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Get Your Spooky Swing Dance on With Cuban Pete and the Hialeah Hooligans

If you’ve never heard of Cuban Pete and the Hialeah Hooligans, then you may at least be familiar with the song “Cuban Pete,” which was performed by Desi Arnaz on the show I Love Lucy. Cuban Pete lead singer and guitarist Lexy Semino chose that moniker not just in homage to his and the show's Cuban-American roots, but mainly out of a love for the music of that era.

It’s a melding of classic '50s Americana with the mid-century Caribbean influence.

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“Our look and style does have a very Miami-Havana vibe,” says Semino. “It’s a melding of classic '50s Americana with the mid-century Caribbean influence. In Cuba, you still have people driving cars from the '50s, because that is all there is over there. And you still have a lot of media from the '50s floating around. So we try to encapsulate all of that.”

Next week, Cuban Pete will join forces with Swing Out South Florida, a similarly retro-minded group dedicated to hosting weekly swing dance lessons out of Lauderdale Tennis Club, for the annual HallowSwing Dance.

Though Semino and his longtime childhood friend, drummer Ernie Martinez (also known as Captain K), first came together as Cuban Pete and the Hooligans in 2013, their musical collaboration started long ago, when they were both just in middle school. During those formative years, Semino instantly fell in love with music from rock's Golden Era, his first exposure to that sound coming from watching The Buddy Holly Story with his dad. By age 12, Semino began playing guitar, often playing with Martinez, into his college years.

When they finally decided to form a band together, they brought on bass player “The D” Denny Hechevarria and pianist “Zabadoo” Michael Marks. The four began rehearsing in a studio in Hialeah, and got their first gig at The Barnacle in Coconut Grove. Since then, Cuban Pete and the Hialeah Hooligans have played all over South Florida and have written five original songs. Their goal is to produce an entire album of original music, and possibly tour in the future.

“I try to channel Jerry Lee Lewis as much as I can,” says Marks of one of his and the band's biggest influences. “But I also do my own thing, too. I want to out-psycho Jerry Lee. If I can be crazier than him, I know I have something going on.”

And while, at 50, he could easily pass as the rest of the band's dad, Marks insists they all get along as if they were the same age. “It solidifies the point that music cuts across cultural barriers, age barriers, and language barriers,” he says Marks. “They are Cuban. There is nobody who can be whiter than me. There is nothing Cuban about me, but we can completely converse on this rock 'n' roll level. Not only converse, but really thrive.”

The group mainly writes songs about their beloved hometown of South Florida. “My Boat Don’t Float,” for instance, is a tongue-in-cheek homage about a guy who buys a boat from an old man in Little Havana, which sinks as soon as he puts it in the water.
“We decided on Cuban Pete because they are a hot band with a unique style,” says HallowSwing organizer Julian Ehrlich. “Having an exceptional live band always brings a special kind of energy that helps captivate the essence of the swing era. We are constantly doing our best to embody that original spirit.”

In addition to the live music, Swing Out will also feature a costume contest with dance passes and lessons as prizes, lots of sweet treats, and an introductory swing lesson for any beginners in the house. They're hoping this event will continue to grow the swing dance scene in South Florida and introduce newcomers to the songs and artists that encapsulate the genre.

“One thing we are always striving for is uniqueness, which can be a challenge with the constraints of the styles we play,” admits Semino. “But we always try to step away from the crowd somehow. We are not about competing with other bands or trying to copy anyone else. We are out to be ourselves, make great music, and make sure that everyone who comes to our show has a great time.”

HallowSwing with Cuban Pete and the Hialeah Hooligans
Monday, October 26, at Lauderdale Tennis Club, 600 Tennis Club Dr., Fort Lauderdale; Admission is $15, $20 at the Door (cash only).
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Michelle de Carion