Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — My friend Jorge Ferrer, who for years has written one of the best blogs I’ve ever read, has an interesting post about an all-female musical group from North Korea. He titled it “Pyongyang Miniskirts” (Spanish: “Minifaldas de Pyongyang”).
I had fun reading it and watching the video that he linked to it. I recommend it to our readers. The North Korean group is made up of very refined and beautiful women. I don’t know Korean, but I guess, by some of the gestures, the song is dedicated to some eternal leader or to border guards, none of whom are really lyrical inspirations.
The staging and the style of the singers is from several decades back, but no one should forget that we live in societies that are high-level producers of music and entertainment, and that — perhaps only in this — we’re so advanced.
The Asian world is different, but so is the Latin American world outside the Caribbean, in addition to Brazil and a few other select areas.
For example, when I visit Central America (except for Panama, which is pure Caribbean) and I get to hear music, I feel like I’ve traveled through a time machine. It always strikes me how the “Ticos” [Costa Ricans] still keep Andres Calamaro’s song “Flaca” on their hit parade list, and how the “Nicas” [Nicaraguans] after the first bottle of “Flor de Caña,” start singing La cama de piedra with misty eyes.
I say this to prevent any quick-tempered reader from blaming North Korea’s musical lag on communism, and from there point to the need to immediately overthrow the Castros if we want to keep the island dancing.
Still, that wasn’t the most important thing I saw in the video.
What was most interesting was the main fact that speaks to North Korea’s politically hieratical character and the implications of this for that society’s exactitude with respect to movement.
We can observe how the pretty women move each part of their bodies synchronously, rotating and fluttering in unison, with all of them even smiling at the same time. In the background, two violinists do exactly the same. It is perfect musical order, an order that doesn’t support chaos. It’s like military order put to music.
And while that is very Asian, typical of cultures with emperors and learned reverence for conviction, it’s also very typical of the mythology of “barracks communism,” whereby everyone should be equal and should do the same things every day.
It is like what was planned in Cuba for several decades, when the Soviet Union was irreversible and there were more hammer-and-sickle flags in the Havana Bay than in Red Square on May Day.
I think the main failure of the post-revolutionary Cuban educational system — whose achievements can never be ignored — didn’t occur with the crisis of the 1990s, but earlier, when chaos, variation and diversity were dismissed as essential educational elements as well as dissent as a virtue.
What happened is that our children and adolescents were filtered through a monotonous socialization sieve whose ultimate goal was for them “to be like Che.” There was no other choice. If a child wanted to be like boxer Teofilo Stevenson, or musician Juan Formell or just like their mother or father, that wasn’t on the script. It would have been like one of the North Korean women suddenly moving her arms to the right while the rest raised theirs over their heads.
It was, and remains, an educational system that achieved high levels of instruction — as confirmed by UNESCO and global math competitions — but it suffers low levels of diversity. There remained little room for the other, for those who were different, for an intercultural appreciation of the world. Nor is there much space for that gift that moves societies: creativity.
We were brought up with the idea that the main thing had already been accomplished — a revolution that was considered still living after a half-century of ferocious conservatism — and that our job was to merely tighten the bolts, which is called perfeccionar (“making it perfect”).
The North Korean singers syndrome has affected us so much that even when we take the path of emigration, we continue to act with intolerance and aggression against those who think differently – even when we declare that we’re for democracy, dialogue and understanding.
Because in the end, like the women in miniskirts mentioned by Ferrer, we’re only entering into dialogue with those who think like us, which isn’t creative – instead it embalms the soul.
I think I got off the subject, so back to basics: I congratulate Jorge Ferrer for his wit and humor, and for us still being able to hear the tone of his voice. And — why not? — I also thank the pretty North Korean women in their sequined miniskirts.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published by Cubaencuentro.com.