Music Harmonizes with Headlines

This is an article I wrote that appeared in the Sand Key Sun, a Tampa Bay community newspaper.

President Obama recently accomplished two diplomatic actions:  The opening of the corridor between the U.S. and Cuba, and a global tour of goodwill .

It just so happens two renowned artists visiting the Largo Cultural Center this weekend can relate to both issues: Arturo Sandoval and Melanie Safka.

An American Citizen

Arturo Sandoval defected to the U.S. from his native Cuba in 1990, having already established himself as a world-class musician under the tutelage of jazz great Dizzy Gillespie. Sandoval, granted citizenship in 1999, radiates pride, passion and humor that glistens through his music. He is adamant in his feelings about Cuba.

“For me, nothing changes,” he said when asked for his response to opening the Cuban-U.S. corridor. My family lives here—my children, my wife, my mother, cousins. But it doesn’t matter what the U.S. government does about it. We’re looking for the response. Are they going to liberate political prisoners? Are they going to respect human rights? I don’t know. I need to see changes. Otherwise for me, it’s the same thing, different day.”

Sandoval’s extensive list of musical accomplishments and contributions are impressive. He has won four Grammy awards, six Billboard awards and an Emmy for composing the score for the HBO film of his life story entitled For Love or Country.  In addition, he has penned numerous symphonic pieces, including the score for a ballet entitled Pepito’s Story.

He also has a heart for education. He is currently on staff at Florida International University as a professor of music, and created a unique approach to teaching he shares with students and colleagues. In addition, Sandoval has conducted hundreds of musical clinics. But it’s performing about which he is truly passionate. Sandoval is known for sizzling presentations that morph from a pulsating Afro-Cuban beat to a sensual Latin Jazz to a texturally rich classical style.

“I want the audience to walk away with a good memory—to have good feelings and a good time when they come to see me play. That’s all I ask. That they have a good time and enjoy the time we spent together.”

Arturo Sandoval takes the stage at the Largo Cultural Center at 2 and 8 p.m. Friday, April 24 as part of the center’s Jazz Series.

An Unexpected Ambassador

Truly dynamic female artists don’t need more than one name, do they? Think about it: Cher. Madonna. Shakira. Well, long before the likes of Jewel there was a truly dynamic folk artist by the name of Melanie whose original music placed her on stage at Woodstock, at the top of the charts with her hit “Brand New Key” and onto the world stage as the 1972 Ambassador for UNICEF.

But fame never quite took hold of her. Melanie Safka decided from the very beginning that her career would be executed on humanitarian terms rather than the commercial sensibilities of the day.

“I was always a very shy person,” she shares. “And to put myself in that position is outrageous to me. The industry has wanted to superimpose my voice for commercial projects,” she explains. “I’ve had every major record label president telling me at one point I needed to cut my hair or dress a certain way. But I continue to move in a direction of integrity.”

She and her husband Peter also are in the beginning stages of another ground-breaking project, the International Singer-Songwriter Hall of Fame (ISSHF).

“American pop music is sorely lacking in any other cultural influences,” Melanie explains. “In Europe and France—anywhere else you hear music from all over the world.”

The ISSHF mission statement reads “It is now time for western consciousness to enter the world—participate, regenerate, expand and become part of the global musical community.”

Visitors to the ISSHF website can choose a piece of music from any country and read the lyrics in their own language.

“Music doesn’t have any boundaries,” Melanie adds. “Music in itself does not have to be political. It can be truly healing.”

Melanie will perform at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 25 at the Largo Cultural Center as part of the center’s Folk Series.

Banner photo by Сергей Игнацевич.


*Some of the information in this older article may be outdated.

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