Ray Machado, founder and lead singer of the musical group Maxima Alerta, had just seen his band get its first taste of fame in Cuba when the communist government decided to censor them.
Machado – a Union City municipal worker who has some Jersey City roots -- was born in the city of Santa Clara, Villa Clara, Cuba. He graduated in 1997 as an audio engineer from the Instituto Cubano de Radio y Television in Havana. He worked as sound engineer on concerts featuring Cuba’s most distinguished musical artists, including Cándido Fabre, Paulo FG, and El Chispa y sus Cómplices.
On June 20, 1999 in Santa Clara, he formed Maxima Alerta. Machado was the lead singer, musical director, and composer of most of the songs for the group.
Soon, Maxima Alerta became one of Cuba’s best known and loved fusion bands. For four years Machado worked hard to develop their unique sound and build a following.
In 2003 Máxima Alerta exploded on the national scene, hitting radio and television stations with two songs, “Echar pa’ lante” and “Adegüello 1895,” which very quickly became popular throughout the country. This was followed by several albums, one of was nominated to Cubadisco as “Best Album Rap, Dance and Hip Hop.”
The band topped the charts again in 2009 with a song called “La Figura,” recorded with the multi-award-winning and internationally-renowned group Gente de Zona, then followed with yet another successful album.
Cuba banned the band
Then trouble came.
The Cuban government decided that some of the lyrics in one of the group’s songs did not line up with communist philosophy, and banned the group from performing. Machado refused to modify the song and decided it was time to leave Cuba.
“After four years of not performing, I thought my dream was gone.” – Ray Machado
In late 2015 he moved to West New York, and found work as a truck driver and day laborer, picking up trash for the city of Union City.
“I’m incredibly grateful to Union City Mayor Brian P. Stack for helping me and my family. I don’t know what he saw in me to give me an opportunity,” he said, “but I will always be grateful to him.”
While he was grateful to have a job that allowed him to support his wife and two daughters, he continued to dream about one day returning to what he loved most, his music.
“After four years of not performing, I thought my dream was gone,” Machado said.
A big comeback
A short time later, his father passed away. Machado, still hungering to express himself musically, decided to reform the band.
In October 2015, Maxima Alerta performed in two sold-out concerts in New York City with renowned merengue singer Fernandito Villalona. In 2016, Maxima Alert released its new song “Vive la Vida,” the first song recorded since coming to the United States.
In subsequent months, the group sold out concerts at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, and another concert with Latin bachata super star Anthony Santos at the historic 1,500-seat Park Performing Arts Center. Recently the band has performed in such notable places such as Drom and The Bitter End in New York City; the Cuban Parade of New Jersey; and appearances on television on Telemundo and Univision, among others.
The band became famous in the United States for its fusion of Cuban music and other genres, forming a fresh hip sound and music from son Cubano to conga, from cumbia to merengue, from rap to ballads.
This year, Machado found out that his first song recorded in the United States “Vive la Vida” made it to the Latin Grammys in the first round of voting in the category of Urban Fusion.
“To come to this great country and for my first song written in this soil by me to make it to the first round of voting in the Latin Grammys is beyond a dream,” he said. “I’m incredibly grateful to this country. I’m American. This is the greatest country in the world, and all of us who are immigrants here should celebrate the United States of America.”
Ray continues to work for the Union City Department of Public Works.
People around town call him the happiest garbage man they’ve ever seen.
“People say that I am the happiest garbage man they’ve ever see. And some ask me how I can do that kind of work. I tell them, I am proud and grateful to have a job by which I can support my family. How can I not be happy? I’m blessed,” he said. “Listen, I live in the greatest country in the world. I have two beautiful daughters, and a loving wife. I love what I do. What else can I ask for?”
For more information about Maxima Alerta, please visit: www.MaximaAlerta.com
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.