Music and Religion Meet on the Streets for Hialeah's San Lazaro Festival

Los Herederos, an afro-Cuban band based in Miami, have made it their job to share Yoruba culture with the world. “My grandma always said I would inherit something. Of course, in that moment I was too small and did not understand. As I grew older, I started realizing, wow, I have a richness, and that richness was our folklore, our essence, our roots,” says Philbert Armenteros, lead singer and percussionist. “This is what we have inherited, our gift, and it’s what we need to share with the people.”

The audience at Hoy Como Ayer on Thursday night was happy to receive this gift. It was Hialeah's San Lazaro Festival, and the six-piece band played a packed house in celebration of their beloved milagroso, Cuba’s San Lazaro.

The island’s saint is a mixture between Catholicism’s Saint Lazarus, a close friend to Jesus who revived him after dying, and Yoruba’s Orisha (the spirits who reflect the Yoruba Gods), Babalú Aye, who is invoked to heal health problems.

If you’re Cuban, chances are you can probably find a candle with his gaunt body and nurturing dogs lit somewhere in your home on December 17, the day of his physical death, but ascension to sainthood. Propped up on an altar next to Los Herederos, his suffering gives way to our bendición.
“I’ve had problems with my legs, I’ve been severely sick, I have a bone graft, a rod that holds my spine together because my lungs collapsed. Due to a lot of trauma in my life, I was unable to walk for quite a while. I have lupus, fibromyalgia, and I’ve had heart surgery,” says Carry Rodriguez, a long time volunteer at Hialeah’s San Lazaro Festival. “Next to my mother, I’m able to walk because of San Lazaro.”

Rodriguez stands — a testament, she says, to the power of Babalú Aye —  in front of El Rincon San Lazaro, a Hialeah Church founded in honor of Cuba’s own San Lazaro pilgrimage site. 

Rodriguez’s story is like many you’ll hear at the two-day festival. Beginning on the víspera, (December 16) thousands flood the streets of Hialeah seeking communion with the giving saint.

“Being here is the least I can do to say thank you for the miracles he’s given me,” says Rodriguez.
Once San Lazaro weaved his way through Hialeah, Los Herederos took the stage at Hoy Como Ayer, where they conjured up rhythms reminiscent of Celia Cruz. The group's set included rumbas and folklores dedicated to Orishas, embodied by professional dancer and performer, Marisol Blanco.

Her performance, in conjunction with Los Herederos, is a transcendent one, each note more bombastic and chilling than the last. A true catharsis after the morning’s pious silence.

Despite Los Herederos’ devout faith, and the performance’s religious undertones, they are careful to note the difference between culture and religion. “This, what we’re doing here is culture. But, when we’re playing a toque in a house, that’s something religious. That’s sacred,” says Herederos singer and percussionist, who goes by El Buda. 
It was a short set, clocking in at only one hour, but the group made sure to close with a classic Cuban conga. As we wormed our way through the crowd, we celebrated the physical reverberations, connecting with the spiritual through our bodies, remembering, as Philbert Armenteros mentioned, “Without health, there is nothing.”
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alexandra Martinez is an arts and culture writer based in Miami. She graduated from Columbia University in 2014 with a bachelor's in film studies. Find her at