Juanes in Havana

By Irina Echarry

Peace without Borders concert, Havana, Cuba, Sept. 20, 2009
Miguel Bosé, Olga Tañon, Juanes and X Alfonso. Peace without Borders concert, Havana, Cuba, Sept. 20, 2009

HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 21 – Over the years, the Cuban people have displayed examples of physical resistance:  long combative marches, endless speeches by our revolutionary leaders, mile-long lines to buy needed goods.  This Sunday, September 20, we had another opportunity to demonstrate how strong and resistant we are.

When Colombian singer Juanes announced his desire to give a “Peace without Borders” concert in Havana’s Revolution Square, many people here knew nothing of his music.  On television, they had occasionally shown the video of his song “camisa negra” (black shirt), but nothing else.  Those who knew of and listened to him were not in the majority.

As a result of that announcement, however, the country sprang into action to support the holding of the concert.  We saw special advertising spots, comedians inviting people to the concert, a documentary, the evening television news journalists reporting on the preparations and announcing the arrival of the various participating artists.  It was a quite a production.

Truthfully, some of us asked ourselves if there wasn’t a certain degree of exaggeration or misinterpretation on the part of Cuban officialdom.  Why would Juanes want to give a concert for peace in Cuba?  The singer seems to be-in addition to an advocate of peaceful coexistence among human beings-a person who is sensitive to points of conflict; at least this was demonstrated in his concert in Cúcuta (Colombia), near the Venezuelan border.

Now he wanted to come to Cuba, and the authorities welcomed him almost too well.  Going to the concert turned into a political question, beyond the quality of the artists.

Unexpectedly, though, he left many surprised.

Peace without Borders concert, Havana, Cuba, Sept. 20, 2009
Peace without Borders concert, Havana, Cuba, Sept. 20, 2009

The sun at two o’clock in the afternoon seemed to be one of the invited guests.  Several people fainted during the afternoon.  One of the victims of the heat said they were pleased with the rapid response of the Red Cross.  Several tents that were scattered throughout the grounds served as protection, helping not only to provide shade, but also had medical personnel inside.

Enrique, a 52-year-old architect, went solely to see Victor Manuel: “I love Victor. I remember when he came here with Ana Belén; I tried not to miss any of his presentations.  Before, many artists used to come; the Varadero Festival was a great venue for them, but suddenly they stopped having them.  Fortunately, some have wanted to return for a long time.  This concert is a good opportunity to see both older well-known artists and to get to know others who we haven’t heard so much.  I also think it’s good that there are performers for all tastes: Maybe I don’t like Jovannotti, but other people went crazy over him, jumping all up and down.”

More than a million people showed up at Revolution Square: young, old, children of all ages (some too small for the intense heat), Cubans and foreigners alike.  Among so many people, not everyone had a favorable opinion; the screen magnifying the images of the performers was barely visible for some spectators.

Nor was the sound system a highpoint of the occasion.  Yanelis, 25, didn’t want to miss the show, but she was unable to find a good spot to view it: “That’s why I should have stayed at home to watch it comfortably in front of the TV.  I don’t doubt that it’s good a good concert, but from here I can’t see or hear anything.  I thought it was going to be different, they say the front was reserved for students from the University of Computer Science (UCI) and don’t I know who else.  Even if I showed up early it would have been the same thing.  Plus, the heat is suffocating. All and all, I don’t believe I did the right thing in coming; I should have stayed home.”

Peace without Borders concert, Havana, Cuba, Sept. 20, 2009
Peace without Borders concert, Havana, Cuba, Sept. 20, 2009

There were other people like Yanelis, who left by the time the concert began. The reason: the sun.  The tropical gypsy melted even those using umbrellas, baseball hats, flags, towels, and everything else that could serve for shade.  Explanations were given about the mid-day schedule of the concert, but it really seems that little consideration was given for the Cuban public, despite the promoters and performers great desire to hold the concert in Cuba.

They said it was scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m. to avoid having to bring lighting, and for live broadcasts to Europe, etc. But what resulted was that a million plus Cubans were left to bake. Perhaps some relief could have been provided had the concert started even at 4:30 in the afternoon.

Alfredo, a musician who plays with a local band (he didn’t give the name), commented, “This concert demonstrates that people can be on stage for a long time performing only music, without mixing it with other things.  What I mean is that here in Cuba, when an artist comes out to sing or play, they immediately dedicate a song to the Cuban Five or whatever, and everything turns into the same politics that we experience in a revolutionary gathering.  We’re very repetitive.  Here, although you knew the intention, the artists didn’t wallow in politics; they simply came out to sing and that’s it.”

To appease the heat and hunger, water trucks were on hand, as were stands selling sodas, sandwiches and other snacks.  However, the bus station (within which is the food court closest to the square) closed its doors, possibly for fear of being mobbed by the thirsty masses.

A special touch was given by Carlos Varela with his song “25 mil verdades sobre la verdad” (25,000 truths about the truth), which deals with the relativity of truth.  He questioned some of the notions and comments of the leading figures of the afternoon and of those who helped organize the show:

“The truth of the truth is that there never is one alone,
It’s neither mine, nor his, nor yours.
The truth of the truth is that it’s not the same
to seem like, as to fall in the abyss
of the truth.”

In summary, it would be worthwhile to hear what compelled Juanes to give this concert here and his impressions of the day after hearing him exclaim, “1,150,000 people are now in Havana Cuba’s Revolution Square,!  It’s awesome, it’s awesome!”

What is certain is that those who were at home saw one thing (the emotion of the artists, the jubilant public-a wonderful concert) while those of us who were there but couldn’t get up front participated in another concert: one with a punishing sun, poor sound and limited visibility.

I hope everyone respects true peace, with songs and deeds.  Juanes calls upon us to think of life in harmony with one another.  Along with Miguel Bosé, he sang a song that has become an emblem of his crusade for peace: “It’s time to change.”  The duo also sang “Nada particular” (Nothing special), an anti-war song by Bosé.  Ecuadorian singer Juan Velazco reminded us that “love is not something that is looked for in others,” making a call to first take a look deep within ourselves so as to later know how to see what’s outside.

One thought on “Juanes in Havana

  • September 21, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    fue un gran concierto… y se notó como los cubanos se lo disfrutaron. ya para el tercer acto pasó una nube que se quedó mucho tiempo estacionaria dando algo de sombra. yo sopy de puerto rico, yo sé también como ese sol caribeño castiga. si yo huibera estado en cuba también iría a ese concierto, pal carajo el solo… es un gran evento. estar ahí ya la hace.

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