The music of saxophonist/clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter/ pianist Arturo Sandoval has been censored from Cuban airwaves for decades now, since they both defected to the U.S. Bandmates and founding members of the legendary Cuban group Irakere, both took advantage of musical world tours to make their escape. Both have also gone on to make incredibly successful international careers, but still, it has to hurt to know that your name has been erased from your native country’s cultural history.
Paquito went first, in 1980, while Irakere was on tour in Spain. He packed a suitcase with sticks, stones and an old pair of shoes, checked it on the plane the band was taking, but never boarded. He also never looked back. Paquito is unreservedly anti-Castro, and is outspoken about Communist Cuba (and many other things) in his entertaining book My Sax Life.
Arturo made his move ten years later, when he got permission for his wife and son to join him during a European tour with Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra. His life before leaving Cuba and his daring defection is well-documented (and maybe just a tiny bit romanticized) in the HBO film For Love or Country.
Paquito and Arturo reunited in 1990 in Germany to make a great recording, appropriately called “Reunion.” You’ll hear it on Jazz Caliente.
You can see both of them in this video of an outstanding Irakere performance from 1979 in Venezuela: