Cuban son ensemble El Septeto Santiaguero can testify to the impact that recognition from the U.S. record industry can have on even a well-established non-U.S. act.
While having formed in 1995, and since releasing eight albums and finding fame in its native country, not to mention tours of Canada, Latin America and Europe, it took the group’s Latin Grammy Award in 2015 before the band was able to land its first gig in the States.
”We’ve received a lot of good reaction in other places, we’ve met a lot of good people and have been watching people at our shows dancing and being happy,” El Septeto Santiaguero founder Fernando Dewar said in an interview recently, for which the group’s producer and manager, Alden Gonzalez Diaz, served as translator.
“But we consider that the U.S. is the big market, the main market that we want to reach,” said Dewar, who is currently on a 20-city tour that arrives in Los Angeles on Friday for a free concert that’s part of the summer Grand Performances series downtown.
“The U.S. is very important for us, and we were trying for a long time for what we have now: the facility to play in the U.S.,” Diaz said.
That goal appears to be shared by many Cuban musicians who in recent years have found it a bit easier to land gigs in America.
One significant factor has been the easing of the longstanding U.S. political and cultural embargo of Cuba, which dates to the 1959 revolution that culminated in Fidel Castro’s takeover as president and his transformation of the country into a communist regime.
“Cuban musicians see the U.S. as a natural artistic environment, mainly for the musical connections that date back to the ’50s,” said Carlos Alfonso, director of the long-running Afro-Cuban jazz ensemble Sintesis, which will perform Aug. 25 at the Ford Amphitheatre on a bill with Cuban transplant-violinist Dayren Santamaria and her L.A.-based band, Made in Cuba.
El Septeto Santiaguero hails from Santiago de Cuba on the far eastern end of the island nation, more than 500 miles from Havana. The group scored its Latin Grammy in the traditional tropical Latin album category for its 2015 work “Tributo a Los Compadres: No Quiero Llanto.” The album is a tribute to Los Compadres, a duo that is one of Septeto Santiaguero’s predecessors in the trova tradition — loosely, the Cuban strain of troubadour music.
Still, the group might not have made it here if former President Barack Obama’s administration hadn’t moved to improve relations with the nation that sits 90 miles off the coast of Florida.