Laughter and Cuban Identity – Carlos Puebla

The use of laughter within musical texts[1] is a surprisingly broad church. When collating a list of popular songs which contain laughter, I was surprised not only at the sheer volume, but the diverse representations of the phenomena. From Morrissey’s acerbic derision in “We Hate it When Our Friends Become Successful” to the confused hilarity of David Bowie in “The Laughing Gnome”; laughter, it seems, can become a complex and cacophonous signifier in music. The confusion over laughter’s ‘meaning’ is expressed by Dacher Keltner and George Bonanno when they write:

A wide array of often contradictory functions has been attributed to laughter, including the punctuation of conversation (Provine, 1993) [and] the communication of aggression and superiority (e.g. Van Hooff, 1972)… Such diversity in description inevitably leads to theoretical debate about the nature of laughter, for example, whether laughter is necessarily associated with the experience of positive emotion. (Keltner and Bonanno, 1997:699)

 

When examining Porno Para Ricardo’s oeuvre for examples of laughter, two things become apparent. One, that laughter – that is members of the band laughing on record – plays a significant part in their music, and that it is utilised to convey a message about the band to the listener, but two, that to try and coalesce these examples of laughter into one definitive explanation doesn’t work. The various forms of laughter are ‘doing’ and ‘saying’ different things.

To resolve this quandary, I refer to a most prescient assertion made by Charles Baudelaire in his essay ‘On the Essence of Laughter’; “there are different varieties of laughter.” (Baudelaire, 1995 [1855]:155, emphasis original). Though it sounds obvious, it is an assertion with which, according to Matthew Gervais and David Sloan Wilson (2005), many researchers into the subject have failed to reconcile their research. They suggest a distinction needs to be drawn between two types of laughter: Duchenne and non-Duchenne laughter (2005:396).

The distinction derives from the work of French neurologist Duchenne de Boulogne (1862), who classified a Duchenne smile as one which “involve orbicularis oculi muscle action”, but, more significantly for this thesis, as being “associated with pleasant stimuli and feelings” (in Keltner and Bonanno, 1997:690). This distinction has been applied to laughter by Gervais and Wilson, and Keltner and Bonanno, among others. “Duchenne laughter is stimulus-driven and emotionally valenced” claim Gervais and Wilson, whereas “Non-Duchenne laughter is unconnected (except perhaps via facial feedback) to emotional experience” (2005:403). This does not  necessarily translate into a ‘fake’/ ‘genuine’ dichotomy, and many theorists are keen to point out that Non-Duchenne laughter can be a subconscious way to trivialise stress (Panksepp, 2000), ease social interaction (Provine, 1997)  or as “dissociation” (Keltner and Bonanno). But it is laughter’s use as a tool of identity construction that I will be focussing on here, using these two categories – Duchenne and Non-Duchenne laughter – to assert that a dual process of identity construction, one inclusionary, one exclusionary, can be found in Porno Para Ricardo’s laughter.

Inclusive and Exclusive Identity Construction Spaces

“Laughter is a harlequin that shows two faces – one smiling and friendly, the other dark and ominous… Laughter can serve as a bond to bring people together or as a weapon to humiliate and ostracise its victims”, so writes Robert Provine in the introduction to his scientific investigation of laughter (2000:2). It should be obvious from the two contrasting examples of laughter in Porno Para Ricardo’s work presented below that both these faces of the harlequin may be found coexisting. Gervais and Wilson, conflating a number of other theories, make a similar assertion:

Laughter can promote the integration of new individuals into an already-present group structure (Gamble, 2001), but can also play a role in delineating in-group and out-group boundaries (laughter’s “dark side”; Panksepp, 2000) by establishing ‘exclusionary group identities’ and by being directly aggressive towards members of the out-group. (Gervais and Wilson, 2005:403)

 

However, rather than being competing, mutually exclusive stances, I propose that the two enforce and build upon each other in cementing and defining the parameters of the band’s identity (and, vicariously, the identities of those who identify with them). The first case study presents a distinctly Non-Duchenne laughter aimed at a distinct target of ridicule and, I suggest, can be seen a tool in the distinctly ‘punk’ practice of defining a group identity as the area left at the centre of all the things it is not; the ‘other’ to all others (cf. Karen Pinkus’ description of punk as defined in John Lydon’s autobiography, 1996:187). The second case study presents examples of a Duchenne laughter that both represents a bond (and a moment of bonding) between the band members, in which they share a joke, but also presents an opportunity for the listener to vicariously ‘join’ that group identity by finding the same thing funny and thus fulfilling the criteria of group identity.

Yoani Sanchez again makes clear the necessity of both these types of group identification – the self-reflexive and the delineation (and ridicule of) an other – as expressed in Cuba:

Laughter, banter, kidding around have been group therapy on this island where the frustration and dissatisfaction is exorcised by humor. We laugh at ourselves, and that’s healthy, but we also make those who govern us the butts of our jokes, though generally in the privacy of our own homes or with a close circle of friends… We assign nicknames, look for burlesque similarities between one public figure and another, collect jokes and burst out laughing in a gesture that is sometimes more sad than happy. In short, what makes us roar with laughter would make us cry, if we couldn’t find a way to joke about it. (Sanchez, 2010)

 

These words on laughter bring to mind those of Robert Charles Maturin in the novel ‘Melmoth the Wanderer’:

A mirth which is not gaiety is often the mask which hides the convulsed and distorted features of agony – and laughter, which never yet was the expression of rapture, has often been the only intelligible language of madness and misery. Ecstasy only smiles – despair laughs (Maturin, 1824:302)

 

What is interesting about Sanchez’s assertions on the role of laughter in Cuba here is that the notion of defiance is still very present. However, the ‘enemy’ being defied – the butt of the joke – is the Cuban government, rather than the American government; the joke is internalised, and with that internalisation comes a sadness, and with the sadness comes a recognition of the often ludicrous scenarios that accompany the everyday in Cuba. What Sanchez’s words illuminate is the sadness inherent in laughter, particularly Cuban laughter, that has always been there, even in its most defiant guise. What it also shows is the importance for identity construction that laughter holds. It operates as a key to some identity space; if one finds a particular joke funny, and finds oneself in the company of others who share the humour, then without having to engage in potentially dangerous political talk, you learn a lot about you fellow laughers, and can find yourself constructing a unified identity – if only for the duration of the laugh – as a group who find this particular thing amusing.

Again, in this definition of the use of laughter, there is a sense of defiance; of revelling in something ‘forbidden’. As significant as the fact that there is a ‘butt’ to Cuban jokes, is that these jokes, according to Sanchez, are most often told ‘in private’; in secret. This trait would tent to further the notion of the exclusionary space of identity expressed above; that to even hear the joke, you must be in a private setting; you must have ‘proven your credentials’ before the joke is even told. Yet the very privacy of the jokes, hinting at the ‘forbidden’ nature of the subject matter, further accentuates the defiance of laughter in these instances. As Peter Jones notes:

Humour in general, and laughter in particular, is frequently found offensive; it is then taken as indicative of insolence, impudence, cheek, presumption, audacity, impertinence, disrespect, disdain or contempt. (Peter Jones, 1982:213)

 

Laughter is found threatening by those who either fail to grasp, or repudiate, the viewpoint assumed. In the cases cited [of ‘inappropriate laughter’] laughter would be taken as subversive and belittling. The point is inadequately marked by distinguishing those who do not take things seriously, from those who take them only too seriously. The crucial notions are those of ‘belittling’ and detachment. (ibid. 224-5)

 

These ‘private’ joking sessions are examples of this defiant, exclusionary space laughter can be used to create within Cuba; spaces in which a solidarity is formed ‘against’ (or despite?) the repression of the government and the hardships of everyday life. Though this laughter may be profoundly sad, it is also profoundly defiant, and profoundly important.

There is one further role laughter in Cuba may be claimed to fulfil; that of presenting some form of objective ‘truth’; stripped from the ever permeating veneer of political spin (as Arturo Arango asserts, there is a “tremendous politicization of life in Cuba (of everything to do with the island)”  1997:124). Again I turn to Yoani Sanchez to give example to this use of laughter. She highlights the myriad ‘Pepito’ jokes – focussed on the anecdotes of the eponymous Cuban schoolboy – which detail his exploits in dealing with and understanding the bureaucracy and confusion of everyday Cuban life. Sanchez concludes that:

 

The strength of this enfant terrible is his ability to say what we are thinking, but don’t dare to verbalize. Pepito is Cuba, without the masks, without the double standard, without faking it. His anecdotes reflect the daily hardships, the long lines, and the basis of the rationed market. (Sanchez, 2010)

 

Again presented here is a feeling of communality; Pepito says “what we are thinking”, but, because of his legion persona (he is the Cuban people, but with the beneficial safety net of not being attributable to any individual mouth), he can ‘tell it like it is’ “without the masks… without faking it”. So, in a sense, through laughter a ‘more authentic’ vision of Cuban life is represented, or unveiled. Those who laugh at these representations do so because they recognise this glossed-over truth, identify with the picture of ‘real’ real life in Cuba, thus take a position in this inclusionary identity space;

Carlos Puebla: The Laughing Revolutionary

An example par excellence of defiant laughter in Cuba would be in two songs by Carlos Puebla; La OEA Me Causa Risa’ (The OAS[2] Makes me Laugh) and ‘Mira Yanqui, Como Nos Reímos’ (Look Yankee, How We Are Laughing). In both of these songs we hear laughter being used as a physical symbol of Cuba national defiance against exterior political forces, both of whom had, in the 1960s (when both songs were written) engaged in policies of excommunication with Cuba, and were seen by Fidel Castro and his government as forces threatening the identity and sovereignty of Cuba.

In Puebla’s caustic commentaries, an overt sense of defiance is presented. Yet there are subtle differences between the laughter in the two; ‘La OEA…’ presenting an exclusionary identity space, whereas ‘Mira Yankee…’ also creates an inclusionary space through its laughter – the ‘we’ of the title. Yet there is also a tacit sadness in both examples, hinting at the destructive isolation caused by the defiance against both these “external enemies”. By analysing laughter as used in these two songs, perhaps I may create something of a foundation from which to examine in closer detail the uses of laughter in the work of Porno Para Ricardo, suggesting both how the band use laughter in their own identity construction and defiance, but also how this relates to previous examples of Cuban laughter.

 

La OEA Me Causa Risa

 

The cause of mirth in this song is the Organisation of American States; the international political organisation from which Cuba was expelled in 1962; an event to which this song is clearly a reaction. The chorus asks the rhetorical question (echoes in the work of Porno Para Ricardo analysed below):

Como no me voy a reir de la OEA

Si que es una cosa tan fea?

Tan fea que causa risa

How can I not laugh at the OAS

If it is such an ugly thing?

So ugly it causes laughter.

Shades here, at least in intent, of Baudelaire’s concept of “laughter caused by the grotesque”; at “beings whose authority and raison d’être cannot be drawn from the code of common sense”, provoking “an insane and excessive mirth” (1995:156-7). The laughter is set up as addressing something incomprehensible and unnecessary; a defiant stance indeed.

The question is followed by peals of raucous (though musical and rhythmic) laughter from Puebla and his cohorts in harmony and with a wonderful triplet rhythm. Clearly this is not a spontaneous Duchenne laughter; it certainly doesn’t seem to contain within it the “positive emotion” (Keltner and Bonanno, 1997:698) required. Indeed this laughter owes more Thomas Hobbes’ notion of laughter as a “sudden glory arising from some sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others, or with our own formerly.” (Hobbes, 1650 [1999], in Provine, 2000:14). A triumph is being claimed almost in this raucous-yet-restrained laughter. Puebla and his group are aping the sort of uncontrolled mirth Baudelaire speaks of as greeting the grotesque, yet simultaneously claiming a triumph by maintaining it within a strict parameter, even producing a musical sound – a dual rhythm and harmony – from it. They are attempting to show both Cuba’s contempt for the OAS, and their ability to function in their own tradition of isolated, autochthonous creativity and ingenuity. That this laughter is performed (and the word ‘performed’ is an apposite one when addressing this bout of laughter) over an overtly Cuban soundscape is telling. The rough-and-ready, live performance of a son – replete with clave, acoustic guitar, cowbell – gives an unmistakably (vehemently) ‘authentic’ Cuban voice to the laughter, as if to align the ‘authentic’ and unquestionably Cuban genre with the derisory laughter at the OAs; making both synonymous with the Cuban nation: son the music of Cuba, defiant laughter at the OAS the opinion of its people.

Mira Yanqui, Como Nos Reímos

A similar rhetoric of defiance is advanced in the song ‘Mira Yanqui…’; using a very similar musical trope of performed uncontrollable laughter. On this occasion, the laughter is aimed directly at the ‘Yanqui’, though it is to political action that the song responds:

De todo lo que tu piensas y dices

en tu manía de difamar

mira yanqui como nos reimos

jajajajajajajajajajaja

 

At everything you think and say

and at your mania for defaming

look Yankee, how we laugh

hahahahahaha

Again, one could cite the Baudelairian notion of uncontrolled mirth at the grotesque here; the presentation of the US as a manic bully intent on destruction, coupled with the defiant laughter of the put-upon Cuban. Such a rhetoric is prevalent in many of Puebla’s other songs, such as ‘y en eso Llego Fidel’ (as discussed in chapter one) and ‘David y Goliath’ (this latter a commonly used parable to describe the Cuban condition by the Revolutionary government).

However, in this case of laughter, there is a more noticeable sense of sadness, even a mania on the part of the laugher, as well as the laughed at. The laughter – in which Puebla, panned hard to the left, is divided from his compatriots, panned hard to the right. Unlike in ‘La OEA…’ Puebla does not sing the defiant precursor to the laughter; this is left to his fellow band members. The laughter is swamped in a spectral reverb; it sounds distant and almost melancholic. This is accentuated by Puebla’s lacklustre laughs (again, panned out to the left and isolated) which sound reluctant, and are curtailed. As for the laughter panned right, it has much more of a feeling of caricature about it than ‘La OEA…’, particularly the high-pitched cackles.

In this laughter, then can be read an embattled sadness – maybe a weariness at the hardship visited upon the nation by ‘everything thought and said’ (and, by inference, done) by ‘los Yanquis’. Whereas in ‘La OEA…’ there is a sense of abandon, of care-free laughter (as there is no significance, no importance in the organisation), the laughter at the ‘Yanquis’ tells of the very real difficulties Cubans in the 1960s faced at the hands at American policy; the ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion, the ‘blockade’, the “infamous Peter Pan Program, in which some 14,000 middle-class children were flown out of Cuba to Florida in 1960-2” (Triay 1999:10) and missile crisis were all recent events when Puebla composed ‘Mira Yanqui…’; all were distinctly no laughing matter. Antoni Kapcia has suggested that the early 1960s was perhaps the lowest ebb for Cuba’s “cultural community”; matched, he claims, only by the onset of the special period (Kapcia, 2005:189). So Puebla’s laughter, in light of all these hardships cannot help but ring slightly hollow; defiance wrought into either hubris or a less-than-convincing mask.

Again, I am drawn to the notion of laughter as the “language of misery” as propounded by Maturin, and mirrored in Yoani Sanchez’s blog. Laughter here is a tool to prevent tears (perhaps even hardly distinguishable from tears).

So, to sum up, presented in these two works of Carlos Puebla, are examples of ‘Cuban laughter’, providing a template from which to assess the work of Porno Para Ricardo. It is a defiant laughter, one that creates an identity space through its derisory attitude towards an ‘Other’ – an enemy. Yet simultaneously, the defiant stance is belied by a distinct undercurrent of sadness and a recognition of absurd hardship is understood. As such, it is a ‘truthful’ laughter; one that expresses the un-masked feelings and actions of the ‘real’ Cuba. From these assertions, I will examine two examples of laughter as found in Porno Para Ricardo’s music. Case study one will examine the song ‘Peste a Ratas’ (a song that pays more than a passing reference to Carlos Puebla’s ‘La OEA…’), and demonstrates that the above mentioned ‘Cuban laughter’ is indeed a present part of the band’s identity; a defiant, yet sad space in which, via exclusion and derision of an ‘Other’ (albeit a politically different ‘Other’ (though perhaps equally bureaucratic and unnecessary in the eyes of the singer) from Puebla’s). However, in case study two, I aim to demonstrate that a different kind of laughter is present; one that forges an inclusionary space for identity – that is one where group solidarity is both forged and represented. Though it serves to reinforce the parameters laid out by the exclusionary non-Duchenne laughter, it serves as a more positive, Duchenne laughter, which similarly invites the listener to participate, and thus find themselves as a part of the identity space created.


[1] In this chapter, I am concentrating exclusively upon songs where laughter forms a part of the soundworld of the song, rather than on ‘comedy songs’ designed to provoke laughter in the listener.

[2] The Organisation of American States (OAS) or Organisación de Estados Americanos (OEA) in Spanish.

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Where is the ‘Real’ Cuba?

Yo Si Soy Guajiro, de Verdad’: The Place of ‘El Campo’ in Cuban (Musical) Identity.

A continuing theme running through this work is the notion of a search for collective – even national – identity, and definitions of Cubanness. As Antoni Kapcia suggests there has existed a “Cuban tradition [of] a political search for identity which has run through Cuba’s independent history until today” (1982:63). Kapcia goes on to say that:

Nowhere (apart, perhaps from Puerto Rico and Panama) was the problem of national identity greater that the semi-colonial Cuba of the Platt Amendment, the Cuba where by the 1950s the economic, political and social domination by the USA was stifling. (ibid.:64)

Pre-revolutionary Cuba was a nation indebted to the US, not only economically, but, as Louis Perez suggests, in the shaping of its national identity:

Images [of cultural identity that] Cubans sought to negate were precisely the ones that succeeded in representing Cuba as a commodity [in the US]. The contest for control of representation and self-identity was rarely easy and almost never won… If the United States served as the place of personal fulfilment and professional accomplishment, it was necessary to conform to what popular tastes and market forces proclaimed ‘Cuban’ to be. (Perez, 1999:215)

But what was this identity imposed from without? Certainly music and dance played a significant role, as did the associated image of a life of abandon and hedonism. This was the Cuba imagined in this post-independence, pre-revolutionary period, and it was imagined by United States tourism. So an image of the Cuban identity, which will be familiar still as a spectre of Cubanness in the mind’s on the reader, compounded by the revival of many aspects of this spectre in the wake of a glut of tourism since the mid-90s (see Gott, 2004 and Perez, 2006), was formed; and it was one that Kapcia suggests began to permeate into Cuban self-definition, precisely because of the islands dependence upon the US:

During the six decades following political independence from Spain, Cuba imported not only investments, consumer commodities, food, technology, and business methods from the United States, but also much of its culture, including many of the ideas that Cuba held about itself. In Havana, at least, a Cuban identity and mode of life was filed away in the memories of a few Cuban anthropologists and historians (O’Conner, 1970:1) (Kapcia,1982:68)

It is telling that Kapcia here adds the caveat that this ‘loss’ of national (and nationally defined) identity happened at least in Havana, for a running theme of Cuban identity can be seen in references to something approaching a Cuban national ideal through this pre-revolutionary period, and, vicariously, to the ‘place’ where that identity may be found: the guajiro and el campo.

Guajiro/a simply means someone from the countryside, yet it somehow describes and embodies something of a national identity for Cuba, possibly as a counter to the image of the hedonistic dancer and raucously licentious mulatta conjured up by the American tourist. As Tim Edensor notes, this embodying of ‘the nation’ into the idealised persona of rural life is far from unique to Cuba. He claims “it is difficult to mention a nation without conjuring up a particular rural landscape (often with particular kinds of people carrying out certain actions)… These specific landscapes are selective shorthand for these nations, synecdoches through which they are recognised globally” (Edensor, 2002:39-40). If we are to take Edensor’s notion of the rural synecdoche for the nation, then in many Cuban songs, the vista imagined is that of red earth and olive green foliage; the mountains of the Sierra Maestra[1], sugar and tobacco plantations. The figure inhabiting this vista is the guajiro; virtuous, hard-working, machete, cigar, thick black moustache, battered cowboy hat, atop a horse.

The Authentic City: Moving the Site of Authentic Cubanness?

The above does not suggest that pre-special period Cuban music was bereft of references to urban locations, and that these locations were not conceived of as sites where authenticity could be found. Indeed, there are copious examples of such references, not surprisingly mostly centred around Havana (though other notable examples might be ‘rucu rucu a Santa Clara’ by Irakere). However, as Vincenzo Perna suggests, most often these songs were presented as “ode[s] to places of conventional urban prettiness” (2005:172).

However, through analysis of the song “Los Sitios Entero” by NG la Banda – a song which makes reference to the barrio of Los Sitios in Havana – Perna discusses a replacing of the authentic place of Cubannes; an act which is as politically motivated as it is aesthetically motivated. Perna claims of the song that by “identifying Los Sitios with rumba, [song writer José Luís] Cortés celebrates as ‘an authentic neighbourhood’, home to the real cubanía, a black, working class area” (ibid.:174). The Cuban identity here is made distinctly urban but also, through its strong connection to rumba, it presents a Cubanness that is “a world of toughness, machismo, danger and crime populated by lower-class Blacks” (ibid.:176). As Perna points out, however, this description of the home of ‘authentic Cubanness’ should not be seen as “innocently ‘mirroring a reality’” (ibid.), but as a deliberate strategy to present a marginalised Cuban voice; that of urban Black communities, facing a tacit prejudice from a supposedly ‘colourless society’ (Sujatha Fernandes, 2003), and stake for it some form of legitimacy within Cuban discourse.

Following Perna’s ruminations on NG la Banda’s resituating of “real cubanía” to “an authentic neighbourhood”, at the very cusp of the special period, in the remainder of this subchapter, I will examine one musical example of the legacy of this relocated authentic Cubanness, in the song ‘Arrollando Bien’ by Habana Abierta. However, in doing so, I want to analyse this song with respect to the above asserted theory of dual authentication – both of place and artist. Because songs such as ‘Los Sitios Entero’, recorded ten years before ‘Arrollando Bien’ had laid the ground work for presenting urban, Black Havana as “authentic neighbourhoods”, Habana Abierta are able in to use this established authenticity framework – that of the authentic place – reflect their own credibility, and simultaneous help to re-increase the image of the place itself.

However, this relocation of the site of Cuban identity has not been without its contestation, for, as the following subchapter will suggest, at the same time as Habana Abierta were seeking to align themselves with the urban image of Cuban identity, there was, through the ‘revival’ of Cuban ‘traditional music’ as part of the ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ project, a move to re-relocate the image of Cuban identity back to ‘el campo’, to re-play the guajiro identity as authentic, but to present Havana as the site of this rekindled rurality; creating an image of a rural-city, and an urban-guajiro which played into tousits and world music images of Authentic music from the ‘periphery’.

To’ El Mundo Lo Sabe Bien

In 1999, Habana Abierta, a band of Cuban musicians living and working in Spain, released their second album ‘24 Horas’. Though the band themselves describe the music as ‘rockason’ – a hybrid genre fusing rock with Cuba’s most symbolically national genre son – in truth the album’s musical influences are much more diverse. Shades of funk, rumba, conga, hip hop and jazz all find their way into the eclectic soundworld. Yet within this diverse sonic palette, there seems to be a concerted effort to present the band as an expression of authentic Cubanness that is never far from the surface. Nowhere is this more apparent that on the song ‘Arrollando Bien’, written and sung by Jose Luis Medina.

From the opening drum call, which combines Cuba’s ubiquitous conga drums with the crisp roll of a snare drum, to the presentation of a fast and purposeful conga beat which allies and embellishes itself with distorted (though immaculately so; there is nothing of Porno Para Ricardo’s anarchic sound here) electric guitars, the presentation of a contemporary Cubanness which play homage to its musical forbears but which takes dramatic and authoritative ownership of them to mould them into new configurations is made abundantly clear.

At around two minutes into the song, the lyrics make an overt reference to place and, in doing so, nail their colours as an authentic voice of contemporary Cubanness firmly to the mast. For alongside the mentioning of place – Guabanacoa, a barrio in Havana that is as “unmistakably black” to Cuban listeners as the Los Sitios sung about by NG la Banda (Perna, 2005:172) with the added reputation as a hotbed for Santería – is a list of Cuban musicians from Guanabacoa whose place in the pantheon of Cuban greats is uncontested:

Yo soy de Guanabacoa To’ el mundo lo sabe bien De alli tambien era el Bola El gran maestro Lecuona Dona Rita Montaner Yo no respeto a otra joya, Yo no respeto a otra joya Yo sigo, yo sigo mi negra…

I’m from Guanabacoa Everyone knows that Bola was also from there And the great maestro Lecuona, Lady Rita Montaner You can’t get any better than that Here I go, mi negra

In both the naming of place and the listing of Cuban greats from that place, Habana Abierta are, as Perna suggests of NG la Banda, forging an authentic location where the ‘real Cubanness’ may be located. They are making, or at least helping to reinforce, Guabanacoa an authentic place. The three greats mentioned are the flamboyant pre-Revolutionary piano player Bola de Nieve, composer and piano maestro Ernesto Lecuona and the multi-talented Rita Montaner; all from this same barrio, all assured of a place in Cuba’s musical annals.

Yet their strong alliance in these line to the specific location (rather than to Havana, or even to Cuba) is telling. For it creates an aura around the place mentioned that is familiar in many other discourses surrounding ‘authentic places’; it suggests that somehow the place itself is partly responsible for embuing these greats with their talents, and that the place itself hold within it a multitude of similar stars waiting to emerge. It is a discourse picked up upon by Harvey Taylor in the ostensibly drastically different context of ‘Geordie’ sporting heroes:

The role of the sporting hero in the North-East was certainly more than simply to be the subject of hero worship. Backed by the belief that there were many more of this calibre just waiting to prove their worth, the hero was seen as typical of the region and representative of its skills and strengths (1992:114)

In asserting the importance of Guabanacoa to these three stars, Habana Abierta create something of the same connection between ‘hero’ and place. Rita Montaner becomes Guabanacoa; becomes a representation of its people and evidence that it is a place where a definitive image of Cuban musical prowess can be unearthed simply by finding someone from that place; Guabanacoa is full, it would seem, or budding Rita Montaners. Jose Luis Medina’s impassioned assertion that he too comes from this place further serves to accentuate the potency of this authentic place; contemporising it by showing that this new generation of Cuban music owes its existence to this authentic place.

But as Perna saliently points out, the referencing of place in song is not as innocent as “mirroring a reality” (2005:176). Guabanacoa is not a priori an authentic place. By referencing it in song – by deeming it important enough to sing about, and by implying its importance in forming these past greats, Habana Abierta are imbuing this place with its authenticity, whilst simultaneously describing the facets that constitute authenticity to them; that is success, musical prowess, an intimate knowledge of Havana, perhaps, it may even be said, an air of internationalism – Rita Montaner (the highest of the high) being celebrated and working in Cuba and the United States.

Having outlined the authenticity of this place, they then attach themselves to that authentic place; they are, as the whole world knows, from that place and thus, by definition, must share in that authenticity; there can be no doubt that the band themselves are an authentic voice of Cubanness because they come from an authentically Cuban place.

Thus we can see a clear example of the mutual authentication suggested above; artist mentions and authenticates place, and by doing so envelops him/herself in that authenticity, which in turn provides more authenticity to the place mentioned.

Such a trope would be of paramount importance to a Cuban band living and working entirely outside of Cuba. As this album was produced, the band had not played within Cuba, and it is arguable that their claim to an identity as a contemporary Cuban voice, with their finger on the pulse of modern Cubanness was made spurious by their physical dislocation from the island. This would perhaps be the case with any musician living outside their ‘place’ (particularly when such deference is made to that place in the music), but within the polemicising discourse of Cuban politics, which casts those who leave the island as gusanos and seems to revoke their claim to a Cuban identity as a mandatory charge of leaving, the desire to cast off the spectre of inauthenticity is made all the stronger. Thus Habana Abierta are adamant to assert their Cubanness; referencing a barrio only other ‘true Cubans’ would have heard of and would formulate a mental image of. Then, by listing other Cuban greats form the same place, Medina inserts himself into the authentic lineage of Cuban musicians.

This example of dual authentication, if nothing else, makes clear the obvious point that notions of authenticity are neither stable nor neutrally constructed; there is always some political aspect to their formation. What Medina and Habana Abierta’s ‘Guanabacoa Cubanness’ identity suggests is something of a hybrid between the “ode to urban prettiness” (Perna, 2005:172), the indisputable face of national achievement and a relocation of the authentic Cuban identity to re-establish it as urban, contemporary, diverse in its soundworld, and perhaps diverse in its eventual location, though strongly connected to its ‘roots’ (physically, musically and historically). Whether this identity construction is self-serving or not (aren’t all constructions of authentic identity models?), it is significant in presenting a ‘different Cubanness’; one that celebrates musical hybridity. Yet as hinted at above, as Cuba emerged from the hardship of the special period and turned to face the new millennium, there grew a much more prominent, far more traditional, and retrogressive image of the authentic Cuban identity provided by an imagined band from a largely imagined bygone era: the Buena Vista Social Club.

De Alto Cedro, Voy Para Macané’: The Reemergence of the ‘Authentic Guajiro’ and the ‘Rural City’

The story of the emergence of the Buena Vista Social Club, with all its encompassed nostalgia and narrative, will be a familiar one. Both Vincenzo Perna (2005:240-63) and Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor (2007:297-318) dedicate chapters to describing the formation and cultural and political significance of the Buena Vista Social Club, and the efficacy of their work makes further repetition here unnecessary, particularly as I do not wish to enter into a debate necessarily around the authenticity (or lack thereof) of the band’s music. Thus I refer the reader to both texts for such arguments and assert the point I wish to make herein; that as groups such as Habana Abierta (and Porno Para Ricardo[2] for that matter) were fashioning an authentic urban and contemporary Cubanness, the Buena Vista Social Club fashioned an image of a distinctly retrogressive, nostalgic and rural Cuban identity that harked back to the image of the guajiro and el campo as the place where true Cubanness could be located. However, the presentation of this sonic and lyrical image situated alongside the images of crumbling Havana streets and anachronistic Chevrolets (as the 1999 eponymous documentary does), the Buena Vista Social Club presented an image of Havana that aligned itself with the rural concept of authenticity; that is ‘old-fashioned’ (indeed just ‘old’), a sort of ‘timeless’ quality, the notion of songs that have existed as representations of ‘the people’ for many years, acoustic music, folk traditions, etc. In a sense, the image of Cuban identity the Buena Vista Social Club gave was that of a rural city, inhabited by guajiros; the place of Cuban identity was still that of the countryside.

The machinations behind this identity presentation again are covered in detail by both Barker and Yuval and Perna, though I believe both place an overabundance of significance (or blame) upon American producer and slide guitarist Ry Cooder, and appear to leave the musicians themselves as passive bystanders in a cynically nostalgic identity construction. As is discussed below, the presentation of an identity can have a number of meanings depending upon the viewer, and I the musicians themselves were complicit, to a certain extent, in the construction of this identity. Though the well-told narrative of “forgotten musical heroes” being rediscovered (Perna, 2005:246) is not without embellishment, the fact remains that the various members of the Buena Vista Social Club went on to international success. By presenting a ‘placed’ identity, working on established frameworks of ‘authentic’ rural Cubanness apparent in both Cuban and international discourse, that they themselves easily (and authoritatively) fit into – that is of the old guajiro troubadours, fading glamour, “the musicians’ wrinkles… becoming metaphors, homologous with the cracks and faded revolutionary murals on the walls of Havana” (ibid.) – the musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club bought for themselves authenticity, and with it critical acclaim and financial reward, where before there had been none.

A Rural Map in an Urban Environment

De Alto Cedro, voy para Marcané, lego a Cueto, voy para Mayarí

From Alto Cedro, I go to Marcané, I arrive in Cueto, then I go to Mayarí

The first lyrics heard in the film and album of the Buena Vista Social Club conjure up something of an exotic cartography for the listener – assuming, as do Barker and Yuval that the listener is not Cuban, claiming that “most Cubans have never heard the recording” (2007:302). Four places pepper the yellow subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

As the incantation of place is repeated, we as viewer/listener are given ‘clues’ as to their location of the places and their significance to the soundworld and identity unfolding before us through the images accompanying them, though they may not necessarily be factually accurate. The first repetition shows Compay Segundo and Eliades Ochoa – the former in a suave Panama hat, the latter in robust cowboy hat (symbolic trademarks both) – exchange a knowing smile as the Dutch audience cheer wildly.

As the famous four-chord pattern swirls around, the camera cuts from the live concert to a number of images of Havana in all its glorious, colourful degradation. An anachronistic grandiose car speeds through ocean spray on the malecón, Ry Cooder and son Joachim are seen on a rickety motorbike and side car – searching for ‘something’ perhaps on avenues of dishevelled colonial pillars, old men riding bicycles pass by, old women hang washing out on balconies and gossip, rusting Chevvies and Buicks dodge the myriad potholes as Ry and Joichim maintain their colourful vigil along the streets. The accompanying lyrics speak of Juanita and the eponymous hero Chan Chan sitting on a beach engaging in light-hearted foreplay, and the narrator sitting quietly on an old tree trunk on some forgotten dusty road on his journey around a boundary line of authentic Cuba; at once obscured from the listener, yet well known to the performer; almost magical places the listener will never know, and the singer knows only too well.

But these four repeated places – Alto Cedro, Marcané, Cueto, Mayarí – are not places in Havana, though the accompanying images would suggest that they are. In fact they are small villages in Hoguin province in the east of Cuba. But the amalgamation of these two disparate places – the city and the countryside – is telling.

Another example of this cartographical juxtaposition comes when Eliades Ochoa sings perhaps his most well-know contribution to the band’s oeuvre; ‘El Carretero’ (‘the cowboy’). On a seemingly abandoned train platform, surrounded by rusted corrugated iron and broken concrete being reclaimed by grass, Eliades sits – cowboy hat and guitar – to play to (seemingly) nobody other than himself. Later, he walks down the same deserted train track and sings:

Yo trabajo sin reposo
para poderme casar
y si lo llego a lograr
sere un guajiro dichoso

A caballo vamos pa’l monte
a caballo vamos pa’l monte

I work without stopping

So I can get married

And if I can manage that

I’ll be a lucky guajiro

Ride the horses to the mountains

Alongside the traditionalist rhetoric of hard work and family life, here is presented something of a rural vista slightly incongruous to the pictures being shown: ‘why ride a horse, when we can take the train?’ But once again we have a conglomeration of distinctly urban (even more specifically Havana – the Capitolio building is visible in the background, marking our location) environment with distinctly rural sonic images and ideals; the acoustic guitar, the cowboy hat, the lone troubadour, the work, a sense of pride in one’s region: “el campo mas linda del mundo entero[3]”. Indeed as Ochoa sings these words, the camera cuts to the Capitolio up close, and the bicycle-riding ‘folk’ plying their wares in its shadow. Even in the musical form – a style called ‘son guajiro’ we can hear something of an urban reimagining of the rural aesthetic. Perna, citing Peter Manuel suggests that son guajiro “described as a sort of “fake country music” (Manuel et al., 1995), is a nostalgic idealization of rural life by urban white singers” (2005:251). Certainly in this urban performance of rural ideology, we can see the not only the idealization of the rural, but its relocation as well.

In both these songs the urban – Havana – is presented as maintaining the vestiges of a rural identity; Havana is presented as a palimpsest sat atop this always-present notion of the guajiro identity; always an integral part of the authentic Cuban identity. Here the physical places of that rural identity are moved to the setting of Havana; the two worlds – presented as vastly different by bands such as Habana Abierta – are seen as one and the same in the work of Buena Vista. Here we see a urban-guajiros as the truely authentic Cuban identity, and the rural-metropolis of a crumbling, dirt-road-and-bicycles Havana are its setting.

Viewing Identity Construction

But as mentioned above, it is not my intention to contest the authenticity of this ‘placed’ Cuban identity. But what is worth discussing, as does Perna, is the different ways and means that this identity has been authenticated (or held as already authentic) by various different, often opposing groups, to suit their own desired image of Cuba, and to vicariously gain some authenticity for themselves by staking a claim to that space of authenticity.

Perna discusses a number of people/ groups with a vested interest in promoting this “picture of an island imbued with nostalgia, and of a city of grand, run-down buildings, industrial archaeology and exceptionally-gifted octogenarians” and “nostalgic representation of Cuban culture” (2005:240-2). Of producer Ry Cooder, Perna suggests the presentation of Cuba as a land of “forgotten musical heroes” (ibid.:246) allowed Cooder to present himself as the finder of authenticity, the promoter and reviver of lost authenticity. Perna also suggests that the image of “the pre-modern spirit of Buena Vista has been co-opted into the anti-US, anti-imperialistic discourse [of the Cuban government], and employed to emphasise the national element of Cuban culture in opposition to the xenophile and ‘deviant’ attitudes of timba audiences and musicians” (ibid.:250). To that latter group one could add frikis. So although this image of urban-rural Cubanness was, one could suggest, defined from ‘without’ (by and American producer), it has been co-opted by a Cuban government as a symbol of authentic Cubanness by virtue of its ‘purity’ from foreign influence. Whatever else can be said of the value of son in contemporary Cuban society, there is an unshakable aura surrounding it of an entirely autochthonous origin – perhaps with some quasi-mystical ‘root’ in an imagined ‘Africa’, but defiantly native to Cuban soil. However spurious this claim, this is the ‘accepted’ identity of son, so to present a band as somehow ‘unchanged’ by the ravages of time, and ‘unfetted’ by the corruption of foreign influence was (and still is) a potent symbol of independence and defiance against the “colossus to the North” (this despite Ry Cooder’s description of Ibrahim Ferrer as a “Cuban Nat ‘King’ Cole”, belying this myth of complete musical isolation.).

Not coincidentally, this image of contemporary Cubanness has dove-tailed perfectly with the rise in tourism on the island, Perna suggesting the “nostalgic, gentle neo-colonial mood has contributed to creating a tourist-friendly image of Cuba” (ibid.:263). But even aside from tourism, those from outside Cuba can latch onto this authentic place for their own ends, as Perna describes both “liberal Americans” celebrating Cuba as “an uncontaminated site of human purity, protected from the evils of capitalism and globalization” (ibid.:261) and right-wing Miami Cubans who take from Buena Vista’s pre-revolutionary songbook the implicit message that nothing good has come of Cuban culture since 1959. This former group attach themselves to this ruralised Eden in imagining their own folk heritage perhaps; the communities of folk musicians in the Appalaichian mountains, or the “imagined villages” of Britain (Boyes, 1993); a time before the corruption of industry, globalisation and capitalism. This rural Cuba becomes synecdoche for the lost rurality (and thus place of authenticity) in all national identities. In a sense then, the album becomes a ‘place’ in itself where the ‘imagined golden past’ has been captured, and the loss of one’s own past can be lamented.

One group with a vested interest in promoting this image of Cuban authenticity which Perna fails to mention however, are the musicians themselves. As mentioned above, they, as elderly musicians of traditional Cuban genres, had something of an agenda in promoting this bygone era of musicianship (of which they were progenitors) as still being of value and significance in contemporary Cuba. Thus they can re-present themselves as authentic voices of Cubanness.


[1] The Sierra Maestra is a mountain range in the East of Cuba.

[2] Porno Para Ricardo formed in 1999, as the Buena Vista were attracting significant worldwide popularity and painting their picture of Cubanness to this global market.

[3] This is a lyric in the following verse, translating as “the [Cuban] countryside is the most beautiful in the world.”

Remembering a National Identity

 

We weren’t directly involved in the revolutionary process. We’ve been exposed to it, but not concretely. I wasn’t at the Bay of Pigs, nor was I around for the Mariel or the Camarioca boatlifts. I wasn’t there for the counter-insurgency battles in the Escambray; all that’s to say that these weren’t events that I experienced. I’m touched by them from a historical point of view…from what I learned in school. Those things were lived through by a different generation, while I’ve experienced something else, which is what I have to be concerned with. Understand? And since I’m experiencing different phenomena, a different energy, those are the ones I’m trying to confront, to figure out, to question. (Raudel Collazo Pedroso – aka Escuadrón Patriota – Havana Times, 2011)

The above quote from Cuban rapper Escuadrón Patriota, aside from speaking to the desire of a younger generation of Cubans to step out from under the shadow of the Revolution, tells of the way in which Cuba is remembered, and the way in which remembrance is used to define the space of Cuban identity. Within the revolutionary paradigm, there seems to exist something of a complex and collusionary nexus between nation-identity-remembrance; each existing on some grand and intangible scale almost, leaving many young Cubans, as Escuadrón Patriota so neatly puts it “exposed to it, but not concretely”.

As discussed in the introduction, to legitimise itself as representative of the Cuban people, and to help cement its own authority, part of the Revolutionary endeavour was geared towards discrediting the Platt Amendment immediate past – to separate Cuba’s present from this un-Cuban epoch. Thus the Revolution began almost instantly to construct its own series of remembrances; an instant creation myth, replete with key ‘events’, grand narratives and sites – ideological and geographical – at which one could remember the reclamation of an authentically Cuban national identity. The bulldozing of train track in the battle of Santa Clara[1] becomes not only an ideological tipping point at which one can determine the success of the Revolution, it has also become a physical site at which one can go to remember not only the specific act, but the forging of this revolutionary identity. At the monument in Santa Clara, the very train derailed by Che Guevarra and his troops is frozen in perpetual destructive motion; the precise moment of destroying the old and forging the new preserved as a sculpture; a monument to remembrance. Similarly, the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba – the site of the first principal attack made by the revolutionary movement – has been preserved, bullet holes and all, as it was the day of the attack; the day on which a new history, a new national identity, began. Tellingly, the Revolution took as its name the date of this attack – the 26th July Movement; an act of remembrance was at the very beginning of the Revolution. Indeed throughout revolutionary rhetoric, remembrance seems to have become something of an obsession. From the ‘official’ form of writing the date, which counts off the elapsed years of the Revolution[2], to this perpetual remembrance of monumental dates, heroic actions and reified actors, Cubans are told that to ‘be Cuban’ is to remember these key events. To ‘be like Che’, to ‘remember the five heroes’, to celebrate the 26th of July is to be Cuban.

Of course, as many theorists working on the intersection between national identity and remembrance have noted, this phenomenon of constructing a grand history of the nation, at once removed from, and yet representative of (responsible for) the constructing the contemporary everyday is not unique to Cuba. Many (most) nations have similarly historic ‘births’, moments and days that we both must never forget, and strive to remember in order to preserve some part of our collective identity[3].  As Tim Edensor notes, such collections of points of remembrance become engrained and enmeshed into a ‘culture’:

[Ernest Gellner discusses “high cultures”,] referred to as ‘garden cultures’ (Gellner, 1983:7), which are presumably surveyed, tended and codified by specialist experts. Thus a mass education system binds the state and culture together, canons are devised, museums are established, official histories are written… so that specific bodies of knowledge, values and norms are ingested by all educated citizens. (Edensor, 2002:3)

Gellner’s notion of the ‘garden culture’ speaks precisely of the canonical and highly organised remembrances of Cuba alluded to by Escuadrón Patriota above; sites of remembrance in which, through which, one must learn what it means to be Cuban. Remembrance becomes the nation, becomes identity. Yet such a garden of remembrance tends towards rigidity, and, as Edensor notes, such rigidity remembrance can lead to a lack of meaning:

The meaning of the symbolic cultural elements cannot be determined or fixed. In fact, particularly powerful symbols need to be flexible in order to retain their relevance over time and their appeal amongst diverse groups. As Guibernau says, “symbols not only stand for or represent something else, they also allow those who employ them to supply part of their meaning” (Guibernau, 1996:81) (2002:5).

This is precisely the concern of many young Cubans; a feeling of obsolescence surrounding the supposedly emblematic moments of remembrance that constitute the national identity – as Escuadrón puts it, “exposed to…, but not concretely” a series of moments that, because of the fixedness, fail to maintain such a relevance, as they are unable to be reinterpreted in the present as way of making sense of the present. The inadequacy of relying solely upon the remembrance of the ‘grand narrative’, the heroic event, as the foundation for a national identity is again highlighted by Edensor, in his assessment of Anthony Smith’s work:

The emphasis in [Smith’s] work continues to be on the historical and the traditional and official. For instance, he asserts that “national symbols, customs and ceremonies are the most potent and durable aspects of nationalism. They embody its basic concepts, making them visible and distinct for every member” (1991:77). This stress on the obviously identifiable, tangible, spectacular cultural effects obfuscates the everyday, taken for granted, cultural commonsensical practices as well as the popular forms circulated in a mass culture. (2002:9)

As Catherine Moses notes, such official ceremonies of remembrance in Cuba have become mandatory spaces in which to ‘keep up appearances’; a space not of remembering and reconfirming a national identity, but where those “within the system who no longer believe” (Moses, 2000:14) can allay the suspicions of rebellion and dissidence that may befall them by non-attendance.

Then if not in the grand gesture and the hero, perhaps it is in the everyday that Cuban identity is performed, repeated, confirmed, reclaimed and redefined. Perhaps in the familial – the private – sphere, rather than in the public sphere, dominated by adherence to the Revolution, that Cubans truly express themselves. Such an assertion is made by both Antoni Kapcia in noting that attendance at such public rallies diminished as Special Period Cubans retreated more into the realm of the private and the sphere of the family (2005). Suchlichi concurs in his assessment that the so-called “new man” of Cuba – dedicated to this public sphere and grand narrative of remembrance – is “nowhere to be found” (2000:57). Perhaps Cuban identity is to be found at the domino table, in the ration shop queue, around the television, in the catchphrase of a radio novella, and other such sites of the repeated, everyday. Such a process is described by Michael Billig as ‘banal nationalism’, in which, for the “daily reproductions” of national identity to occur, “a whole complex of beliefs, assumptions, habits, representations and practices must also be reproduced. Moreover, this complex must be reproduced in a banally mundane way, for the world of nations is the everyday world” (1995:6). Billig uses the metaphor of an ‘unwaved flag’ of national identity to describe this quotidian reproduction and representation; the place of “the numerous signifiers and reminders of the nation that form part of everyday spaces, routines and practices, as opposed to that which is wielded during overt displays of nationalism.” (Edensor, 2002:11). Such a model provides something of an antithesis to the revolutionary grand narrative that asserts the sites of the spectacular  – or rather the mundane sites made spectacular; the Moncada Barracks, the train in Santa Clara – are where national identity resides and where one must go to ‘remember the nation’. By asserting that ‘remembrance’ of a national identity is an on-going and continual process; one does not stop to remember – go somewhere to remember – but is always already engaged in the act of remembrance by operating within the everyday, for as David E. Sutton notes, memories are “formed as an interaction between the past and the present” (2001:9).

Such an assertion illustrates the complex web of connections between acts of remembrance (that is, the way in which we remember), memories (that is, what is remembered), personal identity (that is, how memories are ‘used’ – the use to which they are put – in the present), and national identity (that is, the context in which these identities are constructed, relate to and are influenced by).


[1] The pertinence of this as a key event in the remembrance of Cuban identity is demonstrated in the recent film ‘Che: Part One’ (2008, Soderbergh).

[2] Writing the date followed by ‘the fifty-third year of the Revolution’ is common.

[3] From a British perspective, the aptly named ‘Remembrance Sunday’ – “lest we forget” – remembers not the distinctly normal individuals who served in both World Wars, but a collectivised and abstracted vision of their heroicism; and in doing so we recognise the way in which the present has been constructed by the past.

‘Mi Balsa’ – Porno Para Ricardo: Representations of the Special Period

Porno Para Ricardo make similarly insistent remembrances of aspects of the Special Period in their work. However, these remembrances are not designed to reclaim some forgotten aspect of Cuban history; the trauma of the Special Period is still a livid memory in the construction of Cuban identity, scarcely forgettable. In their approach to remembering the Special Period – actually discussing some of the traumatic events – perhaps there is an aim to negotiate a way through the cultural traumas of the Special Period; to address the ways in which this trauma has impinged upon the national identity, how it has shaped post-millennial Cuba. As one tool perhaps to negotiate a way through this trauma, the band seem to be attempting to connect together again these schismatic epochs of ‘before and after’ in the Cuban narrative; fragmented and separated by these evental traumas demanding a “new way of being” (Badiou: 2001:42). In reconnecting these fragments, they begin to reshape the contemporary political, economic and social landscape in Cuba; begin to make sense of some of the more incomprehensible frustrations that inhabit the island. Perhaps even they begin to look beyond the traditional binary options of apathetic acquiescence or migration, to suggest an understanding, built on the renegotiation of the past, and an ability to imagine change in the future.

One song which addresses of the trauma of the Special Period is ‘Mi Balsa’ (‘My Raft’). Although the song does not overtly locate the song as taking place within the Special Period, the imagery of a lone ‘balsero’ (rafter) drifing in the Straits of Florida evokes memories of that particular time; the balsero has come to stand as perhaps the most potent symbol of the desperation and loss of the Special Period, and thus its invocation in this song is inescapable, though perhaps its deliberate ‘timelessness’, it’s positioning outside of a defined epoch (perhaps, as will be discussed, the location of the song outside of any geographical or temporal frameworks; precisely in that aquatic hinterland) is a telling point, already cementing the connections between this traumatic past, its own progenitors (previous mass migrations), and, crucially, the less dramatic, though constant rivulet of migration via this most desperate of modes of transport that have come to define part of the Cuban reality and shape the nation’s identity.

The song ‘Mi Balsa’ presents itself as something of a faux-power ballad; a parody, perhaps, of that other aquatic tragedy, the (Celine) Dionysian[1] hysteria of ‘My Heart Will Go On[2]’. Though rather than the plight of doomed lovers, this song provides us with a solo aria; the last thoughts of a hapless ‘balsero’, not lamenting lost love, but cursing the carpenter who built his raft, swimming aimlessly, not knowing whether he is facing towards Miami or Havana:

El pinche carpintero me timó con esta balsa
me dijo que era buena que flotaba que flotaba,
y ahora que me he roto y mi balsa va pa´l fondo
no se si estoy nadando pa´ Miami o para el morro.

That bloody carpenter cheated me with this raft                                                                                        he said it would be good for floating                                                                                                     and now it has broken and my raft is sinking to the bottom,                                                                    and I don’t know if I am swimming towards Miami or ‘El Morro[3]

Though this narrative is fictional, the subject matter is all too real. As discussed in the introduction, the trauma of the Special Period’s “vintage” (Pedraza Bailey, 1985, after Kunz, 1973) of migrants to Miami not only exacerbated the economic and social traumas apparent on the island through the 1990s, but left an indelible imprint upon younger generations of Cubans still living on the island, for whom a sizable proportion of their cohort had left, and thus their ‘generational perception’ of national identity – indeed the very geographical location of such a collective identity, or worse, the veracity of such collectivity – was called into question. Such a traumatic exodus, significantly based on generational lines, rather than exclusively political ones (as Pedraza-Bailey (1985) asserts earlier mass-migrations from Cuba to the US were based upon), could be described using Cathy Caruth’s term “impossible history”; a “history which they [the traumatised] cannot entirely possess” (1995:5). There is a sense in which, though the effects of the Special Period maintain their cultural, social and economic pertinence even today for almost all Cubans living within Cuba, it remains something of an ‘impossible history’; impossible to quantify, and thus impossible to fully integrate into a continued national identity. Thus it is parsed off, self-contained and left mute. The multifarious traumas of the Special Period – significantly demarcated as a ‘period’, with a definite beginning and, albeit hazy, ending – are something of a spectre in post-millennial Cuba; not least among these is the topic of mass generational exodus. They are always present, yet often left unspoken; unable to be spoken, perhaps, as those who left are excluded from the identity space of Cubanness. Dori Laub addresses the lingering effect of “not telling” the story of trauma:

The “not telling” of the story serves as perpetuation of its tyranny. The events becomes more and more distorted in their silent retention and pervasively invade and contaminate the survivor’s daily life. The longer the story remains untold, the more distorted it becomes in the survivor’s conception of it, so much so that the survivor doubts the reality of the actual events. (1995:64)

It is precisely the act of telling the untold (or untellable) story that ‘Mi Balsa’ engaging in. The protagonist is a balsero; one who finds himself adrift and without hope, significantly located in a space ‘between’ the two geographical places of Miami and Havana; a place in which distinguishing between these two poles is made impossible. The balsero seems also to be in between life and death here (the sharks, as the balsero himself is all too aware, are circling as the raft sinks and nightfall, however beautiful, is enveloping). As he reflects upon those left behind – the treacherous carpenter who built the raft – as he dreams of his impossible destination – setting foot upon Cayo Hueso – we the listener are afforded the opportunity to hear the remembrances of an untellable story; one that could not be heard otherwise. This comedic lament is the story not told. It addresses loss, death, the perilous schism between Miami and Havana and, most importantly, it remembers the Special Period. It remembers the story:

It is essential for this narrative that could not be articulated  to be told, to be transmitted , to be heard,  and hence the importance of endeavours… designed to enable the survivors to bear witness, to enable, that is, the act of bearing witness… to take place (ibid.:69)

This fictional narrative not only stages the remembrance of a trauma, but it allows for the untold story to be heard; it insists upon its telling, and crucially, it makes it a part of the ongoing narrative of Cubanness.

But in these final moments of life, perhaps the balsero reveals some striking clarity. His confusion between Miami and Cuba is not the only melding of anathematic or non-emulsifiable positions that is taking place here. Cuban identity is located, along with the balsero, in distinctly choppy waters; and crucially in waters between Havana and Miami. As noted in the introduction, the Special Period perhaps served to expand out the geographical map of Cuban identity to incorporate Miami, and the space between, into narratives of Cubanness. But Porno Para Ricardo’s blurring of the distinctions between them – the inability to tell the difference in the moment of the present – speaks of a radical reappraisal of the uses of memory and the place of the past.

In the balsero’s aimless swimming – circling between his past in Cuba and a dreamed future in Miami – perhaps there is something to be speculated about an allegorical blurring of the boundaries between temporal epochs, as well as geographical spaces. The liminality of the protagonists precarious position is perhaps the ‘outside’ of conventional (social) space that Porno Para Ricardo themselves find themselves. And perhaps it is a position that allows (demands) that longed-for vista “where the schism between antes and después is softened and the frontier between dentro and fuera becomes blurred.[4]” Perhaps the consternation here is a with the narratives surrounding the Special Period that speak not of the trauma of ‘passing through’, but the completion of ‘surviving it’. Again, Caruth’s notion of the “impossible history” proves apposite in describing an epoch – and crucially an epoch – that, though remembered, is projected as ‘finished’, on the ‘other side’ of which a “new way of being” (Badiou 2001:42) must be created. Porno Para Ricardo’s deliberate positioning outside of a social space attempts to blur the boundaries between these crystalline schisms; these evental moments which demand new definitions and new narratives. This hazy vista, this aimless swimming, helplessly and happily ‘outside the Revolution’ demonstrates the fiction in the metaphor of the historical ‘clean break’ – and in doing so speaks as much to the fallacy of the Revolution outlined by Puebla as it does to the ‘new Cuba’ post-Special Period. The effects (the affect) of ‘what came before’ lingers on into the ‘new’ present; it necessarily permeates any attempted “new way of being”, impinges upon it, defines it. As Connerton notes, past and present have a dialogic relationship, imparting significance upon, and shaping, one another inextricably (1989:2). Porno Para Ricardo’s remembrances of the Special Period serve to bridge this evental schism, to show the lingering presence of this past – the ‘on-goingness’, as it were – in the narrative of Cuban identity.

Such a blurring of boundaries serves not only to problematise conceptions of both past and present; to meld both into one gigantic and unseparatable mass of entire history (Carl Sagan’s classic maxim that to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe springs to mind in discussing this attempt to bridge together parcels of history into a single narrative!). Rather, I think Porno Para Ricardo are attempting to make sense of what can often seem like an incomprehensible present – frustratingly reticent to change, recalcitrant, and simultaneously desperate to remember, yet equally determined to forget, moments and memories from its own past, irrespective of the cockeyed and partisan projection of the present that this selective remembrance provides. Porno’s remembrances of the Special Period – their blurring of the beginnings of new narratives – demonstrate the need to remember these moments as part of the construction of the present and, in that capacity, as relevant players in determining a path for the future.

Finally, and amidst all this seriousness of blurred vistas, death, trauma, remembrance and loss, it is perhaps important to remember the humour in Porno Para Ricardo’s remembrances. There is a distinct comedic strand in their remembrance of the Special Period, equally present in their memories of the Soviet presence. The place specifically of laughter (and not necessarily ‘comedy’) will be addressed in greater detail in chapter five of this work, but it is important to at least note the humour that accompanies the band’s remembrances often of traumatic moments. In ‘Mi Balsa’, even as the sharks close in, the protagonist finds time to worry that the first thing they’ll eat are his cojones! Of course, and if such a thing is not oxymoronic (or just moronic), this is something of a ‘serious comedy’, aimed not to belittle or make light of the subject matter, but to somehow reclaim it from the realm of the inhuman; the domain of the ‘great tragedy’ and the solemn pages of the history books and to wrestle it back into the realm of the quotidian, the personal vignette, the human. Once more, the demand is to remove the discourse of clunking shifts of epoch so familiar to the ‘grand narrative’ of the Revolution, and relocated national identity in the everyday; to replant the unwaved flags of a popular memory as the markers of Cubanness.

The necessity to laugh at the traumatic is not a device exclusive to the Cuban condition, but as a pre-shadow to chapter five, I cite Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez’s words on the importance of laughter in Cuba:

Laughter, banter, kidding around have been group therapy on this island where the frustration and dissatisfaction is exorcised by humor. We laugh at ourselves, and that’s healthy… In short, what makes us roar with laughter would make us cry, if we couldn’t find a way to joke about it. (Sanchez, 2010)

In Porno Para Ricardo’s comedic representation of such a singular story – one voice among the thousands who made that treacherous crossing in the Special Period (and before, and after) – in their ability to joke about that which would otherwise make us cry, we are given a reading of a past that is inseperable from the present; and one that exists in the realm of the popular. In the swimming-sinking tragicomic lament of this balsero, perhaps we are afforded an epitaph, as Tara Brabazon eloquently puts it “for the groups who… leave… only the residue of laughter, pain and pleasure captured through and by popular culture”, and an alternative to, and remedy for, “the hardened faces of the past [who] stare down the alternative sotries and images that are lost to us” (2005:71)


[1] Al Niven coined this apt term.

[2] The balsero protagonist does indeed liken his predicament to the sinking of the Titanic in the second verse.

[3] El Morro is the Havana sea front; interestingly a favoured hang out for young couples (and tourists).

‘Y en Eso Llego Fidel’ (‘And Into This Came Fidel’) – Carlos Puebla

Born in 1917, and dying in 1989 (coincidentally, almost exactly the lifespan of the Soviet Union), the songwriter Carlos Puebla began his career in pre-revolutionary Cuba as a bolerista. However, he is remembered as one of the most fervently political, and staunchly revolutionary, songwriters of the nascent and utopian years of the Revolution. His most famous composition – ‘Hasta Siempre, Comandante; an ode to Che Guevarra – has become emblematic of the Revolution specifically, and of new-left affiliation globally[1]. Often his songs would serve as cultural comments written bespoke for the precise actions of the Revolution (such as the song ‘Diez Seran’ – ‘We’ll Get the Ten’ about the proposed ten-ton sugar harvest), or sought to make risible Cuba’s ‘enemies’ (as in ‘La OEA es Cosa de Risa’ and ‘Mira Yanki, Como Nos Reimos, both discussed in chapter five).

But what Puebla’s songs most notably engage in is a specific, and overtly politicised, type of memory work; one that seeks both the remember the glory of the event of the revolution itself, but crucially, to separate that event from that which came before; in essence to remember one particular Cuban history by forgetting another. The song ‘Y en Eso Llego Fidel’ (‘And into This Came Fidel’), whilst ‘remembering’ a Cuba before the Revolution, seeks to abandon it, to consign it to an unrelated, and finished, past, by showing a fidelity to the Revolution. The song’s verses paint a dystopian image of a Cuba ruled from without – essentially a ‘non-Cuban’ Cuba – which is punctured at the end of each tableau by the repeated line ‘Y en eso llego Fidel’:

Aquí pensaban seguir, ganando el ciento por cierto con casas de apartamentos y echar al pueblo a sufrir y seguir de modo cruel contra el pueblo conspirando para seguirlo explotando y en esto llegó Fidel.                                                                                                                           

They thought they could continue, earning 100% with houses and apartments and making the people suffer and continuing in a cruel way conspiring against the people to secure their exploitation and into this came Fidel

This final line, this repeated declaration, represents the beginning of the ‘event’, in the words of Alain Badiou (2005), of the Revolution occurring “as a complete break with the continuum of being” (Elliott, 2010:2). But at important as ushering in a new era and establishing a ‘year zero’ of a Cuban history, Puebla’s song seeks to put an end to the old; to show it as something finished; no longer part of the narrative, as the chorus notes:

Y se acabó la diversion, llegó el comandante y mandó a parar.

And now the fun is over, the commandante arrived and ordered them to stop

So, as Richard Elliott notes of Badiou’s “dual notion of the event… as both a singular moment and an ongoing process or project” (2010:2), as well as highlighting the moment in which the event happened – in which Fidel arrived – there is a need to establish a new fidelity to an ongoing process; the Revolution as a new paradigm for Cuban identity. As noted in the introduction (pp.5-6), this required a total discrediting of the old, heavily U.S.-inflected, Batista regime (Perez, 2003:239) and the radical social and political changes of the early Revolution, as Perez notes, sought to remove the US as much as reinstate the ‘Cuban’ (ibid.). But Puebla’s song seems to make the arrival of Fidel –and vicariously, the work of the continued Revolution – less of a reaction to what had come before, than a clean break from it. Puebla’s verses almost speak of some distant recollection; a mythological evil that has been entirely vanquished by the coming of Fidel.

Such a rhetoric illuminates two critical aspects of revolutionary history and Cuban identity (both of which are contested by Porno Para Ricardo). The first, as noted above, is the parsing out of Cuban history into distinct, compartmentalised, epochs which are ‘finished’ by the arrival of the new. So Cuba’s Spanish colonial epoch was ended by the epoch of Platt-amendment US control, in turn ended by the Revolution. Each of the epochs, in Badiou’s terms, is ended, and the continuum of Cuban history is broken by the arrival of an event.

The second key element of Cuban identity that is expressed here is the historicising of ‘great figures’ as emblematic of Cuban identity. Clearly this is not a trope exclusive to Cuban discourse, but the ‘arrival’ of Fidel as herald of evental change – the ubiquitous declaration that ‘seremos como el Che’ (‘we will be like Che’) – speaks of the monumental, the heroic, the emulation of the heroic as the facets of Cuban history, and thus of Cuban identity. In a sense, though it is purported to be the domain of ‘the people’, the Revolutionary conception of Cuban history and identity is one of evental moments outside of the quotidian; the distinctly waved flag of national identity: the arrival of the Granma, the storming of the Moncada barracks, the moment – mythologised and woven into the fabric of national consciousness through endless national parades – when Fidel (finally, inevitably, conclusively) arrived.This is what it means to be Cuban. This is what must be remembered. This represents the ‘correct’ way to remember and express a Cuban identity.


[1] The song is tremendously popular among left-wing students in many Spanish-speaking countries, particularly Spain itself. The song has been covered numerous times, including a 2003 version by the Buena Vista Social Club (though overt reference to Fidel Castro – present in the song’s original final verse – is omitted.)

‘Yo no Tanto Como El’ – Pedro Luis Ferrer

The beauty of this song comes not only from Ferrer’s huge talent, his professional delivery, his emotional yet dignified sentiment (though all these factors are major considerations for me), but that the song is allowed to operate on a number of levels (to use that most worn of musical clichés). The apparent simplicity of the song allows listeners – and I don’t just think Cuban, or even Spanish speaking listeners – to engage with and find poignant meaning in the song.

A summary of song and performer perhaps may help here. Ferrer is a Cuban songwriter who has been working since the 1960’s (effectively the life of the Cuban revolution). In the 1970’s and 80’s, he enjoyed fame and, if not fortune (a difficult thing to find in Cuba) then certainly artistic commendation. His songs were well known to many Cubans through their numerous television and radio broadcasts and Ferrer was entering the tightly guarded pantheon of ‘Great Cuban artists’. However, some of his more pointed, critical social commentaries began to attract the wrong kind of attention, and by the 1990’s, Ferrer was black listed by the government. His albums are now unavailable (legally at least) in Cuba, his songs never broadcast. This song, ‘yo no tanto como el’, comes from around the time of Ferrer’s personal censorship. It is, on the surface, a description of the ideological differences between Ferrer and his father. Yet there are an almost limitless number of avenues of personal interpretation open to the listener to explore, hidden within the simple, repeated words.

Below is a quick translation of the lyrics to ‘Below is a quick translation of the lyrics to ‘Yo no Tanto Como El’, which leaves a number of words un-translated, with explanatory footnotes. Particularly, I will leave the title of the song un-translated, firstly because I am struggling to come up with a succinct translation – it effectively means ‘I am not so much like him’ – but secondly because the sound  of the original line, to me, is as crucial as its meaning.

My father was a Fidelista[1], Yo no tanto como el

Whoever touches my father Touches me as well

Yo no tanto como el, Yo no tanto como el

 

My father was a communist Yo no tanto como el

Whoever lays a finger on him Will know my wrath[2]

Yo no tanto como el, Yo no tanto como el

My father was a ‘cederista[3]Yo no tanto como el

Whoever touches my father Touches me as well

Yo no tanto como el Yo no tanto como el

I detest the bureaucracy That converted efficacy

Into a mountain of misfortune Of vain prohibitions

That augmented grudges And killed one thousand loves

What has happened to life For so many to repent?

My father who, in that January[4] Didn’t take me out of the country

He dressed me as a pioneer[5] And taught me to fight

Yo no tanto como el Yo no tanto como el

 

I will not apologise for my life I am all that I could have been

And how wonderful. How wonderful

 

What I love about this song, as mentioned previously, is the apparent simplicity. The same words and phrases repeat, ever so slightly changed, throughout the song. This trait – a changing same –is utilised by Ferrer constantly throughout his oeuvre. However, whilst in other songs it is used for wither comic effect – a cunning play on words, or to illuminate some social point, here it just feels reassuring. Of course there is a biting political statement at work here. Through repetition, Ferrer is highlighting the plethora of ‘isms’ that spring up under such rigid ideology. So, it is not enough to be  just  socialist, or just Communist – you have to be a ‘Fidelista’ as well – one has to complete the whole set of ‘isms’ as it were. However, as Ferrer constantly reminds us, he is not like that. But, going back to my original point, on the whole this feels like a reassuring repetition. It is not trying to trick the listener with hidden meaning. As a non-native Spanish speaker, I find this very welcome. In fact, I was a fan of this song before I fully understood its lyrics. That is why I suggested that this song may be as approachable to a non-Spanish speaker. For me, the pure aesthetic – the sound of the words, divorced from their meaning (if such a separation is ever possible) is attractive to me. The restrained lament in Ferrer’s voice transcends language barriers and the ‘grain of his voice’ as Roland Barthes would put it, is as noteworthy as the social commentary of the lyrics.

Delving into the lyrics further, another thread can be pulled out that transcends cultural boundaries. The person to whom Ferrer is addressing the song (and comparing himself) rings true no matter the country, no matter the epoch; his father. Ferrer speaks of the often irreconcilable generational differences between father and son. However, it is not done with venom, or resentment. His is a quiet lament. Yet more, he sees the realism in the situation. “Whoever touches my father touches me as well”. Ferrer cannot write off his father’s beliefs. He recognises the impact they have had on his own life, on who he is.

This recognition of the impact of a parental force that is inescapable also mirrors Ferrer’s attitude towards the country as a whole. Having lambasted the bureaucracy of his country, responsible for so much misery, he again reflects that this too is responsible for making him who he is. “I am all I knew how to be” he reflects – a product of his surroundings. This state of affairs is not a source of rage, not resented, but accepted. Ferrer forges a new definition of the people, alluding here to Cubans who have left Cuba, their grudges augmented to the point of insupportability. But crucially he references the once-efficient regime that, though a lack of ability (or willingness) to change and redefine itself, has become obsolete in defining the Cuban nation. As a result, Ferrer finds common ground in Latin American and the Caribbean, and attempts to bridge gaps between Cuban and other traditions, looking both for those cultural forms outside of Cuba with which he feels a personal, aesthetic connection, irrespective of a link with the narrow definition of Cuban tradition and identity outlined by the revolution

Through the lamentation, this song offers an extremely positive message about the ability to deal with frustration, hardship and a life shaped by forces outside of your control. We all suffer loss and sadness, make the wrong decisions and have the wrong decisions thrust upon us. But these are the experiences that shape us. We can no more change them than we can predict what will come next. All we can do is reflect on them, extract the positives and try not to make the same mistakes for the following generation. Nowhere is this sentiment better than in the only verse that doesn’t follow the lyrical repetition patter (immediately after the bridge – worth repeating here):

My father who, in that January[6] Didn’t take me out of the country

He dressed me as a pioneer[7] And taught me to fight

Yo no tanto como el Yo no tanto como el

Would Ferrer’s life have been different has his father left Cuba with him as a child? Undoubtedly. Would it have been ‘better’? Ferrer leaves this point alone – maybe it’s irrelevant because he’ll never know – he can’t change what has been, whether he would or not becomes lost in speculation. What he does know is that he is different from his father. He does not resent him, but understands him – absolves him even, realising that his father was a product of circumstances as he is. As he does not castigate his father for his decisions, so too he refuses to apologise for his own life, his own critique of the Revolution; y que maravilla.


[1] A supporter of Fidel Castro

[2] Literally , the word ‘caray’ of the original is a type of stick

[3] A member of the CDR; an organisation akin to neighbourhood watch, divided into subgroups by city block, they are responsible for reporting any ‘unrevolutionary’ activity.

[4] Referring to January 1959 and the success of Castro’s revolution

[5] The pioneers are a communist run equivalent of the scouts – effectively a communist youth league.

[6] Referring to January 1959 and the success of Castro’s revolution

[7] The pioneers are a communist run equivalent of the scouts – effectively a communist youth league.

Decadencia – Escuadrón Patriota

[Because an English translation of the lyrics to this excellent song doesn’t seem to be available elsewhere (and they say the internet has everything?) here they are. Watch the video to this song here]

Es como si estuviéramos congelados en el tiempo

Parece como si no nos interesara nada

La esperanza de nuestro pueblo, Eskuadrón

Yo creo que el pueblo necesita de este mensaje

Con mucho amor para todos mis hermanos, Prófugo Ciao- Yo

It’s like being frozen in time

Like if nothing ever mattered to us

The hope of our people, Eskuadrón

I believe that the people need this message

With much love for all my brothers, Prófugo, Ciao, Yo

Primera parte

Voy por mi gusto cuando la necesidad me abraza

Entre una decadencia que el sistema disfraza

Mi verbo toma forma y a la poesía se engancha

Fluye mi espíritu, inmortalizo mis palabras

De nuevo me transformo en la voz de una gran masa

Acéfala, vacía que en silencio se desplaza

Se cansaron de llorar y ahora le sangra el alma

Mientras se preguntan ¿Quién controla su esperanza?

Y se retuercen porque les duele, la herida sangra, y creen que mueren

Quieren gritar su dolor pero no pueden

Porque el terror impuesto le arrancan lo poco que tienen

Piden justicia y eso no se logra ver

¿Por qué reprimen al que libre quiere ser?

Desde sus despachos la realidad no la pueden oler

La tristeza de este país no la van a comprender

Como no comprende mi gente como solucionar

Trabajas sudan entero y no te puedes liberar

Entregas todo y a cambio nada, esclavitud total

Así te controlan, yo lo llamo conspiración letal

El mensaje se funde con los segundos, crece mi fe

Inventan leyes abusivas, te tienen a su merced

Nuestras opiniones no se escuchan olvidando que las revoluciones son para el pueblo,

No para el que esta en el poder

Y la decadencia estremece la conciencia

y la mente no despiertan y todo todo lo aceptan

La gente no cree y no ve, arrastrados por la inercia

Prefieren soportarlo todo antes de romper la cuerda

I go well aware when necessity embraces me

Surrounded by decadence which the system disguises

My verb takes shape and hooks up with poetry

My spirit flows, I immortalise my words

Again I become the voice of a great mass

Leaderless, empty, moving in silence

Tired of crying, their souls now bleed

Wondering who controls their hope

And they twist ‘cause they hurt, the wound bleeds, they feel they’re dying

They want to scream their pain, but they can’t

Because the imposed terror’s got a grab on whatever little they have left

They claim justice but it doesn’t come through

Why oppressing that who wants to be free?

They can’t smell reality from their offices

The sadness of this country, they can’t understand

Just like my people cannot understand

You work, you sweat your body weight and you can’t free yourself

You give everything in exchange for nothing, total slavery

This way they control you, I call it lethal conspiracy

The message blends with the seconds, my faith grows

They invent abusive laws, they have you at their mercy

Our opinions are not heard, forgetting that revolutions are for the people

Not for those in power

And decadence shakes off conscience

And the minds do not wake up, they accept everything

People don’t believe and don’t see, dragged down by inertia

They prefer to put up with anything than to break the rope

Coro

Decadencia: Cuanta destrucción, cuanta frustración, cuanta tristeza

Decadencia: Cuanta necesidad de gritar, de exigir pero el miedo acecha

Decadencia: Todos nosotros como autómatas aceptamos el lavado de conciencia

Decadencia: Por nuestros hijos, la familia y las generaciones busquemos respuesta

Decadencia: Nos quitaron todo pero no la resistencia y la palabra es fuerza

Decadencia: Hermanos de pie, no hay nada mas hermoso que una nación cuando despierta

Decadencia: No queremos sangre, que nadie perezca, pero alcemos la cabeza

Decadencia: Como Víctor Jara diciéndole a su pueblo la libertad esta cerca

Decadence: So much destruction, so much frustration, so much sadness

Decadence: What a need to scream, to demand, but fear creeps in

Decadence: We all like automats accept the conscience washout

Decadence: For our children, for our family, and the generations, let’s search for answers

Decadence: They took everything but not endurance and Word is power

Decadence: Stand up brothers nothing’s more beautiful than a nation waking up

Decadence: We don’t want blood, nobody dying, but let’s raise our heads,

Decadence

Like Victor Jara telling his people, freedom is near

Segunda parte

Y nos enfrentan, y nos separan en dos bandos

Y vivimos cuidándonos, paranoides, desconfiando

Los mismos hijos del pueblo se están despedazando

Porque el sistema los manipula, y ellos nunca ven el daño

Y la policía sin límite, ni medida

Responden a una doctrina que no entienden pero les da comida

Abusan, maltratan, arrogantes, te humillan

Esta bien no serán todos, pero si la mayoría

Y se olvidan de donde vienen sus vidas, de su familia

De la escuela que asistía

Ahora viven con ira

Defensores, nunca hay hegemonía con mente fría

del sistema ustedes son las marionetas dirigidas

Y me pregunto si esto es una democracia

¿Por qué pensar diferente es una traición ultranza?

¿Por que a varios sectores se les margina y se les rechaza?

Si no se respeta los criterios, esta nación no avanza

Pero entonces se desata la injusticia

Y es un peligro hablar y el miedo te paraliza

Tu mensaje de paz lo transforman en belicista

Nunca hablé de ponerle una bomba al Ministro de Justicia, nunca

Y a la sociedad civil la militarizan

Y la educación va directa al caos con mucha prisa

Y todo es confusión y no hay amor

Y sientes que te asfixias

Y te lo imponen todo y tu paciencia se desquicia

Dios dame resistencia y toda tu compassion

Solo usted sabe lo que sufre este corazón

Por ver el bien de mi gente y no tanta desesperación

Y no ser un testigo mudo de la destrucción de mi nación

And they put us against each other, and they split up in two bands

So we live watching our backs, paranoids, distrusting

The same children of the people tearing each other apart

Because the system manipulates them, and they can’t see it

And the police, no limits, no measure

Serving a doctrine they don’t understand because it feeds them

They abuse, they mistreat, all arrogance, they humiliate

Maybe not all of them but the majority

And they forget where they come from, their lives, their families

The school they went to

Now they live in anger

In the defensive, there’s no hegemony with cold mind

You are the marionets the system plays us with

I ask myself if this is a democracy

Why thinking differently is unforgiveable treason?

Why some sectors are marginalised and rejected?

If different opinions are not respected, the nation won’t go forward

So then injustice breaks loose

And it’s dangerous to talk, and fears overtakes you

Your message of peace they turn to bellicose

I never spoke about putting a bomb at the Ministry of Justice, never

And society they militarise it

And education is heading speedily towards chaos

And everything is confusing and there’s no love

And you feel suffocated

And everything is imposed on you and you’re running out of patience

God, give me endurance and all your compassion

Only you know what my heart suffers

For the wellbeing of my people and the end of desperation

And for not being the mute witness of the destruction of my nation

Coro


Outro

Hermanos alcemos los puños y unamos nuestras manos

Y gritemos libertad, gritemos libertad porque el poder esta en el pueblo

Nosotros somos dueños de nuestros destinos

De nuestra propia libertad, fuerza, resistencia,

No soportamos más, no soportamos más

En nombre de todas estas generaciones

En nombre de la juventud Cubana

En nombre de todos lo que estudian, trabajan,

Los que se esfuerzan y se sacrifican por esta isla

No más decadencia, evolución, satisfacción, alegría

Y fundamentalmente libertad social para este pueblo

Decadencia: No más, hermanos, no más, no más

Decadencia: Vamos a ver el final de esta historia en paz y con los nuestros

Decadencia: Eskuadrón, Eskuadrón Yo

Decadencia: Una vez mas mi misión, la libertad esta cerca.

Brothers, let’s raise our fists and join hands

And let’s shout freedom, let’s shout freedom because they power is in the people

We are the owners of our destiny

Of our own freedom, strength and endurance

We can’t take this anymore, we can’t take this anymore

In the name of all the generations

In the name of the Cuban youth

In the name of all those who study, work

Those who make efforts and sacrifice themselves for this island

No more decadence, we want evolution, satisfaction, happiness

And mainly social freedom for this people

Decadence: No more, brothers, no more

Decadence: Let’s see the end of this story in peace and with our people

Decadence: Escuadron, yo

Decadence: Once more my mission, freedom is near