By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 13 (IPS) – Pop artist Juanes makes his first appearance in Cuba on Sunday September 20, at Havana’s emblematic Revolution Square, brimming with history and where 11 years ago Pope John Paul II officiated over an open mass.
A top rate lineup of outstanding national and foreign recording artists will be accompanying the Colombian singer/songwriter for the outdoor free concert.
Crews of workers are already busy at work this week to prepare the grounds for the “Peace without Borders” mega-concert of 14 groups and singers. Included in the line-up are Cuban artists such as Silvio Rodríguez and Los Van Van, as well as Spanish singers Victor Manuel and Luis Eduardo Aute. The artists will be joining pop superstar Juanes, who said his decision to come to Cuba is free of political aims.
From the stage the performers will be able to see to their immediate left, the enormous white marble monument of eminent Cuban independence leader José Martí, while to the right the background will glow the effigy of Cuban-Argentine guerilla fighter Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The same scene was viewed in January 1988, when John Paul II (1920-2005) presided over a Catholic liturgy attended by then president Fidel Castro.
“It’s a cultural exchange that serves to unite everyone, no matter where we live. Unfortunately, there are still people in Miami who live for disunity,” commented lawyer Susana Rivas, referring to sectors of the Cuban exile community that openly expressed their opposition to Juanes’ proposed concert the moment he first announced it.
A joint press release, issued on the Thursday night by the Cuban Institute of Music and the singer of the hit song “La camisa negra,” announced that the organizers of the mega-concert are requesting musicians and the public alike to “dress in white as a symbol of peace.”
According to the dispatch, they also made clear that the show – which will take place from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 local time (19:00 to 23:00 GMT) – will have no political messages of any kind: local and foreign artists will limit themselves to singing their best known songs, and admission will be free.
“We expect that this ‘Peace without Borders’ concert will help to extend a bridge of better understanding in relations between all Cubans, especially between the youth,” said Juanes, in comments cited in the official release.
Spanish artist Miguel Bosé, another of the outstanding guest performers, clarified defiantly, “I’m going to Cuba because I want to.”
Along with Juanes will play – in addition to Bosé, Victor Manuel, Aute, Rodríguez and Los Van Van – a number of other Cuba performers: Amaury Pérez, Carlos Varela, X Alfonso, Orishas (based in Spain), and the Cuban-Venezuelan band Cucú Diamante y los Hierbabuena.
Completing the lineup will be Puerto Rican singers Olga Tañón and Danny Rivera, as well as Juan Fernando Velasco of Ecuador and Italian singer Jovanotti. In total, 128 people – among them artists, musicians and technicians – will travel to Havana for the show, which organizers expect to be attended by between 500,000 and 700,000 people.
The concert will be broadcast live and via satellite by Cuban Television, and the signal will be freely accessible by any country or television network, Internet site or radio station that requests to do so, and without restrictions. More than 160 journalists from all over the world have been accredited to cover the show.
A Totally Non-Commercial Event
According to the press release, most local production expenses have been covered by the Cuban Institute of Music, and the remaining ones will be assumed by several of the artists who are participating in the concert. “No artist will receive pay for their performance,” noted the official statement.
Though some radical Cuban émigré groups in the United States have been unsparing in the criticism of Juanes – who has even received death threats – most Cuban-Americans expressed their support for the initiative. For the Colombian, it is a concert for the Cuban people above all, “independent of their beliefs.”
“I haven’t run into a single ordinary Cuban in the streets of Miami who doesn’t agree with the aims of ‘Peace without Borders’ in Havana,” wrote Juanes in his personal page in Twitter, a free micro-blogging service that sometimes serves as a social network.
“Several people have criticized me through Twitter for planning to visit Cuba, arguing that there’s no democracy there and that people are repressed… Don’t they realize that art has a function? Don’t they realize that art is a cure, a drop of fresh water, a breath of fresh air, a ray of light?” the singer-songwriter responded.
Two hundred people who live in Cuba were surveyed by Generación Cambio Cuba, an émigré organization proclaiming to seek reconciliation, found that 70 percent of those consulted favored this particular initiative, while 93 percent agreed with such cultural exchanges in general.
Juanes, the winner of 12 Latin Grammys, has also defended his planned “Peace without Borders” concert in Cuba, the second of its type that he has given in Latin America. In his opinion, we are now living in “different times,” and the United States is “looking for dialogue and other alternatives.”
Havana and Washington are separated by a half century of conflict. Now, with Democratic president Barack Obama in office, any signs of easing of tensions are appreciated among the two countries.
US administrations prior to Obama were vilified precisely in Revolution Square by Fidel Castro. Today, far from the power due to illness, he has been replaced by his younger brother, Raúl.