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Ali Bar

Everyone agrees that it was Benny who brought the Ali Bar its popularity, because he felt good there and Alipio, the owner, was a friend of his. Sometimes he would get tired and tell Alipio so, but if Alipio and the audience insisted, he would please them and stay.

In fact, Benny didn't like playing in large cabarets; sometimes he played in Tropicana, but generally, Mauro noted, those places wanted a band of their own and he didn't like that. He played a lot on Radio Progreso and on television; for example, on some Jupiña programs, where, fortunately, some copies have been preserved.

The Ali Bar was rescued and re-inaugurated as a tourist attraction under the name "Benny's Corner" by the Rumbos tourist group. The group's president, Manuel Vila Sosa, and vice president, Dizzy Echeverria, attended the special event on February 21, 2003, on the 40th anniversary of Benny's death, along with Ernesto Lopez, president of the Cuban Radio and Television Institute.

The show's current artistic director is Oscar Gomez Galban, who at the age of 17 accompanied Benny during his final performances, including Paper and Ink, a huge festival organized by the newspaper Revolucion.

Gomez presented a project to Rumbos, -a sort of synopsis of Benny's entire life and an approach to the reality of the 1950s, blending stories and anecdotes about his life, a well-merited sort of cult around the King of Rhythm.

The artists played his music and other compositions made popular by Benny. Inspired by Leo Valdes, Raul Iglesias, Raciel Cuevas, Hilda Gorria and an ensemble of dancers headed by a skilled soloist, the anniversary show was enriched by performances from Lino Borges, Aurora Basnuevo, Mario Limonta and others.

The show's main star was Benny Santos, very different in size and mobility from Benny More, but of similar dress, gestures and he too had a soothing voice.

-In Puerto Padre people thought I was his son -he admits- they call me "Benny's son." Everyone believed them because there are similarities and then they began calling me Benny. My name is Rafael Santos. One day at La Campana cabaret, when I dared to join the band, he called me Benny Santos.

-I've never wanted to imitate Benny More. I like his music, and I had a similar voice timbre and since I sing the same songs, well, there's a similarity, but it will never be the same. I've even recorded other songs that are not from his repertoire and it still sounds similar. It seems I've gotten used to the middle and high pitched ranges.

-My entire family and I are Benny More fans. I was able to meet him through a friend of my father's nicknamed the Black Count during a festival hosted by the Revolutionary Armed Forces, in 1961 or -62, where he lent us one of his songs. After that I began singing and played in several bands until I joined Benny's. Fernando Alvarez, Rolo Martinez and Pio Leiva had already passed through there. I arrived, I fitted in and I stayed.

-Since then, some 40 years ago, I've been working with his band; he was a maestro and a guide for me, the finest in popular Cuban music. Even after his death we are still learning from him. But I am just that, a look-alike. Benny is unique.

"I believe this is a wonderful homage," concluded saxophonist Mauro Gomez Suarez. "I hope it will always be this way, not only on this 40th anniversary. In Mexico there's a statue of Benny; we should have one in Havana."

It's true that he deserves one. The King not only sang wonderfully, he also savored the music. He did not let it dominate him. Like a true musician, he dominated it. While dancing, he sometimes danced forward rhythmically, with short steps. He gave the impression he was dragging his feet and balancing his body. Many years later a similar Michael Jackson move reminded me of it.

Benny was not a vassal of the stage. He was the King of Rhythm.

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