By Alfredo Prieto
HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 21 – It turned out to be quite a concert. Cuban TV, unlike the foreign press, had kept news about the event low-key. But on Friday its coverage of Juanes’ idea and its genesis began to increase.
That evening a documentary by journalist Esther Barroso was featured with interviews of Cuban singers Amaury Perez, Silvio Rodriguez, Carlos Varela and other national artists and music promoters.
Their views were juxtaposed with arguments from Florida Republicans Ileana Ros Lethinen and Lincoln Díaz Balart, and several musicians and analysts from Miami-something that hasn’t been seen since the Elian Gonzalez episode nearly a decade ago. The initial perception by ordinary Cubans was a mixture of and astonishment and amazement.
People heard comments such as “Che Guevara was a murderer”; that “the Cuban government was at war with its own people,” and praise for the “firm stance and principles” of President George W. Bush against Cuba-that is, his policy of punishment.
Such statements unleashed roars of laughter and booing at a fast-food joint on Infanta and San Rafael streets in the very center of Havana-just one example of the tremendous gap between those hardline Cuban-American US representatives and grassroots Cubans.
What is clear is that while average people on this side of the Florida Strait-especially the youngest-welcomed Juanes with his magical golden flute, the Jurassic generation on the other side responded to him with the dark tones of a tuba.
Isolation has many avenues, and opinions like these constitute only one part of the fat that separates them from the bone. There are also recent Cuban emigrants who arrived in the US after the signing of immigration agreements in the 90s and who react against the lack of reality in a discourse lost in a black hole of the Cold War.
Starting early Sunday morning, people began to flow into Revolution Square, despite the scorching sun and suffocating temperature. Most people came dressed in white, not because of any santería religion, but instead responding to the call to wear the color of doves. Throngs of Cubans congregated in the plaza to witness the historic concert [which attracted an estimated 1.2 million people-more than 10 percent of the country-and which was also broadcast live on television and radio.]
Spellbound by Havana’s similarities with her native Puerto Rico -two wings of one bird- singer Olga Tañón stormed onto stage with her sparkling charisma and mass appeal, while back in Miami the exile group Vigilia Mambisa enlisted a bulldozer to crush CDs of such artists performing at the Havana concert for peace. (The result of that instigation was a confrontation in the Florida city between the concert’s opponents and supporters).
X Alfonso, one of Cuba’s current top musical talents, exhibited his sonorous hip hop and sang of racial equality, while Amaury Perez and Dany Rivera reached back for song classics from their respective repertoires. Miguel Bosé added his customary note of good taste and lyricism, Italia’s Giovanotti his energy, and Orishas offered their rap “a lo Cubano” (Cuban style).
Then Juanes entered on stage, cheered on by hundreds of thousands. He begin his performance with the song “A Dios le pido” (I ask God) and the shout “Viva Cuba!”-which shook the Plaza.
“I can’t believe what I’m seeing, the most beautiful dream of peace and love that I’ve been able to experience since having my kids,” said the singer. “The future is in your hands, young people. Let’s change it for the better,” he said, addressing the youth. “Let’s overcome the fear.”
Singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez then followed with another classic, “Ojala”, after which performed Luis Eduardo Aute and then Carlos Verela, who rocked with one of his unmistakable tunes and dedicated another to “the Cuban people and all Cubans, wherever they are.” Los Van Van closed the show in style with a medley of songs that several generations have danced to and know by heart.
Those who were expecting disturbances or a new Armageddon “came for wool and left sheared.” The million plus crowd turned out to celebrate and enjoy the music, like people do everywhere. The foreign artists said their coming to Cuba would constitute the symbol that it’s necessary to change people’s minds, and that these-like parachutes-only work when they open up.
Juanes came, he saw and conquered. And now he returns to Miami with a shield- but not over him.