Laritza Bacallao performs in Tampa, USA

The Gasparilla Music Festival has announced it has booked Laritza Bacallao, one of the top musical stars in Cuba, to perform at this year's event March 7 and 8 in Curtis Hixon Park.

The National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba held a concert in Tampa in 2012, but Laritza Bacallao represents the first major Cuban pop star to perform in the city since the U.S. imposed the travel and trade embargo more than five decades ago.

These are the latest in a series of efforts underway in Tampa to again link the city with Cuba.


It's all about the music for the Gasparilla festival, said founder and board member David Cox.

"Tampa has musical roots in Cuba and other Latin American countries," Cox said. "So from the start we wanted this festival to represent those roots."

Tampa, not Miami or New York, that was the destination of choice for the top musicians in Cuba before the embargo.

Among bands that performed in Tampa was Orquesta Aragon, whose members have included Rafael and Ernesto Bacallao, the grandfather and father of the Cuban pop star performing at the Gasparilla Music Festival.

Rafael Bacallao is considered by many the most talented member the band ever had and is believed to have been the first in Cuba to perform the "moonwalk" on Cuban television, the dance move later made iconic in the U.S. by Michael Jackson.

Founded in 1939, Orquesta Aragon is the band some music historians credit with popularizing the Latin "Cha-cha-cha" style.

"Orquesta Aragon is one of the biggest bands Cuba has had," Cox said. "And the Bacallao family is musical royalty there."

Still, it is uncertain whether either Rafael or Ernesto Bacallao ever came to Tampa.

It was the mid-1950s when Orquesta Aragon frequented Tampa, performing at the Cuban Club in Ybor city.

Rafael Bacallao did not join the band until January 1959, after Fidel Castro's Revolution seized power.

Bacallao's son became a member years later.

While Orquesta Aragon did book occasional shows in the U.S. post-embargo – including some in the Tampa Bay area – whether or not either Bacallao men made the trip is unknown.

And if they did, the shows were not regular enough to sustain type of celebrity status the band enjoyed in Florida before relations ended between the U.S. and Cuba.

Laritza Bacallao, Cox said, could be tending to unfinished family business by performing in Tampa.

"It's one of those cool ties she has to our city," he said.

Laritza Bacallao has performed in the U.S. before, most notably in Las Vegas and Miami.

But her show in Tampa will be her first at a major U.S. festival, Cox said.

"I think people will love her music even if they have never heard of her," he said. "It's great dance music."

She promotes her music online as a mix of samba, salsa, merengue and rumba with a modern twist.

This year's Gasparilla Music Festival will be headlined by Modest Mouse, Gogol Bordello and Gaslight Anthem.

Cox said Laritza Bacallao will close out the festival Sunday, March 8, at the Kiley Gardens stage. Festival tickets for Sunday are $30.

"We hope to have another top performer from Cuba next year," Cox said. "We want this to be a regular thing."

This is extracted from the full article on Tampa Tribune website here