With increasing frequency and belligerence, the Cuban art world produces lucid voices that defend autonomy, social justice, national sovereignty and personal liberty as part of an emancipatory promise made to the island.
Though perhaps without the full scope or the desired impact — given the fragmentation of the Cuban public sphere, as well as existing control mechanisms and censorship — musicians and actors, performers and film producers, essayists and visual artists are beginning to formulate positions that question the status quo’s drifting away from the original liberating promise of the socialist revolution.
They are doing this by erecting bridges of solidarity between various art forms, audiences and creators – a valuable approach for protecting the creator’s existence and for disseminating their work. These artists are often questioned about being “insufficiently revolutionary” – accused even of being dissidents or anti-Castrists, charges that emanate from the easy chair of the comfortable bureaucrat or the caverns of Cold War anti-Castrism.
They often don’t receive support from their colleagues who scrape away any social commitment from their work (or simply avoid hard and complex realities). These others allow themselves to be instead seduced by material privileges, special prerogatives and other forms of the wooing of power.
Standing out in underground culture is the hip hop duo Los Aldeanos, widely known in and outside of the country for their controversial positions and their rejection of manipulation by official institutionalism (which has interdicted several of their performances).
The positions and perspective of Los Aldeanos — like those of other polemic creators such as Escuadron Patriota and Silvito El Libre — distance themselves from other groups (e.g. Porno para Ricardo) that have a different political orientation, one linked to the positions and personalities of Cuban exiles like Willy Chirino.
Los Aldeanos is part of a network of creative communities (Real 70) that meet to produce art (in jerry-rigged studios that they themselves create and manage) to exchange experiences, forge solidarity and summon a growing public.
Their work is reflective of the sharpest contradictions within Cuban society. In their song “Viva Cuba Libre” (*), Los Aldeanos open with a “special dedication to the entire Cuban people and in memory of those people who struggled for a truly free Cuba.” One of the members later adds, “I’m from a country that has a tradition of struggling for its sovereignty and is opposed to inequality.” But this doesn’t prevent them from protesting: “We live locked inside the phrase of ‘everything is the peoples,’ though everything is controlled by the state.”
They synthesize the problems of free speech and public debate in another line that reflects their personal experience with institutions: “If you believe in them, you’re good; but if you differ from them you’re bad; if you’re a composer on another side, you’re a gusano (a counter-revolutionary, literally a maggot).”
Reflecting the precarious material conditions of the majority of people (expressed in the debate around the government’s reform “Guidelines” and the measures being sought to correct them) the artists remind us: “Any Cuban without economic problems should raise their hand; having one’s feet on the ground is an ideological problem… Our wages are a joke, and the orders we’re given are a lack of respect.”
Questioning the roles of institutions, they refer to popular feelings when they say: “I only see bureaucracy. The national pastime isn’t baseball; it’s getting the runaround.” They then raise another criticism by saying: “A lot is said here about participative democracy… but our opinions for making a decision don’t count – not up there.”
As one can see, the positions of Los Aldeanos are intimately linked to their commitment to common people and national sovereignty. “Fajao (Joe Blow) just like independence hero Antonio Maceo represents the whole island. You’d have to kill me to take my flag from me,” they maintain. Appealing to invocations from Che Guevara, they call him “the real comandante.” And they defend the revolution by citing the call made by Fidel himself for people to “change everything that must be changed.”
The work of Los Aldeanos has the capacity to condense sharp difficulties and analytic gazes, doing this with the blunt language of ordinary Cubans to deconstruct the crudest of manipulation.
(*) For more comprehensive knowledge of their work, as well as that of other similar communities, see http://emetreceproductions.com/