New Cuban Talent Competition Packs Little Punch

Dariela Aquique

sonando en  cubaHAVANA TIMES — The singing competition shows The Voice, The Voice Kids and The X Factor have gained an unprecedented popularity among Cubans, who do not seem to miss an episode with the help of the weekly “package.”

The Spanish, Mexican, Colombian and US versions of The Voice and The Voice Kids are the subject of conversation among relatives, neighbors and workmates who have become fans of a given contestant, thankful that these shows come to fill the vacuum of Cuban television.

Mientras tanto, la prensa oficialista y la Dirección del ICRT han venido haciendo una campaña de desprestigio a los programas que trae el paquete, calificándolos de banales, amarillistas y, sobre todo, de excesivamente comerciales (lo que en muchos de los casos no deja de ser cierto).

All the while, Cuba’s official press and the presidency of the Cuban Radio and Television Institute (ICRT) have been impelling a smear campaign against the materials included in the package, calling these banal, sensationalist and, above all, excessively commercial (something which is often true).

As it is impossible for them to control the clandestine flow of these programs, they have decided to fight back by creating a similar show which, according to its producers, has a distinctive Cuban touch and authentic feel.

The competitive show Sonando en Cuba (“Cuban Sounds”) has been airing on Cubavision on Sundays at 8:30 pm for three weeks now. Not to sound disrespectful towards its creators, but the show isn’t much more than a compendium of rather poor versions of The Voice and The X Factor performances.

To begin with, even the look of the show’s host – actor and television host Carlos Luis Gonzalez – is very similar to that of Jesus Vazquez, the host of The Voice and The Voice Kids Spain. The way in which the casting session is conceived, how the competitors are informed they have become finalists, the individual presentation spots and even the way in which contestants walk onto the stage is blatant plagiarism.

The greatest mistake, however, is the attempt at making the show “completely local” and to require the competitors to sing only son pieces. In my opinion, limiting the performances to a single genre (and one which requires certain tonalities) limits the singers severely and keeps them from demonstrating their versatility.

The structure of the show is completely rigid – there’s even a catalogue of songs from which the contestants can choose. This new Cuban program has absolutely nothing that is attractive, it is a bad version of talent competitions. Evidently, they have invested considerable resources into giving the show an appealing look and, in these efforts, they have done what they have criticized so much in others.

Countless musical genres, including the bolero, rumba, cha cha cha, feeling, La Habanera, timba, conga, guaracha, mambo and others, have been born in Cuba and any of these – in its pure state or combined with other modern or foreign genres – could be used to represent authentic Cuban identity.

But the Cuban government is now paranoid that access to the Internet is going to expose the population (the young in particular) to foreign role-models and standards and that this is going to have repercussions on the country’s political ideology. This paranoia has hit the media so hard that we are bombarded with music videos showing the Cuban flag or any other patriotic symbol on a daily basis. While it is true that it would not be good to lose our culture imitating foreign tendencies, it would also not be good for the media to cast our cultural molds or for us to do gross imitations of others.

As the old saying goes, we Cubans either do too little or too much, and I think this is what’s happened to the makers of Sonando en Cuba. This is evident in the fact that, three weeks since coming on television, it has received plenty of criticism and secured a very small audience, as people continue to seek out the “package.” Though its programs are kitschy, they’re originally so.

2 thoughts on “New Cuban Talent Competition Packs Little Punch

  • Bring back re-runs of German Pinelli’s variety show (shades of our own Ed Sullivan show, but with a far wittier M.C.) This show aired over CMQ during the 1950’s through 1970’s (and perhaps beyond). Actually, up here P.B.S., aware of the demographics of its largely senior citizen audience, is always reviving old tapes of the Sullivan Show, along with Peter, Paul and Mary, Judy Collins, et al. as part of their fund raisers. Personally, I’m a “Palmas y Canas” man myself.Although I don’t particularly like Country Music up here, perhaps because it is too formulaic, commercialized and maudlin, while the music of the guajiros remains much more authentic. What could be more authentic, and exciting, than the improvised “controversias” or challenges, between singer-poets on “Palmas y Canas?”

  • There’s no reason to fear the loss of Cuban culture once we Americans ‘rediscover’ Cuba. Yet this fear is a reoccurring theme from those who would resist the inevitable change that is coming. Did Cubans fear that Canadian culture would overwhelm the salsa? Were Cubans fearful that Russian borscht would replace congris? Has Brazilian cachaça replaced Cuban rum? Those aspects of Cuban culture that deserve to survive will Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian. Those aspects of Cuban culture that fall by the wayside are most likely not cultural at all, rather just those things that Cubans do to survive. Good riddens to them.

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