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Castro mouthpiece Juan Formell
Castro mouthpiece Juan Formell

The Apolitical Blues

With the nabbing of Elian Gonzalez in the headlines, congressional hearings under way and the insinuation that Castro's intelligence moles blackmailed President Clinton into the raid, emotions are running high among Cuban-Americans right now. So who could blame the Cuban members of Los Van Van if they're a bit nervous about their Houston appearance?

Several months ago the band members, who have never laid eyes on their country's leader outside of TV, were denounced by Miami Mayor Joe Carollo as the "official communist band of Fidel Castro," and the ACLU had to intervene to prevent the Miami government from shutting down their South Florida concert. Still, 4,000 demonstrators pelted Van Van fans with rocks and eggs as concertgoers made their way to the show.

"My songs all deal with the picaresque life in Cuba -- the joy and hardship -- always with a sense of humor and the latest street slang," says bassist and songwriter Juan Formell. "My songs are never political, not one in 31 years."

If a random sampling of Cuban-Americans is any indication, Van Van's Houston concert should be more low-key. "Can you get me free tickets?" asks Guido Piquet, owner of Café Piquet, who likes what he has heard of the band. "I think [Castro] should be shot and strung up, but I don't see that the band's coming here to play is going to make a difference."

Down the street at Café Miami, Carlos Gonzalez, who fled Cuba 27 years ago, says, "The people of Miami are under a lot of pressure, and tend to go extreme. But [the band isn't] going to have a problem here."

Still, some condemn any Cuban national who has the audacity to set foot on U.S. soil without defecting. "Don't take money back to Cuba. If you say you hate this country, don't come here," says Carlos's brother, Tony Montes, once a singer himself.

"My brother is extreme," replies Carlos. "But if both sides think they're right, and no one gives, the working class suffers the consequences. I am for a way of resolving things."

Formell just wants his U.S. audiences to experience the Latin Caribbean sounds of everyday Cuba, "the movement of our women, the dancing."

Women? Dancing? Hmm, we can do that, too.

Los Van Van plays Thursday, May 4, at 8 p.m. at the Aerial Theater, 520 Texas Avenue. For tickets, $23.75-$29.75, call (713)629-3700.


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