“La nina quiere un Yuma, la nina quiere un pepe, que la llevo para Europa, le compro carro y le dio billete.”
Roughly translated, the lyrics from the song “La nina quiere un Pepe” describe a girl who leaves Cuba with a foreigner, gets some money and, upon her return, feels she’s above the people in her home country.
Not exactly a call for a political coup d’etat, but the line prompted the Cuban government’s National Institute of Music, a subdivision of the Ministry of Culture, to impose an eight-month censorship on the band in 2011, Machado said.
For almost a year, Maxima Alerta was barred from performing, producing music, or appearing on TV shows and radio stations, he said.
“We always felt that it wasn’t only the censorship of the song; I felt there were people behind that to push us out,” Machado said.
His mother, Elba Gomez, remembers Machado returning home from a meeting with the Institute of Music.
“I can’t get it out of my head, the expression on his face,” she said through a translator. “He felt very strongly that no one was respecting him.”
So he left.
“Even if they would have allowed me to perform again, I didn’t feel like staying,” he said. “I felt very embarrassed.”
He boarded a plane with his wife and two daughters and in 2011 settled in Hudson County.
He and his family lived in a basement apartment on Jewett Avenue in Jersey City, where he worked as a super for the building. They lived with his father, Ray Machado Sr., who worked as a sound engineer for Union City.
“I had stopped writing music. I had stopped performing. I never thought it was going to happen again,” Machado said. “That was another part of my life; that chapter in my life had closed.”
He began to settle into this new chapter. He moved into a new apartment in West New York and eventually began working for the Union City DPW as a garbage truck driver — a month before his father died.
During this time, a band called Gente De Zona came to perform in Union City. They had asked Lucio Fernandez, a Union City commissioner, to emcee the event. Machado, who had met Fernandez through his father, mentioned that, once upon a time, Maxima Alerta produced a song with Gente De Zona in Cuba.
“And I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t buy it,” Fernandez said. “But I researched a bit, and I said ‘Oh my goodness, it’s true.'”
They started talking more about his old band and why he never reconstituted it. Where would he find musicians, Machado would lament. “I have no place to rehearse.”
“So I said, ‘Well, I’d love to help you,'” Fernandez said.