Death of a Bandleader

Over the years, Reve and his orchestra toured Europe, Latin America, and Canada. There was only one big goal he had yet to accomplish: Reve wanted to perform in the United States, a country he had not performed in since before Castro's revolution.

He and his bandmates had hoped to tour here this summer, as other Cuban groups have done, but those plans fell through. Passing the midday hours on his porch, sipping a rum and Coke, Reve seemed obsessed with the idea. Most of all, he wanted to play in the United States with musicians whose artistry he had admired for years. He ticked off the names on his thick fingers: Willy Chirino, Andy Montanez, Cheo Feliciano, and, above all, the legendary salsa singer Celia Cruz, whom he had known since they were both young, struggling performers.

He credited these and other artists with keeping the rhythms of Cuba alive by playing salsa abroad. In one 1995 song, "Mi Salsa Tiene Sandunga," he payed homage to New York's salsa pioneers and their Cuban roots. Reve regarded the long separation of musicians in the United States and Cuba as a cultural rather than a political issue, and he spoke excitedly about the prospect of being able to join them on-stage.

"The problem now is to unite the ties between the Latin American musicians who are over there and the musicians in Cuba, so there's a brotherhood, an identification," he said soberly. "It's important that we see each other, that we know each other, even if it's just to have a cafe con leche in some corner cafeteria. The musicians aren't angry at each other. We just want to play our music."

Indeed, Reve was confident he would soon realize his dream.
"I think that any time now we'll be on one stage [in America] where we can all be together and share the honors of our music with theirs, each one with their style and their own rhythm but all on one stage. If someone would organize a concert in Miami with Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, El Canario [Jose Alberto], and Willy Chirino and Reve could be there, I wouldn't be interested in making a cent. What I want is to share my music, so that the people over there know my music. Because it's been lost to them for 35 years."

Reve leaned back in his chair and looked at the sky wistfully. Asked if he had ever thought of leaving Cuba altogether to join his colleagues in the States, he snapped to attention.

"I don't emigrate," he growled. "If you emigrate you're an immigrant. It's a great satisfaction for me to live in Cuba, to stay in my country and to be Cuban. Independent of the system that exists, I'm Cuban." He opened his arms dramatically, gesturing toward the lime trees in the yard, the door to his house, and the street, where some neighbors were leaning on a car, chatting. "Here I have my family, I have my house, I have my friends, I have a public that loves me. I've never wanted for anything." He leaned back again, smiling widely. "I'm going to die in Cuba. I want to be buried here in this little piece of the world.

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