Cuban Musician Tells It Like It Is

September 17, 2013 |

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

Roberto Carcasses in concert. Photo: decubajazz.cult.cu

Roberto Carcasses in concert. Photo: decubajazz.cult.cu

HAVANA TIMES — When last Thursday night, at a hotel located on the Dominican-Haitian border, I heard Cuban musician Roberto Carcasses sing at a massive concert in Havana organized as a kind of tribute to the four Cuban agents imprisoned in the United States, the first thing I thought was that I was losing my sense of hearing and confusing wish with reality.

The television cameras, all aimed at the stage, didn’t afford me a glimpse at the audience’s reaction, not even that of those standing at the front row: the relatives of the imprisoned agents, high government officials and a number of young girls who seemed to have been made to stand there to look happy.

Nor was I able to see the rest of the audience, gathered at the large public square which was once an elegant promenade and today is a truly ugly lot with an annoying statue dedicated to Jose Marti. I am sure, however, that if they were able to hear the artist over the noise, that they must have felt transported to another world altogether.

In Cuba, for a singer to stand on a stage in a public space, before thousands of spectators, and ask for political reforms, is simply out of this world. At the very least, it falls outside the world of totalitarian spectacles, of vulgar nationalism and pathological liturgies that the Cuban government has staged for decades – undecorated, in some cases, and mixing political discourse with both good and bad music, in others.

Making a suggestive use of the catchy refrain “I’ve always wanted this”, Carcasses asked for the release of the Cuban Five and Maria (who, I imagine, stands for anyone unjustly imprisoned), an end to the Cuban blockades (maintained by both the United States and Cuba), freedom of information to be able to have an informed opinion and the possibility of being able to choose the country’s president by direct vote.

He did not call for the overthrow of the government, or show any kind of accommodating attitude towards the United States, or express agreement with Cuban dissidents, for whom he merely asked for the same rights supporters of the revolution enjoy – a basic principle of any democratic system and of common, political sense today.

Roberto Carcasses. Photo: decubajazz.cult.cu

Roberto Carcasses. Photo: decubajazz.cult.cu

Carcasses did not present us with a coherent, anti-government political platform, and this was probably for the best. He limited himself to saying two or three things that the overwhelming majority of Cubans want and cannot express, denied the means to do so or the means of making a living if they did.

His band staged something which is taking place on the island every day: isolated instances of resistance to the authoritarian government, which continues to demand loyalty in exchange for poverty, insecurity and corruption, situations which Cuban government leaders insist on dismissing as bad civic manners and, in some cases, even mercenary activities.

This is the reason we must applaud the courageous gesture of Carcasses and his entourage, who sang for all Cubans, on and outside the island, right-wing or left-wing, politicized and not.

So far, the foreign press has only reported on the sterile gibberish spoken by bureaucrats and a number of coercive administrative measures.

I fear these measures will be stepped up, as Cuba’s political class seems intent on demonstrating that unauthorized criticisms will only meet with repression and violence, exercised by the official media or with their complicity.

Cuba’s political class exercises such violence like an occupation army. Alongside ruined buildings, measly salaries and hospitals falling apart at the seams, this violence seems to have become part of Cuba’s every day landscape.
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(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com.

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  • Moses Patterson

    Where are the voices of his fellow Cuban musicians rising up in a chorus of protests, petitions and indignation over the regime’s castigation of Carcasses? They can’t ALL be cowards, can they?

    • Dan

      Well Moses, you got your answer. Silvio Rodriguez. The most revolutionary, Communist musician on the island. That’s a hopeful sign flying in the face of that usual “ossified system” talk, isn’t it?

      • Moses Patterson

        It is sad commentary when the most bought-in and co-opted of the lot is the only one with the cojones to step up. Still, it’s a start.

        • dani

          You guys at Langley are slacking. Danay Suarez expressed support.

          • Moses Patterson

            Really? Good for her. She is a moderately talented Cuban hip-hop knock-off. I first heard of her when she tried to jump on Jay-Z’s Open Letter bandwagon. Still, she is not super well-known even in Cuba. I am talking about the more established artists. Just imagine if the same were to happen in the US? There would be a burst of opposition on Twitter. Oh right, we are talking about Cuba. Oh yea, the “Langley” crack, nice try.

  • 1+seguramente

    Yes we can be all cowards Moses Patterson. It’s sad but true. I’ve been waiting for days for my fellows country men’s reaction to this and so far the silence is terrifying. Robertico is one of the most beloved musicians among Cuban youth either Inside the island and abroad, they have danced with his mucis thousand of time but now nobody seems to be affected by his personal situation. The Cuban people don’t give a shit about politics inside the island, and the virtual diaspora has’t poste djust a single photo on Facebook. You know, it’s always more intersting posting selfies having lunch at a fancy restaurant in Miami and that kind of bullshits. I’m sorry but yes, we are all cowards. and I’m not taking about the anti castro Media, I’m, talking about PEOPLE.