Thursday, March 3, 2016

Music Freedom Day 2016: Cuban music still censored by regime in 2016

 Reflection for Music Freedom Day

Rolling Stones to play free concert in Cuba on March 25th

The Rolling Stones have announced that they will perform a concert in Havana, Cuba on Friday March 25, 2016.  The free concert will take place at the Ciudad Deportiva de la Habana.  Before going any further, let me state for the record that I saw the band in concert during the Steel Wheels Tour in Miami, Florida at the Orange Bowl on November 15, 1989 and enjoy their music.

The international press has been dutifully reporting on how the Castro regime "prohibited the sale of the band’s records, considering its music a symbol of capitalism." However, this "cultural liberalization" of permitting foreign rock bands to play in Cuba is not new, but can be traced back to March 2, 2001 when the first major British rock band, The Manics, played in Cuba. Months earlier on December 8, 2000 John Lennon was "politically rehabilitated" on the 20th anniversary of his death, by no less than Fidel Castro who unveiled a statue, and by regime spokesmen who would try to claim him as an ideological fellow traveler.
Imposing systematic music censorship in Cuba
This censorship the Castro regime engaged in amounted to cultural genocide: banning musicians, musical groups, and genres that were viewed as decadent or counter-revolutionary. The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and later on John Lennon's solo music were officially banned for years along with the rock genre. 

Kenia Fernandez wrote an article in My Latino Voice titled "Nostalgia Corner: Why the Bolero was censored in Cuba" which describes how the crackdown on music began in Cuba: "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." Two years later on March 13, 1963 Fidel Castro gave a speech were he openly attacked “long-haired layabouts, the children of bourgeois families,” roaming the streets wearing “trousers that are too tight,” carrying guitars to look like Elvis Presley, who took “their licentious behavior to the extreme” of organizing “effeminate shows” in public places. The Cuban dictator warned: “They should not confuse the Revolution’s serenity and tranquility with weaknesses in the Revolution. Our society cannot accept these degeneracies.”

This meant that members of these targeted groups including rock n roll fans were sent to work camps called the UMAP (Military Units to Help Production). Young Cubans were sent to prison work camps because they were caught listening to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Rock 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, and Earth, Wind and Fire, was labeled decadent and counterrevolutionary.

Over the past 20 years rock n roll as a genre has been permitted in Cuba under the dictatorship, although it still censors content.

Censored and banned from Cuba by Castro: Olga Guillot and Celia Cruz
 It wasn't only rock that was censored, Cuban music was too
Many great Cuban musicians were marginalized and their music censored by the Castro regime beginning in the early days of the Cuban dictatorship. For example Kenia Fernandez in the previously mentioned essay "Nostalgia Corner: Why the Bolero was censored in Cuba" described how a Cuban musical genre was systematically censored:

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 dance halls 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.
The queen of the Bolero was Olga Guillot who passed away in exile in 2010. 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.

Music performed by musicians who chose to go into exile criticizing the Cuban regime, such as the popular Celia Cruz and her orchestra, Sonora Matancera. were banned, their music censored, and it  forbidden to mention their names. The banning of Celia Cruz was especially tough because she was so popular before the revolution in Cuba.
Fake Change in Cuba: Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot still censored in Cuba in 2016
Diario de Cuba reported on August 21, 2012 that Tony Pinelli, a well known musician and radio producer, distributed an e-mail in which Rolando Álvarez, the national director of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión (ICRT) confirmed that the music of the late Celia Cruz would continue to be banned. The e-mail clearly stated: "All those who had allied with the enemy, who acted against our families, like Celia Cruz, who went to sing at the Guantanamo Base, the ICRT arrogated to itself the right, quite properly, not to disseminate them on Cuban radio." The irony that it was the Castro regime, that acted against Cuban families dividing them for over half a century, in 1962 had denied Celia Cruz's request to return to Cuba to attend her mother's burial. She never again tried to return to Cuba and passed away in 2003

Cuba's cultural genocide continues in 2016 and icons of Cuban music such as Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot remain banned from the airwaves and must be discovered in Cuba on the black market and in the underground.  

Olga Guillot and Celia Cruz music still banned in Cuba
In 2016 the music of The Rolling Stones and The Beatles play over the official airwaves in Cuba while the music of late Cuban icons Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot remains banned in Cuba. What does it say about the regime in Cuba that British and American rock bands are now heard over the airwaves in Cuba and are playing concerts in Cuba and at the same time the music of Cuban musicians of the stature of Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot remains censored in Cuba, even though they passed away years ago?

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