It’s 1965 in El Oriente Cuba. Angel Zoilo Perera grabs a green ficus leaf from a tree, presses it between his lips, and begins to blow, but becomes dizzy. His brother-in-law does the same but shows him how it’s done.
His life was changed forever.
Perera or “El Mago de la Hoja” (The Leaf Magician) plays the greenery as an instrument, a unique talent he hopes will lead him to a $5 million payout from a Telemundo TV show.
“[The show] is called “La Gran Oportunidad” (The Grand Opportunity) and I want to see if I could have my own grand opportunity,” he said in Spanish.
Perera recently sent in his audition to Telemundo but doesn’t think he will make it this season because he applied too late. If so, he plans to apply next year.
If he does win, Perera said he would travel to Cuba and the Grand Canary Islands to visit family.
Although he recognizes the large publicity this could bring him, Perera said his real goal is to be able to play for kids with cancer.
“I’ve played in places with many kids and they go crazy for my act. This was in Cuba of course,” he said.
The 78-year-old currently plays his leaf and guitar at “La Esquina de La Fama” restaurant on Calle Ocho in Little Havana.
“Sometimes the restaurant is lacking clientele and he’ll start to play the leaf outside and it gets filled,” said server Isabella Bacallao. “It attracts a lot of attention from the kids. He [even] gives leaves to the customers to see if they can attempt making a sound and they fall on their chairs from dizziness. It’s super funny.”
When choosing a leaf, not just any will do. Perera prefers to get his from Northwest 7th Street and Northwest 35th Avenue.
The ficus is Perera’s preferred type of leaf because it provides enough resistance so that he can blow hard enough and not have a musical malfunction.
There are over 200 songs in Perera’s repertoire, incorporating music from all over the world including Cuba, Italy, Colombia and Mexico. His most popular songs include Latin favorites, “Guantanamera” and “Cha Cha Cha.”
Upon walking by and hearing the song, “Canta y No Llores” passerby Kailee Llagostera stopped to listen to the music. “Wow that was awesome, really innovative and resourceful! I love that song,” she said.
Perera and his wife moved to Miami from Cuba a little over two years ago to retire. But he said he has been in the music industry since, 1988 working in hotels and airports as a singer, guitarist and of course, leaf magician.
Despite attracting customers, Perera is not an employee of the restaurant, and the money he makes is solely off tips.
He said he was lucky to find a place that accepted his act and considers this his hobby. In fact, if he won the grand prize from “La Gran Oportunidad,” Perera said he would still continue playing at the restaurant.
“There are 24 hours in the day, we sleep between six and eight of those and as much as there is to do at home, there is time left over to do what I used to do in Cuba. It is a pleasure,” said Perera.
FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Perera’s middle name. It is Zolio.