The Cuban Los Van Van band is celebrating its 50th anniversary and it is doing it with a world tour that includes the United States, a country where the Cuba subject has escalated.
Strong sanctions by the government of Donald Trump or the rejection of the performance of musicians from the island in Florida is not stopping this 17-member orchestra that, after playing in Miami in May and in California this month, will now do so in New York and Washington.
After all, what Los Van Van want is to entertain.
“Since we’re not politicians, we try to be as far away from that as possible, trying to make our music,” said this Wednesday Samuel Formell, leader of the group, on the eve of its performance at the Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Bandshell.
“In the end, there’s no doubt that when you go to a Los Van Van concert you don’t talk about politics, you don’t talk about anything, what you do is dance, enjoy and forget a little about the day-to-day problems that every human being can have,” he added in an interview with The Associated Press.
This month, political leaders in Miami passed a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to grant powers to local governments to prevent the performance of island musicians in facilities in U.S. cities. Another city in Florida, Hialeah, recently announced that it would withdraw several Cuban groups from its guest list to play at a festival.
When Formell was asked about that, the musician responded by recalling his recent concert in Miami.
“It was a total, resounding success, where there were people who weren’t able to get in,” said the 52-year-old Cuban, while explaining that despite the boycotts of musicians from the island in Florida, there are many Americans who aren’t interested in that and many Hispanics who go to their concerts to also “have a good time.”
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The Trump administration has imposed strong regulations that make certain trips from Cuba to the United States more difficult and vice versa. This month it prohibited cruise trips and a very used category, that of educational travel, with the purpose of suppressing the flow of dollars to the island.
Formell said that, for the time being, the band has never been denied a work visa to play in the United States. Trump’s measures, however, don’t help them in their native country.
“It affects us, not so much because of coming here, but it affects us because of the economy in Cuba, in daily life, because I live in Cuba,” said the musician. “They are very drastic, very strong measures.”
The band, formed in 1969 by his father, Juan Formell, gained popularity by creating the songo, which mixed the folkloric sounds typical of Cuba with modern music of the 1970s. Its songs spoke with humor and mischief, and still do, about the joys and sorrows of Cubans. Among its successes are “El baile del buey cansao,” “La titimanía,” “Sandurenga” and “El negro no tiene na.”
The members of the orchestra have been changing, although there are some who have been part of Los Van Van for 40 years. Julio Noroña, 76 years old and in charge of minor percussion, is the only one from the beginning, explained Formell.
In 1999 the orchestra won a Grammy for its 15th album, “Llegó Van Van.” Today the group has 42 albums to its name, including “Legado,” released last year. At present, the band is preparing another for the 50th anniversary, with hits from each decade to which they will inject “new freshness,” said Formell.
After the United States, Los Van Van plan to go to Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, among other countries, before their European and Asian tour.
The secret of surviving so many years?
“That the musicians stay in the group. That stability,” explained Formell, who also affirmed that the band lasted a lot due to the work of his father, who passed away in 2014.
“He was always looking for a way for the sound to be fresh, for the sound to be up to date. That didn’t happen with other groups that didn’t go on,” he said.
On Thursday, the band will play at the Howard Theater in Washington, and on June 29 it will return to New York to perform in Saratoga Springs.