Local legend Miguel Cruz plays a big role in keeping the culture and history of Cuba in Calle Ocho.
He plays the drums and educates tourists and locals about the history of Afro-Cuban music. Miguel Cruz learned how to play various Afro-Cuban instruments in Cuba such as the guiro, bongos, and timbales. He migrated to the United States when he was 13 years old in 1961 right after the Bay of Pigs Invasion. As a native to Little Havana, Miguel says he is privileged to be able to see his community grow and thrive the way it has. He recalls the time when Calle Ocho was predominantly Anglo-Saxon. At the time, there was only one other Hispanic boy in his classroom and the Spanish language was essentially ignored. He is proud to see how elected officials, local businesses, and even mounted police are now of Hispanic descent and in power. He also likes that now the tourists travel to see us and our culture. Miguel comes from a family that is very musically inclined. His brother taught him basic movements and his father was a dancer. Miguel says each person spends their life finding purpose and fulfillment, and he has found his through music. He has explored religion, politics, and literature and nothing brings the same sensation as music. He says music has the power to change your emotions almost instantly. His first job was tomato picking with his uncle in Homestead. However, his first job in music was here in Miami when he was only just 15 years old. He began playing with a local orchestra from Cuba and eventually worked with multiple artists. He was able to play alongside people who were already famous in Cuba that migrated from Cuba to expand their career in the United States and had to basically start from scratch. Miguel Cruz recalls working with artists such as Orlando Vallejo and Orlando Contreras amongst other notable artists. He even had the luxury of working with Celia Cruz on multiple occasions. His memories are fond of Celia, noting her as a person of the people for the people and having tremendous respect for her husband Pedro Knight. He eventually started to play with local Miami orchestras and recalls playing with Luis Santi.
Miguel Cruz and Jazz
Miguel Cruz has also dabbled into the musical genres of jazz and blues when he got married and moved to California and resided there for over 20 years. There he was able to discover the American sound of rock such as bands like Santana. He even formed a band called Chango and traveled around the world performing with his group, containing locals such as Pepe Gomez, an artist who lived in Hialeah and stayed in California. Miguel says he is also privileged to have made a living out of recording with other famed artists. He was able to record with guitarist Ry Cooder and witness the creation of the Buena Vista Social Club. Miguel enjoys the universality of the Cuban sound. He remembers how the Jewish people in New York or even people from Japan would appear to the performances. He claims that the Jewish people of Cuba were the ones to invent the “Rueda de casino”. Miguel says he is honored to witness the musical revolution that has occurred in the United States. The integration of different sounds, seeing the rise, peak, and fall of many great artists. He moved back to Miami in 1990. There he performed in Mango’s Tropical Cafe for seven years where he met his second wife, a local singer. Till this day they still invite him to play instruments for the guests. Miguel also worked alongside the Cuban Masters on a few projects. He has fond recollections of working with Jose Fajardo, Pepe Vera, Edwin Bonilla, and Israel Kantor along with a few others. He feels honored to have worked with over 20 great artists and collaborate music with them. After that project, he worked specifically with Israel Kantor and Juan Pablo Torres.
What music means to Miguel
Miguel Cruz claims instrumental music saved his life. After a divorce and an accident, playing instruments gave him purpose. He says music allowed him to regrow not only physically but mentally as well. Miguel Cruz can now be found playing his drums in the Cuba Ocho Museum. He says he has been able to accomplish all that he has because of two main factors: 10% talent and 90% determination. He worked to socialize and create opportunities for himself while maintaining originality. He plays several times a week entertaining people of all walks in life. In a conversation with the owner, Robert Ramos, he told Miguel “music is the art closest to God.” When Miguel asked why he responded, “because it is the art that directly goes to your heart.” Miguel feels joy when he can brighten up someone's day. He has seen people walk in with dull energy and leave with a positive aura. Miguel Cruz is a hidden gem on Calle Ocho. One of the many local people with a rich history and knowledge of the Cuban culture.