Latin Music Musings

We've always thought the story of Cuban singer Albita Rodriguez's career would make for a great episode of Behind the Music. Her beginnings as a humble country singer and self-styled rocker in Cuba. Her flight across the border with her band while on tour in Mexico. Her frustrating arrival in Miami, trying to market the contemporary Cuban-music sound of her band, and her stint as a reluctant poster child for the exile community. Her cult following by a fervent group of Latin ladies. The speculation about her personal life. Her "discovery" by Emilio Estefan and makeover as a diva. Her sudden exit from Estefan's Crescent Moon label. Her determined return to her roots and a comeback album on Times Square Records. It's undeniably great material, and as distinctly Miami as cafecitos and road rage.

While this tumultuous and ultimately triumphant tale hasn't reached VH1, it will come to life this Friday at the Centro Cultural Español in Coral Gables, where Albita will be the featured artist at the center's The Music in Person series.

"We try to make it as televisionlike as possible," reveals Francisco Ojeda, the creator of the event, which began in March with a focus on renowned Cuban bass player Israel "Cachao" Lopez. The evening will include a fact-filled introduction by Ojeda enhanced with images and music, followed by a conversation with Albita. The singer/songwriter is also expected to treat the audience to a song or two, accompanying herself on guitar.

"Albita pushed music forward in Miami in many ways," says Ojeda. "She brought back a lot of the tradition while [introducing the style of] modern Cuban musicians into exile."

Ojeda, a musicologist, music director at Radio Martí, and the host of a Cuban-music program on Tuesday evenings at WDNA-FM (88.9), plans to have celebrated vocalist Olga Guillot as a guest later in the series. (He had hoped to include famed Cuban composer Rene Touzet, but the 86-year-old musician passed away earlier this month. Instead Ojeda will mount a tribute to him later this summer.) But he cautions that celebrity junkies should take heed: The focus will be on music rather than digging dirt on his subject, no matter how delicious it may be. "These interviews are not show biz interviews, they're not about who's dating who," says the host. "This is all about the music."

Okay, so let's think Sessions at West 54th instead of Behind the (Latin) Music. The Music in Person presents a chance to hear what an artist has to say about his or her art. And this time it offers Albita's faithful fans a chance to see her up close and personal, perhaps recalling the days of her legendary Yucca cocktail hour or her rollicking Centro Vasco cabarets. And Ojeda does promise time for a question-and-answer session, during which audience members can ask any burning questions of their own.

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Judy Cantor