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Malecón. Just the word makes Lazaro Perez a.k.a. Lashy homesick.
"Malecón, Malecón, Malecón. What a special place, especially at night, woooow," says reggaeton artist Lashy, in a lilting accent. The Arizona-based Cuban transplant is performing at the Calle Ocho Festival this Sunday, and spoke with New Timeson the phone earlier this week.
The famed Havana sea wall is where Lashy got his musical start. As a teenager in the late Eighties and early Nineties, he played congas and sang on the Malecón, harmonizing with the ocean waves as they crashed nearby. Every day, he would dream of crossing that ocean to make music in the United States, just like his idol, Celia Cruz.
While working at a small mercadito in the capital, Lashy plotted his escape. He tried to leave three times by sea. On the third attempt, he and some friends floated away on a makeshift raft of roped-together tractor tires. That was in 1994, when he was 17. After one week at sea, the U.S. Coast Guard picked him up. He spent two years in a camp at Guantanamo, where he practiced singing in Spanish and English, thanks to a U.S. Marine who gave him a bilingual dictionary. He won the visa lottery in 1996 and flew to Florida. He arrived in Miami broke and hopeful and was immediately told by an immigration agent to look for a job.
Not in Miami, but in Arizona. It wasn't exactly what Lashy had in mind.
Lashy spent a few years in Glendale washing dishes at a hotel, then working at a golf course. His English became fluent and his family from Cuba joined him. Yet he refused to give up on music; he saved money to buy some equipment and started performing in local clubs. At first, people weren't sure what to make of him white Americans thought he was black until they heard him speak Spanish. And Latinos in Arizona, mostly Mexican, thought he was African-American until he spoke Spanish. But everyone understood him when he started rapping and singing.
"Everyone loves the reggaeton," he says.
Lashy met with Joe Zazueta, a Latin music producer, and Melvin Johnson, a hip-hop producer, and later signed to Arizona label Fuego Lento Records. The result: an infectious reggaeton groove with shades of Beenie Man, Pitbull, and Daddy Yankee. "Boom Chaka Laka," his latest single, is radio-ready, danceable and sexy.
He's already performed on the TV show Caliente. Visiting Miami, he said, is almost like going home to Havana, because of the intensely Cuban vibe here. Lashy could barely contain his excitement about coming to Miami this weekend for the festival and not just because he's performing.
"I gotta get some real Cuban coffee," he says, laughing.