Sunday, November 19, 2017
Politics

Straz center patrons hope Cuban programming can continue

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TAMPA — Twenty-four hours after Cuban-Americans danced in the streets celebrating the death of Fidel Castro, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts provided those with roots in the island nation another reason to sway to music.

The Havana Cuba All-Stars, an 11-piece ensemble that specializes in son music, was performing there, the latest in the Straz's ongoing initiative to book talent from the nation.

While no one in attendance appeared to mourn the death of the communist despot, there was concern for the future of the center's Cuban programming because of President-elect Donald Trump's promise to undo President Barack Obama's initiatives to normalize relations between the countries.

"Tampa should be able to celebrate its Cuban heritage by bringing in Cuban artists," said Javier Gonzalez, 40, who was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, and moved to Union City, N.J., at age 8. "This is important to me."

Taina Greseth agreed. She was born in Tampa in 1955, three years after her parents moved here from Havana in search of a better life. Castro had not yet risen to power.

She grew up listening to Cuban music. She played it for her son, Angel Jimenez, now 36. But Sunday was the first time either had the chance to hear an authentic Cuban band perform live.

"I hope it's the first of many times," Greseth said.

Earlier this year, Cuba's Habana Compás Dance, akin to the Broadway show Stomp, performed at the Straz center.

In March, the center will welcome Tiempo Libre. Known for its mix of jazz, son and timba, the Cuban music group has been nominated for three Grammys.

There is hope that the world renowned Cuban National Ballet will perform at the Straz next year.

"This all brings more unity between the countries," said Pedro Tailor, 63. Born in Havana, he moved to Tampa in 1962.

The 778 who attended Sunday were not all of Cuban ancestry.

Tampa-area siblings Marty, Missy and Bill Bosy — 61, 57 and 54 — traveled Latin America with their father who worked for Chiquita, the banana and produce distributor. Among the nations they called home as children were Panama, Guatemala and Colombia.

"We love the Latin music, culture and food," Marty Bosy said. "Anything that brings it to Tampa is a good thing."

Mercedes Agosto, 60, of Tampa was born in Puerto Rico, and Tina Davis, 59, in Spain.

They attended separately but both said they were at the show because Cuban music is similar to that from their homelands.

"It brings me a taste of my culture," Agosto said. "This is great."

Before Castro's revolution, Tampa — not Miami — was home to the largest Cuban-American population, so it was a preferred destination for Cuban performers.

Some now hope that strong bond can now be rekindled.

"We should have never let it end," said WMNF-FM 88.5 host Walter Lee Smith, 43. "There is no reason music should be part of this back and forth fighting. Music is meant to bring people together."

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3394. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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