Pedro Telleria studied medicine at the University of Havana in the 1920s. He was later a successful builder and contractor in Miami’s MiMo District in the 1950s. And somehow, in all that time, he became one of the most influential Cuban orchestra leaders.
Yet even if you did a quick Google search, you would never know any of this — he's almost nonexistent online. His grandniece, filmmaker Annie Basulto, felt the need to rectify her uncle's missing place in history.
Basulto grew up in the city of Sweetwater, hearing stories about her father’s talented uncle from Cuba, who passed away in Miami in 1973. “Whatever he told me about him were really firsthand memories,” she says about her father, Kenneth Basulto.
Throughout Basulto's late teens and early 20s, her father would remind her about this family member who was a talented musician. But growing up in Miami, she didn't think it seemed very impressive. Doesn’t every Cuban parent or grandparent brag about that one family member who was a musician in Cuba?
“When I was in high school, he would say, ‘Oh, you know, my Uncle Pedro was a musician,’’ Basulto says. “But I didn’t put that much energy into it. He would say that Pedro was connected to the Mambo Kings, but I didn’t know what he was talking about.”
It turned out her father was right. One day, Basulto picked up a memoir about the Mambo Kings. By the end of the book, she had made the realization that the author was, in fact, another nephew of Telleria’s and that the main character, Cesar Castillo, was inspired by her very own granduncle. “He even inspired a literary character that won a Pulitzer Prize,” she says. Based on the novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, the feature film The Mambo Kings premiered in 1992 and starred a very young Antonio Banderas.
A couple of years passed and her curiosity of her family’s heritage grew. That’s when, in the fall of 2012, Basulto, who had been living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, moved back to Miami. She was pregnant with twins and decided she would spend a year living at her childhood home so her family could help her.
Her father passed down all of Telleria’s belongings to her during this time. Relics included newspaper clippings and record contracts from his music career as a musician, orchestra leader, and composer in New York and Miami. Her dad had also kept some papers from Telleria's days as a builder and contractor.
Little did she know then that these findings would inspire her to devote the next three years to The Pedro Telleria Project, an extensive research venture featuring a documentary film that would uncover her granduncle’s career, legacy, and impact on Cuban and Cuban-American history.
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“I kept on finding all these things that Pedro contributed to or had something to do with, but people either don’t know his name or they'd have the wrong name and he's misidentified,” Basulto says.
Since 2013, she has worked on creating the documentary film One More Night... With Pedro Telleria and His Orchestra. The feature not only uncovers what Telleria accomplished but also showcases the extensive process it has taken Basulto to discover his history.
Late last month, she presented her rare findings, as well as the trailer for her documentary at Florida International University during Viernes de Musicalia, sponsored by the Cuban Research Institute and FIU Libraries. Later this summer, she'll move back to New York City, where she'll continue her research. She plans to complete and release the Telleria documentary by the end of the year.
The Pedro Telleria Project
To help Basulto raise funds to finish the project, visit her Kickstarter page.