“Y en eso Llego…”: Porno Para Ricardo

It is precisely into the gaps ‘between’ Cuba’s slabs of history that Porno Para Ricardo reside. In the tumult of the Special Period, lead singer and founder Gorki Águila Carrasco[1] would listen (with some chagrin) to the mimetism of Cuban heavy metal bands singing in English; before that he had pored over Led Zepplin records and absorbed the ubiquitous radio boleros. In 1999, as the immediacy of the Special Period had died down somewhat, Gorki endeavoured to form his own band; one that would not compromise in delivering their message, one that would endeavour to say what others are thinking[2]. The result was the highly controversial punk band Porno Para Ricardo.

The band’s first album (‘Rock Para Las Masas… Cárnicas[3]) garnered some begrudging notoriety and limited exposure from the Cuban media. The band performed on the alternative music show ‘Cuerda Viva’ in 2002 and occupied a position certainly not of acceptance , but certainly not of the outright censure that has dogged the band in recent  years. They were perhaps not taken seriously – not even considered ‘proper musicians’ by the conservatory trained musician who occupy even the popular music realm in Cuba (see Kapcia, 2005:198). However, the band’s history contains within it something of its own ‘event’; a trauma that produced a sea change in identity for the band. In 2003 Porno Para Ricardo played at a rock festival in the islands most Westerly province, Pinar del Rio. Following their performance, Gorki claims to have been approached by a woman insisting on buying drugs from him. The exact details of the encounter are spurious, and to even attempt to describe them here would be to pledge an allegiance too assertively, and to enter into the murky world of political activism[4]. Sufficed to say that the upshot was that Gorki was arrested for drug possession and intent to supply; a charge that he vehemently denies, and which he asserts was a deliberate case of police entrapment due to heavy-handed governmental attempts to censor an increasingly popular counterculture figure (Maza, 2010). Gorki was sentenced to four years in jail. He served two under desperate conditions[5], and it is no surprise that such treatment imbued Gorki, and the band, with a fierce sense of injustice and a need to vociferously voice their opinion.

Yet on release from prison, Gorki found that the punishment visited upon him was far from over. The band were stripped of their membership to the ‘Asociación Hermanos Saíz’ (AHS[6]) and as such are effectively banned from all live performance; both directly in Cuba, and indirectly outside of Cuba through visa restrictions. The band, and particularly Gorki, endure constant harassment and monitoring from the authorities, making even the most mundane bending of stringent regulations (a de rigueur part of the Cuban everyday) an unnecessary chore. The band’s CDs – two simultaneously (self) released in 2006 (‘Soy Porno, Soy Popular’ and ‘A Mí No Me Gusta La Políticas Pero Yo Le Gusta a Ella, Compañeros’) and one in 2008 (‘El Diso Rojo’) – are unavailable for purchase within Cuba[7]. It goes almost without saying that their music receives absolutely no airplay on any of Cuba’s media outlets. The band are essentially forced not to exist in any aspect “within the Revolution”, showing Castro’s emblematic maxim at its most potent and pugnacious: “within the Revolution, everything; against it, nothing[8]”. The band have existed for most of their career in the hinterland of Cuba’s music scene and, tarnished with the black mark of being ‘dissidents’, they have been similarly marginalised within Cuban society.

That they do still exist is telling. Despite this wilful campaign to silence the band, they have continued to make noise from the sidelines. Though they are not well heard, they are certainly well known, both within Cuba and outside. However, perhaps because of the imbalance between the notoriety of the band and the comparative lack of exposure to their music, Porno Para Ricardo have tended to be discussed in political, rather than musical, discourses surrounding Cuba. They have come to occupy a position as the “most censored band on the island” (Cuba Rebelión, 2009) often describes as “dissidents” (cf. MLC interview and Maza, 2010), a project of “social resistance” (Garcia-Freyre, 2008:559), or in terms that ignore, or subjugate the musical and Cuban facets of the band’s identity. Their lyrics openly ridiculing and castigating the anachronisms of the Revolution and calling out, “by name and surname” (Gorki, in Petr Placák, 2006), those responsible are pored over; the continued police harassment visited upon Gorki is constantly and diligently reported. Gorki is celebrated as a face of in-island rebellion when visiting the US. Yet in all these reports, in all these documents and all these ‘fans’, the music is often ‘left out’ of the story; forgotten in the towering waves of indignation (on both sides of this fifty-year-old political schism) that engulf so much of what is Cuban.

This work, aside from anything else, attempts to write the music back into the story of Porno Para Ricardo. It attempts to demonstrate the identity they construct for themselves through music, and only then does it suggest the ramifications such identity constructions may have politically and socially in addressing the state of contemporary Cubanness.

Rather than ‘choosing sides’ in the polemicising rhetoric of Cuban politics that thrives on assumingly nontraversable binaries, Porno Para Ricardo exist (deliberately) somewhere between these spaces; they are an apposite example of the Cuban identity that exists in the cracks between narratives; the would-be silenced and would-be (anti)Revolutionaries that are never either entirely, but never quite neither, at every turn seem to confound and contradict. While the band’s criticisms of Fidel Castro and the lingering dogmatism, bureaucracy and persecution of the Revolutionary government are as overt as they are well documented, much less studies is the band’s penchant for remembrance of childhood and constant commentary on life in Cuba which reveals some warmth, and certainly a deeply profound attachment to, the nation. Though sonically they set themselves up as a punk band, there is a running critique throughout their oeuvre of this generation of Cubans who defined themselves by recourse to US rock music; the so-called friki[9] culture, which Gorki claims “offered no communication” (Gorki, 2010). Similarly, lying almost ‘beneath the surface’ of a brash and brazen punk soundworld, are the subtle (and not always so) inflections of Cuban tradition; though the band may lambast the political institutions that claim them as a “banner of patriotism” (Masvidal, 2008), it seems negating the musics themselves comes a little less easily.  

These enforced definitions outline Porno Para Ricardo as something of an ‘Other’ to all others; a cavalcade of binary-defying contradictions. Opposed to both the lingering dogmatism, censorship and persecution of the Revolutionary government but, crucially, rife with a cynicism towards the ‘frikis’, who Porno Para Ricardo see as having adopted the pose of rock music, without necessarily ‘understanding it’. The band are[10] deeply confrontational, critical of nationalism, Revolutionary rhetoric and inaction among the populace, yet somehow strangely nostalgic and adamant in their right to claim themselves if not as ‘authentic Cuban musicians’ then certainly as ‘authentically Cuban’. They demonstrate if not ‘pride’ in place, then at least a recognition of its importance in their music. Though they play punk, a genre not known for its remembrances of the past (see Pinkus, 1996) they engage in much memory work. In all, the band present a contradictory set of binaries – insisting on positioning themselves often in a liminal space between (or outside) each set.  It is the analysis of these contradictions that may help illuminate some of the complexities surrounding individual identity construction of the band members, their smaller ‘subcultural’ network, their identities within Cuban music, and the wider concept of ‘Cubanness’ more generally.    

Rather than attempt to demonstrate the veracity in Porno Para Ricardo’s claim to an ‘authentically Cuban identity’, or to illuminate the ways in which they ‘fit’ into the complex hagiography of ‘traditional Cubanness’, this thesis seeks to flip perspective in presenting the band as one potential site of synecdoche for Cubanness; as a model for dissecting and understanding some of the myriad composite themes of the complex and often contradictory whole. I tentatively suggest that Porno Para Ricardo can be regarded as a ‘Cuban Aleph’, following both the original novel of Jorge Luis Borges and the subsequent theorising of Edward Soja. Borges writes of this fictional Aleph:

What eternity is to time, the Aleph is to space. In eternity, all time – past, present and future – coexists simultaneously. In the Aleph, the sum total of the spatial universe is to be found in a tiny shining sphere barely over an inch across. (Borges, 1971:189)

Soja uses this literary device to describe “Thirdspace”:

the space where all places are capable of being seen from every angle, each standing clear; but also a secrert and conjectured object, filled with illusions and allusions, a space that is common to all of us yet never able to be completely seen or understood. (Soja, 1996:56)

Rather than see Porno Para Ricardo as a constituent part of Cubanness (or not), I will illuminate the ways in which the faces of Cubanness are expressed through Porno Para Ricardo. From microethnographic readings of single songs, moments, ‘events’ in the band’s career; to a more holistic look at themes, style, ethos and reception; from the minutiae of the ‘everyday’ Cuban experience, to the wider socio-political and historical framework in which the band operate, I aim to pull out some of the themes that permeate and contest the space of Cubanness as it exists in contemporary Cuban music making, asserting that it is a much more complex, complicated and confused space than either the Firstspace of ‘tradition’ or Secondspace of ‘creation’ give it credit for.

The terms ‘Firstspace’, ‘Secondspace’ and, most prominently, ‘Thirdspace’ are critical in understanding any contestation with hegemony, and for this work, Edward Soja’s definitions prove most useful. Soja describes the malleable ‘trialectic’ between these three thus:

Thirdspace… can be described as a creative recombination and extension, one that builds upon a Firstspace perspective that is focussed on the “real” material world and a Secondspace perspective that interprets this reality through “imagined” representations of spatiality. (Soja, 1996:6)

If, for a moment, we allow ourselves to present the hegemonic ‘narrow’ definition of Cubanness as the (imagined, projected) Firstspace of Cuban identity; how things ‘really’ are, and take the Special Period ‘archipielagoism’ Kapcia invoked as something of a Secondspace; where one could imagine for oneself an individualised and individualistic Cubanness, then Porno Para Ricardo’s identity is truly a Thirdspace Cubanness; one that engages with both these spaces, yet seeks to transcend them, to ridicule their isolating dialogue, yet seeks to embellish and embrace both into a trialectic that is always in search of more, is always in search of more accurate description, and is always looking deliberately for the tangents, gaps and omissions from either of these self-contained first two spaces.

Soja defines such a praxis as “Thirding as Othering”, a process that can “open up our spatial imaginaries to ways of thinking and acting politically that respond to all binarisms, to any attempt to confine thought and political action to only two alternatives, by interjecting an-Other set of choices” (ibid.:5). Porno Para Ricardo address and negotiating a litany of politically conceived binaries – ‘Miami and Havana’, ‘capitalism and socialism’, ‘before and after the Revolution’, ‘within and outside the Revolution’, ‘before and after the Special Period’, ‘within and outside Cuba’ ‘tradition and innovation’, ‘the countryside and the city’, ‘gusanos y revolucionarios’, ‘patria o muerte[11]’ – that dog Cuban society and politics. Yet they approach the similar raft of binaries that exist musically[12] – ‘authentic and inauthentic’, ‘traditional and non-traditional’, ‘autochthonous and borrowed’, ‘bolero, rumba, son and hip hop, rock, timba, ‘within and outside the music industry’, ‘for Cubans and for tourists’, ‘trained musician and self-taught’, ‘authentic musical template and authentic self-expression’ – in much the same way; by attempting to find ‘an-Other’ option.     Ultimately, what constitutes Cubanness, both contemporaneously and historically, is an often winding, tangential path; its identity exists in the gaps between narratives, in the overlapping, liminal areas of competing and contrasting definitions. What Porno Para Ricardo offer is a portrait of Cuba that is often hard to fathom, precisely because – as the Aleph – it contains within it fragments of many different Cubannesses. It is a Thirdspace reclamation of Cubanness; one that always seeks to add, to parody, to reject and to recontextualise, elements of itself.

*          *          *

The main body of this work will focus upon examining how a number of facets central to the notion of Cubanness outlined above have been addressed by Porno Para Ricardo, and how their representation of these elements may afford speculation on their pertinence to a contemporary construction of Cuban identity. In keeping with the assertion above that the band’s music be brought to the forefront of discussion, I will divide the main body into three main parts which correlate to three central aspects of musicianship: lyrics, genre and soundworld. A fourth part – presented here as a conclusion – will address a further integral aspect of identity presentation in popular music; that of performance. Under ‘conventional circumstances’, this topic would require (demand) its own discrete chapter. However, for a band who are singularly forbidden from performing live, this particular avenue of identity construction and dissemination has been compromised. In this conclusion I will address a rare performance that took place in the summer of 2011 in Prague, which will focus on the ways in which the identity construction ruminated in the three earlier parts of the thesis were presented to an audience, and the mediation of the message that this inevitable entailed.

The three parts of this work will further be divided into two chapters each. Part one (chapters one and two) focuses upon memory and remembrance as represented in lyrics, and the referencing of certain ‘authentic’ geographical places. Part two (chapters three and four) will examine the direct appropriations of generic material from Cuban tradition and US rock sources, and the relationships the band have with subcultural scenes in Havana. Part three (chapters five and six) will examine the paramusical aspects of the band’s recordings, focussing on examples of laughter found in recordings, and the use of ‘noise’ more generally in those recordings. In each chapter, I use musical case studies to assess how Porno Para Ricardo represents aspects of Cubanness, and how those expressions may illuminate the (process of) construction of so-called ‘orthodox’ expressions of Cubanness. I suggest that Porno Para Ricardo often do not seek to negate or deny the presence of ‘authentic Cuban traits’, nor are they unconcerned with the Cubanness of their identity. Rather, they subvert, invert, or make overt, many of the tacitly held ‘authentic Cuban elements’ in a manner that allows, or even forces, one to question the often tacitly-formed and ostensibly ubiquitous markers of authentic Cuban identity.


[1] The following, though not direct quotes, details Gorki’s own words in an interview that will be heavily cited throughout the work, and can be found in full in the appendix (Gorki, 2010).

[2] Again this assertion is taken from an interview (MLC, 2008), though not a direct quote.

[3] The title of this record is somewhat difficult to translate, owing to the double meaning of the word ‘masas’ – ‘masses’ and ‘meat’ in English. Thus the album title is something like ‘Rock for the Masses/Meat… Carnivores’

[4] There are copious articles which plough this exact furrow on the freemuse website here: http://www.freemuse.org/sw1534.asp

[5] Again another source is invoked in this description, one which will be referred to more explicitly throughout the work; the documentary film ‘Cuba Rebelión’ (2009)

[6] The AHS is the government-funded agency to which musicians must belong to be afforded rehearsal space and concerts (Garcia-Freyre, 2008:556). The band’s contestation with the agency is discussed in chapters 4 and 5.

[7] The band also released an EP containing selected tracks from their first album with Mexican record label Discos Antídotos. This EP is only available in Mexico.

[8] The phrase was part of one of Castro’s speeches in the early days of the Revolution – 1961 – at Havana’s Biblioteca Nacional. Nick Miroff (2010) addressed the pertinence of this enduring legacy of Castro here: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/cuba/100429/ladies-white-dissent

[9] The term friki is a Hispanic rendering of the English word ‘freaky’. In Cuba it pertains to a conglomeration of broadly alternative (rock inflected) musics as an umbrella term to define members of many otherwise disparate sub-cultures. Punks, goths, metal-heads and hippies (such as these terms are applicable in Cuba) may all fall under this broad rubric.

[10] Though grammatically incorrect, I find it necessary to discuss ‘the band’ in plural, rather than singular, terms. I intend to use the term, ‘the band’, herein as short hand for ‘the members of the band’ and to refer to the actions/ opinion of the members of the band. The reason for this is to incorporate all four members of the band, as Gorki appears to have been singled out as the band incarnate. This can be seen in interviews ‘with the band’ which patently only include the voice of Gorki. In using the plural, I endeavour to incorporate the voices of the other three band members, particularly guitarist Ciro Diaz, who I believe to be instrumental in the band’s musical ethos.

[11]Patria o Muerte” – “Fatherland or Death” – is one of the typically bombastic political slogans to be found on billboards around Cuba.

[12] The distinction between musical and political binaries is perhaps something of a false dichotomy. This musical set certainly owe their construction to political (and Political) doctrines.

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