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We turn now to Cuba, an island, of course, with a long history of political turmoil and certainly rich musical heritage. Often, the two collide. Clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval are just two of the better-known musicians who have defected from Cuba. The government there once tightly controlled foreign travel for musicians. Today, however, it allows more of them to travel freely. And as a result, many have chosen to stay. Reese Erlich reports.

REESE ERLICH: Eliades Ochoa is immediately recognizable as the cowboy-hat-wearing singer from the Buena Vista Social Club CD and movie. At his spacious house in Havana, he pulls out an electric-acoustic guitar and explains that he had it custom made to sound like a traditional Cuban country guitar called a tres.

Mr. ELIADES OCHOA (Cuban Musician): (Through Translator) Listen to the sound.

(Soundbite of electric-acoustic guitar playing)

Mr. OCHOA: (Through Translator) It appears to be the sound a tres, but I get a different, distinct sound.

(Soundbite of electric-acoustic guitar playing)

ERLICH: Ochoa was a well-known performer in Cuba for 25 years before the release of the Buena Vista Social Club CD in 1997. That didn't mean he earned enough money to move.

Mr. OCHOA: (Through Translator) I lived in Santiago. In 1968, you couldn't even think of living in Havana. I came to Havana for music festivals. I play, and then I return to Santiago.

ERLICH: He well remembers the period from the 1960s until the early 1990s when the government severely restricted international travel by all Cubans and prohibited them from living abroad.

Mr. OCHOA: (Through Translator) I worked abroad for the first time in 1981. I did a Caribbean tour. It was impossible to dream about traveling the world.

ERLICH: After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Cuban government was trying to shore up political support and desperately needed hard currency. So, it allowed more musicians to tour and bring money back.

(Soundbite of electric-acoustic guitar playing)

ERLICH: Because of the money he earned from the Buena Vista Social Club projects, Eliades Ochoa was able to buy a house in Madrid where the 61-year-old stays during European tours. But he has no plans to move away from Cuba.

Mr. OCHOA: (Through Translator) I have everything here. My family, my house. I feel good here. I have no desire to live elsewhere.

ERLICH: For musicians who choose to stay in Cuba, audiences are plentiful and enthusiastic. The government subsidizes ticket prices so Cubans can hear opera, symphonies, or popular music for the equivalent of 20 cents.

Rosa Maria Ameneiro, known by her nickname as "Rochy," is preparing for one such concert in Havana. The 41-year-old singer, guitarist and composer is known throughout Cuba and has performed in seven countries abroad.

(Soundbite of Rosa Maria Ameneiro music)

ERLICH: Rochy says musicians - indeed, all Cubans - face sharp economic difficulties. And she acknowledges that some musicians continue to leave Cuba to live in Mexico, Europe or the United States. She says, however, that they depart for the same reasons they would leave any other developing country.

Ms. ROSA MARIA AMENEIRO (Cuban Musician): (Through Translator) Musicians are looking for new ways to make money. But sometimes Cuba seems too small for their aspirations. They want to learn other kinds of music. Musicians want an interchange with other cultures. That's a very valid reason for people to leave the country.

ERLICH: And the lure is strong, considering the conditions musicians face at home.

Ms. AMENEIRO: (Through Translator) Everyone is a little crazy to stay here, that's for sure. Cuba has a real economic crisis. Some musicians stay here trying to work things out. Others are moving abroad. I like the possibility of both.

ERLICH: Most Cuban artists don't emigrate for political reasons, says Bill Martinez. He's a San Francisco-based attorney who has helped Cuban musicians obtain visas to perform in the United States.

Mr. BILL MARTINEZ (Attorney): Cubans are driven by the attraction of better money that they can get because they are not limited to venues that they go to or have to get agency approval on where they're going to be performing, but then they find out once they're here that it's not that easy.

(Soundbite of music)

ERLICH: The government of Raul Castro has hinted that it may soon allow more Cubans to travel and stay abroad.

(Soundbite of music)

ERLICH: Lazaro Valdes is the founder and leader of the popular Cuban group, Bamboleo. He toured the U.S. 11 times before 2003. That's when the Bush administrated tightened the trade embargo against Cuba and made it virtually impossible for performers to get American visas. Valdes says he could perform or live anywhere else in the world, but he'd miss the unique musical atmosphere of the island.

Mr. LAZARO VALDES (Cuban Musician): (Through Translator) Cuba is the musical kitchen for Latin music. Cha-cha-cha began here. The Buena Vista Social Club was a worldwide hit. You in the U.S. have been cut off from some of the best musical trends as they develop here. Music isn't just a way to pay the bills. The appreciation of the people is like food for the musician.

ERLICH: Cuban musicians hope that their musical kitchen will continue to produce new dishes and that the cooks will be able to prepare them anywhere in the world. For NPR News, I'm Reese Erlich.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: You're listening to Weekend Edition from NPR News.

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