|Music Freedom Day, 3 March 2008, fuelled interesting and revealing debates on past and present accounts of censorship in Cuba. The increasingly popular ‘blogger-universe’ hosts the emotional and political exchange of opinions on the history of music censorship on the Caribbean island.By Martin Buch Larsen, Freemuse
Within a few hours, the exiled Cuban ‘blogger’ Enrique del Risco had received more than 20 comments on his blog enrisco.blogspot.com. Del Risco had followed an initiative taken by the Cuban blog-forum Penultimo días, and posted a blog named Music Freedom Day. In his blog he had called for a public on-line discussion on matters of censorship of musicians and composers in Cuba in the 20th century.
Both the enrisco and Penultimo días blogs bring forth critical interpretations of the rich Cuban music culture and highlight the challenging conditions for Cuban musicians to overcome censorship, bans and other restrictions – in the past and in the present. These accounts challenge the fact that the Cuban island by many is believed to be a ‘musical paradise’.
Their accounts have subsequently sparked a lively debate on the blog, including contradictory explanations and differing personal accounts of what actually happened in this and this year – and not least why some musicians suddenly disappeared.
Restrictions after the 1959 Revolution
On his blog, Enrique del Risco lists a comprehensive, yet subjective account of censorship which he believes has taken place in Cuba since the revolution in 1959.
The lists on his blog count:
· Ban/Censorship of complete genres:
· Ban/Censorship of musicians in exile.
These include: Lecuona, Perez Prado, Arsenio Rodriguez, Celia Cruz, Patato Valdes, Mongo Santamaria, Vicentico Valdes, Rolando Laserie, Guillermo Portabales, Orlando Contreras, Cachao, Bebo Valdes to Gloria Estefan Willy Chirino, Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, Orishas, Havana Open and Isaac Delgado.
· Ban/Censorship of foreign musicians who have made some kind of statement or gesture interpreted as political.
These incidents include: Oscar D’Leon, Jose Feliciano, Julio Iglesias and Roberto Carlos.
· Ban/Censorship of national musicians. Disciplinary action taken against acts considered improper, ranging from dissent to scandalous statements.
· Ban/Censorship of songs with either foreign or domestic content which are considered contrary to the interests of the revolution.
These include: “El perico está llorando” by Tata Guines, “Aquí el que manda el Mulé” by la Ritmo Oriental, numerous by Los Van Van, “Ese hombre está loco” by Tanya; “Picadillo de soya” by NG la Banda, various songs by Silvio Rodríguez, “Ya viene llegando” by Willy Chirino, various by Carlos Varela y Frank Delgado, “Asere que volá” by Habana Abierta and “Lucha tu yuca” by Raymundo Fernández
The incidents mentioned on the blogs all vary in gravity and some cases even appear as mere speculations and conspiracy thoughts. The accounts may be subjective, but they do however give an idea of how some exiled Cubans interpret the music scene in Cuba, the island widely recognised as a ‘musical paradise’.
A number of the cases are well documented incidents, but there is no doubt that musicologists, researchers and official accounts will counter and question a number of the cases mentioned, if ever put forth in a professional forum.
Bans, closure and censorship
The blogs furthermore open up for discussions on the reasons behind banning and censoring musicians in Cuba. Readers of the blogs have subsequently commented on the issues, and discussed the different definitions used when discussing restrictions imposed on Cuban musicians, as well as the different implications the ban, closure or censorship may have on the musicians – and on the society as a whole.
Another issue eagerly debated on the blogs, is the role and powers of the state governed Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión (ICRT). The institute is widely recognized as ‘the invisible hand’ executing the strict parole set by the Cuban state apparatus.
Music Freedom Day, and in particular these Cuban blogs, have created a forum for ordinary people to recount, discuss and share their views on the various censorship mechanisms in Cuba and what happened to popular Cuban musicians in the past. Most importantly these blogs have sparked an important debate and reflection process on what is happening in today’s Cuba – especially when it comes to the restrictions imposed on Cuban musicians.