By DALIA ACOSTA
HAVANA, Dec 8 (IPS) – For eight years, Michel and Alexander Sanchez have been publishing Scriptorium, a fanzine (fan magazine) dedicated to rock music produced within Cuba and abroad, in a society that resists accepting this genre and its fans as part of the national culture.
Although the worst hostility against the rock n’ roll community is in the past, fans of rock music still lack enough venues for their concerts and gatherings, and support from the cultural authorities continues to be minimal and sporadic.
“We began in 1999, when local fanzines were produced on typewriters, then mounted on pages, photocopied and stapled by hand. Nevertheless they were conceptually rich and showed the enthusiasm of their authors,” Michel Sanchez told IPS.
“We planned then for Scriptorium to come out regularly, with a different look, and to have a staff of writers, designers and people on the technical side,” the university student said.
“We had to charge for the magazine to pay for all this, because we couldn’t depend forever on favors. That set us apart from the other fanzines,” he said. Thanks to its self-financing, Scriptorium has survived the passage of years, while the number of similar magazines has fallen from 15 in the 1990s to only three today.
With the help of friends, every three or four months they print their fanzine and distribute it at rock concerts or festivals. Their print run varies from 100 copies to the “heroic” number of 750, according to “los jimaguas” (the twins), as the Sanchez brothers are known.
“The aim is to promote Cuban rock and offer constructive criticism of the bands’ material,” said Alexander Sanchez. Interviews with foreign groups, with whom the young men have kept in touch by correspondence over the last decade, also appear frequently in the pages of Scriptorium.
“At first we focused mostly on heavy metal because the groups playing it had more difficulty getting promoted in the media. But then we realized that they were all facing the same kind of obstacles to publicity, the same privations and prejudice,” said Alexander, an English teacher.
In the 1960s the Cuban media, which is controlled by the state, virtually eliminated broadcasts of rock or any other music in English, because it was considered “the language of the enemy,” according to Cuban journalist Ernesto Juan Castellanos in his paper titled “El diversionismo ideológico del rock, la moda y los enfermitos” (The ideological diversionism of rock, fashion and weirdos).
Four decades on, appearances by rock groups on television are still quite restricted, while radio stations implement policies that limit broadcasting of songs in English.
“I think Cuban society has changed, but not that much,” said Alexander, while recognizing that his long hair and his musical tastes have not caused him any trouble at his job in the National School of Art, although on the streets he may be called “friki” (freak), “a disparaging term to denigrate ‘low-lifes’.
“Society does not give us enough room to be seen as human beings instead of judging us according to the music we listen to. They should mount campaigns to promote respect for differences, acceptance of people for who they are, and not for what they wear, their sexual orientation or their musical preferences,” he said.
“Rock music has become associated with drugs and with alienation of the individual. If you are not tattooed, nor a criminal, they think you are not a rock fan,” said 31-year-old Michel.
“To be a rock fan is to love the music above all else, beyond the aesthetics, the behavior and the detrimental associations that go against its essence, which is the freedom to be non-conformist,” he stressed.
Intolerance against members of the rock community reached its peak in the late 1960s, when “many self-identified ‘Fatherland or Death revolutionaries'” organized in groups that attacked young people whose appearance they resented, forcibly shaving their heads, slashing their tight trousers and beating them with impunity, Castellanos says in his paper.
Decades later, a bronze statue of John Lennon sits in a Havana park, and every weekend there are rock concerts in the Maxim Rock theatre. But police are still suspicious of the crowds of dark-clothed young people with long hair who gather in the city centre, and the legendary meeting-place of “rockeros” on this Caribbean island, Maria’s Patio, remains closed.
The place was open for more than a decade in a community cultural centre at the initiative of María Gattorno, a cultural organizer. It closed its doors in 2003, on the pretext of undergoing repairs, and with no further explanation it disappeared as a cultural venue.
Michel and Alexander view the present state of Cuban rock with some pessimism. Inaction in the face of the closure of Maria’s Patio, and of censorship of groups like Porno para Ricardo because of their anti-establishment lyrics, have raised the question of whether a national rock movement united around a common goal exists, they said.
They say that the printed Scriptorium (which has an online site at http://scriptoriumzine.wordpress.com/) will continue to come out, and they devote most of their free time to the magazine, because of their commitment to the Cuban rock scene and especially to their readers.
“We will carry on with the magazine, in spite of all the blows that life has dealt us, with or without blows, digitally or in print,” said Michel. “It’s something we discovered through rock music, and one of the most beautiful things that has happened to us.”