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Latin 04/09/2001

Cuba's jazz king set for Latin Grammy awards

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HAVANA (Reuters) - All set to go to Los Angeles for this month's Latin Grammy music awards, Cuba's Latin jazz king Chucho Valdes says the change of venue from Miami is a shame, since music should be a universal language that does not mix with politics. "It's a pity about the change in city, and that there were things that meant it (the event) could not take place in Miami," Valdes said late Sunday after thrilling his audience with his virtuoso technique at a concert in Havana's Hotel Nacional.
"It's a shame, because music is a universal language, it's not Esperanto, it's music, and it belongs to everyone," the pianist told foreign journalists. Viewed by critics as one of the world stars of his genre, Valdes made clear he did not think politics should play a role in such events.

The Sept. 11 Latin Grammy awards were supposed to be held in Miami, but organizers abruptly switched the event last month to Los Angeles, citing concern over security of performers and invitees amid planned Cuban exile protests against nominees from Cuba.
The switch was viewed as a blow for Miami, which is home to some 600,000 Cuban Americans and has suffered in the past from an image of intolerance because of the vehemence of some exiles' opposition to Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Valdes, 59, one of a string of Cuban musicians nominated for the awards, said they would all travel to Los Angeles and had U.S. visas in hand, although Cuban country star Celina Gonzalez might not be able to attend because of ill health. Other Cuban nominees include salsa singer Isaac Delgado and Omara Portuondo of the Buena Vista Social Club group.
A spokeswoman for the Grammys said in Los Angeles last week that none of the seven nominated artists from Cuba were slated to perform on the show.


Asked what he thought of the fact that Miami's most famous exile music couple, producer Emilio Estefan and his wife, Latin pop diva Gloria Estefan, have opted not to go to Los Angeles amid disappointment at the venue switch, Valdes said he preferred not to comment. But he added: "It's a shame that not everyone is there always. I think we should all be in this: those who live on the island and those who live outside it, because we make culture, and art is a universal language."
"I don't want to go into detail because my field is music, culture, and not politics -- that's not my specialty. I am a representative of the culture of Cuba and the Caribbean and the planet,"
said Valdes, author of "Misa Negra" (Black Mass) that was acclaimed as a masterpiece.

He is up for two awards, one with the legendary group Irakere that he founded in 1972 for the album "Unforgettable Boleros" in the category best pop album from a duo or group; and the other for his album "Live in New York" in the category best jazz interpretation.

A two-time Grammy winner, Valdes has been honored by Cuban authorities for his achievements, receiving the highest awards for culture. He enthused about being a Latin Grammy nominee. "Sometimes we (musicians) dream of it as an impossible honor ... and just being nominated is a very big thing, since this is like getting an Oscar in movies and being named means they consider you as having produced among the best records of the year around the planet, which is exciting."

Valdes has traveled extensively in the United States, but for him and other Cuban artists, Miami can be a touchy area because of the threat of exile protests such as those that greeted celebrated salsa band Los Van Van in the city in 1999, when concert-goers were pelted with eggs and other objects.

State-run Cuban Music Institute president Alicia Perea said last week the Cuban nominees would all go to Los Angeles, adding that "wherever Cuban artists are invited, as long as they are treated with conditions (of dignity, equality and respect), we should go."

Asked if he would have traveled to Miami if the Grammys had been held there, Valdes said: "perhaps if the Grammys were held on the planet Pluto I would have gone also ... I think if they were awarded on another planet, in another Galaxy any one of us would go, I would."

A genial figure who is widely appreciated in music-mad Cuba, Valdes' latest project is an opera he has written and is to start recording soon, which is titled "Obatala" after the god of purity and peace in the Santeria religion and which aims to illustrate Cuba's fusion of sounds from Spain and Africa.

He started playing the piano at 3 with his father, trained as a classical musician and has no plans to stop.

"I think I will be making music until I die," he said.

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