Lousy International Contracts for Cuban Musicians

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez

Trío Trovarroco

HAVANA TIMES, March 28 — The work is for no less than seven days a week, with three 45-minute sets on each of those days. What’s more, there are no breaks between the songs, which come from a repertoire of 48 different tunes that have to be updated every week.

These are some of the basic conditions demanded by foreign businesspeople of Cuban musicians before investing in their musical talent.

Despite the poor working conditions, succeeding at signing one of these super-exploitative contracts is a big deal for any member of the precarious community of Cuban musicians.

The energy and time it takes to secure work abroad is eventually vindicated by any job offer – no matter how bad it might be. To get sponsored by a foreign employer requires bleeding oneself dry on limited and poor Internet access.

One needs timely contacts with other Cuban musicians abroad, though the individual musician will still have to market themself day and night in search of potential sponsors.

This might also mean having to ask a former co-worker to go out and sell your art for a few bucks.

When you can attract the interest of an investor, then come the time consuming negotiations with domestic firms and the Cuban Institute of Music.

It becomes totally necessary to make sure that culture officials are “well treated” so that one can get their musical program approved.

These are issues that are not taught to musicians when they study at conservatories, which is why they have to learn their most important subjects after graduation.

The academic experience is nothing but a spiritual retreat where the only thing important is achieving virtuosity in classical music.

On the street you have to become a jackal if you want your musical knowledge to provide you with enough to support yourself and your family.

Some — very few — live with a “love for art,” and these are often musicians who have high-powered families that sponsor them.

Most of one’s fellow students wind up being exploited just like any other manual worker. They eventually find themselves trapped in the monotonous cloning of preconceived and stereotypical musical formulas.

Consequently, it’s not uncommon to find musicians who hate what they do. They end up detesting Cuban popular music, nightclubs and everything having to do with the music industry.

No wonder.


Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.

One thought on “Lousy International Contracts for Cuban Musicians

  • You mean to tell me that the character depicted in the film “HavanaStation” (the father of the lost boy) is not typical of the Cuban musicians who who are fortunate to have contacts abroad?! I’m shocked! Shocked! OTOH, if I hear yet another redition of Carlos Puebla’s “Hasta Siempre…,” or one of the cuts from the Buena Vista Social Club in the bars and restaurants of Habana Vieja, at the Casas de Trovas, at the All Inclusives, etc., I will go as crazy as the musicians who have to play them over…and over…and over again. Almost as bad as what was described in a recent HT diary of the patrons of that new Bola de Nieve-themed restaurant (in Santiago?) who must listen to the SAME cut of a Bola standard, over-and-over on an enless mobius loop. Sounds like a Cuban approximation of Sartre’s NO EXIT!

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