When Cuba Sang

Chico O'Farrill. Bebo Valds. Prez Prado. Cachao. A vibrant musical era was swallowed by the revolution, but not before the Panart record company put it on a platter.

Arturo Gomez, musical director at WDNA radio, agrees. "It's sad that those reissues don't give the music the respect it deserves," says Gomez, who has copies of many of the original Panart records in his private collection. "The lack of liner notes, the combining of things from one album and another -- it's misleading for those of us who know the Panart catalogue, and for those who are unfamiliar with Panart, it's doubtful that they'd pick up one of these CDs. I think the label is worthy of a better reissue line."

Fortunately, that is coming to pass. Last year the Panart catalogue was resold to the the Mexican label Musart, which has released about a dozen Panart reissues, faithful reproductions that utilize the original cover art and list all the musicians, revealing a plethora of major talents, many of whom were at the height of their careers on these recordings. In some cases the information about the recording sessions that originally appeared on the back of the albums is reprinted.

The only element still missing is context. The advent of the compact disc has given record companies an opportunity to turn old masters into new gold: The reissue boom has store shelves overflowing with expertly assembled boxed sets in nearly every genre, complete with fat liner notes with bios, discographies, and critical texts. Cuban music, however, has so far escaped such detailed analysis, and much of it has fallen into a chasm created by revolution, exile, and record-label indifference. The Mexican company will continue to reissue more Panart recordings. But for those who don't recognize the original album covers, they may be difficult to find, because little is being done to market the Panart story to new listeners.

"The way we present this product it's more of a collectors' edition," explains Bill Garcia, regional representative for Balboa Records, Musart's U.S. distributor. "Meaning it's for older people who used to have the LP. We don't expect young people to go out and buy this product. If the younger generation does pick up on it, it's going to be through their parents or grandparents."

Julia Sabat, who had no idea Ricken had sold out the catalogue to Musart, is pleased to hear about the new reissues. But she suspects there's a bigger market for the Panart reissues. "I've been listening to the radio lately and I'm hearing a lot of familiar recordings from the Fifties sung by modern artists," she argues, adding that she just bought a Gloria Estefan Christmas album that includes Arbolito, a song originally recorded on Panart. "A lot of it is the same stuff we started with. I think young people would like to hear the original. It's like going back to the music of Cole Porter -- it never dies."

Galo Sabat, retired and living in Hialeah, gave away his own record collection years ago, and these days he rarely has occasion to talk about his brother's record label. Musart's acquisition of the Panart catalogue is news to him, and he says he's not inclined to go looking for the new reissues. Still, he is confident the Panart legacy will continue long after he is gone. "Panart speaks for itself," he says. "I don't think people will forget it. You see, all music is the product of a certain period. Every era has its music, and our music was the product of a happy time. That's why it lasts. It was good music then, and it will always be good music.

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