Thursday, October 5, 2017

#LetWomenSing: Castros wouldn't let Celia Cruz sing in Cuba but the Queen of Salsa sang to the world

Let Celia Cruz be heard on radio in Cuba.

Let Celia Cruz's music be heard in Cuba
Freemuse in 2017 is focusing on women’s and musicians’ rights and access to cultural equality under the banner #LetWomenSing. The image they are using in their media campaign bears a striking resemblance to Celia Cruz and it is appropriate because Freemuse wants to create awareness and start a conversation about the inequality female musicians are experiencing.

Celia Cruz was and remains 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." The impact of the Castro regime on music in Cuba goes beyond jailing musicians and includes systematic censorship that threatens the island's musical legacy as has been the case with the Queen of Salsa.

According to the 2004 book Shoot the singer!: music censorship today edited by Marie Korpe there is increasing concern that post-revolution generations in Cuba are growing up without knowing or hearing censored musicians such as Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot and that this could lead to a loss of Cuban identity in future generations. This process has been described as a  Cuban cultural genocide that is depriving generations of Cubans of their heritage.

Olga Guillot's music is also still banned on Cuba radio
Later this month on October 21st the world will observe the 92nd anniversary of the birth of Cuban music icon Celia Cruz. The Queen of Salsa passed away fourteen years go on July 16, 2003 and her music is still banned in Cuba today.  At the time of her death in 2003 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."
On August 8, 2012 BBC News reported that the Cuban regime's ban on anti-Castro musicians had been quietly lifted and two days later the BBC correspondent in Cuba, Sarah Rainsford, tweeted that she had been given names of forbidden artists by the central committee and the internet was a buzz that the ban on anti-Castro musicians had been quietly lifted. Others soon followed reporting on the news.  The stories specifically mentioned Celia Cruz as one of the artists whose music would return to Cuban radio. This wasn't news but a rumor that nine years after her death her music would be played on Cuban radio, after a half century absence but they were dispelled by regime officials. On August 21, 2012 Tony Pinelli, a 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 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 "
This e-mail refers to Celia Cruz playing at the Guantanamo Naval Base in 1990. Because she had decided to continue to play her music, as a free woman, outside of Cuba the Castro brothers barred Celia from returning to Cuba in 1962 to bury her mother who had just died. When she went to the Guantanamo Naval Base three decades later she picked up some Cuban soil, a piece of home, to take back with her into exile. 
Celia Cruz picks up some Cuban soil to take a piece of home back to exile
In October of 2015 Telemundo aired the first of an 80 part - novela on the life of Celia Cruz, the woman who would become known as the Queen of Salsa and "La Guarachera de Cuba".

Google Doodle of Celia Cruz from 2013
In 2013 Google, on the tenth anniversary of her passing, honored Celia on her birthday with a Google Doodle. In 2010 the United States Postal Service issued a postage stamp in her honor describing the Cuban artist as follows.
"A dazzling performer of many genres of Afro-Caribbean music, Celia Cruz (1925-2003) had a powerful contralto voice and a joyful, charismatic personality that endeared her to fans from different nationalities and across generations. Settling in the United States following the Cuban revolution, the “Queen of Salsa” performed for more than five decades and recorded more than 50 albums." 
Sadly, it is not only in Cuba, Freemuse is working to bring attention to the "very violent and direct restrictions women musicians face in countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan," and censorship elsewhere. Here in America we witnessed an ugly episode of censorship with the Dixie Chicks in 2003, but at least it was not government sponsored but Clear Channel played a sinister role in keeping their music out of their airwaves. However they are back on the airwaves and touring across the country. Something that Celia Cruz and other banned Cuban musicians were never able to do, not even posthumously in the island where they were born: have their music played on the radio. This is part of the terrible legacy of Castroism. The music of Celia and Olga will return to Cuba's radio airwaves one day and that will be cause for celebration. Azucar!

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