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Cuban Music Lesson: Benny Moré

Get ready to be schooled, asere. It’s time for a Cuban music lesson! Learn to tell your cha cha cha from your mambo without leaving your couch. Put on your dancing shoes, guayaberas, park your 57 Chevy, light up that Habano, and pay attention.

First of all let’s clear something up right away, not all Cuban music is Salsa. In fact all Puerto Rican, Dominican, Panamanian, and Columbian music isn’t Salsa either. Salsa was born in Spanish Harlem in the 70’s by Nuyoricans and Cuban exiles playing a faster rock and jazz influenced hybrid. If you hear someone refer to the Buena Vista Social Club or Perez Prado as Salsa you have our permission to kick them in the box for their ignorance.

So now that we’ve clarified that, lets start with the man that is arguably the greatest Cuban bandleader of all time: Benny Moré. Benny was born in a small one horse town in Matanzas called Santa Isabel de las Lajas (actually we’ve seen this town. It’s not even a one horse town. They had a three legged jackass they called a horse). Benny went to the big city of Havana as a young man to make his fortune. This was when Havana was the most awesomest place ever full of swanky mob run hotels, casinos, whorehouses, and dance clubs. It was like Vegas with better architecture and less Cirque de Soleil. Benny quickly became famous all over Cuba for his infectious songs and his sheer unadulterated showmanship. He would arrive late, like several hours late, drunk off a bottle or two of rum with a couple of Cuban hevas on each arm. With his baggy pants and signature dancing he would lead one of Cuba’s all time greatest bands. People would put up with the lateness because the experience was sheer magic. Benny might jump into the audience during a sax solo to punch out a belligerent patron or dance with an American tourist and jump back on stage in time for the chorus.

Sadly Benny’s hard living caught up with him and he died at a young age from cirrhosis of the liver. Yes, friends. Drinking several bottles of rum a day is not a healthy lifestyle choice. He lived like a rockstar but he had the goods to back it up. Benny is considered a national treasure in Cuba where a statue of him stands outside the Tropicana in Havana. Luckily you can download his music and relive those heady days of the 50s when men were men, women wore tight dresses that clung to their bodies in a tropical sweat, and mojitos were something yuppies hadn’t discovered yet.

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