Queens of Havana: The Amazing Adventures of Anacaona, Cuba's Legendary All-girl Dance Band
Grove Press, 2007 - Biography & Autobiography - 393 pages
The 1930s saw the capital of Cuba undergoing a seismic cultural renaissance. At night in the aires libres, the open-air cafes, flatfooted tourists and foreign investors rubbed shoulders with the likes of Ernest Hemingway as they gathered to sip cocktails, cavort with Cuban beauties, and listen to the suggestive melodies spilling from Havana's unmatched musical community. It was rare for women to join the men in the nighttime cafes, and unheard of for them to perform. But in the feverish spirit of the times, anything seemed possible, and when greengrocer Matias Castro, father of thirteen children, goes bankrupt, his eldest daughter, Cuchito, has the idea of starting an all-girl band with her sisters to bring in some cash--an outrageous idea in Cuba's male-dominated society but a surefire money spinner. Every evening, as the rum starts to flow in the downtown street cafes, Anacaona takes to the stage to let rip--jazz, mambo, rumba, and cha-cha, anything goes. Their infectious rhythms, cheeky lyrics, and sheer sex appeal conquer their audiences' hearts in an instant. In this evocative memoir, saxophonist Alicia Castro, now in her eighties, looks back on the dazzling world of the dance band. The girls had their international breakthrough in 1938 with concerts in Paris and New York. They went on to appear with Dizzy Gillespie, Celia Cruz, Duke Ellington, and Cab Calloway; they performed for presidents, princesses, and Hollywood celebrities; and they were showered with critical praise, designer dresses, and jewels. The 1959 Communist Revolution brought a crackdown on creative freedom in Cuba but the headstrong sisters continued to perform for the next thirty years. With its spirited, conversational narrator riffing on love, rum, and the power of Cuban sun as she leads us through the Havana of yesterday and today, Queens of Havana is a touching piece of hidden history guaranteed to set your heart racing and get your toes tapping
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