HAVANA TIMES – The song “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life) aspires to win a 2021 Latin Grammy or to even become the “Best song of the year,” now that it has surpassed the temporarily popular musical “tantrum” of [Colombian rapper] J Balvín. With that, and with some luck, the soundtrack of Cuban rebellion and resistance will also win the award for the best urban genre composition.
If this dream is achieved, it is likely that “Patria y Vida” will become yet another example of a song that is successfully coopted by an industry that plays with dolls, rides its little horses and flirts with certain labels such as Blackness, marginality, the Latin macho, the runaway slave, dissidence and even ruin.
If this occurs, each ingredient of the soup that is “Patria y Vida” will suddenly lose its flavor, as it finds its own niche in the academy of musical entertainment. As a consequence, the meaning of some of the lyrics will also mutate. The song’s Blackness will lessen in order to become trendier and more acceptable, its Cubanness will transmute into a broader universalism, and its status as an anthem of struggle will be lost as it enters the larger and more profitable network of the music business.
If the song doesn’t win -if it is deemed to be too bland, melodramatic, opportunistic and/or combative-, it won’t matter. The slogan “Patria y Vida” will continue to be roared from the stage, sounding like a hysterical scream coming from the screens of exiles, shaking like a bombshell or a slamming door in the hypothalamus of a public inflamed by the song of misfortune. And with that, “Patria y Vida”, this emerging consciousness seeking to reach the level of every day common sense-, will have won.
When I listened to the song for the first time, I confess that what came to mind was a Cuban TV episode of “Con 2 que se quieren” (With two who care about each other). Even more anguishing, I imagined the image of host Amaury Perez and Sara Gonzalez talking about Yeye and the origins of the protest song. Fortunately (or to my relief), I imagined Sara saying something like, “victory was, is, and will always be, an officially commissioned song.”
As it turns out, “Patria y Vida,” in its bias towards the dire, shares several lines with its cousin song, “La Victoria,” (Victory). That is, the commission, the product, the delirium, and the slogan. “La Victoria” is a song that was produced by the Communist Party (the only one), and a Ministry [of Culture] that is not the only one, but functions as if it were. It serves, then, as a part of a political-propaganda apparatus that defends a supreme order, an order that seeks to disguise its true nature by representing itself as rooted in the popular consensus of a heroic people ready to fight to defend it. In this way, “La Victoria” is like the twin sister of “Patria o Muerte por la Vida,” (“Homeland or Death for Life”, with English lyrics) that sad blunderbuss of a song spun out by Raúl Torres, the result of anguish, fatigue and haste.
But the song “Patria y Vida” unfolded in another dimension. It is the spirit of the street expressing its consternation. It is a concert of voices singing discontent. It is tension and dissension that manifest itself as anarchy. “Patria y Vida” isn’t the result of a premature birth. Rather, the song appears to us as something natural, desired, expected and brought to term in the humble bosom of a happy family. It is, however, worth clarifying that “Patria y Vida” is itself a product that is backed and produced by an influencer, with the pulse and impetus of an influencer, and in all this, is shaped by the vision of (a single) influencer.
Without going into a discussion of the worrisome and frightening issue of influence as a form of domination, it must be affirmed, that yes, “Patria y Vida” has already passed through all the economic filters of hype. Like the song “La Victoria”, “Patria y Vida” is the new hymn of those who are burning for change and enters the popular sphere through the same selective channel of the commissioned. This means that if you get off script, they will cut off your legs; that if you don’t sing what is being played, you’ll have to go back to being a baker; and if they approve of your song, they’ll hang a medal on you. This explains the dilemma of the product.
The song “La Victoria” speaks in the delirious register of combat. Sara gives it a sentimental tone, while the text declares the end of the battle. Together the voice and the lyrics convert the apotheosis of victory into a moment of infinite “glory” that can be multiplied through a succession of moments and unearthly wills, and that come together within the Greco-Roman worldview. This worldview (which is characterized by megalomania and teleology, both stemming from a triumphal vision of the past) imagines the fusion of the “revolutionary” founder, the militia member, with his own utopia of the “New Man.” It is from this background that our present-day millennials have begun to spring. Zeus raises them, Hades gathers them and the common road to hell is paved with slogans.
The state of delirium produced by “Patria y Vida” has also swept the emigrant community and serves as a kind of proposal that the exile sends back to his fragile homeland. What is happening with all this is not a rupture with the earlier project of the founding Revolutionary leaders, but rather a reaction to and thus the prolongation of this same endeavor. Like William Tell, the present-day descendants of these founding leaders demand the crossbow and declare their discontent with a particular version of history. In doing so, they are signaling their rejection of domination by their elders. At the same time, in the very demands expressed in “Patria y Vida,” we see the transmission of the archetypes of the past and the meanings that surround them.
It is from this factory of slogans that come “revolutions,” which serve as devices and machines of delirium. Within this revolutionary delirium, the phrase “Patria y Vida” represents the lowest common denominator in the equation “miliciano / heroism + millenials / views”. An entire country of passionate people brought up to believe in the need to defeat some “empire” sings out between one faction or another. It doesn’t matter if this enemy is capitalist, communist, socialist, leftwing, rightwing, reactionary, or progressive.
Nor does it matter whether this singing comes from surveillance within a committee or from a hostile neighbor who believes in the Revolution. In the end, the overarching matrix of all this is embedded in the illusory desire to overthrow something that is very large, something or someone that is very difficult or impossible to defeat. To avoid squandering our energies, and to avoid making firewood in the winter from this fallen tree, it is worth stopping to remember how much time we have spent tearing down walls, breaking fences, assembling, and dismantling trenches. All those times -always invoking the sling of David (who woke up half drunk)-, we already left a one-eyed Goliath, who disturbs us when we have insomnia.
If we were to conduct a short comparative exercise here, we will notice how the delirium shared by “La Victoria” and “Patria y Vida” is propelled by the same impulses: to proclaim, to gain public recognition, to establish oneself on one side of an imaginary conflict, and to achieve self-recognition vis-à-vis the rest. To be clear then, both musical products pay tribute to the same kind of arrangement. By shouting and proclaiming victory -or insisting only on announcing it, according to the occasion-, the revolutionary militia member received a pennant and a washing machine as a reward for his socialist behavior.
Today’s millennials, along with so many others who operate within the coordinated emotional exile that is social media, also require constant approval of their statements inspired by the laws of the marketplace. It is there that they earn their prize, get their pennant, diploma, or gold statuette. This is why “Patria y Vida,” and its promotion over social media networks is so linked to the issues of “likes,” followers, and shares. This remains the case even as the song moves to the tougher fields of publicity and diffusion, having generated three concerts and is about to get, God willing, the Grammy award.
In a flash of extreme lucidity, I remembered my mother repeating that, unfortunately for Lenin, “the worst thing that happened to the Russians was to jump from feudalism to communism, without letting go of the hammer and sickle.” Therein lies the real and metaphorical link between Russians, militia and millennials: the delirious and unconventional leap between two poles, moving from socialist harangue to slogan capitalism.
With its harangue against communism, the song “Patria y Vida” reflects the broader national tendency of what might be called the “Cuban Syndrome,” i.e, Cuban society’s proverbial taste for slogans. The sudden [Party] response to “Patria y Vida” was the phrase “slogan capitalism.” Here, as always, sloganeering serves as a reference, like something innate, as a compulsive Cuban symptom.
There exists only a small semantic difference between the slogans “Patria o Muerte” and “Patria y Vida,” but it is a difference that points toward radically different ends and missions. The outcome of the struggle between them hangs by a very fine thread which oscillates between life and death. All the rest continues to be merely sloganeering.
The phrase “To die for the Patria is to live” reflects the tendency- rooted in the earliest struggles for independence-, to accept the apocalyptic notion that the Patria could only be achieved through fire and ruin. It highlights as well, the equilibrium between two ways of approaching slogans from the standpoint of all that is human, essential and divine. In declaring “Patria o Muerte,” the impassioned supporter of the Revolution puts a kind of existential or Shakespearean spring in the sling of David (of David and Goliath). It serves as a kind of loaded gun with which to intimidate his enemies who proclaim “Patria y Vida,” and who in truth are his alter ego.
The slogan “To die for the Patria is to live” enters this scenario as a kind of gun shot or alarm for those who are newly impassioned. The notion that to die for the Patria is also to live or to die in another form, clarifies the relationship between life, death and the Patria. Within such an interpretation, the Patria represents more than anything else, the sense of pleasure and obligation derived from continuing a project that is essential to the Patria’s very survival. It may be that the song “Patria y Vida” is rooted in a similar conviction. The rest, I insist, is simply sloganeering.