Legendary Cuban Band Septeto Nacional Back After 76 Years

Categories: La Habana
It's a measure of the new exile tolerance that a heralded band from Cuba is headed for Miami, and -- at least so far -- no one is talking about protests, pain or politics.
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The Septeto Nacional made its last U.S. appearance at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago, where it won a Gold Medal by spreading the Afro-Cuban music made popular in the 1930s called "son." That was long before the Buena Vista Social Club, which Ry Cooder made  famous.

Now, they're not only going back to the Windy City, but they plan an unexpected stop in Miami, New Times has learned.

The legendary group -- composed of the fourth generation of musicians who've kept the music of its prolific founder and composer Ignacio Piñeiro alive -- will play two shows at Hoy Como Ayer, a cafe night club on SW 8th Street and 22nd Ave., Saturday, November 21.

"They've never received the recognition they deserve," said Fabio Diaz, one of the nightclub's owners.

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The tour will take them to New York this weekend, then Los Angeles, San Diego, San Juan and Chicago.

The group's current singer and director Eugenio Rodriguez joined the band in 1982, but most of the current members came on board in 1995 and 2000. The music, as old Cubans would say, "es mas viejo que andar a pie" (is older than walking), and includes such standards as "Esas no son cubanas" and "Échale salsita."

It is said that when George Gershwin visited Cuba in 1932, he studied Piñeiro's sones and cited "Échale salsita" in his "Cuban Overture."

Although Septeto Nacional is making a rare Miami appearance for a band from communist Cuba, it is not expected to draw the protests that greeted Los Van Van in 1999, when concert goers were pelted by eggs, rocks, and bottles.

Not only have times changed (witness the local response to the recent Juanes concert in Cuba, which may prove a watershed event), but the Septeto has always steered away from politics and focused on the music, which is the roots of salsa.

"I don't expect protests," said Diaz, whose club hosted Los Fakires, a '60s retro band from the island, in 2001.

For New York promoter Leo Tizol -- who brought Los Van Van and Orquesta Aragon to the states -- bringing Septeto Nacional on a U.S. tour was a no-brainer. "I'm a traditionalist," Tizol said. "I needed (to bring) the crown jewel."

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