Los Van Van Led by Killer Musician

Categories: Crime, Culture
Samuel_drums.jpg
Image via Key 2 Cuba
Samuel Formell
In most countries, a murderer who took part in strangling an old lady wouldn't be leading a get-down-and-boogie party propaganda machine sent around the world to spread goodwill. He'd be on death row or doing life behind bars.

But Los Van Van leader Samuel Formell, son of the band's founder Juan Formell, is not only a free man but also will lead the band this Sunday night at the James L. Knight Center  in downtown Miami (7 p.m., $62-$102). And he'll be banging on the drums he learned to play  when he was supposedly doing time in a Cuban prison, according to an underground Cuban blog posted this week.

Because communist apologists -- and Van Van fans -- will likely dismiss the story as sour grapes posted by a dissident who's had his writing materials confiscated and might not fully appreciate the wonderful things the Castro brothers have done, New Times tracked down two sources who were on the island when the story broke and who were closely and personally  acquainted with Formell and the victim's family. They declined to speak on the record for fear of retribution.

The following story outlined in Juan Gonzalez Febles's blog, they assure us, is for the most part accurate. The only mistake they found was that it named three, instead of two, thugs who took part in the 1984 killing during a robbery in Havana:

"Samuel knew where to find the (stereo) equipment, and, what's more, counted on the confidence (of the victim) to gain access. Who would suspect anything from such a delightful young man? After all, his father was a successful artist and the old lady confided in (Samuel), who visited frequently and helped around the house.

"One afternoon, he knocked on the door, and the old lady, trustingly opened it. The three (it was two) young men raided the house, gagged her, and immediately took charge. Samuel was one of them. After the initial nervousness had worn off, Formell got his accomplice's attention: 'She knows me. We have to kill her!' he said.

"The old lady was strangled with a phone cord and they fled with their booty."

Samuel Formell was arrested by the "ever-efficient" Technical Department of Investigations (DTI) of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR), Gonzalez Febles writes. He was taken to prison "to atone for his terrible crime" but "only knew the exterior" of the compound and was allowed to go home at night. He was later authorized to have his drums.

Formell was released under house arrest and by 1990 was officially a free man, according to our sources. After a short stint with the band of famous singer Isaac Delgado, an eventual defector who helped get him out of jail, Samuel joined his father's band.

So, if you catch the show Sunday night, all of that singing and hip shaking might take on a slightly different connotation. Samuel Formell has plenty to celebrate.


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