Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Guitar Incarcerated

“They asked that man for his time, A guitar incarcerated

So he could link it to the History.

They asked him for his hands,

Because for trying times

Nothing is better than a good pair of hands...

They explained to him later

That all this donation would be useless

Unless he turned over his tongue,

Because in trying times

Nothing is so useful in catching hatred or lies.

And finally they begged him,

Please, to get walking,

Because in trying times

This is, without a doubt, the decisive test.”

This is the first poem of “Out of Game” by Heberto Padilla. And I am putting here for a double purpose. First, it is a tribute to his memory. Padilla wasn’t the first intellectual to suffer the soldier boot over his conscience but, without a doubt, he was the first Cuban writer to suffer a public shameful discredit by the huge hatred machinery of Castro against dissident intellectuals.

I am afraid my second purpose has a more pragmatical intention. That poem is a jewel when it comes to reflect the muddy waters in which the so-called anti-establishment artists are swimming in Cuba today.

I was a child when Silvio Rodriguez, Vicente Feliu and Pablo Milanes created a new wave of song-writers named “La Nueva Trova” to make some differences with the old generations of song-writers which, guitar in hands, were playing their romantic songs with their smoky voices.

Silvio and Pablo were immediately trademarks in Cuba’s underground and suffered not only incomprehension, but even repression. Pablo Milanes was secluded in the UMAP camps and Silvio was banned from national TV and send to travel in a fisher ship, where he wrote many of his more beautiful and outstanding songs.

His song “Ojala” (Let’s hope so) became a national underground anthem and “El rey de los judios” (The king of the Jews) was passing hand to hand to become one of the most listened songs in Cuba underground, by a new generation marked by the absence of religious spirituality. Silvio was attached by the regime with the feared label of dissident and immediately disappeared from the public. Both were saved by the Moncada’s heroine Hayde Santamaria, and “Casa de Las Americas” became the precinct where you had to go to listen to them.

The story of “Ojala” is a mirror where you can see the evolution of our Silvio dissident into Silvio sponsored by Cuba’s authorities. A story so many times repeated nowadays with many others. The lyric of that song gives hints here and there, with metaphors, about someone you want to kill “with a shot of snow”, or someone you want “to erase suddenly”. Word of mouth was he was talking about Fidel Castro.

During latest 70’s he moved on and whispered a different story tale saying that song was made to reflect what happened to him with the President of our National TV. In the early 80’s, the story changed again and his trademark song became just a song about a broken heart and broken lovers: something that anybody believe. After all, the lyrics couldn’t be change.

The evolution in Silvio shows the evolution in someone who passed from being an artist with a personal voice, non-conformist in essence and anti-establishment in lyrics, to be devoured by the same system he denounced with poetic metaphors in so many songs like “Sueño con Serpientes” (I dream with serpents). In the 60’s and 70’s, he was the most successful artist of Cuba even when nobody could see him in public spaces. With his success came his own devouring process by Castro’s establishment. Ironically, Silvio never wrote any other song like those written in Playa Giron’ ship: his dreams about serpents became reality. He was wolfed down by them.

Today, we have lot of artists walking over the same track. Recently, Carlos Varela slashed out to Yoani Sanchez, the most famous name in Cuba’s underground, and praised Cuba in his visit to Washington. It is a far cry from where he was when he was singing “Guillermo Tell”, and admonishing Castro’s about a new generation who wanted to throw the arrow instead of him.

There are more names: Pablo FG who was tearing off margaritas in Miami’s TV and praising Cuba a few months ago. Did I mention Juan Formell? The famous “Van Van” director was blasting US policy in from of thousands in Havana during the “Concert without Frontiers” to get immediately a plane and travel to Miami. I mean, what is that?

Pure opportunism, that’s the word. They have plenty of money in their pockets to praise Cuba’ society and run to get the plane to the same soil they blasted. It does not matter to them that, their compromise with a regime, cuts off wings and freedom to many others great artists whose voices had been buried in mountains of shame by the regime.

The list of names overwhelms: from Lezama Lima to Cabrera Infante, from Virgilio Piñeira to Humberto Arenal, from Ernesto Lecuona to Pedro Luis Ferrer.

Today the regime tries to bring back, shamefully, many of these big names and tries to cover with a thin layer of smoke and lies the long and dark period when they were covered with menaces, discredit and shame. Cuba official culture policy is a bloody mercenary in active service to Castro.

And for that, I come back to Heberto Padilla and his poem:

They explained to him later

That all this donation would be useless

Unless he turned over his tongue...

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