January 26, 2007 / 6:49 PM / 12 years ago

Cuban salsa star defects to U.S.

HAVANA (Reuters) - Issac Delgado, one of Cuba’s most popular salsa bandleaders, has defected to the United States to pursue an international career, a former associate said on Friday.

Delgado, 44, is the biggest name in Cuban music to leave the communist-run island nation in years. His 1999 recording of salsa queen Celia Cruz’s song “La Vida es un Carnaval” was a major hit in Cuba.

The singer moved with his family to Tampa, Florida, late last year, his former representative in Havana, Raul Escalona, said. His 11-member band, Issac Delgado y su Orquesta, which stayed in Cuba, has changed its name and has a new singer, Escalona said.

The son of a tailor and a dancer, Delgado started out in the band of Latin jazz piano virtuoso Gonzalo Rubalcaba in 1980. He has frequently toured outside Cuba with his own group since 1991 and is popular in Mexico.

In 1995 he performed at New York’s Madison Square Garden with Cruz.

Delgado was one of the few musicians living in Cuba who managed to cross political barriers and perform in Miami, where the exile community has long blacklisted artists who had not defected from Cuba under President Fidel Castro’s government.

In Cuba, Delgado lived comfortably in the leafy Miramar residential district and drove a Mercedes-Benz, a rare privilege for Cubans, neighbors said.

His father-in-law, Miguel Valdes, a former coach of Cuba’s national baseball team, has lived in Tampa since defecting to the United States with White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras in 2002.

Delgado is the most prominent musician to defect since salsa singer Manolin, “The Doctor of Salsa,” left in 2001.

Other high-profile departures include saxophone player Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval of the Latin jazz group Irakere, who defected in 1981 and 1990, respectively.

Cuba has long suffered a flight of talented artists and top athletes seeking fame and fortune in the United States, Havana’s ideological foe since Castro’s 1959 revolution.

Baseball players of the caliber of Contreras have landed multimillion-dollar contracts on arrival in the United States. In December, three Cuban boxers, all Olympic champions, defected during training in Venezuela.

Reuters/Nielsen

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