Cuba: The Tempo of Censorship

Fernando Ravsberg*

Fifty years after they banned the music of The Beatles a new crusade is beginning in Cuba.

HAVANA TIMES — John looks at me as if wondering how many times people will have to trip over the same stone in order to learn.

As for me, I think that maybe in 50 years another statue will appear along with that of Lennon’s, but honoring some famous reggaeton singer.

Yet we’ll have to wait, because today we’re returning to the mindset of 60s, when it was thought that people could be told what music they could listen to.

The Knights Templar are preparing for their new crusade for morality and decency in music.

“It has now been decided: No more vulgar tunes will be aired, no more banal songs, no more offensive lyrics, and no videos that either threaten or denigrate the image of women, whether Cuban or not,” said the president of the Institute of Cuban Radio and Television.

But the question that remains: Who will decide what is rude, banal or offensive? Clearly it would be unwise to leave this in the hands of Cuban television, the same ones who for decades refused to broadcast Strawberry and Chocolate, one of the best Cuban films of all time.

It’s likely that they would ban a film considering that the life of a gay Cuban, for example, is more vulgar, banal and offensive than the violent American crap that’s shown every Saturday night to “educate” the next generation of Cubans.

Those who now decide what can and cannot be heard are the same ones who vetoed the latest video by Buena Fe in which two girls are shown kissing each other on the lips. Surely their particular moral principles led them to believe that this scene “denigrates the image of women.”

This is the same television network that went to war against Nueva Trova music when Silvio Rodriguez, Pablo Milanes and Sarah Rodriguez were teenage rebels who refused to jump through their hoops because they wanted to create and play their own music, dress as they pleased and show who they really were.

Cuban teenagers will begin listening to their favorite music only in their homes, passed on from one to another. Photo: Raquel Perez

At the core, what’s really being debated isn’t whether some songs are vulgar, but who can claim the right to say “it has now been decided,” as if delivering some divine message that needs no prior consultation with the rest of society, even though it’s something that concerns all Cubans.

But this is even more serious because they could also self-proclaim themselves as the court of good tastes, charging themselves with drawing the lines and judging each lyric of each song — domestic or foreign — to be played on radio and television stations across the country.

The matter wouldn’t be so dangerous if these were Cubans musicians and poets making the decisions. However, I doubt that any such artist would accept the role of a censor and therefore end up being the same as always: Jacobins in their ideological “kingdom.”

We all know that the officialdom is allergic to the LGBT community, but what else bothers them? Bad words that they consider rude? Will they ban Roque Dalton’s “Poema de amor” being put to music because he says “guanaco sons of bitches”?

It’s impossible to monitor all of the stations and channels across the country. So I imagine they’ll come up with a blacklist – this time not for political reasons but from “moral principles,” to which young people will respond by getting their music elsewhere, whether from the internet or satellite dishes.

It’s going to be like in ‘60s, when people used to huddle together to listen to music from the BBC or US radio stations and when they clandestinely passed around rock-and-roll records that the son of some foreign leader brought in from abroad. This war is going to be as useless as the one back then.

In the end, no prohibition can prevent the influence of those rhythms on Cuban music, just like no one was able to prevent the emergence of a generation of rock-and-rollers who decades later mocked the censors by erecting a statue of John Lennon in a Havana park.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.


10 thoughts on “Cuba: The Tempo of Censorship

  • Huh?

    Sorry but 1968 – ‘the year that never ended’ – wasn’t the product of a suited white man crushing rock and roll records on national television. Not only in the US but deep social/economic (infrastructure) factors shook the world and thus contributed for political/cultural (superstructure) upheaval.

  • Should the Castro regime make serious efforts to curtail the enjoyment of reggaeton in Cuba, they will foster a more serious problem of rebellion than they realize. If the experience here in the US during the 60’s is of any value, it is to show that what began as an attempt to criticize the Beatles, and Elvis Presley in the beginning of the decade only led to Woodstock and the anti-war protests outside the Democratic National Convention by the end of the decade. Fomenting rebellion in Cuban youth today over reggaton music today could lead to anti-Castro street protests in the future. This music belongs to today’s youth of Cuba. What else can they say that they own. The houses, the cars, the businesses, even the revolution itself belong to the generations that preceded them. Take reggaeton away and they have nothing left to lose.

  • In the English speaking world, the practice of recording companies paying radio stations to play their tunes is called “Payola”. There was a big scandal over this practice in the 1950’s and it was since outlawed. However, there are numerous ways around it. Virgin Corp from the UK now owns radios stations which play a disproportionate amount of Virgin Records’ music.

    I admit I share your opinion of reggaeton: jarring, repetitive and tuneless. So my musical opinion of that style of music is separate from my political opinion about banning it from the airwaves.

  • I don’t think this is what Grady meant. The fact is that record companies actually pay the radio stations to play their artists in order to manufacture a ‘hit’. In my country this practice is called ‘jabá’.

    Off topic, I did a quick research of Reggaeton music and I must say… well it’s pretty bad for my ears, sounds (and looks!) exactly like Pitbull, Chris Brown, et caterva.

  • OK, fine. We still have Grady and his obsession to laugh at.

    …so banning Reggaeton is part of Cuba’s struggle for perfection of the socialist model? It just sounds like yet more Stalinist-Fascist idiocy to me.

  • Culture is important–and that might be the understatement of the year! Culture is critically important, for it both portrays and generalizes that contemporary yearnings of the human heart.

    But culture is something else. It is one of four major fronts in the struggle for a socialist cooperative nation and world–along with the theoretical, political and economic fronts.

    The monopoly bourgeoisie uses culture to condition and manipulate the people, especially the rising generations. The “free” culture of the US is not free, at all. Thus, corporate slime has permeated music, cinema and television.

    Country music, for example, has been converted from the expressions of working people poets to a vomit-level pablum for selling products and degrading the taste of the new generation. No genius-level songs are being written or allowed; and mediocre artists manufactured by the corporations are being foisted on the public.

    A cultural revolt is coming, as part of the continuing struggle for a new society and world. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the struggle for “perfection” of the socialist model in Cuba.

  • This must be a HT first: Griffin, Moses & Luis are for once all in agreement on something!

  • “This war is going to be as useless as the one back then.”

    Well summed-up one-liner for the moralist wankers (I just love this British term) of the airwaves. I add that this will have even less effect as in this case there’s no actual restriction on the production of content, but the radio/TV transmission of it.

  • Like the Moringa nonsense, we will likely one day learn that Fidel, Raul or one of their clones muttered their dislike for the decline in Cuban music tastes and that triggered a flurry of activities culminating in this ridiculous decree. Unfortunately, this style of top down leadership often results in the personal whims of a very small cadre of overfed tyrants becoming the law of the land. How else do you explain how Fidel single-handedly destroyed the sugar industry in Cuba? The attempt to censor music, however noble the intent, is doomed to fail as it will only make what is now prohibited more desirable.

  • I cannot imagine a more hopeless campaign than to try to stop Cubans from enjoying music and dancing!

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