Going the extra mile


POSTED: Friday, January 16, 2009

Gloria Estefan is “;an extraordinary Latina woman.”;

An apt description, if there ever was one, for the 2008 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year. The organization honored her as well with a special concert and tribute dinner last November. And a Honolulu audience will get reacquainted with this great performer - close to a dozen years after her last concert here - at the Blaisdell Arena on Saturday night.





        On stage: 8 p.m. Saturday

Place: Blaisdell Arena


Tickets: $85 upper and riser levels


Call: 591-2211 or visit



Also called “;one of Latin music's most enduring icons”; by the academy, Estefan has successfully explored her Cuban roots of late with her 2007 Spanish-language album “;90 Millas,”; winning two Latin Grammys for Best Traditional Tropical Album and Best Tropical Song for the album track and single “;Pintame de Colores (Paint Myself in Colors).”; The song hearkens back to the lively folk music of Cuba's countryside.

When Estefan was last here, she was coming off a career high of performing the official theme of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, “;Reach”; (from her album “;Destiny”;), at its closing ceremonies.

It would be an understatement to say that the woman has had a remarkable life in music. Ever since her crossover dance hit “;Conga”; in 1985 as a member of her husband Emilio Estefan's Miami Sound Machine, the former Gloria Maria Fajardo has had a well-sustained and laudable career, the only glitch being a year taken off in the early '90s to recover from a fractured spine injury she sustained when a semi crashed into her tour bus.

Ever since she and her family fled Cuba for Miami in 1959, when Fidel Castro took control of the Caribbean country, Estefan has always dreamed of returning to a free, post-communist Cuba to perform. In an interview to promote “;90 Millas,”; she remembers her grandmother sending a care package from Cuba that included a record that she would listen to for months. It was by Israel Cachao Lopez, the bassist-composer who pioneered the popular mambo sound and, coincidentally, would contribute to “;90 Millas,”; along with other legendary Cuban expatriate musicians, before his death last March.

“;MUSIC transcends everything,”; Estefan said, “;and I keep my heritage alive through the music for me and my kids.”; Because of her long string of dance and ballad hits that include “;Words Get in the Way,”; “;Anything for You,”; “;Rhythm is Gonna Get You,”; “;Don't Wanna Lose You,”; “;Go Away”; and her remake of the disco classic “;Turn the Beat Around,”; Estefan has been able to use her star power to continue to follow her passion of bringing the music of her home country to an appreciative international audience.

What was once a close and protective Cuban community that she grew up in Miami has grown into a larger and more diverse Hispanic one that includes Haitians and Brazilians.

“;It now includes many generations who have a different way and mentality than my parents. Even though my children have never visited Cuba, they identify themselves culturally as Cuban-Americans,”; she said. (Estefan's teenage daughter Emily toured with her mom during her latest European jaunt and will be here for the Honolulu concert. Showing that the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree, Emily is showcased as a promising musician.)

And while it may be some years, if at all, before fans see Estefan on stage again - after all, she did say her last U.S. tour in 1994 was going to be her last - she'll remain a busy woman. Emilio and Gloria Estefan are multimillionaires, thanks to their multiple hotel and restaurant ownerships. Because of her wealth, Estefan established her own foundation, which has contributed to a number of charities, including the American Red Cross and UNICEF, as well as the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, a leading research center for spinal cord injuries.

And while Estefan will keep her Honolulu fans happy with a generous dose of her English-language hits from her 25-year career, it's Cuba she keeps close to heart.

“;(The album title) '90 Millas,' which means 90 miles, is the distance between the most southernmost point of the United States in Key West and Cuba,”; she said. “;For us Cubans, 90 miles is very representative of not just a distance in miles, but a distancing of intellectual, emotional, spiritual proportions. ... It doesn't matter what the distance is, we're separated from our homeland. So for us, it was kind of like saying, OK, this is a distance but nothing can separate us from our cultural and musical heritage. It's still very much alive in us.”;