the driving force of all popular salsa and Latin jazz music: the Cuban son, and specifically, the repetitive, syncopated bass line known as the tumbao. Cuban music is notorious for its captivating rhythm, much of which can be elusive to the jazz or classical player. The concept of providing a rhythmical foundation in an ensemble that is almost entirely syncopated can be challenging to newcomers, especially for bassists who have spent years walking four beats to the bar. The essential difference has to do with the intense polyrhythm in the Afro-Cuban tradition. The combination of highly syncopated tumbao patterns wrapped around a two-bar or four-bar ostinato pattern—known as the montuno—combined with the ever-present Cuban clave rhythm, serve as the backbone of virtually all Cuban dance music. This is the foundation that paved the way for the evolution of the modern “Latin” styles we hear today.
The Descarga Legacy

In the late 1950s, Cachao began recording a series of albums with other noted Cuban popular and jazz musicians in the jam-session-oriented descarga genre. “There were many of us from different bands, even different genres, making these recordings. After hours, everyone would gather in the studio coming in from our respective gigs—some in the cabarets such as the Tropicana—and someone would plop a bottle of rum on a table and push the record button. It was history in the making!” Drawing from the wealth of Cuba’s popular rhythms such as the son-montuno, conga, mambo, guaracha, cha-cha-cha, and many other styles, Cachao’s Descargas en Miniature and other albums celebrated the music’s highly improvisational nature within the simplest settings. For many aspiring Latin musicians, these recordings came to be the blueprint for Cuban rhythm study. The two- to three-minute gems on Miniature display a brilliance, passion, and spontaneity rarely captured in a studio recording, and the fact that the tracks were essentially unrehearsed testifies to the extraordinary musicianship of the players who graced those Havana recording studios. Descargas en Miniature has been the Cuban music bible for anyone playing or studying this music.

In 1962 Cachao made the difficult decision to leave Cuba. He traveled to Spain where he worked with a group known as Sabor Cubano (Cuban flavor) under the direction of Ernesto Duarte. “We worked all over the country. It was beautiful, and I felt totally welcome.” But his loving wife, Buenaventura (they married in 1946), had already joined family in New Jersey, and he longed to reunite with her. Cachao arrived in New York in late 1963 and began his prolific journey with a cast of Latin music giants. By the time he established himself in New York, virtually all of the top figures in Latin music were exploring the Latin big-band sound as well as the descarga concept, and Cachao was probably the most in-demand bassist on those classic New York sessions. From his sideman work with everyone from Tito Rodríguez, Machito, Tito Puente, the Alegre All-Stars, Chico O’Farrill, José Fajardo, and Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Cachao’s rhythmically powerful and melodic bass playing set the standard for many future players. “I remember one time Tito Puente and I formed this duet—just me playing bass and singing and Tito playing timbales and putting on a show. He was a great dancer. People loved it! Another time we got this little gig in Jersey with Candito on congas and singer Miguelito Valdés, but I was still working with Tito Rodríguez and Machito’s big bands at the time, so I had to be careful not to ruffle any feathers.” The well-known rivalry between the “Two Titos” in particular was a tricky subject for sidemen navigating between the Latin giants.

Cachao later spent several years in Las Vegas, much of that time performing alongside ringing slot machines in venues such as Caesar’s Palace, The Dunes, The Plaza, and others. “I had consistent work with Pupy Campo, even though attendance was pretty bad. People were there to play the slots, so no one really paid attention. Campo even titled the show ‘El Padre del Trueno’ [the father of thunder], but it wasn’t the most thrilling time in my career.” He also played a great deal with the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra, which provided some fairly stable income and at least a more focused audience, but he knew he needed a change. Upon moving to Miami in 1969, Cachao continued his sideman work and began recording a string of soon-to-be-classic albums as a leader.

The ’70s saw more descarga recordings as Cachao directed or participated in several seminal albums—most of them recorded in New York. The amalgam of top-notch musicians on the Tico and Alegre labels—with the Tico All-Stars under the direction of Tito Puente and the Alegre All-Stars directed by Charlie Palmieri—forged the Tico-Alegre All-Stars, and their 1974 live performance at Carnegie Hall with Cachao on bass became a favorite among collectors. Among the gems led by the Maestro is Dos [Salsoul, 1976], which featured some of Latin music’s most celebrated artists, including the late pianist Charlie Palmieri, trombonist Barry Rogers, trumpeters Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros and El Negro Vivar, and percussionists Manny Oquendo (timbales) and Carlos “Patato” Valdez (congas).

The 1980s proved to be an interesting decade for Cachao in that it brought him to the San Francisco Bay Area for a series of concerts, recordings, and a documentary film about Cuban folkloric drummer Francisco Aguabella (Sworn to the Drum, produced by Flower Films). Cachao performed in an all-star lineup entitled “Conga Summit” featuring percussionists Aguabella, Patato, Julito Collazo, and many others; the Bay Area Latin music community certainly knew of Cachao’s many contributions to Cuban music. Yet despite his prolific career, outside of the salsa and Latin jazz circles, not much wide attention was paid to his legacy or his genre.

That would all change following a performance at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, when as a featured artist with the Machete Ensemble for the 1989 San Francisco Jazz Festival, Cachao met his benefactor and No. 1 fan, Cuban-born actor/producer Andy García. Upon his visit backstage, García was so taken with el Maestro, he made the immediate decision to do whatever it took to support Cachao’s career and legacy. García subsequently produced two critically acclaimed CDs for Cachao on his Crescent Moon label: Master Sessions, Volumes 1 & 2, the first winning him his first-ever Grammy Award in 1994 at age 77. The second volume won Cachao a Downbeat Critics Poll in 1996.

The resulting collaboration and friendship with García led to appearances and recordings with Gloria Estefan (on the celebrated Mi Tierra album as well as her newly released 90 Millas), several Grammy-nominated and Grammy-winning recordings (among them with Cuban piano genius and long-time friend Bebo Valdés), international tours and performances, critically acclaimed documentary films (the first produced and directed by García and another set for release in February 2008), and the honor of getting the 2,219th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in 2003. Also that year, García produced Cachao’s second Grammy-winning recording, Ahora Sí!, which includes wonderful footage of the sessions on a bonus DVD. Additional awards and honors include a Hispanic Heritage Award, an induction into the Smithsonian Institute, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, and a Governor’s Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

In March 2005 Cachao returned to San Francisco as part of San Francisco State University’s multimedia celebration honoring Cuban culture, titled To Cuba With Love. Curated by the University’s International Center for the Arts (ICA), the program featured a weeklong series of gallery exhibitions, lectures, and concerts with Cachao as special guest and recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award. The footage from the concerts—as well as conversations with numerous scholars and musicians about his musical legacy—is the subject of a documentary film titled Cachao: Una Mas (Cachao: One More Song), produced by the ICA’s Director of the Documentary Film Institute, Stephen Ujlaki. “This series was not only an homage to this wonderful man and his music, it was also the opportunity to document him in performance and to hear from many voices in the Latin music community,” Ujlaki says. “Making this documentary has really uncovered a family; much of the film includes wonderful conversations between Cachao and Andy as well as classic archival footage, plus his amazing shows.” Slated for its premiere at Mexico City’s International Film Festival in late February 2008, Cachao: Una Más has been a labor of love by the many skilled filmmakers and historians involved.

Throughout most of Cachao’s career, one person stood at his side: his wife of 58 years, Buenaventura. After every concert, she would embrace her husband and they would go off backstage hand-in-hand. Her passing in May 2005 left a void in Cachao’s life, and yet he insists, “She is always with me, after every concert, every recording. A love like that never leaves you.” Cachao was a one-woman man. “Everyone around was womanizing, but not me. There was only one woman for me my entire life.” While he may have slowed down a bit—he often sits on a stool while playing the bass—Cachao still insists he feels great and will keep playing whenever the opportunity arises. “Of course! Playing this music is what keeps me going. I feel perfect, and I am always ready to perform.”
Five Pros Offer Their Props

Andy Gonzalez (Fort Apache Band, Manny Oquendo & Libre, Chico O’Farrill Big Band): Cachao is my musical and spiritual father, and someone I’ve known and loved for over 35 years. Everything I play today has roots in his style. As a bandleader, he changed the course of Latin music several times, introducing street and dance elements to the formal Cuban danzón style, while also adding sophisticated composition and orchestration to the form. Then he developed the descarga, literally a jam style in which all of the band members are featured and let loose. Bass-wise, he’s the master of the science of the tumbao. He was a classically trained child prodigy from a family of over 40 bassists, who was playing with the Havana Symphony Orchestra at 15. He brought that knowledge into Cuban dance music, playing melodies and taking solos with the bow, and employing such ingenious devices as hitting the strings or the body of his bass to create a rhythmic counterpoint to his tumbaos. He’s a marvel, and best of all, he’s still going strong in his late-’80s!

John Benitez (Eddie Palmieri, Michel Camilo, Chick Corea): Cachao is one of the fathers of Latin music, who took it to a higher level of development and opened the doors for many. He brought in the mambo and other dance forms to the traditional danzón and really created a melting pot of Cuban dance music. In addition to his classical training and role as the principal bassist in the Havana Symphony, he showed the way to relate bass playing to conga drumming. He thought of his bass as a drum, so he was creating sounds right out of the tumbadora (conga drums)—hitting the bass and strings percussively with his hands. His genius and essence is the ability to find the exact right spot rhythmically in the division of the groove to excite it and drive it forward. You can hear that concept in a lot of contemporary Latin bassists, like Andy Gonzalez. Plus, Cachao has harmonic and rhythmic freedom in his playing, and openness using pedal tones and different rhythms. On top of it all he’s a beautiful, positive human being.

Lincoln Goines (Dave Valentin, Paquito D’Rivera, Tania Maria): Cachao implemented a certain kind of freedom on the bass; a looseness borne from his classical training and virtuosity—sort of like Oscar Pettiford in jazz. Cachao was one of the first to step out and not just lay down repeated patterns; he would alter and develop figures, like a drummer would do, or like a horn player riffing. The culmination was his descarga recordings, which are like the bible of Latin jazz, featuring incredible interplay with amazing musicians. On top of that, he was pioneering bandleader, composer, and arranger, just an all-around musical giant and innovator.

Oskar Cartaya (Willie Colón, Arturo Sandoval, Herbie Mann): Cachao is the maestro, a towering figure in Latin music, who has steered it in various directions. As a bassist, his situation was similar to James Jamerson and Larry Graham’s: when they started, there wasn’t a clear reference point, so they came up with their own concepts and those became the standard. In Cachao’s case we’re talking about a time when the bass didn’t even exist in some genres and ensembles! Cachao reformatted the whole idea of the tumbao. Before him, bassists were playing them very strict and straight. Cachao added rhythmic syncopation and melodic ideas, while still retaining the traditional foundation of the conga drum pattern. He was years ahead of his time and still is!
- By Chris Jisi
Selected Discography

As a leader

Descarga [Maype, 1959]
Descarga Guajira [Caney, 1959, reissued 2002]
Cuban Jam Session, Vol. 2 [Panart, 1957]
Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature [Panart, 1957]
Cachao y su Ritmo Caliente, From Havana to New York [Maype-Caney, 1961]
Dos [Salsoul, 1976]
Cachao y Su Descarga, Vol. 1 [Salsoul, 1977]
Latin Jazz Descarga, Pt. 2 [Tania, 1981]
Latin Jazz Descarga, Pt. I [Tania, 1981]
Maestro de Maestros—Cachao y Su Descarga ’86 [Tania, 1986]
Master Sessions, Vol. 1 [Crescent Moon/Epic, 1994]
Master Sessions, Vol. 2 [Crescent Moon/Epic, 1995]
Cuba Linda [EMI/Cineson, 2000]
Ahora Si! [Univision, 2004]

As a guest

Arcaño y Sus Maravillas, Danzón Mambo 1944–51 [reissued on Tumbao, 1993]
Generoso “El Tojo,” Trombón Majadero [Malanga Music, 1960]
Walfredo De Los Reyes y Su Orquesta, Sabor Cubano [Rumba, 1960]
Fajardo y Sus Estrellas, La Flauta de Cuba [Tania, ca. 1966]
Carlos “Patato” Valdez, Patato y Totico [Verve, 1968]
Tico-Alegre All-Stars, Live at Carnegie Hall [Fania/Emusica, 1974]
Tito Rodríguez, Tito, Tito, Tito [WS Latino]
Gloria Estefan, Mi Tierra [Sony, 1993]
Paquito D’Rivera, Presents 40 Years of Cuban Jam Sessions [Universal/Pimienta, 1993]
John Santos and the Machete Ensemble, Machete [Xenophile, 1995]
Bebo Valdés, El Arte del Sabor [Blue Note, 2001]
Various Artists, Calle 54: Music From the Miramax Motion Picture [Blue Note, 2001]
Danzón By Six, Elegante [Universal/Pimienta 2004]
Various Artists, The Lost City: Original Soundtrack [Univision, 2005]
Gloria Estefan, 90 Millas [Sony BMG Burgandy, 2007].
Films & Documentaries

Cachao: Una Mas, ICA Doc Film Institute, directed by Dikayl Dunkley (2008)
Calle 54, directed by Fernando Trueba (2001)
Cachao: Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos, directed by Andy García (1994)
Sworn to the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella, directed by Les Blank (1995)
Cachao Online

On YouTube you can find numerous clips of Cachao playing live with his all-stars, including a tribute on September 22, 2007, when the Maestro celebrated 80 years in music at Miami’s Carnival Center alongside fellow octogenarian Candido Camero, singers Willy Chirino, Lucrecia, and Issac Delgado, plus a host of greats. “That was a very special show,” says Cachao. “So many wonderful musicians performed with me that day. It was magical.” The Maestro beamed through the nearly three-hour show as thousands of audience members sang along to classic Cuban sones, mambos, and descargas.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cachao's Funeral

Miami Herald
Posted on Fri, Mar. 28, 2008
Fans and friends bid joyous farewell to Cachao
He wasn't acting.

When Andy García gave the farewell talk Thursday at the end of the St. Michael's Catholic Church funeral Mass for Cuban music legend Israel ''Cachao'' López, he kept choking up. García, who got a standing ovation even before he began speaking, had produced Cachao's recordings since the '90s and was responsible for the resurgence of his career.

Speaking Spanish like everyone else at the Mass, the actor admitted his first memory of Cachao might have been ''dreamed'' -- a vague childhood recollection of when his father, who was mayor of a town in Cuba's east end, hired bassist and bandleader Cachao to play a local dance.

His first real encounter came in 1989, when García, who was filming Godfather III, attended a Cuban music concert in San Francisco. Backstage, the actor introduced himself to the musician, who had no idea García was famous. From then on, García became Cachao's producer and benefactor.

Garcia's fond recollections capped a ceremony full of emotion, mostly joyous, as befitted a man who, as many recalled, never stopped smiling or telling jokes. Music professionals filled the pews, both the famous like Gloria Estefan and the more obscure working musicians and label representatives.

Under the baton of Cachao's close collaborator, Uruguayan violinist Federico Britos, a modest-sized but full orchestra played the prelude to Cachao's Misa de Mambo, a Mass that had debuted five years earlier in Los Angeles. As the name indicated, the Mass had a marked, danceable Afro-Cuban beat, and the hundreds of mourners gathered in the church clapped along.

When the image of Cuba's patron saint, the Virgin of Charity, was brought in from its Coconut Grove shrine, the swaying statue on a hand-carried litter seemed to dance to the rhythms.

There were moments in the Mass when the church choir and soloists intoned more traditional religious music, like Schubert's Ave Maria. But in the middle, the orchestra, which included string section and a percussion ensemble, returned to the late artist's mambo Mass, with its hot beat.

And after communion, the orchestra played one of Cachao's danzones, Marianao Social Club (a sibling of the famous Buena Vista, also a Cachao composition), with Britos asking Cachao's nephew, Daniel Palacio, and Willy Chirino to join in the vocals.


The horns, which included trumpet master Arturo Sandoval, soloed with gusto, and it seemed like the entire Mass was about to evolve into a salsa party.

Emilio Estefan also spoke, and, citing Cachao's penchant for joking, he told of how the first artist Estefan signed for his new label, Crescent Moon Records, was the legendary bassist.

'When I told [Sony], they asked me, `Is he handsome,' and I said, 'I think he is.' 'Does he sing?' 'No.' 'Can he dance?' '' Estefan also answered no, but repeated the title of a Cachao composition, ``como su ritmo no hay dos [there are no two rhythms like his].''

Gloria Estefan gave the first scripture reading of the Mass, followed by Willy Chirino, who read it with a flair worthy of a preacher.

The Mass was conducted by (the Rev. Alberto Cutié, the Cuban-American priest famous as a TV host and advice columnist. His sermon, on how Cachao had given back all he had received from God, namely his talent, had some mourners weeping.

The casket was flanked by two big Cachao portraits, both taken by Miami Herald photographer Carl Juste.

Other than the music, García's speech was the most rousing aspect of the ceremony. When he spoke of discovering Cuban music at a Little Havana record store, he listed a number of Cuban greats, including Cachao, and after every name the church burst out in applause.

''That's where I devoted myself to Cuba and Cachao,'' García said, adding, ''What do we do with such a monumental legacy?'' And a woman in the audience answered, ''Continue the tradition!'' Once again, the church burst into applause.

Wednesday night, the church also was packed, as the artist's family, friends and admirers came to pay their respects and bid farewell to Cachao, on view in an open casket. As Cachao's band, also under Britos, finished playing two of the maestro's compositions, all the church lights were extinguished, except the one that shone on the casket.

Next to Cachao, there was was a Cuban flag, ceremoniously folded, and at his feet there was a large bouquet of white roses.

This image of the luminous exiled musician recalled one of Cuban patriot and poet José Martí's famous verses:

I want the day I die/

With no country, but under no master,/

To have on my tomb a bouquet/

Of flowers and a flag.

Perhaps deliberate, perhaps not, but certainly fitting were García's references Thursday to Cachao as ''this man who was sencillo'' (''simple'' in the sense of unaffected) and ''sincere'' -- almost identical to other Martí verses that were musicalized into the now classic Guantanamera.


After the Mass, a large car procession that passed the Versailles Restaurant -- one of Cachao's favorite hangouts -- followed the hearse that carried his remains to Vista Memorial Gardens in Hialeah.

After Cachao was laid to rest, some of the musicians at the cemetery started an impromptu descarga, the kind of jam session Cachao made famous half a century ago, with García on the congas. ''Cachao has to be remembered with joy and good times'' said his nephew Daniel Palacio.

''Whenever we went to a wake, he'd start telling jokes and funny anecdotes from the time he arrived to the time he left,'' Palacio said. ''He didn't want weeping or sadness at his own funeral,'' he added, admitting there was plenty at the burial site.

''He was an angel,'' Palacio said.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Cuban government lifts cellphone restrictions

Miami Herald

Cuban government lifts cellphone restrictions
The easing of rules on cellphones and other goods could signal a new set of steps toward economic changes on the island under Raúl Castro.
Posted on Sat, Mar. 29, 2008
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The cellphone on Friday joined the growing list of once-banned items in Cuba, where Raúl Castro's month-old government has begun lifting decades-old prohibitions on household goods like microwave ovens and computers.

And while most of that merchandise was already available on the black market -- and the Cuban government has not taken action toward political reform -- the moves could signal the first steps toward economic changes on the island.

They are among the first major initiatives undertaken by President Raúl Castro, who officially took over the nation's helm last month after serving nearly 19 months on a temporary basis.

He assumed the post on Feb. 24 amid rising expectations and pressure from Cuba's 11.2 million people, who have expressed weariness over regulations that restrict their freedom to make purchases and earn money.

Some Cuba observers say the measures are considered important baby steps, but far from the massive economic overhaul needed to make a failing economy thrive.

The Cuban communist party newspaper Granma reported Friday that new rules will be announced in the coming days detailing how Cubans can sign up for their own cellphones, which have been restricted to high-level officials and foreigners.

A sizable number of Cubans already have mobile phones provided by a government-run company, but had to get a foreigner to sign the contract for them.

The announcement that Cubans could soon sign cell prepay contracts themselves came on the heels of the recent decision to allow the purchase of household appliances and computers, which were long subject to stringent government controls yet widely available illegally in the black market.

The British news agency Reuters recently reported that the Cuban government also plans an overhaul to its agriculture sector, not only by allowing farmers to buy their own supplies, but decentralizing a bureaucratic agency that curbed production.

The government also will eliminate the rule that forced Cubans to buy medicine only at a single designated pharmacy, the news agency reported.

''As a symbol, yes, this is important,'' said dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe. ``You have to understand this is a reversal of policies that have been in place for years and years and years.

''Who would have thought that a Cuban was going to be able to get his own cellphone? Nobody imagined that,'' he said. ``I'm sure some Cubans don't even know what a cellphone is.''

He may be right. United Nations indicators show Cuba has Internet and cellphone use levels on a par with African countries.

While many African nations may be circumscribed by economics and geography, in Cuba, Internet access is deliberately limited to sites sanctioned by the government and closely monitored. Users must have government-issued passwords to get online and the few cyber cafes open to the public are staffed with workers who keep a close eye on users.

The new telephone rules are not likely to cause a rush at island stores. A typical Cuban earns about $20 a month, making a mobile phone out of reach. Most of the items no longer banned are likely to be sold in the convertible peso, a dollar-based currency that, at 24 to 1, is too expensive for most Cubans.

But some Cubans receive remittances from relatives in the United States, earn dollars at hotels or have legal or illegal businesses that bring in cash.

''Basically, the issue is whether Raúl is willing to be more open and allow information to flow more freely by allowing cellphones,'' said Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies. ``I think it's a fool's trick. It's another way for the government to monitor what people are talking about.''

Microwave ovens, Gomez said, are hardly what Cubans need when the housing infrastructure is in shambles and power outages are common.

''Where are you going to connect the microwave if there is no electricity?'' he said. ``Please!''

Recent political refugee Alejandro García Sardiña agreed.

''This is not the opening of a window or a door to change,'' García said. ``Cubans need freedom of association, freedom of expression, and a free economy, not a cellphone.''

He added that it would not make much of a difference in communications for Cuban exiles either, because most recent arrivals are already in regular contact with their families. Pricey long distance charges make more frequent phone calls unlikely, even with the cellphones, García said.

But for Espinosa, who like most Cubans does not have a cellphone, it is a step in the right direction that should be judged in the context of Cuba, a nation that still restricts access to information.

''Now that they have allowed us to buy computers,'' he said, ``let's see if they let us have Internet.''

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Roberto Leon/ NBC News
Cuban blogger Yoanis Sanchez works on her computer.


Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2008 9:00 AM
Filed Under: Havana, Cuba
By Mary Murray, NBC News Producer

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez has something to say and she thinks the government is trying to gag her.

For the past 11 months the 32-year-old cyber rebel has ruthlessly disparaged life on the socialist island in her "Generation Y" blog, tackling taboo topics like the country’s aging leadership and what she sees as Raul Castro’s "vague promises of change.".

She even called for Fidel Castro’s resignation months before he issued it and sarcastically suggested that the next ruler should be a "pragmatic housewife" instead of a soldier, charismatic leader or a great orator.

Since last Thursday, Sanchez charges, Internet users in Cuba are experiencing difficulty logging on to her web site.

She is convinced government censors added filtering software to her page to intentionally slow down the connection.

"So, the anonymous censors of our famished cyberspace have tried to shut me in a room, turn off the light and not let my friends in," Sanchez blogged on Monday.

"It won’t work," she vowed. "This is just fuel for my fire."

Still, it’s frustrating. On Monday, it took Sanchez about 20 minutes to download her page from a public Internet café.

On Tuesday all she got was an "error" message – finding the page completely blocked.

To be fair, the problem could be government interference or just Cuba’s spotty Internet service.

Even corporate customers in recent days complained about the overall poor performance on their high-speed Internet lines, said a tech support person for Etecsa, the government-run phone company and sole Internet provider.

Sanchez though doesn’t buy it, arguing instead that this is a tactic employed by a government determined to muzzle the free expression of public opinion.

The Internet, she says, has become a forum where Cubans are airing complaints. "The authorities are afraid this is turning into something massive."

And, unlike the rest of the press on the island, there is no government control over the printed word on the Internet. "We’ve gone beyond the status quo," said Sanchez.

Her blog, posted on a server in Germany, is growing in popularity. Last month, she says it received over 1.2 million hits. Sanchez believes about a quarter of her readership resides on the island, mostly young Cubans.

Cuba blocks access to top Cuban blog

Reuters UK
Cuba blocks access to top Cuban blog
Mon Mar 24, 2008 6:33pm GMT

HAVANA (Reuters) - The Cuban authorities have blocked access from Cuba to the country's most-read blogger, Yoani Sanchez, she said on Monday.

Sanchez, whose critical "" blog received 1.2 million hits in February, said Cubans can no longer visit her Web page ( and two other home-grown bloggers on the Web site on a server in Germany.

All they can see is a "error downloading" message.

"So the anonymous censors of our famished cyberspace have tried to shut me in a room, turn off the light and not let my friends in," she wrote in her blog on Monday.

Sanchez said she cannot directly access her Web site from Cuba to update postings anymore, but has found a way to beat her Communist censors through an indirect route.

The 32-year-old philology graduate has attracted a considerable readership by writing about her daily life in Cuba and describing economic hardships and political constraints.

She has criticized Cuba's new leader, Raul Castro, who formally took over from his ailing brother Fidel Castro last month, for his vague promises of change and minimal steps to improve the standard of living of Cubans.

"Who is the last in line for a toaster?" was the title of a recent blog that satirized the lifting of a ban on sales of computers, DVD players and other appliances Cubans long for, though toasters will not be freely sold until 2010.

In a country where the press is controlled by the state and there is no independent media, Sanchez and other bloggers based in Cuba have found in the Internet an unregulated vehicle of expression.

"This breath of fresh air has dishevelled the hair of bureaucrats and censors," she said in a telephone interview, vowing to continue her blog. "Anyone with a bit of computer skills knows how to get around them," she said.

The aim of government censors is to block readership in Cuba, where people have limited access to Internet, she said.

"They are admitting that no alternative way of thinking can exist in Cuba, but people will continue reading us somehow," she said. "There is no censorship that can stop people who are determined to access the Internet," she said.

(Editing by Sandra Maler)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Cachao Interview from 2006

The Life of the Legendary Cachao
Miami Herald

The legendary Cachao, credited with giving Cuban music its swinging bass line, sits at Versailles sipping a cortadito made just how he likes it - evaporated milk and Splenda. There isn't a server here who would get it wrong.

He's trying to tell you about his earliest days at the upright bass, when he was 9 and had to stand on a crate to reach the thing.

"You know [legendary Cuban pianist and singer] Bola de Nieve? I accompanied him in the silent movies. It was just the pictures and our music, " he says in his soft rasp.

But he can't finish the story about the beginnings of a career that is now, remarkably, reaching the 80-year mark. The early lunch crowd raises cafecitos in salute, they wave, they come over to shake his hand. Some call him Señor Cachao. Most say Maestro.

Israel "Cachao" Lopez, 87, acknowledges the irony with a gentle smile. There have been upswings and downswings. Friday he performs at the James L. Knight. On June 24, he will be honored at Carnegie Hall. But it wasn't long ago that he was just another aging exile here at aging exile central. He drank his cortaditos and kept to himself the fact that he helped create the mambo and later instigated the descarga, or jam session, the thing that gave Cuban musicians license to burn the house down.

He was a musician's musician whose entire family played and who moved with ease between the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra and dozens of bands that played the popular sound of the day. He and his brother Orestes Lopez rushed that sound toward the future in 1937 when they started toying with the starched danzón - an elegant form of Cuban music that dates to the late 1800s that was composed in three sections; they sped up and syncopated the third part, but at first, few dancers could follow. "We called that part mambo. That was la parte sabrosa (the tasty part). My brother and I would say to each other, 'Mambea, mambea ahí, ' which meant to add swing to that part."

A couple of years ago, a journalist traveled to Cuba and brought back the original sheet music of the Lopez brothers' first mambo. It hangs in Cachao's living room now. The only lyrics, in Cachao's hand: "Mambo, mambo, mambo, sabroso mambo."


In 1962, politics made him drag himself to the Havana airport to leave the island for good. He had to lie to his only daughter about where he was going that afternoon. Maria Elena was only 9. Her mother had left a couple of years before to lay the groundwork to get her family to New York. Cachao had tried to leave Maria Elena behind once before, in 1961. But she had cried so hard at the airport, he turned around and ran back home. Which is why the second time, he left without a word. "Imagine how hard it was, " Cachao says, staring down at his cortadito. "It was harder for her mother than for me. But I couldn't stay in Cuba. We knew we had to leave to get her out later. We just didn't know how long it would take."

Buenaventura, Cachao's wife of 58 years (everybody called her Estelle for reasons Cachao himself can't explain), died last year. She was only 15 or 16 when she swooned for one of Cachao's danzones at a party. But when she asked to meet the composer, she wasn't impressed. "She thought I was too fat. She didn't like me. But we became friends and a couple of years later I asked for her hand, " Cachao says with a chuckle.

After Buenaventura's death, daughter Maria Elena, now a grandmother herself, moved from the Bronx to live with her dad. They share an unassuming two-bedroom apartment in a new building off Calle Ocho in Coral Gables. Cachao's five Grammys sit on the entertainment center above the TV. But mostly they serve to prop up snapshots of Cachao's two grandsons. Says Maria Elena, who finally got out of Cuba in 1967: "As many times as I have seen him play, every time he is on stage, I cry. To see a musician so surrendered to his art is incredible. Whether it was a baby shower or Carnegie Hall, he played with the same emotion."

What's strangely missing from Cachao's place is his instrument. "I don't need a bass at home. I rent them, " he says. "It's hard to drag it around the airports at my age. The one I bought in 1930 for $30, I recently sold to a collector for $25,000. It was easier not to have it. Insuring it cost $2,000 a year. And I really don't need to practice any more."

Cachao delivered his delicious thump, thump, thump to New York's Latin jazz scene in 1964, after two years in Spain. Later he played endless Las Vegas orchestra pits. But by 1978, Buenaventura had put her foot down, demanding they move to Miami to get Cachao away from the gaming tables. He was hooked on blackjack and roulette, burning through thousands of dollars while scratching his head about fellow entertainers' casino habits.

"Frank Sinatra would arrive with Dean Martin, Sammy Davis and a mob of bodyguards. He would sit and listen to different bands I happened to be in, because he loved Cuban music. You had to play Siboney for him. Once he heard it, he got up and went to the tables. Liberace would play only the penny machine. And he would get really angry when he was losing. People around him would say, 'Take it easy, take it easy.' But he had just lost a whole dollar and he didn't care that he was a millionaire, it was a whole dollar."


Miami is where the baby showers came in. It may have been the closest thing to Havana, but it wasn't a city with much of a live music culture. Besides, times had changed. The mambo, even the descarga, had become part of the sepia-toned past.

But Cachao never complained. He put everything into being the anonymous sideman in a string of anonymous banquet hall bands.

"At least I never had to become a barber. I was still living from my music. And I never gambled again. The big lie about gambling is that you can win. Maybe for a little while, but in the end you always lose, " says Cachao, who admits he still buys the occasional lottery ticket. "I never spend more than $1."

What happened next everybody at Versailles knows. In the early 1990s, a Hollywood actor named Andy Garcia, a youngster who pined for an era he was too young to have lived through himself, yanked Cachao, one of his childhood idols, from obscurity with the help of another youngster named Emilio Estefan. In 1994, they released Israel "Cachao" Lopez Master Sessions, Volume I, on Estefan's Crescent Moon label. It helped spark new interest in the retro Cuban sound not just locally, but across the globe. "Those two, and Glorita, too, are like my children, " Cachao says.

Even before Master Sessions, Garcia was obsessed with the idea of making a movie based on Guillermo Cabrera Infante's Tres Tristes Tigres. Even then, he knew Cachao's music would play a big part the The Lost City, which opens April 28, and the soundtrack, which features several of his songs.

"I always saw the music as a protagonist, " Garcia said. "For the physical protagonist in the movie, the music is the one thing he finds solace in in exile. It is the one thing that never betrays him. It's true for me, too. When I close my eyes and I hear a piece of music from the past, I go back and live an era I didn't even know. I never saw Beny Moré live. But in my imagination I have." Friday at the Knight Center, Garcia will play not just with Cachao but with Moré's famed trombonist, Generoso Jiménez, who left Cuba in 2003. "I'll be like a kid in candy store, " Garcia said. Generoso and Cachao go way back. In 2005, they performed at the Grammys alongside Bebo Valdés, Arturo Sandoval and Johnny Pacheco in what the Recording Academy billed as a "once-in-a-lifetime performance."

"It was delicious, " says Generoso. "To be with Bebo and Cachao on stage again. At our age. Imagine that. I remember Cachao from when we were kids. I recorded a descarga album with him before he left Cuba. Now, here we are working again together in Miami. I find myself enchanted with life as I'm about to turn 89."

Cachao, who turns 88 in September, seconds that emotion.

"To be remembered after all these years. It's beautiful."

"Cachao" Israel Lopez (1918-2008)

The King of Latin bass is dead. Long live the king:


Print This Article
Posted on Sat, Mar. 22, 2008
Legendary musician 'Cachao' dies at 89
Known to the world simply by his nickname -- Cachao -- bassist, composer and bandleader Israel López died Saturday morning at Coral Gables Hospital of complications resulting from kidney failure. He was 89.

Cachao was one of the most important living figures in Cuban music, on or off the island, and ''arguably the most important bassist in twentieth-century popular music,'' according to Cuban-music historian Ned Sublette. He not only innovated Cuban music but also influenced the now familiar bass lines of American R&B, ''which have become such a part of the environment that we don't even think where they came from,'' Sublette said.

Cachao and his brother Orestes are most widely known for their late-1930s invention of the mambo, a hot coda to the popular but stately danzón that allowed the dancers to break loose at the end of a piece.

It debuted in a chic Havana night club -- and flopped.

''Nothing happened,'' Cachao told The Miami Herald in 1992. ``Here was this 180-degree turn. The whole orchestra was out of work for six months after that because people didn't understand that type of music.''

Typically modest, Cachao always credited bandleader Dámaso Pérez Prado for making the beat world-famous in the 1950s.

''People think there could've been some antagonism,'' Cachao said. But ``if it weren't for him, the mambo wouldn't be known around the world.''

A possibly more important musical moment took place in 1957, when Cachao gathered a group of musicians in the early morning hours, pumped from playing gigs at Havana's popular nightclubs, for an impromptu jam at a recording studio. The resulting descargas, known to music aficionados worldwide as Cuban jam sessions, revolutionized Afro-Cuban popular music. Under Cachao's direction, these masters improvised freely in the manner of jazz, but their vocabulary was Cuba's popular music. This was the model that wold make live performances of Afro-Cuban based genres, from salsa to Latin jazz, so incredibly hot.

This majestic influence came from a man of sweet demeanor and unassailable sense of humor. Fronting his band at a fancy dance in Coral Gables when he was already in his late 80s, he seemed so frail that he had to lean his whole body on the contrabass to keep from falling. But his beatific smile and closed eyes proved that he was in heaven already, embracing his instrument like a lover, like a strong friend.

Yet he no longer owned a bass.

''That's outrageous,'' said jazz legend Charlie Haden when he heard this at the time. ``I'll give him one of mine.''

But a contrabass took up too much room in his small Coral Gables apartment. Besides, what need did he have to rehearse? Cachao carried his bass, his music, inside him.

A marvel of the 20th century, Cachao was born in 1918 in the same Havana house where Cuban poet and patriot José Martí was born. He was the youngest of three children in a family of distinguished musicians, many of them bassists -- around 40 and counting in his extended family.

As an 8-year-old bongo player, he joined a children's septet that included a future famous singer and bandleader, Roberto Faz. A year later, already on bass, he provided music for silent movies in his neighborhood theater, in the company of a pianist who would become a true superstar, the great cabaret performer Ignacio Villa, known as Bola de Nieve (Snowball).

His parents made sure Cachoa was classically trained, first at home and then at a conservatory. When he was 13, he joined his father and brother in the Orquesta Filarmónica de La Habana -- The Havana Philharmonic -- playing contrabass under the baton of guest conductors like Herbert von Karajan, Igor Stravinsky and Heitor Villa-Lobos. He had to stand on a box to reach the strings.

He was equally at home playing in a dance band, changing out of his coattails at the end of a concert to play with Arcano y sus Maravillas. When they weren't playing, Cachao and his brother created some 3,000 danzones.

''One day I was in my own home and I turned on the radio,'' he told The Miami Herald. 'And I heard a danzón that I liked. And I said `Who is that'? -- and at that moment, the announcer says it's mine.''

After a rich musical career in his home country, he left Cuba in 1962. His brother Orestes stayed on the island. As retribution for leaving, Cachao said, the Cuban government removed his name from all of his recordings, leaving only Orestes on the label. That, he said, was a ``big tragedy.''

Cachao eventually landed in Las Vegas because, as he admitted, ``I was a compulsive gambler.''

Though cured later in life, he nearly gambled away every penny until his wife whisked him away.

For a while, he had two distinct musical personae. In the New York salsa scene he was revered as a music god, with homage concerts dedicated to him, and records of his music produced by Cuban-music collector René López. In Miami, he was an ordinary working musician who would play quinceañeras and weddings, or back up dance bands in the notorious Latin nightclubs of the Miami Vice era.

It took a celebrity, Miami's own Andy García, to integrate his musical personality into one: that of a legendary master. In the '90s, García produced the recordings known as Master Sessions, accompanied by big concerts honoring his legacy. Cachao's star rose again.

But he remained a working musician, if at a much higher level of appreciation. Cachao continued to perform and record with all the energy of a much younger artist. Though already frail and distraught at the funeral of his fellow legend, trombonist Generoso Jiménez, in September 2007, he headlined a rollicking concert in Miami a week later.

Earlier this month, just days before he was hospitalized, the multiple Grammy winner was in the Dominican Republic receiving a lifetime achievement award. Cachao was planning an European tour in August with violinist Federico Britos, with whom he frequently collaborated.

The day before his death, Cachao told his friend Britos, ''When am I supposed to record with you again? I have to get out of bed.'' And he was in pre-production for a CD of new compositions.

''It was not only a great musician who died,'' said producer Emilio Estefan, who was at his bedside, ``but a great señor -- a gentleman. Even in his deathbed he would make sure his visitors felt at ease. He belonged to the people.''

Cachao, whose wife of 58 years, Ester Buenaventura López, died in 2004, is survived by their daughter María Elena López, grandson Hector Luis Vega and his nephew Daniel Palacio.

Cuban music icon 'Cachao' dies
Grammy winner pioneered mambo, influenced modern-day rhythms
The Associated Press
updated 6:12 p.m. PT, Sat., March. 22, 2008

MIAMI - Cuban bassist and composer Israel "Cachao" Lopez, who is credited with pioneering the mambo style of music, died Saturday at age 89, a family spokesman said.

Known simply as Cachao, the Grammy-winning musician had fallen ill in the past week and died surrounded by family members at Coral Gables Hospital, spokesman Nelson Albareda said.

Cachao left communist Cuba and came to the United States in the early 1960s. He continued to perform into his late 80s, including a performance after the death of trombonist Generoso Jimenez in September 2007.

Cachao was born in Havana in 1918 to a family of musicians. A classically trained bassist, he began performing with the Havana symphony orchestra as a teenager, working under the baton of visiting guest conductors like Herbert von Karajan, Igor Stravinsky and Heitor Villa-Lobos during his nearly 30-year career with the philharmonic.

He also wrote hundreds of songs in Cuba for bands and orchestras, many based on the classic Cuban music style known as son.

He and his late brother, multi-instrumentalist Orestes Lopez, are known for the creation in the late 1930s of the mambo, which emerged from their improvisational work with the danzon, an elegant musical style that lends itself to slow dancing.

"The origins of 'mambo' happened in 1937," Cachao said in a 2004 interview with The San Francisco Chronicle. "My brother and I were trying to add something new to our music and came up with a section that we called danzon mambo. It made an impact and stirred up people. At that time our music needed that type of enrichment."

Cachao influences
The mambo was embraced early on and Cuban composers and jazz musicians have tweaked it over the years. It also influenced the development of salsa music.

In the 1950s, Cachao and his friends began popularizing the descarga ("discharge" in Spanish), a raucous jam session incorporating elements of jazz and Afro-Cuban musical approaches.

Cachao left Cuba in 1962, relocating first to Spain, and soon afterward came to New York where he was hired to perform at the Palladium nightclub with the leading Latin bands.

In the United States, he collaborated with such Latin music stars such as Tito Puente, Tito Rodrigues, Machito, Chico O'Farrill, Eddie Palmieri and Gloria Estefan.

He worked in Las Vegas for most of the 1970s. He fell into obscurity during the 1980s after he moved to Miami, where he ended up playing in small clubs and at weddings.

Career revival
But his career enjoyed a revival in the 1990s with the help of Cuban-American actor-director Andy Garcia, who made a 1993 documentary about the bassist's career, "Cachao ... Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos" (Like His Rhythm There Is No Other) and also produced several CDs, including the Grammy-winning album "Ahora Si!" in 2004.

In 2006, Cachao was saluted at two Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts with the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra paying tribute to the Latin bass tradition, and he led a mambo all-star band at a JVC Jazz Festival program at Carnegie Hall.

In a statement Saturday, Garcia credited Cachao with being a major influence in Cuban musical history and said his passing marked the end of an era.

"Cachao is our musical father. He is revered by all who have come in contact with him and his music," Garcia said. "Maestro ... you have been my teacher, and you took me in like a son. So I will continue to rejoice with your music and carry our traditions wherever I go, in your honor."

Cuban-born reed player and composer Paquito D'Rivera said Cachao made friends everywhere he went with his affable personality and good sense of humor. D'Rivera said he was working on a piece he had written for the multiple Grammy winner when he heard about the death.

"He was what a great musician should be. He represented what true versatility in music is all about," D'Rivera told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

A wake is set for Wednesday, and his burial is Thursday, Albareda said.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cubans get OK to buy "banned" electronic goods


Cubans get OK to buy electronic goods
First sign of reforms as Communists permit sale of computers, TVs, DVDs
updated 8:53 a.m. PT, Thurs., March. 13, 2008

HAVANA - Communist Cuba has authorized the sale of computers, DVD and video players and other electrical appliances in the first sign President Raul Castro is moving to lift some restrictions on daily life.

"Based on the improved availability of electricity the government at the highest level has approved the sale of some equipment which was prohibited," said an internal government memo seen by Reuters.

It listed computers, video and DVD players, 19-inch and 24-inch television sets, electric pressure cookers and rice cookers, electric bicycles, car alarms and microwaves that can now be freely bought by Cubans.

Raul Castro, 76, has led Cuba since July 2006 when his older brother Fidel Castro provisionally handed over power after intestinal surgery from which he has never fully recovered.

The younger Castro formally became Cuba's first new leader in almost half a century on Feb. 24, and promised to ease some of the restrictions on daily life in Cuba.

"The country's priority will be to meet the basic needs of the population, both material and spiritual," Raul Castro said as he replaced his brother, a staunch critic of capitalist consumer society.

Last year, under Raul Castro's provisional government, customs regulations were eased to allow Cubans to bring in some electronic equipment and car parts.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

In New York, With Beliefs That Still Challenge Cuba

New York Times
March 10, 2008
In New York, With Beliefs That Still Challenge Cuba

Carmen Peláez is a liberal with a deep laugh and a great sense of the absurd. All of those qualities are tested when she encounters fellow New Yorkers who still admire Fidel Castro.

Ms. Peláez, a Cuban-American actress, was born in this country and raised in Miami. She came to New York in 1993 to study acting. In the mid-’90s, she traveled to Cuba to explore the world of her great-aunt, Amelia Peláez, a noted painter who died in 1968. All those experiences pulse through “Rum & Coke,” a one-woman show in which she channels relatives on both sides of the Florida Straits and weary Habaneros stuck on an island forgotten by the outside world.

The play was her retort to the fascination with Che T-shirts, solidarity tours to Cuba and the endless praise of the revolution’s twin pillars of health and education.

“When I started writing the play, I thought people just didn’t know what was happening in Cuba,” she said after the show closed its monthlong New York run last week. “But the longer I live here, the more I realized, they don’t care.”

She was reminded of that last month when Mr. Castro finally stepped down as president after nearly 50 years in power. The move prompted wistful reflections from old rabble-rousers and praise from some politicians. Representative José E. Serrano called Mr. Castro a “great leader” whose retirement ensured the future of the Cuban system and its achievements, which he said enjoyed “a broad base of support” on the island.

What really stumped Ms. Peláez was how the Bronx congressman’s only brickbats were against the “twisted policies” of the United States government.

“They would rather keep their little pop revolution instead of saying it is a dictatorship,” Ms. Peláez said. “I had somebody come to me after a show and say, ‘Don’t ruin Cuba for me!’ Well, why not? They’re holding on to a fantasy.”

This city has long attracted Cuban artists and intellectuals in exile. Many of those who now live here thrive on the city’s culture, its mix of people and even its weather (four seasons, instead of hot and hotter). Perhaps the greatest Cuban exile of all, José Martí, lived and worked in 19th-century New York as he rallied his countrymen in the fight for independence from Spain.

Exiles and refugees are still coming to New York, having decided that life in Castro’s Cuba — the only life they ever really knew — was not worth the sacrifice of personal freedoms. This month, some of them will observe the fifth anniversary of the Cuban government’s crackdown on 75 dissidents, independent journalists and librarians, who were sentenced to as many as 28 years. Most of them are still in prison.

Paul Berman, a writer in residence at New York University who has written critiques of the American left and Cuba, said the plight of these recent arrivals does not strike the same chord here it once did for those who fled the Soviet bloc.

“Back in the ’70s and ’80s, some mathematician would come out of the Soviet Union and there would be a meeting of intellectuals to greet him,” Mr. Berman said. “That kind of human rights zeal just seems to have disappeared.”

Cristina Martinez came of age in the Soviet Union, were she was sent to study electrical engineering in 1985 after graduating from high school in Cuba. Her extracurricular lessons were unavoidable, watching as perestroika and glasnost swept through society.

“The press was starting to bring to light everything they had hidden during 75 years of Communism,” she said. “It was a lesson, that this was the future we wanted to go to. This is the light. We had all toyed with the idea of changing the Cuban reality, to criticize it, to make it better.”

But as walls fell and borders opened, Cuba clung to its way. Disillusioned, Ms. Martinez fled to Spain, where she taught at a university for six years. Her politics were leftist enough that her Spanish friends joked she was “the reddest person they ever met.”

Maybe not in New York, where she has lived since 1996, working as a computer systems administrator at an Upper West Side school. Though she still considers herself a liberal who favors the underdog, she is puzzled by the image of Cuba as an international paladin.

“The image is one of the defender of the oppressed and defender of just causes,” she said. “People who understand the Cuban reality know it is not like that. It is not something they would want for themselves or their own country. Or, they are opportunists who use Cuba as a symbol knowing full well what is happening.”

Although Enrique Del Risco knows what has happened on the island where he was born 40 years ago, he still gets odd looks from college students when he tries to explain Cuba’s reality. He left Cuba in 1996 and settled in New York two years later, teaching Spanish at New York University.

“I grew up believing in the system,” he said. “Quite a believer. My parents, too.”

He, too, thought there would be change during the late 1980s. Instead, he found himself slowly suffocating, with his writings earning him reprimands.

“I was more scared of surrendering than being put in jail,” he said. “I was scared that I would stop being myself. I was someone who thinks independently and expresses that.”

Yet to try and tell that to some of his students, he said, was like talking about extraterrestrial life. He knows to expect a dual riposte — yes, but what about universal health care and education?

“At the root of that is a great belittling of Cubans,” he said. “It’s like we are some sort of little animals who only need a veterinarian and someone to teach us tricks and we’ll be fine.”

He is dismayed by the way Cuban officials deflect questions from university students who wonder why they cannot travel overseas or stay at Cuban hotels, which are essentially reserved for tourists. Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuba’s National Assembly, told one such questioner that when he was a diplomat posted in New York during the 1960s and ’70s, shopkeepers would eject him the moment they learned he was Hispanic.

“There is a fear of the future that comes from control of information,” Mr. Del Risco said. “You can see that in what Alarcón said. You can only dare say what he said in a country that is disinformed.”

Mr. Del Risco’s New York is welcoming.

“I feel more at home in New York than in Madrid,” he said. “From the first day you get here you feel like you are from here. There is not that distance or someone asking you what you are doing here.”

He loves the variety. The rush. The chance to do it all. Or do nothing at all.

“I was always in love with New York,” he said. “Even when I was an anti-imperialist, I was pro-New York.”