The Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) welcomed Cuba with open arms and plenty of salsa rhythms at the Cuban Night at MOLAA on Friday, June 21st. A la Buena Vista Social Club, the exciting sounds emanating from this all-star band paid a great tribute to the music of Arsenio Rodriguez known as the Father of Salsa, on his 100th anniversary. MOLAA was founded in 1996 in Long Beach, California and remains the only museum in the US exclusively dedicated to Latin American art. I enjoy this museum so much I've been there thrice now! MOLAA is complete with a patio, event space and meeting rooms for rental also.
Among the esteemed musicians enlivening the audience was Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros, Afro-Cuban jazz trumpeter and one of the few original band members of the Arsenio Rodriguez Conjunto. Chocolate has played with the best such as Benny More, Tito Puente, Wynton Marsalis, Eddie and Charlie Palmieri, Dizzy Gillespie, or rather…they've played with him!
All Star Tribute to the music of Arsenio Rodriguez
Other greats contributing to this exciting band were Jose Mangual Jr. from Spanish Harlem, New York. As the son of Jose Mangual Sr., who is easily considered by many as the greatest bongo player in the world, Jose Jr. was already showcasing his talent in New York by the age of 15. He's played with the likes of Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon's orchestra, Juan Luis Guerra, Ruben Blades, Hector Lavoe, Herb Alpert, Dizzy Gillespie, David Byrne, and Celia Cruz just to name a few.
Nelson Gonzalez was also lending to the excitement on his Cuban Tres guitar. And that's just the New York players! The rest of this "Marvellous" band included Jose Caridad Perico Hernandez, Jorge Perez, Alberto Salas, Luis Eric, Alberto Tamayo, Santiago Santioste and Luis Alberto Ortega - this time all from Los Angeles.
Friends Gathered to Enjoy the Cultura de Cuba
It was difficult to not join the crowd overflowing to the aisles, swaying happily to the tune of rhythmic salsa. Meanwhile others "Mambo'ed" themselves into a frenzy of wild music experience (otherwise known as Salsa!).
Even though the tribute was called "Las Estrellas de Arsenio - A Tribute to El Maravilloso", most people are unaware that Arsenio Rodriguez' true nickname was El Ciego Maravilloso (the Marvellous Blind Man). This sad truth was due to a tragic accident as a child; Rodriguez was blinded when a horse (or mule) kicked him in the head. He traveled to New York later in life after playing for several years, and following his first recording where he hoped to find someone to cure his blindness. Sadly, he was told that his optic nerves had been completely destroyed, and soon thereafter he composed his famous bolero La Vida es un Sueño (Life is a Dream).
Mojitos Flowed Like Water
At the end of the 1960's, when the mambo craze was nearing its end, he arrived in Los Angeles to start anew. Even though Rodriquez was born in Cuba, his life ended here in Los Angeles in 1970 but his legend lives on worldwide. What a fitting tribute to celebrate his life and the joy he's given all of us through his music in the city where he played for the last time.