Paging Dr. Salsa: Q&A with Gerardo Contino

Gerardo Contino, “El Abogado de la Salsa,” and former lead singer of the Cuban mega-group NG La Banda, invigorated the TEDMED 2014 audience with timba — a progressive, raucous style of salsa, with his band, Los Habañeros. We caught up with him to learn about his vision and impressions of TEDMED 2014 speakers.

Gerado Contino TEDMED 2014
Gerardo Contino y Los Habañeros on the TEDMED 2014 stage. Photo: Robert Benson for TEDMED.

What motivated you to perform at TEDMED?

I’ve understood the power of music to heal ever since I was nine years old and sitting at the bedside of my sister, who was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer at the age of 14. I’d sing to her and we’d play her favorite music tapes while she was recovering from surgery or chemotherapy. Music was the one thing that could make her smile during that time. After moving to the United States from Cuba, I began volunteering with a non-profit organization, Musicians On Call, where I sang at the bedside of sick children in order to provide them with some relief and variety. I wanted to share this power of music to heal with the TEDMED community.

What are the top three TEDMED 2014 talks or performances that left an impression with you?

Elizabeth Holmes (CEO, Theranos): Loved this talk because I really felt that they are revolutionizing science and the ways in which all of us as patients, can have access to our health information. It also made me think how useful this technology would have been for my sister when she was undergoing chemotherapy, as the doctors had difficulties finding her veins after a while.

Diana Nyad: This talk stood out to me and was so inspiring. She demonstrated that anything is possible at any age and this was very inspiring to me as an artist. She really demonstrated the saying, you can achieve whatever you set your mind to. And to top it all off, she was a great storyteller and really funny.

Tig Notaro: Tig’s talk really moved me. The fact that when she was at the height of her career, she was diagnosed with cancer and also underwent the personal dramas of losing her mother and breaking up with her partner, all in the span of a few months — that would take the life out of anyone. But instead, she turned it around and opened up to her audiences about what she was going through and used that as a form of not only coping with what was going on in her life, but also strengthening herself.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

A stronger community of Latino artists who are of Afro-Latin and indigenous backgrounds.

What’s next for you?

I’m releasing a new album in 2015 that includes a wider fusion of music, especially dedicated to mixing South American and Caribbean beats. I’m also developing a new project that will include an album and documentary about the various Afro roots of Latino music from African diaspora communities throughout the Americas. The album will feature fifteen songs from fifteen different communities throughout North, Central, and South America.