Before Gerardo Contino and his excellent band, Los Habaneros, take over the dance floor for a free ¡VAYA! 63 party at the David Rubenstein Atrium on May 24, the talented singer-songwriter and bandleader shared with us some of his favorite old-school Cuban tracks.

I feel blessed to have grown up on a musical island. My father introduced me to music. Every day after work, he taught me old boleros by Afro-Cuban singers. I was introduced to the music of Bola de Nieve, Benny Moré, Vicentico Valdés, and Barbarito Diez. Boleros were my life. I was captivated by the beauty of the musical arrangements and the smooth and powerful voices of the interpreters. When I was a teenager I started listening to Celia Cruz, the great Afro-Cuban singer that represented our culture with honor and faith. I decided to become a multifaceted singer after I learned more about Benny Moré, "El Bárbaro del Ritmo." His musical style was unprecedented. The way that he connected with the audience, the interpretations of his songs, and his natural grace inspired me to develop my career.

I love to listen to these legends because their work is my inspiration. Through their legacy, I am able to understand, feel, and connect more with my inner feelings. Every time I listen to them I can feel their pain, frustrations, and dreams, which are the same ones that I feel as an artist and intellectual.

The Afro-Cuban diaspora has played a very important role in the development of Cuban culture and the nation in general. I feel that it is our duty as young artists to continue this journey—to strength and develop the diaspora and to educate the young generation and teach them to be proud of their roots and ancestors.

About the Curator

Classically trained and with years of experience in Cuban and American salsa, jazz, and big orchestra bands, the Havana-born Gerardo Contino is a multitalented singer and songwriter. Contino created Los Habaneros in 2012, which has gone on to become the "Best Band in Manhattan" (WNYC/NPR) and "Best Cuban Dance Band" (New York Latin Culture magazine). His latest project is Afro-Latin Renaissance. Contino is also the lead Latin singer for the Max Weinberg Orchestra and lead vocalist for Larry Harlow's Latin Legends Band.