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Rhythms of Cuba Shake Up Loose Park

The Mariel boatlift provided Kansas City musicians with a rhythmic maestro.By Alex Smith


Kansas City, MO – Thirty years ago this summer, Cuban president Fidel Castro took the unusual step of allowing people to leave. Over the course of a few months, 125,000 Cubans came to the United States, in what became known as the Mariel boat lift. And that migration decades ago ended up providing Kansas City with a rhythmic maestro.

For about 26 years, an assuming group of seven black, white and Latino men have gathered in Loose Park to practice Afro-Cuban music. Many of the musicians in the group perform regularly in some of Kansas City's best known salsa and Latin music groups. But on Sundays, they come to learn from a man named Agustin Romero Diaz.

Romero Diaz learned about African culture and music in the Mariano neighborhood of Havana, Cuba in the years before Castro came to power. Afro-Cuban music is considered to be some of the purest expression of African culture in the Western hemisphere. It was brought to Cuba from Africans who came from present day countries such as Nigeria and Cameroon.

Romero Diaz teaches and shares his love of Afro-Cuban music to the group of accomplished musicians who gather for informal session. He shares his memories of learning the beats and rhythms with KCUR's Alex Smith.

This story was produced for KC Currents. To listen on your own schedule, subscribe to the KC Currents Podcast.

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