Trumpeter brings rich history to Naden Band


LS Miguelito Valdes played extensively at Club Tropicana, a world-renowned cabaret in Havana, with the house band.

Three decades ago, 10-year-old Miguelito Valdes held his first musical instrument, a used trumpet supplied by his school. When he held it to his lips and pushed forth a burst of air, the noise was anything but musical. But his lack of skill would not deter him.

This was the instrument he would master. Now, 29 years later, the Cuban-born trumpeter is a Leading Seaman in the Royal Canadian Navy, and a pillar in the Naden Band of the Royal Canadian Navy. Behind the crisp black uniform and military style haircut, is a man with a rich musical history.

“You start very young in Cuba,” he says, sitting amongst piled songbooks and sheet music, and surrounded by instruments in a small back room at the Naden Band headquarters. “It’s not like here where kids start lessons at 12 or 13 and play a few hours a week. In Cuba you play every day. It’s a part of your school day. If you were going into the arts it became a part of your life very quickly.”

Formal training began at age 11 when he enrolled at the Paulita Conception Elementary School of Music, and ended at age 19 when he graduated from the Amadeo Roldan Provincial School of Music.

“The arts are a way of life in Cuba,” he says. “I learned math, social studies, and all of the usual things you learn in school, but I was playing trumpet right alongside all of it.”

Outside of school, he formed the group “Jelengue”, and at age 19 they recorded an album and toured for a number of years.

He also played extensively at Club Tropicana, a world-renowned cabaret in Havana, with the house band.

“It was a huge place, upward of 300 people working at the same time and always very busy,” he says. “We would have people who could sub in for us if we needed time off, but I played there most nights for four years and toured all over, even the Royal Albert Hall in London. It was pretty intense.”

It was during his time at Tropicana that LS Valdes met Omara Portuondo, Diva of the Buena Vista Social Club. After performing with her a few times, he was signed on as a member of her touring band. This started a seven year tour with the legendary songstress.

“Omara is great. She is incredibly talented and kind, and did a lot for my career,” says LS Valdes. “I still hear from her once in a while. It’s nice to have that kind of connection with a legend like her.”

The Naden Band trumpeter also played with the Afro-Cuba All-Stars, and shared the stage with jazz legend Herbie Hancock in the 2001 at the Tokyo Jazz Festival.

“It was a very strange experience,” he says. “I’m not primarily a jazz player, so I thought maybe there were other people out there who deserved it more, you know? It was so surreal playing with a legend like that, and I was in awe. I’ll always remember that.”

LS Valdes’ wife Cynthia Rodriguez, a piano player, first came to Canada to play with an all-female band in Toronto. She was offered the chance to stay in Vancouver for a three to six month tour. Strict Cuban travel laws forced them to consider staying in Canada.

“If you leave Cuba and don’t return within one year you lose your residency,” says LS Valdes. “Even if you do come back, leaving again involves a lot of paper work and government approval. We talked about it for a while and decided we would take the chance and stay in Canada.”

His wife applied for Landed Immigrant status, but LS Valdes returned to Cuba and continued touring for three years. In 2006, he decided to make Canada home.

“It was tough, being apart for that long,” he sayts. “We would see each other sometimes, but for the most part I was on the road.”
Two years ago, wanting stability for his family, he joined the navy and the West Coast’s prestigious naval band.   
“It’s a great job. For a musician it’s a dream. We get to play for so many people, support the navy and the community, and practice an art we love,” he says. “I have friends in the music community who see what I do and they want to join. It’s really great.”


Shawn O’Hara, Staff Writer

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