Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cuba's Cultural Genocide: Cuban Music & Musicians Blacklisted Pt. 3

“Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.” Potter Stewart, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court

"Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings."

Heinrich Heine (1821)

This is the third installment of musicians censored and placed on a black list by the dictatorial government of Cuba. Imagine for a moment that one of the top selling artists known the world over is unknown in her homeland because of government censorship. That is precisely what has happened with Cuban born Gloria Estefan. Then you have Porno para Ricardo and Los Aldeanos a punk rock group and a rap group that have had members of their respective groups detained by the police, and in the case of Porno saw the lead singer locked up for years because of controversial lyrics. This is Cuba in 2010 under the Castro brothers and a totalitarian dictatorship.

Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan (born Gloria María Fajardo García; September 1, 1957 in Havana, Cuba ) is a Grammy Award-winning Cuban singer and songwriter. She is in the top 100 best selling music artists with over 90 million albums sold worldwide, 26.5 million of those in the United States alone. She has won seven Grammy Awards, placing her among the most successful crossover performers in Latin music to date. She is censored and her music is unknown in Cuba.

Porno Para Ricardo

Porno Para Ricardo is probably the most censored band in Cuba. They belong to the few who dare to speak out against the system. “Everybody says to me and all the other bands say to me: ‘It’s great what you are doing. It is fantastic.’ But no one invites me or the band to come and play. Not anymore”, says the band's lead singer Gorki Águila. Ciro Díaz is the main composer, lead guitarist and current leader of the band Porno para Ricardo, who is also the leader of the alternative rock band La Babosa Azul ( Ciro Díaz is keeping the band alive, performing flash concerts in Havana. The other members of the band are Hebert Domínguez (bassist) Renay Kairus (drummer)

Los Aldeanos

Underground Rap Cubano group based in Havana, Cuba. Dubbed as "underground rappers", Los Aldeanos became a group in 2003, composed of El Aldeano and El B, both of whom are MC's. Los Aldeanos describe themselves as not being the pioneer of Rap Cubano, but credit themselves with producing "real" Rap Cubano, giving to the followers of "real" Rap Cubano and "real" Hip Hop lyrics that not only instill a sense of understanding of the social, political, and economical problems that aggravate Cuban society today, but also with a sense of urgency

The lyrics of Los Aldeanos are largely anti-status quo and as a result express sentiments that are critical of the government of Cuba. Such an example can be found in their song "Libertad de Expresion". Bian Oscar Rodríguez Gala (El B) and Aldo Roberto Rodríguez Baquero (El Aldeano) held their first public performance at 5 Palmas in La Lisa on February 27, 2003 – there weren’t more than five people present. Later that same year they performed at Park Almendares inaugurating their rap duo as “Los Aldeanos.”

Cuba's Cultural Genocide: Cuban Music & Musicians Blacklisted Pt. 2

All is beautiful and unceasing, all is music and reason, and all, like diamond, is carbon first, then light. - José Martí

True knowledge gives a moral standing and moral strength. - Mohandas Gandhi

On the same day that Los Van Van, a well known Cuban band inside the island and cultural ambassadors of the regime holds a concert in Miami, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the blacklisted musicians that have suffered censorship and marginalization in Cuba. It is important to contrast the day to day reality of life in a free society where errors are made and passions can blind but can be corrected with that of a totalitarian state where one must submit and defend the indefensible or take the brave step of becoming a dissident and risk becoming a prisoner of conscience or defect and go into exile.

There are dire consequences to life under totalitarianism and it impacts everything including music according to the book Shoot the singer!: music censorship today edited by Marie Korpe there is increasing concern within the international music community that post-revolution generations are growing up without knowing or hearing these censored musicians and that this could lead to a loss of Cuban identity in future generations.The phrase cultural genocide is used to describe the "cultural revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s that blacklisted and censored scores of musicians and artists. The following is the continuation of a modest attempt to identify some of the victims of this process that has damaged and continues to damage Cuban culture and Cubans.

Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz born in Havana, Cuba as Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso was one of the most successful Salsa performers of the 20th century, with twenty-three gold albums to her name. She was renowned internationally as the "Queen of Salsa" as well as "La Guarachera de Cuba". She spent most of her career living in New Jersey, and working in the United States and several Latin American countries. She was a nonperson in Cuba. Celia Cobo of Billboard Magazine once said "Cruz is indisputably the best known and most influential female figure in the history of Cuban music." At the time of her death the Associated Press reported:

"While the death of salsa singer Celia Cruz was reported prominently in newspapers across the world, the news got scant and somewhat bitter treatment Thursday in the official media of her homeland. The Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma reported Cruz’s death in a tiny, two-paragraph story published low on page 6 of the eight-page edition." [...] Cuban officials reportedly refused her request to visit her dying mother. “She always said that they didn’t let her see her mother when she was dying,” Soriano said, “and now she (Cruz) died without ever getting her fondest wish, which was to see this house again one day.”

Paquito D’Rivera

Paquito was a child prodigy. He started learning music at the age of 5 with his father Tito Rivera, a well-known classical saxophonist and conductor in Cuba. D'Rivera grew up in Cuba, playing both saxophone and clarinet and performing with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra at a young age.When he was seven, became the youngest artist ever to endorse a musical instrument, when he signed on with the music company Selmer. By 1980, D'Rivera was dissatisfied about the constraints placed on his music in Cuba for many years, and had always longed to come to the United States. In early 1981, while on tour in Spain, he sought asylum with the American Embassy, and left his homeland, wife and child behind in search of a better life with a promise to get them out. Upon his arrival in the United States, D'Rivera found help from many people for him and his family. His mother Maura and his sister Rosario had left Cuba in 1968 and had become US citizens. Many notables who reached out to help Paquito were Dizzy Gillespie, David Amram, Mario Bauza and Bruce Lundvall, who gave him first solo recording date.

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval is a jazz trumpeter and pianist. He was born in Artemisa, in Havana Province, Cuba. Sandoval, while still in Cuba, was influenced by jazz legends Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, and Dizzy Gillespie, finally meeting Dizzy later in 1977. Gillespie promptly became a mentor and colleague, playing with Arturo in concerts in Europe and Cuba and later featuring him in The United Nations Orchestra. Sandoval defected to the United States of America while touring with Gillespie in 1990, and became a naturalized citizen in 1999.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cuba's Cultural Genocide: Cuban Music & Musicians Blacklisted Pt. 1

"I think they kill my child every time they deprive a person of their right to think." - José Martí

"The man who uses coercion is guilty of deliberate violence. Coercion is inhuman." - Mahatma Gandhi

Over the years when it has been necessary to speak out against censorship of musicians and attempts at intimidation I spoke out and signed my name to opeds and petitions denouncing coercion, intimidation, and government attempts at censorship, but failed in taking a closer look at what was taking place in Cuba. According to the book Shoot the singer!: music censorship today edited by Marie Korpe there is increasing concern within the international music community that post-revolution generations are growing up without knowing or hearing these censored musicians and that this could lead to a loss of Cuban identity in future generations. What follows is a partial list of important musicians and groundbreaking music denied Cubans in the island. Text is taken from hyperlinked sources in each entry. I am not a musicologist but listen to their music and you be the judge.

Israel Cachao López

Known just as "Cachao" was a Cuban mambo musician, bassist and composer, who has helped bring mambo music to popularity in the United States in the early 1950s. He was born in Havana, Cuba. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, won several Grammy Awards, and has been described as "the inventor of the mambo". He is considered a master of descarga (Latin jam sessions). Cachao left Cuba in 1962. He spent two years in Spain, then came to New York City, where he performed with mambo bands led by Tito Rodríguez, José Fajardo and Eddie Palmieri. For decades, he worked almost entirely as a sideman.

Ramón "Mongo" Santamaría

He is most famous for being the composer of the jazz standard "Afro Blue," recorded by John Coltrane among others. In 1950 he moved to New York where he played with Perez Prado, Tito Puente, Cal Tjader, Fania All Stars, etc. He was an integral figure in the fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythms with R&B and soul, paving the way for the boogaloo era of the late 1960s. His 1963 hit rendition of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. With the cover of "Watermelon Man," Santamaria found himself garnering the acclaim of his former mentors. He would even visit the pop charts once again - a feat that, among his mentors, only Prado ever accomplished - in 1969 with "Cloud Nine." And he recorded prolifically through the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, before slowing things down last decade.

Miguelito Valdés

Born Miguel Ángel Eugenio Lázaro Zacarias Izquierdo Valdés Hernández (Havana, 6 September 1912 – Bogota, 9 November 1978), also called Mr. Babalú, was a Cuban popular singer of high quality. His performances were characterized by a strong voice and a particular sense of cubanismo. Miguelito Valdés was a street wise rumbero in tune with the Abukuá and Nañigo percussion rudiments he absorbed in Cuba. He is immensely responsible for the manner in which afro-cuban son, and salsa singers have evolved musically. He described the '70s salsa phenomenon as 'a beautiful continuation of something that started many years ago ... I'm glad it's still alive'.

Mario Bauza

He was one of the first musicians to introduce Latin music to the U.S. by bringing Cuban musical styles into the New York jazz scene, and is one of the most influential figures in the development of Afro-Cuban music, and his innovative work and musical contributions have many jazz historians to call him the "founding father of Latin jazz." In a musical trajectory that spanned over seventy years Mario Bauzá covered and mastered the realms of symphonic, Latin, jazz, African American, and popular dance music. He was a multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, bandleader, and teacher. He earned the respect of all the musicians he played with by being talented and by commanding respect by example. He was a true innovator of his craft and had the vision and determination to see it manifested.

Arsenio Rodríguez

Cuban musician who played the tres (Cuban guitar), reorganized the conjunto and developed the son montuno, and other Afro-Cuban rhythms in the 1940s and 50s. He claimed to be the true creator of the mambo, and was an important and prolific composer who wrote nearly two hundred song lyrics. Father of the son montuno, prolific composer and lyricist, unequalled tresero, creater of the conjunto format, it is impossible to overstate the importance of Arsenio Rodríguez in Cuban music. Arsenio defined the sound of Cuban music in the 1940s and is both the mother and father of the mambo, even if others would be its most popular figures. The reverbations of his musical revolution can be still be felt today. Despite all this, Arsenio remains on the margins of the official musical pantheon and is a largely forgotten figure.

Olga Guillot

Olga Guillot (born October 9, 1922 in Santiago de Cuba) is a famous Cuban singer who was known to be the queen of bolero. She is a native of the Cuban city of Santiago. In 1954, she recorded her song "Mienteme" ("Lie to Me"), which became a hit across Latin America, and earned her three consecutive awards back home in Cuba as Cuba's best female singer. 1958 proved to be an important year for Guillot, as she toured Europe for the first time, including stops in Italy, France, Spain and Germany. She sang alongside the equally legendary Édith Piaf during a concert held in Cannes. Olga Guillot kept a house in Cuba as she travelled around the world with her music, apart from her house in Mexico. But Guillot opposed Fidel Castro's Government, and, in 1961, she decided to leave Cuba for good and establish herself in Venezuela. Not long after that, she left Venezuela, making Mexico her only permanent residence country. First, jukeboxes were confiscated from corner bars and nightclubs (there were as many as 20,000 jukeboxes in Havana in the 1950s). Then, in 1961, at the First Congress of Writers and Artists, music was defined as an organ of integration into the new Revolutionary society. The bolero came to be seen as a reactionary genre, in bad taste, and ultimately, banned. Cuba's world-class composers and performers, many of whom had brought the genre to its golden age, were abruptly silenced. Finally, in 1968, in the Ofensiva Revolucionaria -- the Cuban equivalent of China's Cultural Revolution -- most of the 1,200 cabarets and dancehalls for which Havana was known were shut down (with only a couple of exceptions, including the notable Tropicana). Bolero lovers and performers were left with no viable venues. An entire generation was traumatized by loss of the very words and music that had defined the key moments of their lives -- coming of age, first loves, stolen kisses, secret romances.

José Martí visited Haiti September 7-9, 1892 and the ties that bind

Dr. Jorge Camacho of the Universtiy of South Carolina-Colombia authored an essay titled We are an army of light” / “somos un ejército de luz y nada prevalecerá contra nosotros: José Martí and the American News Press in an online magazine La Habana Elegante edited by Francisco Morán in which José Martí's 1892 visit to Haiti is mentioned:
According to Ibrahin Hidalgo Paz on August 31, 1892, Martí went on a political trip to the Caribbean. He visited Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica, where he met important political leaders, and in October 13, 1892 he came back to New York.
Now according to the Louverture project José Martí visited the cities of Gonaives, Cap Haïtien and Fort Liberte between September 7 through the 9, 1892.

As Haiti begins to rebuild and heal from this horrible earthquake it is important for Cubans everywhere to remember our neighbors and the historic ties that bind us. Today around the heart of the Cuban exile there was a Marathon gathering humanitarian assistance from 8:00am to 8:00pm and Free Cuba Foundation president Julio Menache is calling on members to join in a volunteer effort being organized by Florida International University:

Florida International University is issuing a call to students, faculty and staff to volunteer on Sunday to help sort and package relief supplies for Haiti. Volunteers are needed from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Miami-Dade County Warehouse at 11500 NW 25th Street in Doral.

Gandhi: Sixty two years after his assassination

January 30, 1948 - 2010

Mohandas Gandhi, the middle class British educated Indian lawyer was transformed into a principled strategic non-violent activist in South Africa at the end of the 19th century struggling against racist laws and policies of the colonial authorities. The most important theoretical result of the South African campaign was the development of Satyagraha. Gandhi announced on September 11, 1906 in his newspaper Indian Opinion a contest to submit names to describe this movement. The final name was the fusion of two words as explained by Gandhi: “Truth (Satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force…the Force which is born of Truth and love or nonviolence.”

Although Gandhi described himself as a socialist he rejected Marx’s theory of the class struggle as inherently violent and offered a profound critique stating: “The socialists and communists say, they can do nothing to bring about economic equality today. They will just carry on propaganda in its favor and to that end they believe in generating and accentuating hatred. They say, when they get control over the state, they will enforce equality. Under my plan the state will be there to carry out the will of the people, not to dictate to them or force them to do its will.”

Gandhi’s revolutionary movement stands dramatically in opposition to the other revolutionary movements of the 20th century Communism and Fascism born in violence and sustained by levels of brutality and wholesale slaughter never seen before in human history that still leave wreckage today. What of the inheritors of Satyagraha? They have been and continue to be a force for good in the world. Martin Luther King Jr. in the American South fought segregation and deep seated racial hatred exercising Satyagraha as did Benigno and Cory Aquino in the Philippines, Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement in Poland, Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, the Dalai Lama in Tibet, the monks in Burma, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet and Oswaldo Paya Sardiñas in Cuba today and many more are continuing Mohandas Gandhi’s legacy.

Gandhi despite his successful revolution and the establishment of the largest democracy on the planet was felled, after repeated assassination attempts they gunned the old man down as he went to worship. They murdered him because they did not believe that India could survive with Gandhi promoting Satyagraha. Gopal Godse, a co-conspirator and brother of the assassin Nathuram Godse, argued as late as February 2000 in a Time magazine interview that: “In politics you cannot follow nonviolence. You cannot follow honesty. Every moment you have to give a lie. Every moment you have to take a bullet in hand and kill someone.”

The choice is clear on one side the force which is born of truth and love or on the other the force that is born of lies and hatred. Satyagraha saved India and Pakistan from a genocidal civil war, and Gandhi’s death at the hands of Hindu radicals led to Indians rejecting the assassins toxic approach to exercising force. The ends justifying the means which was espoused by Niccolo Machiavelli in the 15th Century in his political treatise The Prince dealt with using amoral means to achieve "moral" ends such as destroying your adversary utilizing violence and lies. Gandhi took the opposite approach, his autobiography was subtitled "my experiments with truth" and he sought to convert the enemy into a friend using truth and nonviolence to reject injustice and oppression stating that, “real non-cooperation is non-cooperation with evil and not with the evil doer.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Banned & censored Cuban artist Celia Cruz sings Josè Martì's words

I think they kill my child every time they deprive a person of their right to think. - José Martí
It is terrible to speak of you, Liberty, for one who lives without you. - José Martí

José Martí was born today on January 28, 1853 and in addition to being a journalist, poet, independence leader he was a fervent defender of freedom of expression and conscience. The regime operating in Cuba today is an affront to the values he defended his entire life. It is in remembrance of both him and of Celia Cruz who passed away in July of 2003 in Exile whereas Martí, who would spend most of his life in Exile, would return to Cuba by way of Haiti and perish in one of the early skirmishes in Cuba's second war of independence on May 19, 1895.

Celia Cruz banned and censored in Cuba for refusing to support the dictatorship is one of the great Cuban musicians who has been erased from the "official" Cuban history, but is remembered and loved by Cubans everywhere and in Cuba is remembered and listened to thanks to an underground black market. --> According to the book Shoot the singer!: music censorship today edited by Marie Korpe "musicians who left Cuba permanently after the Cuban revolution, whether for political reasons or simply to try to explore a possible career somewhere else in the world, are heavily censored by the government-backed broadcasting centre, the Cuban Insitute for Radio and Television (ICRT). How did this happen? When where the arts politicized and subjected to the dictatorship's veto? It began in 1961 and the website of Free Muse, an organization focuses on the freedom of musical expression, describes how it happened in its Cuba country profile:

Fidel Castro in June 1961 met on three consecutive Sundays in Havana with hundreds of artists and intellectuals. As a conclusion he gave a speech where he stated that "the Revolution defends freedom; the Revolution has brought to the country a big sum of liberties; that the Revolution can essentially not be an enemy of the liberties; that if somebody's preoccupation is that the Revolution will asphyxiate his creative spirit, that preoccupation is unnecessary, as this preoccupation has no raison d'être".

However, the worries were not diminished during the intense discussions, and Castro's speech was sufficiently ambiguous as to generate more doubts about the limits of freedom of expression, especially because one sentence became a key to the future cultural policy: "Within the Revolution everything is permitted, outside the Revolution, nothing".

Gradually the grip on culture was tightened. Music performed by those musicians who chose to go into exile criticizing the new regime, such as the extremely popular Celia Cruz and her orchestra, Sonora Matancera. The new music which was developed in North America and Western Europe at that time by groups and musicians like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, Janis Joplin, Earth, Wind and Fire, was labeled decadent and counterrevolutionary.

The banning was so consequent that for years it was even forbidden to mention some of those names. The banning of Celia Cruz was specially tough because she was so popular before the revolution. [...] Her name and Sonora Matancera were among those omitted in the Cuban musicologist Helio Orovio's 'Diccionario de la música cubana' (Dictionary of Cuban Music, Havana 1981). In a later edition these omissions were corrected.

Eric Silva Brenneman observes that “[b]etween the 1960s and 1970s, the island performed a cultural genocide the consequences of which are still difficult to calculate today.” After fifty years of totalitarianism it is important to analyze and document the damage done and where possible seek the means to heal and restore that which has been lost where possible. In the area of music and culture much can be done.

"Guantanamera" Simple Verses by Josè Martì

I am an honest man
From where the palm tree grows
And before dying I want
To share the verses of my soul.
Guantanamera, guajira, Guantanamera

My verse is a clear green
And it is flaming crimson
My verse is a wounded deer
Who seeks refuge in the woods.
Guantanamera, guajira, Guantanamera

I cultivate a white rose
In July as in January
For the sincere friend
Who gives me his honest hand.
Guantanamera, guajira, Guantanamera

And for the cruel one
who would tear out this heart with which I live
I do not cultivate nettles nor thistles
I cultivate a white rose
Guantanamera, guajira, Guantanamera

With the poor people of the earth
I want to share my fate
The brook of the mountains
Gives me more pleasure than the sea
Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera