PHILM/Ex-SLAYER Drummer Dave Lombardo Talks About Native Cuba, Relation Developments With The US - “I Hope There Is A Peaceful Transition Towards Democracy, That It Can Grow Without Violence"
December 27, 2014, 8 years ago
After decades of friction and failing to see eye to eye, it was announced on December 17th that steps were being made to rebuild relations between the US and Cuba. As the New York Times reported that day:
"President Obama on Wednesday ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century as he vowed to 'cut loose the shackles of the past' and sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War."
"The surprise announcement came at the end of 18 months of secret talks that produced a prisoner swap negotiated with the help of Pope Francis and concluded by a telephone call between Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro. The historic deal broke an enduring stalemate between two countries divided by just 90 miles of water but oceans of mistrust and hostility dating from the days of Theodore Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill and the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cuban missile crisis."
Within the realm of heavy metal, one of the best known Cuban-born musicians is original Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, who recently chatted with BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato about his thoughts on the steps the US and Cuba are taking towards burying the hatchet, as well as his family background, updates about several musical projects, and if there's any truth behind the possibility of a Lombardo-Megadeth union.
BraveWords: What are your thoughts on the recent developments between Cuba and the US, and did it come as a surprise?
Dave Lombardo: "It did come as a surprise. I'm very happy that at least some steps have been taken, to somewhat normalize relationships between Cuba and the States. It's horrible, because I left Cuba when I was two years old, and I haven't seen much change. So hearing this news and the way it came about, it was definitely exciting for me."
BraveWords: Both of your parents are Cuban, correct?
Dave Lombardo: "Yes."
BraveWords: And you said that your family relocated to the US when you were two years old?
Dave Lombardo: "Yes. Well, some say one year old or two years old. I don't really know, because there's discrepancies on my baptismal certificate - I was baptized here in the States. It says '66, but then my infant passport says '67, so there are discrepancies somewhere down the line. So yeah, we came here in '67, and I've been here since."
BraveWords: What made your parents decide to relocate to the US at the time?
Dave Lombardo: "It was obviously communism. You see, the way things happened, in the sixties, through the Catholic Church, you were able to sign up and send your children to the United States. Now, this is during 1960, when the whole revolution went down. I have two older brothers and one older sister. My parents sent my brothers that were ten and thirteen years old to the United States, and they were supposed to see my brothers in five or six months. And what happened was the Cuban missile crisis hit its peak, and all flights and all communication with the United States stopped. So my brothers were basically stranded in the US, without knowing if they were ever going to see my mom and dad again. Four and a half years went by, and during that period is when my mom got pregnant with me. It took four and a half years until they got their visa to leave the country…or permission to leave the country. So that's how we ended up in the States. My dad had three meat markets in Havana, and when the government found out that he had applied for a visa to come to the States and for my brothers to go to the States, they immediately took those markets away. So he had to work for the government - he no longer worked for himself. They were anxious, and that put a lot of strain on the family. It was pretty intense from what I hear. Those four and a half years were rough. But then my mom got pregnant, and here I am. It's an interesting story. And then when we arrived here in the States, of course, we reunited with my two older brothers, and I got to meet their foster parents, who were living in Long Beach, California. That's how I ended up California. I could have ended up in New York; I could have ended up in Detroit. From what I hear, a lot of these children…'Pedro Pan,' they call them 'the Peter Pan flights' - a lot of children ended up in different states in the US It's really interesting, because I recently found out that my brothers - within the past two or three years - were part of this historic migration to the United States. They sent the kids over first, and then the parents would follow. But it didn't turn out like that for my mom and dad. The Cuban missile crisis really screwed things up. No complaints, because we're all together and all is good now."
BraveWords: So when you came to the US, you came with your parents?
Dave Lombardo: "Yes. Only my two older brothers (went to the US via the aforementioned 'Operation Pedro Pan') - my sister stayed behind with mom and dad, and then during that period, I was born."
BraveWords: That must have been a tough decision for your parents, to send two of their children away.
Dave Lombardo: "Yeah, but it was almost like your ticket to freedom. It was something that you had to do, because there was no other way - unless you caught a flight right away. But they held out, and they noted that the government was not making a positive change. And they didn't want my brothers - who were coming of age - to become part of the military. And the brainwashing that went on in the schools and in the work places during that time, because there were a lot of recordings being played at factories that preached communist ideology. They didn't want to be a part of that."
BraveWords: Have you ever returned to visit Cuba?
Dave Lombardo: "No. Never."
BraveWords: Do you still have family that lives there?
Dave Lombardo: "There are some distant cousins. But I've never met them. All of my family, everybody is here - my immediate family, my cousins - they're here in the States. There's some cousins over there that I'd love to meet and kind of pick their brain about my dad and my grandfather, and their lineage to Italy, because my last name is obviously Lombardo, and that's from the north part of Italy. And I've recently found out that my great grandfather arrived to Cuba in the late 1800's, and set up his life there."
BraveWords: Are you now interested in returning to Cuba, to visit?
Dave Lombardo: "I've been interested to return to Cuba forever. I've always wanted to return and see this island I was born on, and the beaches and the culture and everything. But I had a good taste of Cuban culture here in America, because my dad, as soon as he got in this country, he didn't speak a word of English, and worked and retired. He bought his house and lived the American dream. He's no longer with us, but he did pretty well, and my mom as well. Every weekend - and even during the week - there was always Cuban music, there was always Cuban food. So the culture, we had many friends that were Cuban, too, and we would all hang out together and do what Cubans do, which is listen to music, play music, dance, eat, drink, and enjoy life."
BraveWords: What did your dad do for work when he relocated to the US?
Dave Lombardo: "He worked for a company called Farmer John. Because he was a butcher in Cuba, so that's what he knew. When he came to the States, he immediately got a job with a company here in Southern California, and worked there for thirty-something years."
BraveWords: Was it ever frustrating - as a Cuban native - seeing the lack of progress towards normalizing relations between Cuba and the US over the years?
Dave Lombardo: "Yes. Absolutely. That was very, very frustrating. Every time you thought that there was a moment that things could get better, everything would just stop and you would never hear anything about it again. It's amazing that basically what I read the other night was four out of five Americans; they've never known a free Cuba. They don't know what that country was like. It was an amazing country in the '50s - Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, all these actors and actresses used to go there. It was like 'the' Las Vegas, and then obviously the mafia was involved in Cuba, and that's how eventually one of those mafia guys - I forget who - was extradited, he left, and went to Cuba, and set up shop there, and decided to open up Las Vegas. It's an amazing history, but it's unbelievable that it's taken this long. I mean, I'm going to be 50, and it's like, 'Really? There's an island that's 90 miles away, and you guys couldn't have gotten your shit together?' It sucks, but hey, I'm happy that things are working out."
BraveWords: What would you say is the biggest misconception about Cuba from a US standpoint?
Dave Lombardo: "I don't know - I don't know what anyone's conceptions are. Obviously, I know there are some hard-line Cuban republicans that don't want to see this happen, but a step has to be taken to kind of normalize relations. They're complaining, 'Oh, human rights.' Yes, of course - this is the first step towards it. But I'm sure they want to see the Castros out of office. They would love to see a whole new government implemented. But you want to do things step by step and with patience, and see how things go, before making any major decisions."
BraveWords: I wonder if more metal and rock bands will now play in Cuba.
Dave Lombardo: "Yeah, I would hope. I would love to play Cuba. There are a lot of bands coming out of there. Actually, there's a documentary that I've been a little bit of help on, and it's called Hard Rock Havana. That movie documents the life of a metal band in Cuba during the late '80s and the '90s, when tension was still high. And they couldn't perform, they couldn't play western music. The singer was put in jail - for performing music that was other than Cuban music, which is all the government wanted to see come out of Cuba. So, it should be an interesting documentary - especially at this time, that this is going down."
BraveWords: To the best of my knowledge, the only real hard rock/heavy metal bands to have played Cuba in recent times were Audioslave and Sepultura. Do you know of any others?
Dave Lombardo: "No, not that I know of. I know there have been some pop acts, but not metal acts."
BraveWords: I think it would be great if Fantômas played Cuba!
Dave Lombardo: "Oh yeah, absolutely. I would love that."
BraveWords: It would be interesting to see the Cuban audience's reaction to Fantômas' music.
Dave Lombardo: "Yeah. And any of the bands I play in would be amazing over there. What I hear, they know who I am - they've heard of me. They know that I started Slayer and been in several bands, and that I'm from Cuban descent. So it's pretty cool."
BraveWords: I would think that there's probably a lot of people in Cuba that are into metal and that look to you as an inspiration - that they see the success you've obtained playing metal, and hopefully they can as well.
Dave Lombardo: "I hope so, that would be really nice. It's difficult though man, in a country where you're denied your human rights and freedom of speech. It's just very difficult."
BraveWords: How did the recent reunion shows with Fantômas go in Chile?
Dave Lombardo: "It was amazing. There's a lot of great footage. What I love about that band is there is chemistry - we have a really good working relationship and we perform really well together. Really, really excited about this. I hope there's more shows. I do have to say, Mike (Patton) said, 'More to come,' so I don't know if that's going to be soon or later. I just go along with my life without thinking about it, and when the shows come up, I'm very excited and looking forward to performing them."
BraveWords: Was there any talk about working on a new album with Fantômas?
Dave Lombardo: "That's up to Mike. I don't know. There's always a possibility, but right now, there isn't. He's got to probably come up with the material. Who knows? We'll see what happens."
BraveWords: The last time I spoke to you in September for BraveWords, you mentioned that Philm was working on music for a Disney cartoon pilot.
Dave Lombardo: "We finished that several months ago. So now, we're just waiting to see the final product - the final piece. There's a lot of coloring that's involved. This is animation and it's Disney. The music was easy for us to do; now they have to do their work. I know there is a period where it's dormant, where they work on it themselves very privately, and then they release it to the Disney executives, to choose whether the cartoon is taken on or not."
BraveWords: I read on the internet a while back that someone asked you if you were interested in trying out for Megadeth. Are you interested in possibly trying out?
Dave Lombardo: "You know what…I'm very busy at the moment. That question - whoever it was that came up to me at a drum clinic and he asked me very direct, really quick questions, that caught me off guard. I was signing autographs. 'Hey, I heard Shawn Drover left Megadeth. Would you consider joining or trying out?' or whatever he asked me. I just said, 'Dude, (Dave) Mustaine has my number. If he wants to contact me, he can contact me.' It's like, geez, this is in passing - it's not verbatim. I'm just talking off the top of my head, I'm not deciding. Obviously, there has to be some major issues that need to be discussed - schedule, there's all kinds of things. But I don't know. Right now, I'm not even thinking about that. Mustaine, his mother in law was found dead. Right now, you need to give him space, give him his time, for him and his wife to heal, with what's going on. The last thing he's probably thinking about right now is drummers. We have to give him his time and space, so he can resolve these other issues."
BraveWords: As far as the upcoming Slayer album, how much did you have a hand in co-writing or creating the music?
Dave Lombardo: "No comment."
BraveWords: Any last thoughts regarding Cuba and the US?
Dave Lombardo: "The only thing is I hope there is a peaceful transition towards democracy, that it can grow without violence. There's enough fucking violence in his world, and I really hate for my country to come under fire with some kind of violent act or some kind of shit going on that really…it sucks. Especially 90 miles away."