Pandemic upends plans, lives of renowned Cuban musicians

Wearing a mask to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, Cuban singer and composer Haydee Milanes watches a music video on a partner's mobile phone in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2019. Milanes is one of many Cuban musicians who are turning to the internet or seeking other jobs to survive a pandemic that has closed bars, clubs and other playing venues across an island that only days ago reopened its airport to visitors after a nearly eight-month lockdown. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Wearing a mask to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, Cuban singer and composer Haydee Milanes watches a music video on a partner's mobile phone in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2019. Milanes is one of many Cuban musicians who are turning to the internet or seeking other jobs to survive a pandemic that has closed bars, clubs and other playing venues across an island that only days ago reopened its airport to visitors after a nearly eight-month lockdown. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Renowned Cuban musicians are turning to the internet or seeking other jobs to survive a pandemic that has shuttered businesses across the island, which only days ago reopened its airport to visitors after a nearly eight-month lockdown

HAVANA (AP) — Renowned Cuban musicians are turning to the internet or seeking other jobs to survive a pandemic that has closed bars, clubs and tourist venues across an island that only days ago reopened its airport to visitors after a nearly eight-month lockdown.

Unlike big-name artists outside of Cuba, those on the island don't have long-term record contracts or belong to major labels that can help boost song sales, said Michel Hernández, a Cuban music journalist.

Many local musicians also saw big plans dashed by the coronavirus: Los Van Van are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year but were forced to scrap a worldwide tour of nearly 30 countries along with the filming of a documentary and local concerts to get Cubans dancing across the island.

Others pushed ahead with their plans, including Omara Portuondo, who recently turned 90. To celebrate, she organized a concert along with the Failde Orchestra and the Muñequitos de Matanzas that streamed online for free. Meanwhile, pianist and composer Chucho Valdés offered an online concert for ticketholders while troubadour Silvio Rodríguez released a digital album featuring 13 songs.

The internet has been a savior to many, said singer and composer Haydée Milanés.

“I just got internet about a year and a half ago,” she said. “The bad thing is it’s expensive.”

While some musicians receive small stipends from the Cuban government, the livelihood of thousands of others depended on playing at restaurants, bars and tourist attractions.

Cuba has reported more than 7,500 COVID-19 cases and more than 130 deaths as the island slowly reopens.

Cuban singer Laritza Bacallao poses for a photo during an interview in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. While some musicians receive small stipends from the Cuban government, the livelihood of thousands of others depends on playing at restaurants, bars and tourist attractions while the new coronavirus pandemic brought tourism to a standstill.  (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco)
Cuban singer Laritza Bacallao poses for a photo during an interview in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. While some musicians receive small stipends from the Cuban government, the livelihood of thousands of others depends on playing at restaurants, bars and tourist attractions while the new coronavirus pandemic brought tourism to a standstill. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco)

Credit: Ismael Francisco

Credit: Ismael Francisco

Cuban singer Haydee Milanes speaks during an interview amid the new coronavirus pandemic at a music studio in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2019. The internet has been a savior to many, said singer and composer Milanés, amid the COVID-19 lockdown. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Cuban singer Haydee Milanes speaks during an interview amid the new coronavirus pandemic at a music studio in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2019. The internet has been a savior to many, said singer and composer Milanés, amid the COVID-19 lockdown. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2020 file photo, Samuel Formell, leader of the Cuban orchestra Los Van Van, gives a press conference with fellow Cuban musicians in Havana, Cuba. Los Van Van are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year but were forced to scrap a worldwide tour of nearly 30 countries along with the filming of a documentary and local concerts due to the lockdown caused by the new coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2020 file photo, Samuel Formell, leader of the Cuban orchestra Los Van Van, gives a press conference with fellow Cuban musicians in Havana, Cuba. Los Van Van are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year but were forced to scrap a worldwide tour of nearly 30 countries along with the filming of a documentary and local concerts due to the lockdown caused by the new coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

Credit: Ramon Espinosa

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