Music that Never Left

Since last Thursday, August 9, I have received several phone calls from correspondents accredited in Havana, as well as from one or the other European broadcasting station, with the purpose of asking me about the lifting by the Island’s authorities of the censure, restriction or silencing of musicians belonging to the Cuban diaspora. I suppose they contact me because the news about the publication within the next months of my book Músicos de Cuba y del mundo: Nadie se va del todo somehow has broken through. In this text I attempt to explain how the political problems and the long history of intolerance that affected so much our music sphere cannot be ignored by either side, which led to forbid a personality like Celia Cruz in Cuba and to prevent the presentation of a star like Rosita Fornés in Miami, whose appearance at the Centro Vasco was sabotaged when the reduced but powerful sector of right extremists in that city exploded a petard in that place.

Headlines like: “They forgive them! Celia Cruz and Gloria Estefan are heard again in Cuba”, or “Cuba lifts veto to dissident musicians” have expanded like gunpowder in the Internet from the moment when Sarah Rainsford informed about it in the BBC. I admit that I was surprised by the number of reports published in the international press on Thursday, the 9th, and Friday, the 10th in this regard. I guess this is related to the fact that in Cuba almost everything ceases in summer and there are hardly interesting news for the agencies and media represented in the Island, so when something comes up you have to make use of it.

But the curious thing about this event, now front page news, is that it is not recent, but occurred weeks ago and is part of a phenomenon that I classify as “part of a process” with several antecedents. One of the most recent ones is the fact that the phonographic recordings made by the diaspora have been allowed to compete at Cubadisco already for some years, and some of them have even been awarded in that event.

Although changes in Cuba take place at too slow a pace for my taste, little by little good sense gradually imposes itself, and people like me maintain the hope that in a not too distant future we will live in a normal country. In tune with it, according to sources that wish to remain anonymous of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT by its Spanish acronym), a resolution issued by that organ was informed orally near the end of the first semester of this year to directives of the Island’s broadcasting stations eliminating the “black list” of musicians censured for living abroad –a prohibition that, by the way, as everyone knows, came from the central Administration through a decree, although said document was never visible to our eyes.

When consulting several producers and journalists linked to the radio, they have commented that now the decision of whether someone who was previously penalized is played or not lies in the hands of the program directors. Given my old links with the radio –where my work went from being a director to presenting different spaces– I listen to this or the other program, and certainly, although in a rather shy way, I have already listened in several Havana radio stations to musicians forbidden until not long ago.

In this regard I think that two elements will hinder this process in the beginning. In the first place, the self-censure, which, according to Bernard Shaw is the worst of censures, and makes quite a few radio producers wait to see how the remodeled policy of music dissemination develops before doing anything that may bring them some problem. In the second place, the majority of the young program directors ignore the work –and even the existence– of the previously censured artists, as part of what Aldo Baroni proclaimed already in the title of that old book of his, Cuba, país de poca memoria (Cuba, Land of Little Memory).

Integrating the work of Cuban musicians abroad to the Island’s cultural space in a comprehensive, non-selective way as has happened –favoring some because they have been seen before while others have been victims of hiding and erasure– seems to me more a political and human problem. Obviously, many of those musicians who migrated have no liking for the Government, and it is also obvious that the feeling is reciprocal, but these decades of confrontation and controversial relations with Cubans who stick to an “all or nothing” position and are opposed to facing the diversity of opinions, has only served to bleed the nation.

Probably it will never be known exactly who it was who threw the first stone: if those who said that the son had left Cuba or those who refused to admit that the ones who left the country remained Cubans. The truth is that the refurbishing of reciprocal negations –political contradictions aside– has greatly harmed our culture and particularly our music, which, being an industry, endures pressures that are not present in literature or plastic arts. If there is one Cuban cultural form that has been submitted to the ups and downs of politicization, it is music. Perhaps this situation is due to the fact that music is the art expression with the greatest attraction for the media.

It should be added that it cannot be ignored that many Cuban musicians from the diaspora have been profusely heard throughout the country, whether by the action of the DJs in the night-life centers, or private taxi drivers and bicitaxis or by people at home. The Cuban reality is much more complex that the mere existence of a circular letter censuring or decriminalizing one or the other artist. This is evidenced by the popularity registered by Willy Chirino’s songs in Cuba, despite the fact that his albums are not distributed in the country, nor has he been promoted by the radio or the TV networks, or appeared in live concerts here. Because although it is true that the media have not promoted the art of Cubans living abroad who are against the Revolution, it is also true that the Cuban State does not bother anyone for listening at home whatever one wishes at a high volume, and there is even the paradox that state centers and events have used censured music. That is indeed an example of how cultural dynamics operate among us.

Today no one can be ignored, no matter how much we may dislike him/her, for being totally opposed to our vision of the world –a political one– or for having decided to start his/her life anew somewhat farther than their old neighborhood. The democratic nature of the new information and communications technology and of programs destined to burn CDs and DVDs has to teach us the lesson: no one is any longer in possession of the absolute truth, and now we have to fight against multiple criteria and truths.

On the other hand, the suppression of this prohibition is a hard blow for the extremists in Miami, who – as a sign of a sort of “café Stalinism” and a more furious politicization of art than in the dark times of socialist realism – have hindered the circulation and promotion of the work of the artists and intellectuals living in Cuba.

Therefore, though sadly the great Celia Cruz did not live to see it, her voice will again be heard through the Cuban radio waves –from which she should have never been separated– when exclaiming: “Azúcar!” Or when singing: «Songo le dio a Borondongo; Borondongo le dio a Bernabé; Bernabé le pegó a Muchilanga, le dio a Burundanga, le hincha los pies».

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