Yasmin S. Portales Machado
HAVANA TIMES — This past weekend, in a crowded Karl Marx Theater, the Cuban duo Buena Fe gave three concerts to present their new CD Dial.
Their eighth recording, the album consists of thirteen songs in a tribute to Cuban radio, though — as usual — it’s expected that several of the compositions won’t make it to television here because of their critical lyrics.
The two hours of music belted out by Buena Fe at the Karl Marx were tremendously intense.
The show included essential works from their repertoire: “Psicologia al dia”, “Como el neandertal” (2001), “Fin de fiesta” (2003), “Nacimos angeles” (2004), “Gracias por el fuego” (2006), “Catalejo”, “En cueros” (2008), and “Pi (3.14)” (2011) – an essential selection from the successes racked up by the duo since they formed in 1999, in Guantanamo Province, combining the musical talent of singer (and attorney) Israel Rojas with guitarist Yoel Martinez.
They also performed “Habanastation” and “Soñar en azul,” which don’t fit into any catagory. “Habanastation” was the theme song of a successful Cuban fiction film by Jean Padron, while “Soñar en azul” (Dreaming in Blue) was written for a documentary about a Havana baseball team, the Industriales, which hasn’t been broadcast in Cuba because it includes players who emigrated. Who knows, maybe now…
The common thread of Dial is Cuban radio, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. This is explicit in the prologue of the song “Radio Reloj” [from the Havana radio station of that same name] and an interspersed dialogue from the Radio Progreso classic “Alegrias de sobremesa,” which has been aired by that station since 1975.
The concert itself began with the playing of the Radio Progreso theme song, usually performed by the vintage Aragon orchestra. Coincidentally, the concerts were held close to World Radio Day (February 13, as designated by the UN).
In addition, the singers marked their appearance that night as being a decade since their first concert at the Karl Marx. It was there, in January 2003, that they presented Arsenal, their second album, and at the same time were confirmed as being part of the most popular musical landscape of the early 21st century in Cuba.
The Karl Marx Theater — with 5,000 seats, the largest auditorium in Cuba — has automated lights and screens on the sides. Being the most modern musical venue on the island, Buena Fe took advantage of that by alternately projecting images of the stage and fragments of videos and photomontages. On stage they were supported by a dance company, Spanish singer Andres Suarez, December Bueno, and the group D’Corazon.
Of course it’s expected that a couple of their songs will generate controversy. “La culpa” (Guilt) points directly to the lack of citizens’ control over public policies in Cuba, summarized in a colloquial phrase that Israel Rojas sings in the refrain: “In the end, no one is responsible.”
Another contentious song is “Buena hembra, mala sangre” (Good Girl, Bad Blood). In it, Rojas warns that here you can run all you want, but politics will always catch you.
The video shows personalities who have clearly influenced Cuba: Lenin, Fidel Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Silvio Rodriguez and Yoani Sanchez, among others. Does anyone think this would be broadcast on Lucas or any other Cuban TV show?
This isn’t new. Buena Fe has a history of touching on what’s politically sensitive. Indeed, it’s key to the popularity of their songs, regardless of listeners’ ages. In addition, they’ve managed to circumvent television censorship and convey their messages on the screen.
For example, at the beginning of the video “El duende del bache” (CD Corazonero, 2004), they sing a snippet of another explicitly censored song, “Corazonero.” Likewise, they make “innocuous” videos concerning thorny topics, like in “Gracias por el fuego” (CD Presagios, 2006) and “Catalejo” (CD Catalejo, 2008).
Buena Fe concluded the evening with their 2011 song “Pi (3.14)” – another clever move at evading censorship by using popular slang. In this, the concert has kicked off what will be a series of performances, videos and interviews to promote Dial.
At the very end of the concert, they warned that no matter how it’s acquired, the new CD must be “generously burned” so that it reaches all of Cuba.
They’ve already announced concerts set for Miami (February 22), and cities in Venezuela, Ecuador and Chile through March. This summer they’ll be appearing in Europe, mainly in Spain.
I wish them the best with their new CD Dial.