Pandemic upends plans, lives of renowned Cuban musicians

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

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.

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.