Pedro Luis Ferrer Defends Freedom of Speech in Cuba

Isbel Diaz Torres 

Pedro Luis Ferrer in concert July 3, 2011. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“If we don’t say what we think, we can’t defend this country,” said Pedro Luis Ferrer speaking before those who had come to listen to his music with delight at the Mella Theater.  Those words stirred a deafening applause throughout the hall.

For someone who has suffered censorship and marginalization in the flesh, making such a statement at 58 years of age was a lesson in consistency and loyalty to principles – but to say it with such good humor and with such poetry…that was something else.

I felt like he was speaking directly to me.  Somehow he was telling me that to criticize what is poorly done in Cuba cannot be an act of betrayal but something that springs from the purest of love; it’s something that is truly an act in defense of the homeland.  I’m not speaking of expressing criticisms from time to time, like everyone does – no, but of the systematic and deep exercise of criticism, exactly what we see in the work of this great Cuban artist.

It was enough that he walked onto the stage to a standing ovation from people who were truly moved by him, almost making the theater itself tremble.  He still hadn’t said anything, he hadn’t sung anything, but people’s love for him from earlier times radiated.  We all recognized his courage, just as we recognized his fine artistry.

Ferrer sang nearly 25 songs with his customary manner of inserting comments and poems between one song and another.  His fine sense of humor, learned from his grandparents, embraced all of his words – where satire, irony and even scatology were loaded with profound meaning.

It had been a while since this troubadour had performed in a major theater.  I remember the last times I heard him were in the garden of the Cuban Music Institute and in the small theater at the Museum of Music.  On both occasions his delivery was eminently professional, as if he had been performing before an immense auditorium.

Those of us who attended this past Sunday, July 3, followed the whole concert spellbound.  Myself, a frustrated guitarist, I was captivated by hearing the counterpoints and melodies that this musician traced on the tres (which has three-double strings) and on the guitar.  Anyone with a minimum initiation into music would have recognized as a major feat what Pedro Luis did with such ease.

Pedro Luis Ferrer, 7-3-2011. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Once again he demonstrated his interpretive virtuosity and his abilities as a composer in stylized variations of Cuban popular styles such as son, guaracha, cansion and changüi.  Without the slightest reservation, these could have been placed alongside the most agile pieces of Baroque or any other classical European style.  A precise sense of sobriety and good taste transformed each piece into a work of art.

All of this again demonstrated that this trova musician is a true artist in the formal sense of the word.  I delighted in imagining that while we were seated there, among the rest of the audience, there also sat some of those men and women who had tried to derail his career.  I feel sorry for them, but not that much, especially knowing that their subservient censors continue working, these days a little more in the shadows, but always present.

This is why the struggle for freedom of speech is a perennial call.  Not the false freedom of speech of the capitalist press, equally subordinate to powers that are more or less hidden, but the freedom of the common people.  There’s so much to say, there’s so much to build and reconstruct.

Pedro Luis Ferrer’s courage earned him misunderstanding and censorship on the part of Cuban government-run institutions back in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  In those days it was almost impossible for this singer to be invited to perform at cultural functions here on the island, though — curiously enough — they did in fact allow him to go on international tours throughout Europe and the United States.  Today I look at the singer Escuadron Patriota and the group Los Aldeanos and I think maybe things have changed a little, though still not enough.

Ferrer recognized that on this occasion there was no censorship, nor had it been necessary for him to meet and discuss with any official beforehand.  Even the inclusion of the song “Abuelo Paco,” which so much stimulates the astute imagination of Cubans, spoke very well of the organizers of the concert.  Nevertheless, the artist’s almost completely banned presence from national television reveals how uncomfortable his thoughts are for many in government spheres, as is the validity of his lyrics.

It was curious to see people of such dissimilar ages requesting the musician to sing songs like “Inseminación Artificial,” “Uno de la extrema izquierda” or “Yo no tanto como él,” which demonstrated that this was an audience that was expert in the troubadour’s work.  The songs “100 percent Cubano,” along with “Romance de la niña mala” were the songs most requested and applauded by those in attendance.


Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

2 thoughts on “Pedro Luis Ferrer Defends Freedom of Speech in Cuba

  • I can’t believe that Julio de la Yncera doesn’t really understand why “free speech” in capitalist societies is not free in any sense of the word. I read some of Julio de la Yncera’s other writings and see he is aware of the economics involved. Under capitalism who owns the press source, controls the speech. While smart capitalist societies allow a minimum of critical and independent press to exist, they do so because their dominance of the dialog and influence of public opinion is not threatened.

    Now it is true that the new technologies open up increase means of speech, still it is the outcome in terms of the public’s awareness and opinions that are the capitalist press’s concerns, and in the US, this battle is assessed daily by those who own communications.

    In the battle of ideas, free speech is too little heard if money dominates, Do you really not know this Julio?

  • Isbel

    “This is why the struggle for freedom of speech is a perennial call. Not the false freedom of speech of the capitalist press”

    I have the impression you are confusing two different things in the prior statement.

    Freedom of speech and freedom of the press. While the two are intertwine they are different as you could imagine. Furthermore we can even classify other types of freedoms for example like freedom of cultural expression.

    When someone dictates that such and such work of art should be display or listen to in the radio or TV and such and such should be banned. Is that freedom? Why should someone have so much power? Why not let people decide for themselves?

    Now as to the statement about “Not the false freedom of speech of the capitalist press”
    First I do not think freedom of speech can be qualified as capitalist or socialist. Freedom is not a concept that depends on an economical system. Freedom is independent of the economical system. So there is no sense of talking of Capitalist freedom or Socialist freedom.
    I am intrigued to know what makes you think that freedom of the press in a capitalist country is false?
    Assuming that you are referring to that particular concept of freedom. Please let me know.

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