Thursday, April 28, 2016
Cuba's 'Los Van Van' continues to rock on

If there’s one thing the Cuban people love more than baseball, it is music, and by far and away, the island’s top dance band is “Los Van Van,’ which loosely translates to “The Go Gos.” 

Created by singer/songwriter/ bassist/orchestra leader “Saint” Juan Formell in 1969, the group has made many changes over the years but continues to wow audiences worldwide. Formell’s vision was that of a well-rounded band, and, at times, would include 14 members including violinists, trombonists and flautists.

Key Westers were treated twice to “Saint Juan’s” presence, first in 2003 when the band made an historic visit to the Sands Beach Club prior to their 70-city U.S. tour. It was the first time a major Cuban band had played in Key West for four decades. Four years earlier, in Miami, anti-Castro fanatics harassed concert-goers by throwing batteries, eggs, bottles, rocks and insults as concert-goers entered the Miami Arena.

Formell and his 13-piece orchestra, including his drumming son, Samuel, returned to Key West in 2010, playing this time at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. When asked at the time, Formell simply stated “as always, we’re here for music, not politics.”

Known in Cuba as “The Rolling Stones of Salsa,” Los Van Van continues to be the nation’s top musical group despite the passing of the elder Formell in 2014 at the age of 71.

Samuel Formell wants only one thing, “all I want is for the music of Los Van Van and of my father to reach places it’s never reached.”