HAVANA TIMES – Cuban band Buena Fe, and especially its director Israel Rojas, have conflicted with supporters and detractors on social media in recent months, because of its pro-government stance and ignoring other points of view.
Originally hailing from the Guantanamo province, Buena Fe emerged as a music group in 1999, with the duo Israel Rojas and Yoel Martinez. Rojas is the composer of all of the band’s songs and lead singer, while Martinez plays the acoustic guitar and is the second voice. Their career spans over two decades on stage, 11 albums, great press coverage and an active social media presence.
They have formed part of the cultural and political face-off that has polarized opinions since November 27, 2020, when over 200 artists gathered outside the Ministry of Culture to demand a dialogue and freedoms. Even though the group’s leaders were present, they made their support for the system and its institutions clear.
They have also taken part in government-led actions as part of this political dispute. For example, they put on a concert on November 13, 2021, for participants at the Red Bandanas sit-in at Havana’s Parque Central, which was one of the responses – along with interrogations and police sieges of activists, independent journalists and artists – to the call for a Civic Protest for Change by the Archipielago platform, scheduled for November 15th.
Plus, they have a close relationship with Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, who tweeted on February 7th, Israel Rojas’ birthday, to wish him a good day and giving his personal thanks.
This open pro-government stance and moving away from other demands for human rights and not asking questions about repression of the artistic sector, has made the band a target for critics, especially those who oppose the Communist Party system. Since November 2021 alone, they have been the center of nine heated debates in the digital space.
PROTESTS AGAINST CONCERTS OUTSIDE CUBA
Between February 7th and 13th, the band visited Panama to take part in the official inauguration ceremony of the cultural space Casa Cuba, La Vitrina. They were invited by the Jose Marti Association of Cuban Residents in Panama. This trip is the latest piece of news that has rekindled discord between the band’s critics and supporters.
During their stay in Panama, they took part in an artistic gala ceremony at the National Theater of Panama on the 11th, and they performed a concert at Casa Cuba, on Saturday 12th, the date of the center’s inauguration. At the latter, a small group of Cubans – as can be seen in videos shared by protestors – gathered to protest against the island’s Government, against the presence of Buena Fe in this country and against Cuban residents in Miami coming to the show, Carlos Lazo, leader of the Puentes de Amor project, and Erich Concepcion, singer and comedian.
Lazo and Concepcion were in Panama to take part in setting up Casa Cuba, thereby showing their support for the Puentes de Amor project which advocates for lifting the US blockade.
Protestors outside the cultural center in Panama weren’t able to stop the band from performing.
This isn’t the first time that Buena Fe concerts have attracted protests or boycott attempts outside Cuba’s borders. In January 2022, Internet users opponents of the Cuban Government and living in Spain shared a boycott appeal for a concert the band was scheduled to play at Sala Storylive! in Madrid.
Even though a small group of Cubans – according to witnesses present – did gather outside the venue and protest against the band and the Cuban Government, they didn’t stop the concert, like they had planned. Several videos shared on the band’s official Facebook page prove that inside the venue, the concert went on without any setbacks.
Then, in early February, Cuban residents in Canada launched a petition on the Change.org platform to stop the band’s concerts scheduled for May this year. Buena Fe’s 2022 Canadian tour, which included shows in Montreal on May 20th, Toronto on May 21st and Edmonton on May 22nd, was canceled.
However, according to an official statement issued by The Opera House, Toronto’s theater of performing arts, the tour was canceled because of “new restrictions imposed on foreign nationals entering Canada as of Jan 15, 2022. All foreign nationals entering need to have a brand of vaccine accepted by Canada in order to enter at the border. Buena Fe does not yet meet this requirement.”
Israel Rojas and Yoel Martinez posted a video on their official Facebook page confirming The Opera House’s statement, and rejected the idea that the cancellation of their concerts was a victory for those who oppose them. They defended Cuban vaccines and said they wouldn’t receive a foreign vaccine: “we will wait for our vaccines to be recognized” and “we will go to play there when our vaccines are recognized.”
CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING CONCERTS IN CUBA
The group’s public performances outside the island haven’t been the only source of controversy. The latest concerts on their national tour and on the stairs of Universidad de la Habana for the FEU (University Students Federation) anniversary, last December, were accompanied by pictures with messages on social media that talked about how empty the venues were.
Unpicking these images, the group’s official Facebook page shared videos of its shows in Bayamo, in Guantanamo, on the University hill, where the camera deliberately spans across the concert hall to show that the venues weren’t empty.
In a Facebook live stream, Israel Rojas explained that “they had really great feedback from the audience” in Guantanamo and Granma, and that they were “well-attended concerts”.
Their audiences weren’t the only thing being questioned. Ticket prices in today’s context have also been called into question. The announcement for a dinner/concert by the group at the La Cecilia Tourist Resort on December 24th, costing 2000 CUP per person, triggered many comments of dissatisfaction on social media. Social media users questioned whether the group had consented to the price of their performances and argued that a Cuban’s minimum wage is only 2100 CUP, among other things.
After currency “reform” was implemented, the prices of cultural and sports events in Cuba shot up, and Resolution 328 from the Ministry of Finance and Prices, published on December 2020, established price caps on the increase of current prices, with different kinds of allowances. According to the regulation, the price of local music concerts was fixed at up to four times the original price before the reform, and national music concerts, up to five times.
Within a context of economic crisis, high prices of cultural products are increasing the gap in a significant population group’s access to these, although this doesn’t only apply to Buena Fe. In the past few months, ticket prices of many artists’ concerts have made headlines, and the most outrageous was a concert by urban music duo Kimiko y Yordy in Cienfuegos, which was selling for 24,000 pesos a ticket.
ISRAEL ROJAS’ CONTROVERSIAL STATEMENTS
Questions about Buena Fe have also been fueled by some controversial statements and comments made by Israel Rojas.
His more controversial statements recently were issued in a live stream shared with Carlos Lazo and other musicians in November 2021. In the middle of their conversation, the singer said: “there are people who still tell us: “I don’t know how you guys ended up turning into…” What have I turned myself into? You’re the abnormal one, no offense, I don’t want to insult you, you never understood our songs.”
These words sparked criticism on social media against the artist, who explained on Twitter (@Israel_BuenaFe) that what he was referring to as “abnormal” were “people who said they interpreted their songs one way and now” are asking him to account for “their OWN interpretation.” He shared the entire live stream with Carlos Lazo on his personal Facebook page.
Soon after these statements, the singer did another live stream while driving his Nissan car. The artist was accused of being an opportunist and hypocrite, because of this. One user by the name Abel Castro wrote “(…) modern Nissan, you are [Government] continuity”, Buena Fe’s official Facebook page responded with the concept of envy: “Envy mainly comes from not having something and seeing another person have it and want it (…).” The response sparked a heated debate between opposing positions, reaching 1200 comments on the social media platform.
The leader of Buena Fe’s controversial opinions were remembered by Cuban comedian Alexis Valdes, who a couple of days ago, shared a fragment on Facebook from an interview he gave ten years ago when the group visited Miami. In the interview, Valdes questioned Israel’s use of the expression “darn Ladies in White”, which he said at a concert at La Tropical in 2010. The singer admitted it was “an unfortunate comment”.
Social media in Cuba is an extremely politicized landscape, where users demand definitions and question the benefits of being close to the Government in a national situation where Culture is at the head of this dispute. Buena Fe used to criticize corruption, government actions in their songs, and now they support the Government without saying a word.